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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UN body assessing climate change science elects Jim Skea as new chair
- US: Florida ocean records ‘unprecedented’ temperatures similar to a hot tub
- Mediterranean wildfire deaths mount as European heat wave continues
- UK: 40C summer to be new normal due to climate change, says Met Office
- Lawsuits are key tool in delivering climate justice, says UN body
- China state council policy briefing on energy and power security for summer peak
- India: Mumbai records wettest July ever; schools, colleges shut as rain alert continues
- Net-zero goals need more carrot, less stick
- The Conservative war on Big Everything
- Hemispherically asymmetric Hadley cell response to CO2 removal
- Increased occurrences of consecutive La Niña events under global warming
Climate and energy news.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has elected the UK’s Jim Skea as its new chair, reports Reuters. He was elected by 90 votes to 69 in a run-off with Thelma Krug of Brazil, the article continues. Two other candidates, Belgian Jean-Pascal Van Ypserle and South African Debra Roberts, were voted out in the first round, reports Politico. Skea said he was “humbled and deeply honoured,” continues the article, “adding that he would focus on ‘three priorities’ during his tenure — ensuring inclusivity, expanding the IPCC’s reach and impact, and ‘promoting the use of the best and most relevant science’”. Skea, professor of sustainable energy at Imperial College London, will succeed South Korean economist Hoesung Lee, who is stepping down after eight years, reports Le Monde. Skea was elected at an annual meeting of the IPCC in Nairobi, Kenya, reports the Guardian. The article quotes Piers Forster, professor of climate change and director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, and former contributing editor at Carbon Brief, welcoming the appointment, saying: “Jim was a founding member of the Climate Change Committee and former IPCC co-chair. Jim will be a great chair of the IPCC over such a crucial decade where we really need to see a massive step up in international cooperation and action. Leading the IPCC gives the UK a great opportunity to reestablish itself as an international climate leader.”
Surface ocean temperatures have soared to 101.19F (38.43C) this week around the Florida Keys in what could be a global record, reports the Guardian. A water buoy in Manatee Bay at the Everglades national park recorded the “unprecedented” temperature on Monday, while other buoys in the area topped 100F (38C) and the upper 90s (32C), the article continues. If verified, Monday’s reading would be more than 1.5F higher than the previous record, 99.7F (37.6), which was recorded in the waters off Kuwait three summers ago, reports the Associated Press. “This is a hot tub. I like my hot tub around 100, 101, (37.8, 38.3 C). That’s what was recorded yesterday,” Yale Climate Connections meteorologist Jeff Masters is quoted as saying. There are a number of questions remaining as to whether this temperature is indeed a record, the New York Times reports, including the possibility that the buoy was malfunctioning plus the fact there is no official keeper of ocean temperature records. “Whether or not temperatures off Florida broke a world record, 100F is an alarming reading for seawater”, the article continues. The surge in temperatures could have a “devastating impact on aquatic life in the area with researchers reporting ‘100% coral mortality’ in some areas near the Florida coast”, reports Forbes. The reef in Florida runs from Miami to Key West and is the third largest barrier reef in the world, and the only one in the continental US, notes the Independent. Reefs are “ a crucial part of ocean ecosystems and 25% of marine species rely on them”, it adds. Work is underway to try to save the reef, report the Washington Post, as widespread bleaching is being reported across the 360-mile-long reef. “This is definitely the worst bleaching event that Florida has ever seen,” says Andrew Baker, who directs the Coral Reef Futures Lab at the University of Miami, the article continues. “We knew something like this was going to happen at some point, we just didn’t know when. We still managed to be surprised by the magnitude of this event and how early it came in the season.”
Wildfires in Sicily, Italy, have killed three people, adding to the death toll of the wildfires sweeping Europe, reports Forbes. Sicilian president Renato Schifani said that the island had experienced “scorching heat and unprecedented devastating fires”, adding that it was “one of the most difficult days in decades”, continues Forbes. In Greece, two people have been killed as wildfires “supercharged by strong winds and temperatures exceeding 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit)” forced further evacuation, reports Reuters. In the past 24 hours, at least 61 wildfires erupted across Greece, it adds. The third wave of 40C temperatures, “the so-called “heat attack” engulfing the Mediterranean country”, peaked on Wednesday, reports the Guardian. Since it first hit Greece two weeks ago, an estimated 8.5 million people have faced temperatures above 41C and 120,000 faced 46C, it adds. The European Union’s Copernicus climate observatory said emissions from wildfires in Greece have been at their highest for this period of time in the past 21 years, reports Le Monde. The country has battled more than 600 fires in the past 12 days, it adds. In Portugal, a wildfire that “erupted” on Tuesday in the mountainous area of Cascais near Lisbon is under control, although firefighters are remaining on the ground to avoid reignition, reports Reuters.
