Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Wind power has capacity to meet world’s entire energy demands
- Brussels rules UK energy subsidy scheme conforms to rules
- Massachusetts sues Exxon Mobil, saying company lied about climate change
- Paris Agreement: Trump confirms US will leave climate accord
- Cash for carbon: Schumer climate plan would help consumers buy electric cars
- Climate scientist says Sky News commentators misrepresented his views on drought
- How to save the world’s coral reefs
- Climate change facts that mean we must act now to avoid devastating consequences
- Enhanced glacial discharge from the eastern Antarctic Peninsula since the 1700s associated with a positive Southern Annular Mode
- A speed limit on ice shelf collapse through hydrofracture
The International Energy Agency (IEA) says offshore wind power has the capacity to meet all of the world’s electricity demand, and is set to be a “game-changer” for energy systems, reports the Financial Times. The latest report from the energy watchdog says that the falling costs of offshore wind would make it competitive with fossil energy within the next decade, forecasting that the global average cost of power generated by offshore wind would drop 40% by 2030, adds the FT. The IEA also says that renewables replacing fossil fuel is crucial to meet a 2C global warming limit, reports Reuters, and the expansion of offshore wind could avoid 5-7bn tonnes of CO2 emissions from the power sector globally. “In the past decade, two major areas of technological innovation have been game-changers in the energy system by substantially driving down costs: the shale revolution and the rise of solar PV,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol. “And offshore wind has the potential to join their ranks in terms of steep cost reduction.” The IEA report notes that capacity additions would need to be near to 40 gigawatts a year in the next decade, adding over $1.2tn of investment, to be in line with the Paris Agreement goals, adds Bloomberg.
The European Commission yesterday approved a UK “capacity market” subsidy scheme that ensures the country has sufficient power over the winter, reports the Financial Times. The capacity market involves commitments by electricity generators to provide extra power when there is a need for additional supply. A shock European court ruling brought the capacity market to a standstill last November, says the Guardian, “triggering an in-depth investigation into whether the UK’s plan to pay power plants to stay open was compatible with EU state aid law”. (See Carbon Brief’s Q&A published at the time.) It adds: “The commission’s green light is expected to clear the way for payments of around £990m to the owners of Britain’s gas, coal and nuclear power plants to guarantee they will keep the lights on this winter.” In a written statement to Parliament yesterday, business secretary Andrea Leadsom welcomed the Commission’s decision, reports BusinessGreen. She said it would enable the capacity market “to resume its important work as Great Britain’s principal tool for ensuring electricity security of supply and provides confidence that its design is fit for purpose”. The Times says the “decision is good news for companies including Drax and SSE who will all receive substantial payments”, but it could “pile more pressure on some financially stretched energy suppliers who will have to stump up their share of the cash for the deferred payments”.
Massachusetts sued Exxon Mobil yesterday, reports Reuters, with state attorney general Maura Healey accusing the oil giant of misleading investors and consumers for decades about the role fossil fuels play in climate change. The suit was filed shortly after the oil major lost a bid to delay the filing until after a trial over a similar suit in New York, reports another Reuters piece. It adds: “In court papers, the company said Healey’s decision to sue now after a three-year investigation was simply ‘gamesmanship’ to distract the oil major’s lawyers from the trial in New York that began on Tuesday.” The lawsuit “accuses Exxon of a broad sweep of misconduct that includes using deceptive advertising to mislead consumers in the state about the central role its fossil fuel products play in causing climate change, and intentionally misleading Massachusetts investors about material climate-driven risks to its business”, says InsideClimate News. Speaking to reporters, Healey said: “Exxon has known for decades about the catastrophic climate impacts of burning fossil fuels – its chief product,” reports DeSmogBlog. Maura added: “Yet, to this day, Exxon continues to deceive Massachusetts consumers and investors about the dangerous climate harms caused by its oil and gasoline products and the significant risks of climate change – and efforts to address it – to Exxon’s business.” An Exxon spokesperson tells BuzzFeed News: “We look forward to refuting the meritless allegations in court.”
