Author: Kieran Cooke

About Kieran Cooke

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

Shrinking Arctic ice slows fish breeding rates

A food source for many species spawns under the Arctic ice. Now fish breeding problems, caused by ice melt, threaten its future.

LONDON, 3 March, 2020 − It’s relatively small, not particularly well-known, but it’s a key indicator of global warming, which is putting some fish breeding rates at risk: enter the polar cod (Boreogadus saida), the smaller cousin of the more familiar north-east Arctic cod.

A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Norway has found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, are causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

This has grave implications − not just for future stocks of polar cod, but for the survival of many other Arctic species as well. The polar cod is a vital part of the Arctic food chain. After spawning under the ice in the early months of the year, the fish – feeding on a diet of zooplankton − grows quickly. It then becomes a food for other larger fish and for sea birds, seals and whales.

“Unfortunately, climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030”, says Mats Huserbråten, one of the study’s authors. “The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad.”

End of breeding

If trends in ice reduction and the heating of Arctic waters continue, the reproductive cycle of the polar cod could collapse, say the researchers.

The fish is endemic to the polar regions (found nowhere else) and has developed in ways which make it dependent on the presence of ice. Its eggs are spawned under the ice, where they grow, even in sub-freezing temperatures. The larvae then feed on the zooplankton − plentiful in mid-year, when the annual ice melt occurs.

Winter ice cover in the Arctic has been in decline since the 1970s, with a sizeable part of the reduction happening in the Barents Sea.

The polar cod stock there has been monitored annually by a joint Norwegian-Russian survey since 1986. In the IMR study, researchers found that not only were stocks diminishing, but that what are described as spawning assemblages of the polar cod were moving further north.

“Climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030. The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad”

As climate change warms the planet’s oceans, many fish species have been observed moving away from the equator in search of cooler waters. While such fish movements have resulted in bigger catches in some areas, fish stocks in many more southern regions are in sharp decline.

The reduction in winter ice cover in the Arctic caused by climate change is affecting a wide variety of species – from polar bears to the smallest marine life. It has also made the polar region more accessible – to cruise operators, shipping companies and to the fossil fuel industry.

The Norwegian study says growing human activity in the Arctic is putting further pressure on the polar cod and other vulnerable species.

“Together, these factors mean we need a better understanding of the possible impacts on Arctic ecosystems, to provide a basis for sustainable management of the high north”, say the researchers. “We have excellent tools at our disposal in the shape of models that can help us to understand trends and long-time series of survey data.” − Climate News Network

A food source for many species spawns under the Arctic ice. Now fish breeding problems, caused by ice melt, threaten its future.

LONDON, 3 March, 2020 − It’s relatively small, not particularly well-known, but it’s a key indicator of global warming, which is putting some fish breeding rates at risk: enter the polar cod (Boreogadus saida), the smaller cousin of the more familiar north-east Arctic cod.

A recent study by researchers at the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) in Norway has found that declines in winter sea ice cover in the Barents Sea region of the Arctic, plus warmer sea temperatures, are causing declines in polar cod reproduction rates.

This has grave implications − not just for future stocks of polar cod, but for the survival of many other Arctic species as well. The polar cod is a vital part of the Arctic food chain. After spawning under the ice in the early months of the year, the fish – feeding on a diet of zooplankton − grows quickly. It then becomes a food for other larger fish and for sea birds, seals and whales.

“Unfortunately, climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030”, says Mats Huserbråten, one of the study’s authors. “The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad.”

End of breeding

If trends in ice reduction and the heating of Arctic waters continue, the reproductive cycle of the polar cod could collapse, say the researchers.

The fish is endemic to the polar regions (found nowhere else) and has developed in ways which make it dependent on the presence of ice. Its eggs are spawned under the ice, where they grow, even in sub-freezing temperatures. The larvae then feed on the zooplankton − plentiful in mid-year, when the annual ice melt occurs.

Winter ice cover in the Arctic has been in decline since the 1970s, with a sizeable part of the reduction happening in the Barents Sea.

The polar cod stock there has been monitored annually by a joint Norwegian-Russian survey since 1986. In the IMR study, researchers found that not only were stocks diminishing, but that what are described as spawning assemblages of the polar cod were moving further north.

