Company averts climate chocolate threat

Fears that the supply of cocoa beans would dry up have led a confectionery giant to help farmers avert a climate chocolate threat.

LONDON, 20 April, 2018 – If you have a sweet tooth, a liking not only for sugar-rich sweets but especially for chocolate, you’ve cause for celebration: the prospect of a climate chocolate threat is a little less likely.

Keeping the world supplied with chocolate is becoming more difficult as deforestation and climate change make it harder for farmers in the tropics to grow the trees that produce the cocoa beans.

Paying producers more for beans under the banner of Fairtrade certainly improved the lot of poor farmers, most of them small-scale cultivators, but that did not solve the long-term problem of providing enough cocoa to supply the huge world market.

The cocoa tree’s natural habitat is the lower storey of the evergreen rainforest, but cocoa farmers do not always grow their trees in the best conditions.
The trees only thrive 10 degrees either side of the Equator, where they need sufficient warmth, rainfall, soil fertility and drainage if they are to flourish.

Clearing rainforest to make space for cocoa tree plantations is some farmers’ preferred practice, but it is not a sustainable way to maintain production.

“We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive”

But, fearing that the supply of cocoa beans was in jeopardy and the price of their raw material would affect production, one of the world’s largest manufacturers is now to invest US$400m by 2022 to help 200,000 cocoa farmers secure a long-term future.

The scheme, called Cocoa Life, is helping farmers in six key cocoa-growing countries: Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Indonesia, India, the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

The company responsible, Mondelēz International, which owns brands like Cadbury, Suchard and Milka, believes many cocoa-growing regions could be wiped out unless action is taken.

Cathy Pieters, director of the Cocoa Life programme at Mondelēz, told the Climate News Network: “The challenges in cocoa are becoming more diverse and complex. In fact, some reports show current cocoa-producing regions may no longer be suitable for cocoa production in the next 30 years if we don’t take action.

Expecting change

“Our approach to climate change is deliberate because we expect a change to happen – a transformation. As one of the largest chocolate makers in the world, we are mobilising farmers and their communities to prioritise forest protection.”

Key to the programme is educating farmers, helping women by providing finance and stopping child labour, and also improving the environment. The company is helping farmers prevent further destruction of rainforest and planting trees around cocoa farms to protect them and recreate the habitat in which trees are most productive.

In this way farmers are producing far more cocoa beans from the same area of land. This year the programme has planted more than a million trees to restore the forest canopy.

Cocoa Life was launched in 2012 and to the end of last year had trained more than 68,000 members of the cocoa-farming community in best practice to ensure a sustainable industry. Cocoa saplings and shade trees needed to replicate rainforest conditions had been distributed to 9,600 farmers.

Industry example

The company says that by the end of 2017 it had increased the amount of its cocoa from sustainable sources by 14 percentage points to 35% and reached 120,000 farmers, 31% more than in 2016.

The potential crisis in the cocoa-growing industry and the threat of climate change have led other manufacturers to embark on similar schemes, and 11 companies have now joined together in a World Cocoa Foundation alliance to protect rainforest from further destruction by cocoa farmers looking for new land.

Although Mondelēz is protecting its own interests by ensuring its cocoa supply chain, Cathy Pieters is clear that the programme is much more than that alone: “We pioneered Cocoa Life to address cocoa farm productivity alongside community development. We strive to not only empower cocoa farmers but also to help their communities thrive.

“We help them find real solutions like diversifying their income beyond the farm, which in turn develops their capacity to stand strongly on their own feet. I believe when we involve farmers as part of the solution, we see lasting, positive change happen.” – Climate News Network

Energy efficiency cuts carbon from buildings

With the highest efficiency standards, countries can cut household carbon emissions at no cost to consumers – and achieve the UN’s climate goals.

LONDON, 13 April, 2018 – Massive savings in carbon emissions are possible worldwide if governments adopt the highest energy efficiency standards for lighting and other household appliances such as fridges, freezers and washing machines, researchers say.

Not only would this go a long way to meeting the Paris Agreement goal of keeping average temperature rise as close as possible to a 1.5°C maximum. It would cost consumers no more than they pay already, and would save on their utility bills.

The research team is from the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations who since 2009 have tracked climate action towards the Paris Agreement’s aim of holding warming well below 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C.