As first reported by the New York Times, President Trump has now confirmed that US, under his presidency, will formally withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. “He made the announcement at an energy conference in Pittsburgh on a stage flanked by men in hard hats,” says BBC News. BusinessGreen reports: “In a characteristically rambling speech, Trump attacked the Paris Agreement for being unfair on America. He insisted the US was already ‘at a very, very good point environmentally right now’ and boasted it had ‘among the very cleanest air and drinking water on Earth’.” Trump continued: “I withdrew the United States from the terrible, one-sided Paris Climate Accord…It was a total disaster for our country. And I thought when I did that, it would be very tough. And all I do is get applauded for that move, so much. It would’ve been so bad for our country. They were taking away our wealth. It was almost as though it was meant to hurt the competitiveness – really, competitiveness of the United States. So, we did away with that one.” BusinessGreen adds that former US vice president Al Gore tweeted: “Despite President Trump’s best efforts, the US cannot officially withdraw from the #ParisAgreement until one day after the next Presidential election. And then it takes just 30 days for a new President to get us back in.” Axios also has the story, while the Associated Press factchecks the “foggy claims on climate policy” in Trump’s speech.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, is preparing a $450bn climate change initiative that aims to replace about a fifth of the nation’s traditional vehicles with hybrid, electric or hydrogen fuel-cell cars and trucks in the next 10 years, reports the New York Times. The proposal has “no chance of passage in the current, Republican-led Senate”, says the NY Times, but in an opinion article for the paper, Schumer promises that “if Democrats win control of the Senate in November 2020, I, as majority leader, will introduce bold and far-reaching climate legislation. This proposal for clean cars would be a key element of that bill”. The plan would “give you a large discount on an American-made electric vehicle when you trade in a gas-powered car”, explains Schumer. It would also “make electric vehicles – and the necessary battery-charging infrastructure – accessible to all Americans”, he says, as well as aiming “to establish the United States as the global leader in electric vehicle and battery manufacturing”. The discounts would lead to 63m fewer gasoline-powered cars on US roads by 2030, says Axios.
A leading Australian climate scientist has said his views have been misrepresented by conservative media commentators, who have used a “misspoken” statement to dismiss the links between climate change and drought, reports the Guardian. At an event in June, Prof Andy Pitman – director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes at the University of New South Wales – told an audience there was “no link between climate change and drought”. The quote has since “been used repeatedly in recent weeks by Sky News commentators…to undermine the impacts of climate change on drought, despite Pitman’s centre issuing a clarification weeks earlier”, says the Guardian. Pitman explains to the Guardian that he “misspoke”, adding that “I missed a word in my statement and that’s my fault. I should have said no ‘direct’ link”. Sky News presenters have “used the statement to attack government ministers…for refusing to rule out the role of climate change on droughts”, says the Guardian. Pitman says he is “not holding my breath waiting for them to correct the record”.
An editorial in the Economist looks at measures that could be used to save coral reefs around the world, warning that “thanks to human activity, corals face the most complex concoction of conditions they have yet had to deal with”. It says: “Measures to mitigate climate change are needed regardless of coral, but even if the world’s great powers were to put their shoulder to the problem, global warming would not be brought to a swift halt. Coral systems must adapt if they are to survive, and governments in countries with reefs can help them do so.” In addition to mitigating climate change, the editorial suggests “setting up marine protected areas”, “identifying the hardiest types [of coral] and encouraging them to grow in new spots”, and even “shading reefs using a polymer film as a sunscreen to cool them” and “selective breeding and brightening the clouds in the sky above…so that they deflect more of the sun’s energy”. While “these measures may sound extreme”, concludes the Economist, “people need to get used to thinking big”: “Dealing with the problems caused by climate change will call for some radical ideas.”
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports on a new study which finds that coral cover around some of the most popular tourist islands on the Great Barrier Reef has dropped by almost half in the last 18 years.
Sitting alongside its editorials, the Daily Mirror unveils a new “special panel of experts” that is “going to help guide the Mirror’s coverage” on climate change. The panel will be chaired by television presenter Chris Packham, and also includes “Doug Parr, of Greenpeace, Dr Tamsin Edwards, of King’s College, London and science author Dr Emily Grossman and others”. Climate change “is the defining issue of our age”, the article says. “The world is heating up and – unless this trend is reversed – it is going to have devastating consequences.” Accompanying the piece are 21 “facts that mean we must act”, including that “68% of all extreme weather events, including droughts, flooding, hurricanes and tropical storms, were either made more likely to occur or more severe”, which picks up on analysis by Carbon Brief. The Mirror also invites readers “to attend a special climate session we are holding in London on November 4”.
The Antarctic Peninsula Ice Sheet is currently experiencing sustained and accelerating loss of ice. Determining when these changes were started and identifying the main drivers is hampered by the short instrumental record (1992 to present). This paper presents a 6,250 year record of glacial discharge based on the oxygen isotopes. They find that glacial discharge remained largely stable between ~6,250 to 550 years before present. After that point it began to increase, reaching levels unprecedented during the past 6,250 years by the year 1706. A marked acceleration in the rate of glacial discharge is also observed after 1912. Enhanced glacial discharge, particularly after the 1700s is linked to a positive Southern Annular Mode. A possible implication is that ice shelves in this region have been thinning for at least 300 years, potentially predisposing them to collapse under intensified anthropogenic warming.
Increasing surface melt has been implicated in the collapse of several Antarctic ice shelves over the last few decades, including the collapse of Larsen B Ice Shelf over a period of just a few weeks in 2002. The speed at which an ice shelf disintegrates strongly determines the subsequent loss of grounded ice and sea level rise, but the controls on collapse speed are not well understood. This paper shows that there is a speed limit on ice shelf collapse through cascades of interacting melt pond hydrofracture events. They argue that the speed at which Larsen B Ice Shelf collapsed was caused by a season of anomalously high surface meltwater production.
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