“Climate projections suggest that the Barents Sea will become warmer and virtually ice-free as early as in 2030. The outlook for this cornerstone of the Arctic food chain is therefore bad”

As climate change warms the planet’s oceans, many fish species have been observed moving away from the equator in search of cooler waters. While such fish movements have resulted in bigger catches in some areas, fish stocks in many more southern regions are in sharp decline.

The reduction in winter ice cover in the Arctic caused by climate change is affecting a wide variety of species – from polar bears to the smallest marine life. It has also made the polar region more accessible – to cruise operators, shipping companies and to the fossil fuel industry.

The Norwegian study says growing human activity in the Arctic is putting further pressure on the polar cod and other vulnerable species.

“Together, these factors mean we need a better understanding of the possible impacts on Arctic ecosystems, to provide a basis for sustainable management of the high north”, say the researchers. “We have excellent tools at our disposal in the shape of models that can help us to understand trends and long-time series of survey data.” − Climate News Network

Old batteries can be source of new energy

How to dispose of old batteries from redundant electric vehicles? The good news: we can harvest their valuable parts to make new ones.

LONDON, 24 February, 2020 − Driving an electric-powered vehicle (EV) rather than one reliant on fossil fuels is a key way to tackle climate change and improve air quality − but it does leave the old batteries behind as a nasty residue.

New technologies give rise to their own sets of problems. The all-important battery in an EV has a limited life span – due to high operating temperatures, changing discharge rates and other factors, batteries in EVs in use today are unlikely to last for more than 10 years.

The question is what to do with all those batteries once they have reached the end of their operating life. The dumping of electronic or e-waste – made up of old computers and other everyday equipment − is already a massive worldwide problem: EV industry analysts say similar difficulties could develop when EVs and their batteries reach the end of their lives.

But a recent study by scientists at the University of Birmingham, UK, and colleagues, published in the journal Nature, comes up with some solutions. It says valuable materials, including cobalt, could be extracted or “harvested” from the EV lithium-ion batteries when they no longer work: these materials could then be used to make new batteries.

“If tens of millions of electric vehicles are to be produced annually, careful husbandry of the resources consumed will surely be essential”

Such processes can be hazardous: the study’s authors say recycling systems with operating robots could be set up to carry out the work.

“In the future, electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies”, the study says.

“If tens of millions of electric vehicles are to be produced annually, careful husbandry of the resources consumed by electric-vehicle battery manufacturing will surely be essential to ensure the sustainability of the automotive industry of the future.”

The study says an EV battery – much like a battery in a mobile phone – loses some of its effectiveness during its life cycle, but can still hold up to 80% of its power. While it’s not suitable for continued road use, it can be adapted for other purposes.

Powering local shops

Banks of old EV batteries could store power: they could be used to store energy to feed into the electricity grid or directly into buildings. In Japan the Toyota car company has pioneered a scheme which hooks up old EV batteries with solar panels to power convenience stores.

In 2017 more than a million EVs were sold worldwide. The study estimates that when those cars reach the end of the road they will produce 250,000 tonnes of discarded battery packs. It’s vital, say the study’s authors, that this problem be addressed now.

It’s estimated that EV global sales combined with sales of plug-in hybrid cars amounted to more than 2.2 million last year. At the same time, sales of fossil fuel cars have been falling.

All the big vehicle manufacturers are making heavy commitments to EV manufacturing. Deloitte, the market research group, forecasts global EV sales rising to 12 million in 2025 and to more than 20 million by 2030. It predicts that as economies of scale are achieved and costs of manufacturing batteries decline, the price of EVs will fall. − Climate News Network

How to dispose of old batteries from redundant electric vehicles? The good news: we can harvest their valuable parts to make new ones.

LONDON, 24 February, 2020 − Driving an electric-powered vehicle (EV) rather than one reliant on fossil fuels is a key way to tackle climate change and improve air quality − but it does leave the old batteries behind as a nasty residue.

New technologies give rise to their own sets of problems. The all-important battery in an EV has a limited life span – due to high operating temperatures, changing discharge rates and other factors, batteries in EVs in use today are unlikely to last for more than 10 years.