Many countries have already adopted higher energy efficiency standards, including the entire European Union (EU). But if the best standards were applied globally, more than 1,100 average-sized coal-powered generating plants, each producing about 600 MW, could be closed.

If low carbon electricity production were used to generate the remaining electricity needed, and fossil fuel plants were closed, then a reduction of 60% of all emissions from buildings would be possible by 2030, CAT says. This is 5.2 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide, more than the EU’s entire current emissions.

“We found examples around the world where people are reaping the benefits by switching off lights in cities at night, switching to LEDs, smart lighting and smart metering”

CAT’s report looks at case studies where energy efficiency has been encouraged by governments. In India, for instance, a scheme to boost the use of efficient LED lights at no extra cost to consumers has resulted in the sale of 230 million bulbs since 2014 – a 50-fold increase in two years.

It meant at peak times that India needed 6,000 megawatts less electricity to satisfy demand than if ordinary bulbs had been used. The government was able to negotiate for better prices for mass orders of LEDs from the manufacturers, lowering prices and increasing jobs at the same time.

Other countries are also producing excellent results with different policies. In France lighting installations in non-residential buildings must be switched off at night, to reduce both energy waste and light pollution. The resulting energy savings are comparable to the annual electricity consumption of 750,000 households, lowering CO2 emissions by 250 kilotonnes and saving French businesses €200m in energy costs.

Professor Niklas Höhne of NewClimate Institute, one of the three members of the CAT consortium, said: “We found examples around the world where people are reaping the benefits by switching off lights in cities at night, switching to LEDs, smart lighting and smart metering, apps provided by energy companies to encourage customers to save energy or to use appliances at off-peak hours.”

Downward trend

In other countries in the EU where governments have made fewer direct interventions in the market but still adopted the EU-wide regulations, this has still reduced demand for electricity, to the surprise of some governments.

The United Kingdom, where housing is among the least energy-efficient in Europe, had predicted that the British demand for electricity would rise continuously until 2030, but in fact it has gone down year on year since 2008. This is attributable partly to the increasing energy efficiency of lighting and household appliances forced on manufacturers by EU directives.

The CAT report also covers the plight of the one billion people who still have no access to electricity. One in three of them still uses kerosene for lighting, which damages lungs and has other serious health effects, while adding to carbon emissions.
Off-grid solar lighting or microgrid renewable solutions with energy efficient lighting will give them opportunities to improve their lives without adding to climate change.

“Lighting and appliance efficiency improvements, together with renewable energy, are key to simultaneously meeting the sustainable development goal of providing access to affordable and clean energy for all and the Paris Agreement 1.5oC limit”, said Jasmin Cantzler of Climate Analytics, another consortium member. – Climate News Network

Alberta’s oil exports face ocean of trouble

Canadians hoping Alberta’s oil exports from its tar and oil sands will expand may be disappointed. One supertanker port has turned the economics upside down.

OTTAWA, 12 March, 2018 – Alberta’s oil exports are at serious risk. Last month the first supertanker capable of holding two million barrels of oil sailed for the first time from America’s newly upgraded – and only – terminal able to handle crude-carrying giants of this size: the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP).

She was bound for China, and her maiden voyage signals a major shift in global oil shipping patterns, economics, and the highly competitive oil refinery business.

The LOOP terminal is deep in the Mississippi Delta. A 29-kilometre pipeline stretches across the shallow Gulf of Mexico coastal shelf to a point deep enough to allow similar Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) to unload their vast tonnages. Nearby a complex of salt caverns and surface tanks stores both oil imports headed for US refineries and fast-increasing volumes of oil bound for export.

The LOOP terminal is a speculator’s venture on steroids. Built with private capital, it is North America’s first oil port dedicated to the planet’s largest crude tankers, handling two-way oil flows.

It’s designed to thrive on fierce global fights over not just oil supply and demand, but the multi-billion dollar bets corporate oil traders and hedge funds place, hoping to buy low and sell high – now or years hence.

Two cargoes at once

Any VLCC from any country can now unload or load oil at the LOOP. They can carry it – two million barrels at a time – to ports across the globe, at a price lower than smaller tankers.

