Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK's biggest solar farm planned for Kent coast
- National Grid hits back at calls for renationalisation
- EU strikes deal on carbon market reform
- Trump emissions threat to US car industry
- Fiji told it must spend billions to adapt to climate change
- US and them: America, the elephant in room at climate talks
- US and China find love at last over energy
- Irrigation offsets wheat yield reductions from warming temperatures
- On the emergent constraints of climate sensitivity
The UK’s biggest solar farm has been planned for the Kent coast, signifying a boost to an industry that has stalled since subsidies were stopped 18 months ago. The proposed farm, known as Cleve Hill, would have a capacity that is five times larger than the UK’s current largest solar farm and would provide enough power for 110,000 homes. The farm, which is being proposed by developers Hive Energy and Wirsol Energy, would be built without government subsidies and is planned to come online by 2020. BBC News Kent reports that the farm has been earmarked for “the worst possible location”, according to environmental groups. Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, said development there would harm the landscape and threaten wildlife. She said: “We absolutely support the principle of renewable energy, but [the panels] should be on roofs, not trashing landscapes in an astonishingly beautiful part of the Kent marshes.” The Daily Mail also has the story. It reports that the farm will be so large that it will qualify as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project, meaning it will need to be signed off by Greg Clark, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It will also be subject to a lengthy public consultation.
National Grid, the company that operates Britain’s national electricity system, has defended itself against calls for renationalisation. Debate around the renationalisation of energy grids resurfaced this year after the idea was included in Labour’s general election manifesto, with the party claiming that families would save £220 a year if both the energy and water industries were returned to the state. Dieter Helm, an Oxford university professor who was commissioned by the government to research the costs of energy in Britain, also proposed that National Grid’s role of managing the energy system should be returned to the public sector. But National Grid has now defended its role, claiming that the costs of maintaining the high voltage transmission network are now 30% lower than before privatisation in 1990. Ofgem, the regulator, said that network costs fell by 45% in the 15 years after privatisation, reports The Times. But this was followed by a planned price rise in the ten years to 2015 to fund network upgrades. Overall networks costs have fallen by 17%, according to the regulator. The group’s boss John Pettigrew said he was “not surprised” by the recommendation within a recent report on energy costs. “But we agree to disagree,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “When we look at the benefits that have been driven through to customers since privatisation – well, our analysis doesn’t support that,” he said.
European Union negotiators have struck a deal on carbon market reforms, it has been reported. Agreement was reached on Thursday after months of difficult talks among EU nations, the European Parliament and the EU executive to finalise reforms to the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) for after 2020. The cap-and-trade system is the EU’s flagship tool for reducing emissions and meeting its climate goals. However, it has suffered from a glut of permits, giving added political urgency to the push for reform. Negotiations had been stuck over the uses of a new clean technology fund, with some states demanding that installations with emissions of over 450 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour be banned from receiving funds. That would rule out coal-fired power plants. The EU has now agreed on this restriction with the limited exception of sustainable district heating projects in Bulgaria and Romania, EU sources said. The Financial Times also has the story.
The US car industry will fall to ruin if President Trump allows emissions standards to drop, the governor of California has said. Jerry Brown said China will dominate car manufacture because of its heavy investment into electric vehicles. He told BBC Radio 4’s Costing the Earth: “There will be a serious threat to the US auto industry. The Chinese have taken over the world in wind turbine production, and photovoltaic. They’re going to take over the American car industry – and the people in Detroit are half asleep.” The news comes as the US Environmental Protection Agency moves to repeal a proposed a rule on tighter emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks with older engines, reports the Washington Post. The Obama-era regulation is aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions along with soot and other harmful pollutants. Major trucking groups and engine manufacturers showed support for the rule in 2016, which was set to take full effect in January of next year. But in a statement, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the EPA, said the rule disproportionately affected “specialised” truck industries. He said: ““The previous administration attempted to bend the rule of law and expand the reach of the federal government in a way that threatened to put an entire industry of specialized truck manufacturers out of business,” Pruitt said. “Gliders not only provide a more affordable option for smaller owners and operators, but also serve as a key economic driver to numerous rural communities.”