The question is what to do with all those batteries once they have reached the end of their operating life. The dumping of electronic or e-waste – made up of old computers and other everyday equipment − is already a massive worldwide problem: EV industry analysts say similar difficulties could develop when EVs and their batteries reach the end of their lives.

But a recent study by scientists at the University of Birmingham, UK, and colleagues, published in the journal Nature, comes up with some solutions. It says valuable materials, including cobalt, could be extracted or “harvested” from the EV lithium-ion batteries when they no longer work: these materials could then be used to make new batteries.

“If tens of millions of electric vehicles are to be produced annually, careful husbandry of the resources consumed will surely be essential”

Such processes can be hazardous: the study’s authors say recycling systems with operating robots could be set up to carry out the work.

“In the future, electric vehicles may prove to be a valuable secondary resource for critical materials, and it has been argued that high cobalt-content batteries should be recycled immediately to bolster cobalt supplies”, the study says.

“If tens of millions of electric vehicles are to be produced annually, careful husbandry of the resources consumed by electric-vehicle battery manufacturing will surely be essential to ensure the sustainability of the automotive industry of the future.”

The study says an EV battery – much like a battery in a mobile phone – loses some of its effectiveness during its life cycle, but can still hold up to 80% of its power. While it’s not suitable for continued road use, it can be adapted for other purposes.

Powering local shops

Banks of old EV batteries could store power: they could be used to store energy to feed into the electricity grid or directly into buildings. In Japan the Toyota car company has pioneered a scheme which hooks up old EV batteries with solar panels to power convenience stores.

In 2017 more than a million EVs were sold worldwide. The study estimates that when those cars reach the end of the road they will produce 250,000 tonnes of discarded battery packs. It’s vital, say the study’s authors, that this problem be addressed now.

It’s estimated that EV global sales combined with sales of plug-in hybrid cars amounted to more than 2.2 million last year. At the same time, sales of fossil fuel cars have been falling.

All the big vehicle manufacturers are making heavy commitments to EV manufacturing. Deloitte, the market research group, forecasts global EV sales rising to 12 million in 2025 and to more than 20 million by 2030. It predicts that as economies of scale are achieved and costs of manufacturing batteries decline, the price of EVs will fall. − Climate News Network

Climate research struggles to find funding

Climate research is the poor relation of the academic world. Since 1990 it’s won less than 5% of the research funds available.

LONDON, 17 February, 2020 – With the crisis of global heating now widely recognised as one of the most challenging issues facing the world today,  you might assume that vast amounts of money are going into climate research.

But researchers at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)  and the University of Sussex in the UK say the reality is very different.

In a study published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, they report how they examined a dataset containing details of 4.3 million research funding awards made from 1950 to 2021. In total, the awards were worth more than a trillion US dollars.

After sifting through copious amounts of material, the study’s authors estimate that in the period between 1990 and 2018, only from 2.4% to 4.6% of the total global research funding made available was devoted to investigating aspects of climate change.

They then analysed the various areas of climate change-related funding, looking specifically at the amounts given to research on the issue in the field of social science.

Meagre recent funding

The study comes up with several findings. “The first is that hardly any social science research was conducted on climate change before 1990”, the authors say.

“The second observation is how little funding has gone into research on climate change overall since 1990, regardless of discipline.”

They found that within the funding granted to climate change research, the social sciences received only a relatively minuscule amount.

“From 1990 to 2018, the natural and physical sciences received a total of US$40 billion (for climate change research) compared to only $4.6 bn for the social sciences and humanities.”

“While this research is valuable, it does not tackle head-on the most urgent question: how to change society to mitigate climate change right now”

Contrast these figures with the profits over a similar period by some of the world’s biggest oil companies. According to recent analysis for the Guardian newspaper BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon made almost $2tn (£1.54tn) in profits in the 1990 to 2019 period – a time when the climate emergency was becoming widely recognised, including within the fossil fuel industry.

The study defines the social sciences as encompassing anthropology, economics, education, international relations, human geography, development, legal and media studies, political science, psychology and sociology.