And because the LOOP bi-directional pipeline can pump oil at a mind-bending 100,000 barrels an hour, supertankers can arrive with one load for refining and sail with another, barely dropping anchor.

That will probably prove fatal to the plans of the Canadian province of Alberta to expand unrefined bitumen exports by either the proposed Trans-Mountain pipeline to the British Columbia coast or the planned Keystone XL pipeline to Texas.

Bitumen, or asphalt, is the feedstock which tar sands and oil sands producers remove from the ground, thick enough to require mining, not pumping. It then has to be diluted with light crude oil or other chemicals before it can go through a pipeline (hence the term diluted bitumen).

Multiple snags

The LOOP threatens Alberta’s export plans for several reasons:

• Potential foreign refiners and customers will demand that future oil price, quality, shipping costs, and delivery speeds match those that LOOP can offer;

• For safety reasons, the maximum oil tanker cargo allowed into British Columbia’s ports is an Aframax class ship, at 80% capacity, carrying 550,000 barrels – only about a quarter of the load of a VLCC. So a refiner in Asia would need to charter four tankers to ship the same amount as from the LOOP terminal, then wait longer for the full order to arrive;

• The diluted bitumen Alberta wants to export has chemical and combustion properties that make it far inferior to the higher-quality oil the LOOP has access to from US formations in the Dakotas and Texas, or OPEC countries, or the North Sea. Tar sands/oil sands bitumen can be upgraded and refined, but that adds significant costs and requires dedicated facilities.

• The terminus of the Keystone XL will be refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast near Houston which are not connected to the LOOP. Even if future Alberta bitumen were to be refined there, it would take three fully-loaded Aframax tankers leaving Texas for ship-to-ship transfers to each VLCC.

These important changes in tanker and terminal technology and scale are no secret in the oil industry outside Canada. Nor is the dirty chemical composition of tar sands/oil sands bitumen. Nor is the cutthroat competition among global oil producers, refiners, shippers, and speculators, in which nickels per barrel of oil delivered are fought over fiercely.

Long build-up

In fact, the bad news for Alberta’s oil patch has been building up for a decade. That’s when shipbuilders in South Korea, China and Japan began constructing what has become a global fleet of about 750 VLCCs (with 50 more ordered for 2018), and the scrapping of Aframax class tankers began accelerating.

This in turn drove down the benchmark price for ocean oil shipping, triggered the LOOP terminal upgrade, effectively consigned oil terminals like British Columbia’s to minor league status, and left oil deposits far from deep port tidewater at a significant cost disadvantage.

When the undeniably dirty content of Alberta’s bitumen deposits is added into these negative cost equations, global oil players know when to quit.

Compared to conventional heavy crude, bitumen contains 102 times more copper, 21 times more vanadium, 11 times more sulphur, 11 times more nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead, according to the US Geological Survey. It also has a much lower ratio of hydrogen to carbon, which degrades combustion efficiency.

This helps explain why recently oil giants such as Exxon Mobil, Conoco Phillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Total and Norway’s Statoil have abandoned gargantuan bitumen deposits in western Canada and/or taken billion-dollar write-downs, to the howls of shareholders.

No refiners will pay the same price to process sweet light crude and bitumen

For environmentalists and climate scientists, the chemical composition of Alberta bitumen is cause for deep worry about toxic air emissions, potential spills into waterways and aquifers, and further destabilisation of the climate. Together with First Nations, they have vowed to fight long and hard for ecological reasons.

But for potential foreign purchasers of that oil, the key question is how much extra it will cost to extract the dirty compounds in Alberta bitumen so that its quality matches export oil being produced at high-grade, low-cost US shale formations like the Bakken, Permian, and Eagle Ford.

No refiners will pay the same price to process sweet light crude and bitumen because they have to make costly capital outlays to configure their refineries to extract higher sulphur and heavy metals, make up the hydrogen deficit of bitumen, then dispose of the mountains of carbonised crud (petcoke) left over. So refiners – anywhere on the planet – will charge Alberta producers more to process each barrel of bitumen.

Alberta’s huge deposits cost too much to dig up, refine, and ship. They are in the wrong place. And they rank among the dirtiest to refine into gasoline, aviation fuel, or home heating oil.

These are the reasons – hiding in plain sight – why western Canada bitumen fetches a lower price than oil shipped from Texas and the North Sea. The LOOP terminal will magnify that spread.