Beyond Europe, firefighters in Tunisia have managed to “completely contain” the fires that broke out across a number of regions in the country with help from members of the Algerian army and firefighting planes from Spain, reports Reuters. Wildfires had spread from Algeria into regions including forests of Tabarka, Jendouba, Beja, Bizerte and Siliana, it notes. The fires in Algeria left at least 34 people dead, including 10 soldiers, but have also now been contained, adds Reuters. More than 8,000 firefights helped “battled blazes across the tinder-dry north” in Algeria, reports the Guardian, as temperatures reached 50C (122F) in some regions.
The heatwave across the Mediterranean has now killed more than 40 people in Algeria, Italy and Greece, reports BBC News. The Times has mapped the wildfires across nine nations, including France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, Croatia and Italy, as the “heat dome” stays stubbornly in place across much of southern Europe. The heatwave may soon end though, reports the Independent, as “subtle changes in the jet stream” are expected to bring temperatures down.
“The fingerprints of climate change are all over the intense heatwaves gripping the globe this month”, reports the Associated Press. According to a new report, the deadly hot spells in the American Southwest and Southern Europe “could not have happened without the continuing buildup of warming gases in the air”, it continues. The heatwave in the US has expanded from the south into the Great Plains, the Midwest and Northeast, triggering heat alerts for over 170 million people, reports Axios. Meanwhile, temperatures in Washington could hit 100F for the first time in seven years, reports the Washington Post.
Heatwaves that see temperatures of 40C will be “the new normal in Britain”, according to a new report from the Met Office, reports the Times. Last year’s “unprecedented” heatwave and the annual average temperature rising above 10C for the first time were a “sign of things to come” with climate change, the article continues. 2022 was “the warmest year in England since 1659 and the hottest for the UK as a whole since 1884, January to August was the driest in England and Wales since the infamously hot 1976,” it adds. By 2060, last year’s temperatures will be considered an “average” year and by 2010 “such conditions would be seen as a relatively cool year”, reports the Daily Telegraph. The Met Office’s annual report on the state of the UK’s climate uses modelling that assumes carbon emissions peak around 2045 and then fall, it notes. Last year’s heatwave led to numerous wildfires across Britain, and more than 3,000 heat-related deaths in England and Wales during five “heat periods” between June and August 2022, reports the Independent. Both the record-breaking temperatures and the heatwave last July were made “much more likely” by climate change, the article adds. “The actual extremes that we’re seeing, the highest, the hottest days, those are really increasing markedly too,” lead author Mike Kendon is quoted saying by BBC News. “We’re going to see very, very many more days, exceeding 30, 32 or 35C. So warmer summers will become very much more frequent, and hot days will become very much more frequent.” Under a median emissions scenario, there is a one-in-15 chance that the UK will hit 40C in any one year, adds BBC News. In 2022, all months apart from December were hotter than average, reports the Financial Times. Additionally, the report showed that sea levels around the UK have risen by about 18.5cm since the 1900s, the article continues, roughly 11.4CM of which have occurred in the last 30 years, “indicating a rising pace of change”.
Lawsuits that challenge both governmental and corporate inaction on climate breakdown have become “an important driver of change”, reports the Guardian. A new report from the UN Environment Programme (Unep) and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University found that “litigation is setting precedents for climate action all over the world, even beyond the jurisdictions in which cases are filed”, it continues. However, the report warns that there is a growing backlash as cases are filed, adds the Guardian, that could “delay climate action and criminalise activists”. There have been 2,365 lawsuits relating to the climate crisis around the world, nearly 200 of which have been filed in the past year, it notes. The number of court cases related to climate change has more than doubled in the past five years, reports Reuters, as “impacts ranging from shrinking water resources to dangerous heatwaves hit home for millions”. The US still dominates with more than 1,500 climate crisis related cases, but other countries are seeing increases, the article continues. About 17% of case have been filed in developing countries, in particular Brazil and Indonesia, it adds.