The academics say the research carried out within social science has tended to concentrate on ways of adapting to climate change – such as how to manage extreme weather events and recover from disasters – rather than mitigating its effects.

“While this research is valuable, it does not tackle head-on the most urgent question: how to change society to mitigate climate change right now.”

Need for reform

Social science can play a key role in coming up with answers, says the study. It’s vital, the authors say, that issues be addressed such as how to persuade households to adopt low-carbon lifestyles, or how to promote decarbonisation among cultures and market economies as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the UK.

“Although the natural and technical sciences often generate results that are, or are perceived to be, clearer and more concrete than the social sciences, they cannot handle issue areas – such as attitudes, norms, incentives and politics – that are intrinsically social.”

The study expresses caveats about its findings: its dataset on funding awards covers only competitive research grants. In some countries such as Germany, France and China, large amounts of research funding are distributed in the form of basic grants, and it is often difficult to know precisely on what areas such money is spent.

The study says social science has to reform itself and be more in tune with what’s happening. “Some social science research is wishy-washy, lacking an understanding of the natural sciences and the physical world.”

Social scientists, it says, need to do a better job of ensuring rigour and validity in their research. – Climate News Network

Climate research is the poor relation of the academic world. Since 1990 it’s won less than 5% of the research funds available.

LONDON, 17 February, 2020 – With the crisis of global heating now widely recognised as one of the most challenging issues facing the world today,  you might assume that vast amounts of money are going into climate research.

But researchers at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI)  and the University of Sussex in the UK say the reality is very different.

In a study published in the journal Energy Research & Social Science, they report how they examined a dataset containing details of 4.3 million research funding awards made from 1950 to 2021. In total, the awards were worth more than a trillion US dollars.

After sifting through copious amounts of material, the study’s authors estimate that in the period between 1990 and 2018, only from 2.4% to 4.6% of the total global research funding made available was devoted to investigating aspects of climate change.

They then analysed the various areas of climate change-related funding, looking specifically at the amounts given to research on the issue in the field of social science.

Meagre recent funding

The study comes up with several findings. “The first is that hardly any social science research was conducted on climate change before 1990”, the authors say.

“The second observation is how little funding has gone into research on climate change overall since 1990, regardless of discipline.”

They found that within the funding granted to climate change research, the social sciences received only a relatively minuscule amount.

“From 1990 to 2018, the natural and physical sciences received a total of US$40 billion (for climate change research) compared to only $4.6 bn for the social sciences and humanities.”

“While this research is valuable, it does not tackle head-on the most urgent question: how to change society to mitigate climate change right now”

Contrast these figures with the profits over a similar period by some of the world’s biggest oil companies. According to recent analysis for the Guardian newspaper BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon made almost $2tn (£1.54tn) in profits in the 1990 to 2019 period – a time when the climate emergency was becoming widely recognised, including within the fossil fuel industry.

The study defines the social sciences as encompassing anthropology, economics, education, international relations, human geography, development, legal and media studies, political science, psychology and sociology.

The academics say the research carried out within social science has tended to concentrate on ways of adapting to climate change – such as how to manage extreme weather events and recover from disasters – rather than mitigating its effects.

“While this research is valuable, it does not tackle head-on the most urgent question: how to change society to mitigate climate change right now.”

Need for reform

Social science can play a key role in coming up with answers, says the study. It’s vital, the authors say, that issues be addressed such as how to persuade households to adopt low-carbon lifestyles, or how to promote decarbonisation among cultures and market economies as diverse as China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the UK.

“Although the natural and technical sciences often generate results that are, or are perceived to be, clearer and more concrete than the social sciences, they cannot handle issue areas – such as attitudes, norms, incentives and politics – that are intrinsically social.”

The study expresses caveats about its findings: its dataset on funding awards covers only competitive research grants. In some countries such as Germany, France and China, large amounts of research funding are distributed in the form of basic grants, and it is often difficult to know precisely on what areas such money is spent.

The study says social science has to reform itself and be more in tune with what’s happening. “Some social science research is wishy-washy, lacking an understanding of the natural sciences and the physical world.”

Social scientists, it says, need to do a better job of ensuring rigour and validity in their research. – Climate News Network

A stark climate warning from the green swan

The green swan brings a clear message from people who should know: bankers say the climate crisis means major change lies ahead.