Output to rise

Such details are apparently irrelevant to Alberta premier Rachel Notley and her federal tar sands/oil sands ally, prime minister Justin Trudeau. Instead, they support almost doubling oil production (causing GHGs to rise from 70 to 100 megatonnes per year) – roughly equal to the annual greenhouse gas emissions from all the cars, trucks, buses and boats currently used by 14 million people in Ontario.

About 20 months ago, many of the Big Oil players began to cut their losses and quietly stampede away from Alberta’s oil. Many bought into US shale oil plays.

Then Washington repealed a 40-year ban on the export of oil drilled by producers within the US. Suddenly, Americans could sell to Asia and Europe. Countless more shale wells were drilled, American pipelines began filling to capacity, and high-quality crude began flowing faster to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

By the end of 2017 US oil production was at an historic high, vast tank farms were full, and even major OPEC countries – reeling from the tsunami of oil coming from their new American competitor – tried to shore up world prices by cutting production and selling premium blends at deeply discounted prices to Asian and US customers.

Some buyers are storing high-quality, low-cost oil in VLCCs hunkered down in harbours across the globe. (That fleet of 750 supertankers could collectively store some 1.5 billion barrels of oil at any given time.)

A minor swing in oil prices can cause a VLCC to change course mid-ocean and head for a new customer offering a better price

Some American shale oil producers, who can drill deposits quickly and cheaply and then tap or cap them depending on the transient price of oil, can survive at US$20 a barrel. Most producers need $40 to justify pumping and selling for a profit. Alberta’s proposed new projects may need $80 to 100 per barrel to permit such huge capital investments. That is nowhere on the horizon.

By contrast, a minor swing in oil prices can cause a VLCC to change course mid-ocean and head for a new customer offering a better price. How could a new tar sands/oil sands project be bankrolled when such price volatility is the new normal, and decades-long contracts are ancient history? It couldn’t.

There is no business case for an expansion of Alberta’s tar sands/oil sands on the scale needed to justify the Keystone XL and Trans-Mountain export pipelines because of one bare fact: there are zero foreign buyers who today will commit to decades-long purchase contracts for unrefined bitumen at a fixed price near US$80 per barrel.

Instead, global traders will literally buy future oil by the boatload, then book terminal time at any deepwater ocean port like the LOOP, anywhere in the world, to embark with two million barrels in a single cargo. – Climate News Network


Originally published exclusively on The Energy Mix, and republished by permission. The Mix is a thrice-weekly e-digest on climate, energy and post-carbon solutions.

Paul McKay – – is an award-winning investigative reporter and author. His reports have appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, and Vancouver Sun.

US solar industry is clouded by uncertainty

Investments are falling and jobs vanishing in the US solar industry, with new tariffs on imports blamed for its problems.

LONDON, 5 March, 2018 – The US solar industry is losing its shine. Although solar power is seen as a key way to avoid the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, US solar companies are cutting investments and laying off workers. An industry employing more than 230,000 people and with an estimated worth of $28 billion is now warning of trouble ahead.

More than 10,000 jobs in solar were lost in 2017, says a report by the Solar Foundation, a non-profit research firm.

The clouds spreading across the US solar sector are in part due to a slowdown in sales in so-called mature markets in California and the US Northeast, both areas of double digit solar growth in recent years.

However, industry analysts say the main reason for the present travails in the solar sector is the announcement earlier this year by President Donald Trump of a 30% tariff on imported solar panels.

Help at home

The aim, says Trump, is to support domestic manufacturers and stop the mass import of solar panels, mainly made in southeast Asia, South Korea and China. At present about 90% of solar panels installed in the US are imported.

“We’ll be making solar products now much more so in the US”, said Trump, announcing the imposition of tariffs in January.

“Our companies have been decimated and those companies are going to come back strong … a lot of workers, a lot of jobs.”

The overwhelming majority  of people involved in the US solar sector are involved with installation and maintenance; a large number of firms also manufacture subsidiary products, such as racks for mounting the panels.

While some US-based manufacturers of solar panels – there are now very few of them – have welcomed news of the tariffs, most in the industry say the move is likely to drive up costs in what is a highly competitive energy sector.