The Chinese State Council said at a “policy briefing” press conference yesterday that, since the beginning of summer, the nation’s daily electricity generation has reached a “record high” to 301.7 terawatts-hours (TWh), reports the state-run China Electricity Power News. It says this is an increase of 1.5TWh compared to last year, adding that the highest “consumption load” has also reached a “record high” of 1,339 gigawatts (GW), an increase of 49.5GW compared to last year. The outlet continues that, according to the briefing, coal production this year has “steadily increased” and imports have “grown rapidly”, resulting in an “overall balance” in the supply and demand, while gas production and imports have “maintained steady growth”. China Energy News, a state-run industry newspaper, and Reuters also cover the briefing. Reuters writes: “China is introducing more flexible power transmission arrangements into its national grid system.” The newswire adds the briefing said that, facing “decreased output from hydropower plants”, China has “rationally optimised power transmission between provinces to send more power to the country’s drought-stricken southwest”. People’s Daily, a newspaper supporting the Chinese Communist Party, focuses on the energy sector’s efforts to ensure electricity supply this summer. Additionally, according to a report by the National Energy Administration (NEA), the country’s “annual ‘natural gas’ consumption is estimated to reach 385 Bcm [billion cubic metres] to 390Bcm” this year, a “5.5%-7% year-on-year increase”, reports S&P Global.
Meanwhile, China is “pushing its regional power systems to quickly bridge regulatory differences to meet a 2025 deadline to launch a unified national market”, reports Bloomberg. Cheng Yao, from S&P Global Ratings, says that, with the establishment of a unified national electricity market system, “all renewable energy sources will be fully integrated into the market by 2030”, writes Chinese financial outlet Caixin.
In other news, Grace Fu, minister for sustainability and the environment in Singapore, says that the US and China need to come together for “climate push”, adding that “it’s a good sign they are talking”, reports Bloomberg. China New Service, a state newswire, highlights a UN report which says climate disasters have resulted in economic losses of approximately “$57bn in the Asia-Pacific region”. The Paper reports that China is planning to launch the “next generation of carbon satellites” in 2025, which will “enable more accurate and efficient monitoring of global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations”, quoting academician Wu Yirong from the Chinese Academy of Science.
Heavy monsoon rains in Mumbai yesterday set a new July rain record, with the total rainfall for the month touching 1,557.8mm as the city remains under red alert, the Times of India reports. For context, eight years ago on 26 July, the city received 944mm of rainfall in a single day devastating the city, but the total for July in 2005 was 1,454mm, the story points out. Schools and colleges are shut across Maharashtra, in and around Delhi and the southern states of Karnataka and Telangana, as rains continue to “wreak havoc” across the country, says Mint. According to a new report by the World Meteorological Organization, India has “lost $4.2 bn due to disasters relating to floods followed by drought and heatwaves”, the New Indian Express reports. The lower course of the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins saw “one of the region’s largest precipitation deficits”, it adds.
Meanwhile, Nikkei Asia carries a piece titled, “Bangladesh, Brahmaputra serve as proxy for Sino-Indian conflict”, looking at how dams in China and India are “stok[ing] tensions as region’s most vulnerable suffer”. Separately, a bill “proposing radical changes” to India’s forest conservation law “came closer to becoming legislation…when it was passed in the lower house of Parliament with barely any discussion,” Mongabay India reports. The bill was cleared by a parliamentary committee “despite dissenting views from India’s forest-rich states” that it “undermines the objective of conserving and protecting existing forests”, the article adds. During the “brief debate on the bill”, India’s forest and climate minister Bhupender Yadav, cited “international commitments on the climate crisis” and said the country’s third [climate pledge] target “of creating an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3.0 billion tons of CO2 equivalent was yet to be realised”, according to the Hindustan Times. “For that, we need to focus on agroforestry and increase tree cover…The goal is important for the entire world,” Yadav is quoted as saying in the paper. [India’s carbon sink target in its climate pledge remains unclear to date.] Earlier this week, the upper house of the country’s parliament also passed changes to a key biodiversity act “with serious shortcomings” within minutes, the Hindu reports. Separately, Mint reports that US climate envoy John Kerry met with Indian officials “to discuss climate cooperation” ahead of the G20 environment and climate sustainability ministers meeting in Chennai.
Climate and energy comment.