LONDON, 10 February, 2020 − There’s more than a touch of déjà-vu about The green swan, another alarm call from the serious world of senior bankers about what the future is likely to hold.

Way back in 2006 the British economist Lord Nicholas Stern wrote his review warning of the serious impacts of climate change, in particular its effect on the global economy and the world’s financial systems.

For a brief period it seemed people were listening. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis came along – a crisis caused, not by climate change but primarily by reckless bank lending, weak regulation and a sustained bout of greed.

World leaders panicked as the financial sector went into meltdown. Multi-billion dollar rescue packages were thrown about like confetti. Amid the panic, Stern’s warnings were largely forgotten.

It’s only recently that bankers and financiers have been revisiting his work and waving their own red flags about the dire consequences of a warming world.

The publisher of this book – the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – is the central bank to the world’s central banks, its goal to preserve overall global monetary and financial stability. It is a conservative, some might say staid, institution, its utterances normally carefully calibrated and moderate in tone.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets”

The green swan is different: it graphically describes the sense of urgency now evident in banking boardrooms about global warming, the dire state of the planet and the consequent effects on the finance sector.

“Exceeding climate tipping points could lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts that would make quantifying financial damages impossible”, say the authors.

“Avoiding this requires immediate and ambitious action towards a structural transformation of our economies, involving technological innovations that can be scaled, but also major changes in regulations and social norms.”

In other words, in non-banking terminology, expect the unexpected. Unless major international action is taken, climate change is going to cause lasting damage to the global economic and financial systems.

The “green swan” in the book’s title is a mutation of the concept of the “black swan” made famous by Nicholas Taleb in a 2007 book of the same name.

Key differences

Taleb used the term black swan to characterise random, unexpected events such as terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes and their impact on economies and financial systems. Uncertainty becomes a major factor: calculating risk in such circumstances is a very difficult, if not impossible, business.

This book’s authors characterise climate change in a similar way, talking of green swan events. But they draw some important distinctions.

Though the effects of global warming are highly uncertain, there is a high degree of certainty that major change is on the way. There is also certainty about the need for urgent action.

“Climate catastrophes are even more serious than most systemic financial crises”, say the authors.

“The complex chain reactions and cascade effects associated with both physical and transition risks could generate fundamentally unpredictable environmental, geopolitical, social and economic dynamics.”

The authors warn about central banks being caught in what they refer to as the uncharted waters of climate change. If government and other agencies don’t take action, the world’s central banks might not be able to ensure financial and price stability.

Ending fossil fuel

Fossil fuel companies could go to the wall. While this might be good for the climate, it would create financial turmoil.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets, to save the financial system once more.”

The warnings from the BIS are only the latest broadside from central bank authorities on the dangers of a warming world. Late last year the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, announced it would be subjecting the country’s banks and insurance companies to a climate change-related stress test.

In recent days Singapore’s central monetary authority has introduced similar measures to test finance institutions’ preparedness in the face of global warming.

The overall message is clear: if you see a green swan, beware. A big climate change event is happening, and turmoil is on the way. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The green swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

An ebook by Patrick Bolton et al. published by the Bank of International Settlements/Banque de France

The green swan brings a clear message from people who should know: bankers say the climate crisis means major change lies ahead.

LONDON, 10 February, 2020 − There’s more than a touch of déjà-vu about The green swan, another alarm call from the serious world of senior bankers about what the future is likely to hold.

Way back in 2006 the British economist Lord Nicholas Stern wrote his review warning of the serious impacts of climate change, in particular its effect on the global economy and the world’s financial systems.

For a brief period it seemed people were listening. Then, in 2008, the global financial crisis came along – a crisis caused, not by climate change but primarily by reckless bank lending, weak regulation and a sustained bout of greed.

World leaders panicked as the financial sector went into meltdown. Multi-billion dollar rescue packages were thrown about like confetti. Amid the panic, Stern’s warnings were largely forgotten.

It’s only recently that bankers and financiers have been revisiting his work and waving their own red flags about the dire consequences of a warming world.