Fiji will need to spend billions in the coming decades to deal with the impacts of climate change, including soaring temperatures and a rise in natural disasters, according to a report. A report into the vulnerability of the island nation, which was drafted by the country’s government alongside the World Bank, finds Fiji must spend an amount equivalent to its entire yearly gross domestic product over the next 10 years to deal with climate change. The analysis finds five major interventions and 125 further actions that it says are necessary to achieve Fiji’s development objectives in a changed climate. Together, those actions would cost about US$4.5bn over the next decade. The report was released to coincide with Fiji chairing the COP23 global climate summit taking place in Bonn, Reuters reports. “As the President of the COP23 and on behalf of the small island nations … Fiji is asking the world for drastic action … so that climate change does not impose a limit to our development,” Fijian Prime minister Voreque Bainimarama said in the report.
“How’s this for awkward?” asks Seth Borenstein, science writer at Associated Press. “The United States has a delegation at international climate talks in Bonn that will be telling other nations what they should do on an agreement that the president wants no part of.” In a news feature, Borenstein explores how Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Agreement has affected America’s negotiating position at COP23. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the US has become “one nation, two tribes” at the climate talks, with some delegates representing the current administration’s standpoint, and some state and business leaders choosing to lead a “counter-Trump” movement. “The counter-Trump movement in Bonn is being spearheaded by Jerry Brown, the governor of California, and Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York,” write Oliver Milman and Johnathan Watts in the Guardian. “Brown, in particular, has assumed the role of a de facto US leader, scheduling more than two dozen events to agitate for renewable energy and emissions cuts to combat what he has called an ‘existential crisis’.” Scientific American also explores America’s difficult position in Bonn.
China and the US have struck a deal on energy, marking a perhaps pivotal moment of cooperation between the two countries, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes in the Telegraph. Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump appeared to put the past to one side to back a £33bn gas venture in Alaska intended to help meet China’s voracious demand for natural gas, and to help forge a closer allegiance between the two nations. The Chinese state oil group Sinopec is to join forces with the state of Alaska to build an 800-mile pipeline through the North Slope to southern waters, aimed at shipping liquefied natural gas (LNG) across the Pacific. The Trump administration said the deal would cut $10bn off America’s trade deficit with China. Associated Press also has the story, but notes the deal is yet “far from set in stone”. And in an editorial, The Guardian notes that this deal is “unlikely to run smooth”. “But it is hard to believe this love is built to last. Mr Trump is predictable chiefly in his inconsistency (demonstrated already in his approach to China, as well as elsewhere),” the editorial reads. “Mr Xi’s remark that the two nations’ interests were “closely converging” seems, to put it mildly, a stretch.”
Temperature increases due to climate change are expected to cause substantial reductions in global wheat yields. However, uncertainty remains regarding the potential role for irrigation as an adaptation strategy to offset heat impacts. A new paper utilizes over 7000 observations spanning eleven Kansas field-trial locations, 180 varieties, and 29 years to show that irrigation significantly reduces the negative impact of warming temperatures on winter wheat yields. Dryland wheat yields are estimated to decrease about eight percent for every one-degree Celsius increase in temperature, yet irrigation completely offsets this negative impact. They also find that precipitation does not provide the same reduction in heat stress as irrigation. They suggest that water scarcity not only reduces crop yields, but also amplifies the negative effects of warming temperatures.
Differences in equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) among climate models remains a significant barrier to the accurate assessment of impacts of climate change. Relationships between ECS and observable metrics, so-called emergent constraints, have been used to constrain ECS. A new paper employs a statistical method to achieve a better statistical understanding of the connections between four recently proposed emergent constraints and individual climate feedbacks influencing ECS. The relationship between each metric and ECS is largely attributable to a statistical connection with low cloud feedback, the leading cause of intermodel ECS spread. This result bolsters confidence in some of the metrics. Any proposed ECS constraint based on the current generation of climate models should be viewed as a potential constraint on shortwave cloud feedback.
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