Politicians need to sell the public on where the “green revolution” will lead to, writes Ed Conway in the Times. “The costs of the net-zero path are mostly front-loaded. Replacing cheap fossil-fuel energy with more expensive, less energy-dense renewable alternatives is expensive. But eventually those upfront costs should pay off: crops would not fail as often, cities would not have to be relocated or barricaded against sea-level rises, climate migration would be less overwhelming,” he writes. Economic sacrifices will be needed to transition to less energy dense fuels such as renewables, but, while net-zero is an “expensive enterprise…it is also an economic opportunity”, he continues. Casting net-zero purely in terms of its costs and threats rather than its opportunities leaves “out the most inspiring side of it,” argues Conway. “Getting to net-zero will involve a generational sacrifice. But there is light amid the gloom. The coming decades could be very thrilling indeed. Politicians should be trying to explain that,” he concludes.
Standing firm against “green policies” might not only work electorally, but “ be the glue that cements a political campaign against liberal orthodoxy, or what one might call the battle with Big Everything”, writes Robert Shrimsley in the Financial Times. “A decade after David Cameron told his party to ‘get rid of all the green crap’, [UK prime minister] Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives are again ready to water down their environmentalism,” he notes, pointing the recent Conservative win in the Uxbridge byelection due to the party’s stance on the ULEZ expansion. This has persuaded some Conservatives that voters can be mobilised against “heavy-handed green policies that cost them money and that this can be built up into a wider attack on left elites forcing unnecessary costs on the public”, he continues. “There are risks in this for the Tories, given clear public support for the climate agenda backed by every Tory premier from Margaret Thatcher to Boris Johnson. Many Tory MPs also fear a retreat from net-zero. But Sunak, in the words of one friend, is ‘not that interested’ in the issue. So his tactic is to insist he remains committed to net-zero goals while not doing enough to meet them, what he calls ‘proportionate and pragmatic’ progress. The upshot is that new oil licences will be approved, costly green measures delayed,” writes Shrimsley. On its own the “green issue” is not enough, but the attack can widen, “so the Tories are pragmatists while Labour lapses into the elitist ideologies that raise costs and taxes on drivers, on pensions or on inheritance,” he finishes.
Elsewhere, the Uxbridge byelection and the subsequent consideration of pulling back from green policies continues to spawn a raft of comment pieces, with the Conversation noting the UK’s next election could be a climate change “culture war”. In the i newspaper, Sebastian Payne argues that ditching net-zero could cost the Conservative party 1.3 million votes, making it “electoral madness”. He adds: “Chucking the whole net-zero agenda” would be an “entirely, wholly, wrongheaded reading of the result: voters have not rejected net zero, but they have rejected it being delivered in an impractical way.”. In an interview with the Guardian, former international environment minister Zac Goldsmith says “Michael Gove is a ‘monster’ if he continues to rubbish green policies while fully understanding the urgency of the climate crisis, and Grant Shapps, the energy and net zero secretary, is taking ‘backward steps’.” He adds: “Grant gets very animated when he talks about climate change, and the new technologies…So on one level, he likes to see himself as being at the cutting edge and sort of enthusiastic about this transition. But then, you know, we see him relapsing into a kind of caricature of a climate sceptic. I don’t think he is remotely a climate sceptic. I think he understands the gravity of the situation, so to see this kind of backward step is hugely disappointing.” Additionally, Goldsmith has written an article for the Independent on why the UK cannot “afford to lose its nerve in the face of increasing pressure to abandon its commitment to the environment, not least because of the urgent threat to our precious ocean ecosystem”.
New climate research.
A new study examines whether the poleward shift of a giant convection cell in the atmosphere could be reversed by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. As the climate warms, the movement of the circulation, known as the Hadley Cell, is contributing to severe droughts in subtropical regions in both hemispheres, displacing populations and leading to water and food shortages. Using a series of model experiments, the authors find that the edge of the Hadley Cell does not return to its present day state when CO2 concentrations are quadrupled by 2140 and then lowered to 360 ppm until 2500. Attributing the results to the slow response time of the oceans, the authors say the findings suggest that “CO2 removal may not guarantee the reversal of dryness associated with shifts in the Hadley Cell”.
Continued warming could increase the frequency of consecutive La Niña events, according to new research. Whereas its warm counterpart, known as El Niño, tends to terminate rapidly, roughly half of La Niña episodes re-intensify to become multi-year events. Using 20 climate models, the new research finds the frequency of consecutive La Niña rises to 33 ± 13% in a high emission scenario compared to 19 ± 11% in a low emission scenario, which the authors note is far larger than the projected increase in the frequency of strong El Niño. The paper adds that consecutive La Niña events carry a higher risk of droughts and wildfires in the southwestern United States, flooding over southeast Asia and altered patterns of hurricanes, cyclones and monsoons across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.