The publisher of this book – the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) – is the central bank to the world’s central banks, its goal to preserve overall global monetary and financial stability. It is a conservative, some might say staid, institution, its utterances normally carefully calibrated and moderate in tone.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets”

The green swan is different: it graphically describes the sense of urgency now evident in banking boardrooms about global warming, the dire state of the planet and the consequent effects on the finance sector.

“Exceeding climate tipping points could lead to catastrophic and irreversible impacts that would make quantifying financial damages impossible”, say the authors.

“Avoiding this requires immediate and ambitious action towards a structural transformation of our economies, involving technological innovations that can be scaled, but also major changes in regulations and social norms.”

In other words, in non-banking terminology, expect the unexpected. Unless major international action is taken, climate change is going to cause lasting damage to the global economic and financial systems.

The “green swan” in the book’s title is a mutation of the concept of the “black swan” made famous by Nicholas Taleb in a 2007 book of the same name.

Key differences

Taleb used the term black swan to characterise random, unexpected events such as terrorist attacks or natural catastrophes and their impact on economies and financial systems. Uncertainty becomes a major factor: calculating risk in such circumstances is a very difficult, if not impossible, business.

This book’s authors characterise climate change in a similar way, talking of green swan events. But they draw some important distinctions.

Though the effects of global warming are highly uncertain, there is a high degree of certainty that major change is on the way. There is also certainty about the need for urgent action.

“Climate catastrophes are even more serious than most systemic financial crises”, say the authors.

“The complex chain reactions and cascade effects associated with both physical and transition risks could generate fundamentally unpredictable environmental, geopolitical, social and economic dynamics.”

The authors warn about central banks being caught in what they refer to as the uncharted waters of climate change. If government and other agencies don’t take action, the world’s central banks might not be able to ensure financial and price stability.

Ending fossil fuel

Fossil fuel companies could go to the wall. While this might be good for the climate, it would create financial turmoil.

“Green swan events may force central banks to intervene as ‘climate rescuers of last resort’ and buy large sets of devalued assets, to save the financial system once more.”

The warnings from the BIS are only the latest broadside from central bank authorities on the dangers of a warming world. Late last year the Bank of England, the UK’s central bank, announced it would be subjecting the country’s banks and insurance companies to a climate change-related stress test.

In recent days Singapore’s central monetary authority has introduced similar measures to test finance institutions’ preparedness in the face of global warming.

The overall message is clear: if you see a green swan, beware. A big climate change event is happening, and turmoil is on the way. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The green swan: Central banking and financial stability in the age of climate change

An ebook by Patrick Bolton et al. published by the Bank of International Settlements/Banque de France

Reliance on coal divides European states

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

Physicians press climate emergency button

If you were doubtful before, the news that British doctors are now acting to limit the climate emergency may prompt a rethink.

LONDON, 17 January, 2020 – The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies
not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.” – Climate News Network

If you were doubtful before, the news that British doctors are now acting to limit the climate emergency may prompt a rethink.

LONDON, 17 January, 2020 – The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies
not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.” – Climate News Network

Germany’s green energy quest stalls

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Bank of England unveils climate stress test

Tackling climate change isn’t just about replacing fossil fuels with renewables, or planting more trees. It’s about confronting climate stress across society.

LONDON, 1 January, 2020 – The warming world means climate stress now permeates every part of society. And so an entire financial system which has underpinned the growth of a global economy largely dependent on fossil fuels must be reoriented to deal with what is fast becoming a full-blown crisis.

A campaign to halt or withdraw multi-million dollar investments from industries associated with fossil fuel use is gaining momentum. And the central banks – the institutions responsible for regulating countries’ financial systems – are now taking action.

Leading the charge is the venerable Bank of England (BOE), one of the oldest such institutions in the world. In December it became the first central bank to announce what it terms a banking stress test on climate change.

Under the BOE’s stress test framework, banks and insurance companies will be required to go through their books to evaluate their exposure to the impacts of climate change.

If, for instance, a British bank has loaned money to a company building a coal-fired power plant, the BOE will require the bank concerned to hold a substantial amount of additional capital to cover the risks of the project being abandoned because of new regulations or other climate change-related factors.