Chinese domination

China now dominates the global solar power market; it’s the source of two thirds of the world’s total solar panel capacity and it also buys up half of the world’s production.

Chinese manufacturers have invested heavily in research and development and their solar products have become increasingly sophisticated.

US industry analysts say the products of domestic companies will be too expensive and will not be able to compete with other energies such as wind power or gas. Demand will fall, and jobs will be lost rather than gained.

From 2010 to 2016 solar power installations in the US went into overdrive, driven by falling costs and a range of government incentives. The industry says nearly 50GW of capacity is now installed – enough to power 10 million homes.

The Trump administration has made no secret of its wish to promote the use of fossil fuels – including coal – and remove incentives which were aimed at widening the use of renewable energies.

“Our companies have been decimated and those companies are going to come back strong … a lot of workers, a lot of jobs”

Some in the solar industry say that with or without the tariffs – which have been imposed on a sliding scale for a four-year period, with a 15% charge in the final year – solar power is very much here to stay. Demand might slow, but it will not stop.

In anticipation of the tariff hike, solar companies stockpiled a vast amount of imported solar panels last year; in the last three months of 2017 US imports of solar panels from China increased by more than 1,000%  –  enough to supply the industry for several months.

It seems that Trump’s efforts to discourage the use of renewable energy are not working in the way he might wish.

Recently growth in solar power installations has been particularly strong in the mid-west and south of the country – in pro-Trump states that have traditionally turned their backs on renewable energy and supported the president’s fossil fuel policies. – Climate News Network

Nuclear waste mountains just go on growing

Some politicians still claim atomic energy is the answer to climate change while leaving the problem of nuclear waste to our descendants.

LONDON, 27 February, 2018 – Nuclear waste has been an intractable problem since nuclear power was invented more than 50 years ago, and for many countries it is becoming an ever more expensive and politically embarrassing issue.

Not that politicians would admit this: many still argue that nuclear power is an answer to climate change, forgetting that they are passing the waste buck to future generations.

To those in power the solution to the waste problem is always just around the corner, conveniently just beyond their term of office. But the history of the industry over the last four decades, across the globe, is of dozens of failed schemes.

Currently the United States, France and the UK are yet again wrestling with the problem of repeated failed attempts to find a solution, as scientists warn that continued neglect of the issue is placing citizens in increasing danger.

The situation in China and Russia is not known, apart from the fact that in Russia there have recently been mysterious atmospheric leaks of radiation detected as far away as Switzerland.

Getting an honest overall situation report from the Russian government or from China seems unlikely, since many of their nuclear sites remain closed territories.

Long-lived radioactivity

The problem is that civil nuclear industries, especially when they are combined with a weapons programme, produce plutonium and other by-products in spent fuel that take as long as 100,000 years to decay.

Identifying somewhere to put these wastes where they could be safe for that length of time requires stable geological formations that are very hard to find anywhere. Since international law requires the state that produced the waste to dispose of it within its own boundaries, this is even more difficult.

If democracy is added into the mix, and people are given the right to object to a deep depository being built in their backyard, then in some countries the problem appears to be insoluble.

Two countries are close to solving the issue of their waste mountains, Sweden and Finland, although there are still regulatory hurdles to overcome.

Both are building deep depositories for their biggest problem, spent nuclear fuel. Fortunately spent fuel is less complex than the waste generated by the UK, France or the US, because it has no highly dangerous detritus remaining from nuclear weapon manufacturing.

The problem for . . . states that built nuclear power stations in the last century is the growing urgency of finding a solution

For these three states, which have all reprocessed spent fuel to extract weapons grade plutonium, the situation is far more difficult. Despite this, all three countries are continuing to build nuclear power stations, potentially making the problem even worse for future generations.

The prime example is the UK, which wants to build a new generation of ten nuclear stations, but has just started its sixth search for a nuclear waste dump site in 42 years.

Various governments have gone through many proposals, some of them surviving through years of public consultations, planning inquiries and geological investigations, only to be finally rejected.

One favoured site, at Sellafield in Cumbria, next to the country’s two vast reprocessing facilities, was rejected on geological grounds – the rock it was to be built into has too many cracks to keep the waste from leaching into the water supply.

