Today's climate and energy headlines:
- United Nations chief demands end to new coal-fired power plants
- EU leaders vow to fight climate change, uphold rules-based trade - declaration
- ‘Four-fifths worried about climate change’ as public concern hits new high
- Ireland becomes second country to declare climate emergency
- Empty North Sea gas fields to be used to bury 10m tonnes of C02
- Nicola Sturgeon confirms rethink on support for new Heathrow runway
- Climate change: Scientists test radical ways to fix Earth's climate
- China’s clean tech boom may disrupt status quo
- Severe long‐lasting drought accelerated carbon depletion in the Mongolian Plateau
- An Observational Constraint on CMIP5 Projections of the East African Long Rains and Southern Indian Ocean Warming
The UN’s secretary-general António Guterres has warned of a “catastrophic situation for the whole world” and proposed an end to new coal-fired power stations after 2020, according to Axios, reporting on an interview he gave to the Associated Press. In that interview, Guterres described “total disaster” if global warming is not stopped. Among his proposals ahead of a tour of Pacific islands threatened by rising sea levels were that no new coal plants be built after 2020 and an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Separately, the Sydney Morning Heraldreports comments made by Rio Tinto chairman Simon Thompson that coal is “not essential to human progress”, but steel is. The paper quotes him saying: “In the case of coal, there are viable alternative sources of energy, that do not produce greenhouse gases. So we would argue that coal is not essential to human progress.” Meanwhile, Clean Energy Wire reports comments made by German environment minister Svenja Schulze that her country’s departure from coal will likely be completed before the 2038 end-date agreed by its coal exit commission. [See Carbon Brief’s analysis of the commission’s advice for more.] In the US, environmental group Sierra Club has found that 50 coal plants have closed under president Donald Trump, according to AFP. Some 40% of the country’s coal capacity has closed since 2010, AFP says. It notes this is part of a trend in which the nation transitions away from coal, with overall production falling by a third since its peak in 2008.
EU leaders have listed climate change among their 10 priorities for the coming years in their “Sibiu Declaration”, Reuters reports. It quotes the joint declaration, from the 27 EU members that will remain after the UK leaves the bloc, saying: “We will…jointly tackle global issues such as preserving our environment and fighting climate change.” The declaration is “less substantial and specific than traditional summit conclusions,” notes EurActiv. It reports criticism of the statement from Greenpeace, whose executive director Jennifer Morgan said climate change had been included only as “a footnote to an afterthought”. Forbes also reports on criticisms that the declaration lacks any substantive commitment to climate action. A second EurActiv article reports comments from European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, made at the Sibiu summit in Romania. It quotes him saying the EU should “concentrate on immediate and urgent” climate policies towards meeting the bloc’s 2030 target, rather than debating a net-zero goal for 2050. According to EurActiv, Juncker said: “Let’s not try to escape from our responsibilities by fixing a target a long time after the active time we spend in politics.” Covering efforts by eight member states to push the 2050 target at the summit, Politico reports that “Europe’s East-West divide is back” over climate policy, with different regions in disagreement over the plan. Separately, EurActiv covers a new report from WWF and the Global Footprint Network that concluded “all EU countries are living beyond the means of our planet”.
Official UK government figures show public concern about climate change has reached record levels in recent months, the Press Association reports. Polling conducted for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy found four-fifths of those surveyed are worried about climate change, the highest level since the public attitudes tracker began in 2012, PA adds. Of those involved, 35% said they were “very concerned” about the issue, it says. BusinessGreen notes that while the polling was conducted in the wake of widespread school climate strikes, it came before the Extinction Rebellion protests that brought London to a standstill and parliament’s declaration of a “climate emergency”. DeSmogUK reports the same survey shows public opposition to fracking has also risen to its highest level ever, with support dropping to a record low. The Times also carries the story, noting the results also showed support for onshore wind at an all-time high. Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans has a Twitter thread summarising the key results of the latest government polling.
Following a similar announcement by the UK parliament, Ireland has become the second country in the world to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency, RTÉ reports. The news outlet reports comments from Irish politicians, who welcome the move but also warn that it must be backed up with action. The declaration came after an amendment to a parliamentary climate action report was agreed by the government and the opposition parties, and after an EU declaration including climate among its priorities for the years ahead, the Irish Examiner reports. It also notes the comments of climate action minister Richard Bruton, who said “we’re reaching a tipping point in respect of climate deterioration”. BBC News also covers the story, mentioning the response from teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who it says described the act as “great news” on Twitter.