“A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer is what’s your plan on climate change”

In the same way, if an insurance group has granted cover to houses on a flood plain, or to coastal properties which could be subject to rises in sea level – or if a bank has granted mortgages on such properties – the BOE will require additional capital to be held to cover the financial risks involved.

Other financial institutions are examining ways in which their activities can be protected from the more serious impacts of a warming world.  Several insurance groups have announced plans to withdraw cover from fossil fuel projects.

Central banks are following the BOE’s lead: a body with the somewhat cumbersome title of the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) now has more than 40 members – all involved in monitoring the risks climate change poses to the finance sector.

The BOE’s action has two aims. One is to ensure the financial system can withstand the considerable financial costs posed by climate change. The other is to encourage financial institutions to invest their funds in more sustainable, environmentally friendly projects.

Mark Carney, the outgoing BOE governor who is soon to take up a post as UN special envoy for climate action and finance, describes the BOE stress test as the first comprehensive assessment of whether the financial system is on track to help deliver a transition to a sustainable future.

Worthless assets possible

“A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer is what’s your plan (on climate change)”, Carney told the BBC.

He says that unless the finance sector and large companies wake up to the scale of the climate crisis, many of the assets they now hold in fossil fuels and other enterprises will become worthless.

Some financial institutions are taking action, says the BOE governor, divesting from investments in fossil fuels and becoming involved in more sustainable projects, but progress is still far too slow. Time is of the essence.

“The climate emergency continues to build. The next year will be critical”, says Carney. – Climate News Network

Tackling climate change isn’t just about replacing fossil fuels with renewables, or planting more trees. It’s about confronting climate stress across society.

LONDON, 1 January, 2020 – The warming world means climate stress now permeates every part of society. And so an entire financial system which has underpinned the growth of a global economy largely dependent on fossil fuels must be reoriented to deal with what is fast becoming a full-blown crisis.

A campaign to halt or withdraw multi-million dollar investments from industries associated with fossil fuel use is gaining momentum. And the central banks – the institutions responsible for regulating countries’ financial systems – are now taking action.

Leading the charge is the venerable Bank of England (BOE), one of the oldest such institutions in the world. In December it became the first central bank to announce what it terms a banking stress test on climate change.

Under the BOE’s stress test framework, banks and insurance companies will be required to go through their books to evaluate their exposure to the impacts of climate change.

If, for instance, a British bank has loaned money to a company building a coal-fired power plant, the BOE will require the bank concerned to hold a substantial amount of additional capital to cover the risks of the project being abandoned because of new regulations or other climate change-related factors.

“A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer is what’s your plan on climate change”

In the same way, if an insurance group has granted cover to houses on a flood plain, or to coastal properties which could be subject to rises in sea level – or if a bank has granted mortgages on such properties – the BOE will require additional capital to be held to cover the financial risks involved.

Other financial institutions are examining ways in which their activities can be protected from the more serious impacts of a warming world.  Several insurance groups have announced plans to withdraw cover from fossil fuel projects.

Central banks are following the BOE’s lead: a body with the somewhat cumbersome title of the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS) now has more than 40 members – all involved in monitoring the risks climate change poses to the finance sector.

The BOE’s action has two aims. One is to ensure the financial system can withstand the considerable financial costs posed by climate change. The other is to encourage financial institutions to invest their funds in more sustainable, environmentally friendly projects.

Mark Carney, the outgoing BOE governor who is soon to take up a post as UN special envoy for climate action and finance, describes the BOE stress test as the first comprehensive assessment of whether the financial system is on track to help deliver a transition to a sustainable future.

Worthless assets possible

“A question for every company, every financial institution, every asset manager, pension fund or insurer is what’s your plan (on climate change)”, Carney told the BBC.

He says that unless the finance sector and large companies wake up to the scale of the climate crisis, many of the assets they now hold in fossil fuels and other enterprises will become worthless.

Some financial institutions are taking action, says the BOE governor, divesting from investments in fossil fuels and becoming involved in more sustainable projects, but progress is still far too slow. Time is of the essence.

“The climate emergency continues to build. The next year will be critical”, says Carney. – Climate News Network

Sun shines on Germany’s solar sector

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.