The latest scheme launched by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy involves finding a community somewhere in Britain willing to take the waste in return for a very large bribe in the form of cash to develop schools, roads, industries and anything else that takes their fancy – as long as they host the nation’s nuclear waste for the next 100,000 years. It remains to be seen whether there are any takers.

Pledge ignored

The problem for the government is that it has frequently pledged not to build any more nuclear power stations until it has solved the problem of the waste, something it has patently failed to do. Meanwhile ever larger quantities of waste are being stored, much of it in unsatisfactory and sometimes dangerous conditions. Just keeping it safe costs £3bn (US$4.2bn) a year.

In the US, where the situation is as bad or worse, President Trump has re-opened the long-running saga of Yucca Mountain nuclear depository. This is a scheme that has been fought over for decades and abandoned because of local opposition.

The problem is that the waste stored in numerous US nuclear facilities is dangerous and urgently needs to be packaged and found a final resting place.

One of the most critical places is Hanford, once a place for making nuclear weapons that now has stores of unstable waste. The tanks full of liquid waste alone will cost an estimated  $111bn to package and make safe. Trump’s reaction to this has been to slash Hanford’s budget by 10%.

Meanwhile the answer from Nevada state officials to Trump’s proposal to re-open the Yucca Mountain depository scheme was to approve a $5.1mn legal contract to fight the proposal. It seems unlikely the situation will be resolved soon.

Eviction criticised

In north-eastern France hundreds of riot police were employed this month to evict 15 protestors living in tree houses to protect a zone in the forest of Lejuc, near Meuse.

The use of 500 armed gendarmes to evict 15 people has been strongly criticised, not least because the government has not yet finally agreed that this is the right site to bury 85,000 cubic metres of waste that will remain dangerous for 100,000 years.

The problem for these three governments – and others in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and many other states that built nuclear power stations in the last century – is the growing urgency of finding a solution.

In Britain, France and the US there are “swimming pool-size tanks” of high-level waste which are unstable and need work without delay.
With one third of Europe’s operating nuclear power stations due to be shut down by 2025, and European utilities short of €118bn (US$145bn) in decommissioning and waste management funds to pay for the work, it looks as though taxpayers will be left to foot this enormous bill.

Knowing this, companies are queuing up to get into the nuclear waste business, confident that governments will sooner or later be forced to step in and provide the money to keep their citizens safe. – Climate News Network

Europe’s cities face a hotter century

British scientists have just issued a detailed hazard forecast for Europe’s cities, for increasing floods, droughts and heatwaves.

LONDON, 26 February, 2018 – Europe’s cities are about to bake. The worst-case scenario for ever-hotter temperatures now suggests that later this century the Austrian city of Innsbruck – for example – could be subjected to heatwaves 14°C hotter than any in the past.

Altogether more than 400 cities could under such circumstances expect heatwaves at least 10°C hotter than any today. Droughts in Europe could be 14 times worse than any droughts experienced today.

And some of Europe’s rivers could experience peak flows 80% higher than any today, which means ever-greater flood hazards, in particular for north-west European cities.

Three Europeans out of four live in cities. By 2050, this proportion will be even higher: 82% will have moved to urban centres.

Researchers report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they examined the trends for all 571 cities in Europe’s urban audit database and simulated the outcome of a range of climate predictions.

Hotter heatwaves

They found that, as humans burn ever more fossil fuels to release ever higher levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, to stoke yet further global warming and trigger catastrophic climate change, all 571 cities will experience ever greater heatwaves: that is, three consecutive days and nights at which temperatures are about as high as they have ever been for that city.

In a best-case scenario – one in which nations switch to renewable energy sources – the highest increases in temperature extremes could be between 2°C and 7°C: the Finnish city of Helsinki can expect to see heatwaves of perhaps 1.5°C.

In the worst instance, temperatures over the Gulf of Finland could reach 8°C higher than any ever recorded and others – Innsbruck is cited as an example – could stifle in summer heatwaves 14°C hotter than any in the past.

Heat is a killer: an extended heatwave in 2003 claimed 70,000 lives in western Europe. In 2010 a heatwave in eastern Europe and Russia is estimated to have caused 55,000 extra deaths.

“Most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks”

But with extremes of heat, there will also be extremes of rainfall. Between 1998 and 2009, floods in Europe claimed 1126 deaths and cost at least €52 billion (£46bn) in insured losses. More rain is on the way in north-western Europe, where 85% of UK cities with a river are expected to face more flooding, even in the most hopeful outcome.