An “unprecedented” plan to store 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions under the North Sea via three of the largest ports in Europe is reported by the Guardian. Rotterdam, Antwerp and Ghent would be be the sites of pipes transporting emissions to two empty gas fields two miles below the seabed, it says. An application for “EU project of common interest” status has been made for the initiative, which if successful could be completed by 2030. The ports and surrounding regions together account for a third of greenhouse gases from the Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg, the Guardian says, adding that the carbon capture project would therefore help industry in the area meet international climate targets. Meanwhile, Reuters reports on Statistics Netherlands figures showing Dutch greenhouse gas emissions fell by 2.2% last year, bringing its overall cut to 14.5% below 1990 levels. Reuters says this means the nation, which has above-average emissions per capita, is unlikely to meet its Kyoto Protocol goal of a 25% reduction by 2020.
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced her government could drop its support for a third runway at Heathrow airport, in a move the Herald says “potentially jeopardis[es] thousands of jobs in Scotland”. According to the newspaper, the SNP’s 2016 policy is now under review in light of the “climate emergency” threatening humanity. The Scotsman notes the move came a day after the Scottish government said it would scrap its proposed cut to air departure tax following new climate change targets. The Daily Telegraph reports Conservative comments that the proposed measures risk “badly” damaging the Scottish economy, after Heathrow estimated a third runway would bring 16,000 jobs to the region. The Times reports comments from a Heathrow spokesperson saying it was “committed to ensuring that Scotland benefits from the airport’s expansion and we will continue working with Scottish businesses and politicians to boost domestic connectivity, as well as deliver the jobs and economic growth that expansion is set to bring”.
A proposal to set up a research centre at the University of Cambridge to develop new ways to repair the Earth’s climate is reported by BBC News. The initiative is described as a response to concerns that current efforts will not be enough to avert the worst effects of climate change. Geoengineering clouds to “refreeze the poles” is listed as one of the strategies that may be pursued at the new centre, as well as efforts to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon Brief has previously looked at how solar geoengineering could be used to limit global warming, as well as examining the potential for negative emissions technologies to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
In an editorial, the Financial Times mentions the response of former foreign secretary Boris Johnson to recent climate protests, when he argued that those involved would be better off taking their action to China. “In a narrow sense, Mr Johnson has a point. China is the world’s biggest emitter of greenhouse gases and has pumped more carbon into the atmosphere than the US and EU combined since 2012. But to leave the discussion there is to miss potentially planet-saving changes under way,” it writes. It continues by noting the “for some inconvenient” truth that while China is the “world’s biggest climate villain” it is also a leader in manufacturing and deploying clean technologies, including solar panels, wind power and electric vehicles. The editorial says it would be “unwise to underestimate the disruptive potential of a clean tech revolution” of the kind China is ushering in noting countries that rely on fossil fuel exports like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Russia could suffer in the future. At the same time, it says nations besides China including the EU, US and Japan stand to benefit, and says government must start preparing for “a flurry of changes”. The editorial also notes a report from credit rating agency Moody’s this week, which warned that coal-fired power stations in Asia could become uneconomic faster than expected. The piece concludes: “Complacency and finger pointing of the type exhibited by Mr Johnson are among the least helpful responses.”
Multiple lines of evidence have shown detrimental effects of drought events on ecosystem productivity and carbon storage, but it remains uncertain how arid and semi‐arid ecosystems respond to long‐lasting drought. This study finds that a severe drought during the first decade of the 2000s on the Mongolian Plateau resulted in considerably weakened carbon sequestration capacity and accelerated carbon depletion. The drought caused Mongolian terrestrial ecosystems to shift from a carbon sink to a carbon source, canceling 40% of climate‐induced carbon accumulation over the entire 20th century. This is important, as a drying trend in many arid and semi‐arid areas is projected to continue over the coming decades.
Predictions of seasonal rainfall for the mid to late 21st century vary substantially between climate models. This is problematic for those making policy and infrastructure decisions that must remain resilient to a range of possible futures. Consequently, climate scientists are often requested to identify the most and least reliable models, in order to narrow this range. This study focuses on the Long Rains of East Africa, for which one unusual model suggests a doubling of seasonal totals by the late‐21st century. This study uses observational constraints from clouds and surface temperatures to concluded that the model’s extreme predictions for both the southern Indian Ocean and the East African Long Rains are likely unreliable. This means that the plausible range of the full ensemble of Long Rains predictions is narrowed by about a third.
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