Drought could be even more devastating in southern Europe: in the best circumstances, droughts in the southern Iberian peninsula will be twice as severe as they were in the last half of the last century.

In the worst case, 98% of European cities could see damaging droughts, while in southern Europe, droughts could be 14 times more severe than now.

“Although southern European regions are adapted to cope with droughts, this level of change could be beyond breaking point,” said Selma Guerreiro, of the University of Newcastle, who led the research.

“Furthermore, most cities have considerable changes in more than one hazard which highlights the substantial challenge cities face in managing climate risks.”

Ample warning

None of this should be of any great surprise to either climate scientists or European city chiefs. Over recent years, teams of researchers have issued general European warnings of rain and heat extremes, and of shorter winters, earlier and more severe floods and greater risks to life and property.

Researchers have also looked at the detailed forecasts for individual cities: they know that higher sea levels impose higher risks of flooding and that extremes of weather offer greater dangers. They have even calculated the potential costs for Europe’s seaside cities from Rotterdam to Istanbul.

What distinguishes the latest study is the detail: it names cities that could be expected to experience the worst flooding in the worst-case scenario – Cork and Waterford in Ireland, Santiago de Compostela in Spain – and those that could expect the worst droughts: Malaga, for instance, and Almeria in Spain.

Stockholm and Rome could expect the greatest increase in numbers of heatwave days, while Prague and Vienna could see the greatest increases in maximum temperatures.

Urgent need

Lisbon and Madrid lead the league table of capital cities for increases in frequency and magnitude of droughts. Athens, Nicosia, Valletta and Sofia could be the European capital cities most at risk from both heat extremes and drought.

“The research highlights the urgent need to design and adapt our cities to cope with these future conditions,” said Richard Dawson, a co-author, and professor of earth systems engineering at Newcastle University.

“We are already seeing at first hand the implications of extreme weather events in our capital cities. In Paris the Seine rose more than 4 metres  above its normal water level.

“And as Cape Town prepares for its taps to run dry, this analysis highlights that such climate events are feasible in European cities too.” – Climate News Network

Big business ‘threatens planet’s future’

Big business says it’s leading the world to a sustainable future. But a new book says that’s a highly implausible claim.

LONDON, 8 February, 2018 – Transnational corporations, or TNCs, or just plain big business, are everywhere. They have an overwhelming influence and impact on our lives – and on the planet.

They boast they are a force for good – and are helping in the fight against climate change. But Peter Dauvergne, professor of international relations at the University of British Columbia in Canada, begs to differ.

“The earth’s climate is drifting into an ever-deeper crisis as the shadows of mass production, transportation and industrial agriculture continue to intensify”, says Dauvergne.

The buzz word among TNCs is sustainability: TNCs see themselves leading the struggle to build a better world, in which resources will be ever more carefully managed – and climate-changing greenhouse gases reduced.

Leap of faith

“We are entering a very interesting period of history where the responsible business world is running ahead of the politicians”, says Unilever, the giant Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company.

With their global reach and enormous financial resources – which dwarf those of many countries round the world – TNCs say they are ushering in a sustainable future.

But trusting big business to lead sustainability efforts, says Dauvergne, is like trusting arsonists to be our firefighters.

He does point out that TNCs are doing many good things. For example, Walmart – the world’s biggest company by far – uses solar panels on its stores, recycles increasing amounts of its waste and donates millions of dollars to environmental causes, including the fight against climate change.

Sustainable business

Technology giants like Google and Apple have switched to using renewable energy across their operations.

TNCs spend billions each year on pressing home their sustainability message, stressing their adherence to the code of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

But Dauvergne says that, ultimately, CSR aims to enhance the sustainability of business, not the sustainability of the earth:

“One should not be fooled: when all is said and done, what companies like Walmart, Coca-Cola and BP are doing in the name of sustainability is aiming to advance the prosperity of business, not the integrity of ecosystems or the quality of future life.”

Financial heft

Dauvergne says TNCs have amassed extraordinary financial resources. The top 500 corporations in the US now account for two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product.

“Of the world’s top 100 revenue generators in 2015, 69 were companies and 31 were states.”

Mergers and takeovers, with small businesses being gobbled up, have led to an ever greater concentration of corporate wealth and power. A handful of giant companies has enormous influence on global agriculture – controlling fertiliser and pesticide production and, most importantly, the availability of seeds.

“Any chance of stopping big business from destroying much of the earth will require governments and societies to reorient global environmental policies”

TNCs, says Dauvergne, encourage both overconsumption and rising rates of unequal consumption. They use their financial clout and their teams of accountants and lawyers to avoid taxes – and to reap more profits for their shareholders.

Tax avoidance is severely damaging, especially to developing countries where losses of billions of dollars in revenues result in increased poverty, inadequate social services, and weak environmental enforcement.

Maybe the TNCs have come to believe their own propaganda, but the degree of corporate chutzpah is, at times, amazing to behold.

McDonald’s boasts that it is “helping to lead a global movement on beef sustainability.” BP, responsible for spewing millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, says sustainability is at the heart of its corporate strategy.

Confrontation needed

VW, which installed technology in millions of its cars to shut off pollution controls, says it abides by transparent and responsible corporate governance.

For the good of the future of the planet, the public – and governments – must confront big business, says Dauvergne: the corporate world is never going to be turned into a force for social justice and planetary sustainability.

“Any chance of stopping big business from destroying much of the earth will require governments and societies to reorient global environmental policies to reduce – and then restrain – the power of big business.

“Doing so is increasingly urgent, as the exact opposite is now happening, with the financial, political and cultural power of big business rising at an ever-quickening clip.” – Climate News Network

Will big business destroy our planet?  By Peter Dauvergne  Polity Books

Will Cape Town’s Day Zero arrive?

On 23 January we reported on the water crisis facing the South African city of Cape Town, expected on 11 May to reach Day Zero, when water to homes and businesses will be cut off. A long-time resident reports.

CAPE TOWN, 7 February, 2018 – Day Zero is real. The Day Zero concept means that Cape Town’s utility managers will switch off water to residential buildings and businesses, and continue to supply only critical services such as hospitals, and also the communal taps in slum neighbourhoods where people already collect their water in buckets every day.

This means most people in the suburbs will have to collect their daily 25l (0.88 cubic feet) water ration from 200 new distribution points. People have been warned that the military and police are on standby to manage any civil unrest.

The fear is that the entire economy will grind to a halt, as businesses and schools shut down, lacking water to drink or to flush toilets.

Households are currently asked to stick to a daily limit of 50l, but enforcement is difficult. The city says significant numbers of households, mostly wealthier ones, still massively exceed this figure.

Will Day Zero happen?

If Day Zero does dawn, the taps will be “turned off” for about three months. The Western Cape province, in which Cape Town lies, will head into its annual rainy season in late May (our Mediterranean climate brings rainfall in winter).

An academic close to a local university’s climate modelling team, and also privy to the city’s emergency water task team, says the concern isn’t whether or not Day Zero actually arrives (some well-informed pundits say it won’t).

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams to meet 2019’s needs.

Communications hype?

The claim that this is the “worst crisis to face a city since World War II”, made by the provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, is criticised as hyperbole.

A local newspaper columnist, Tom Eaton, wrote recently that Zille appears to momentarily have forgotten about “major cities called Sarajevo, New Orleans and Aleppo, each of which has faced ‘challenges’ in the last 30 years that, one might argue, rival that faced by Cape Town.”

My source who says the day may not arrive reckons the Day Zero idea is more of an emergency messaging concept to urge behaviour change, than an actual event likely to occur.

True or not, the bottom line is that Cape Town (a city that’s run by the chief opposition party, the Democratic Alliance/DA) is being heavily criticised for mismanaging the crisis, for several reasons.

Political rivalries

The national government (run by the African National Congress) is responsible for bulk water infrastructure, and appears to have been stalling on water delivery in the Western Cape province for the past decade.

The province is run by the ANC’s chief opposition, the DA. But critics say the DA could nevertheless have implemented much tighter water restrictions, sooner, in what now turns out to be a severe three-year drought.

They say the city should also have been exploring underground aquifers and desalination options much earlier, to get the laborious and bureaucratic tender processes passed and the infrastructure in place well before now. The city is also being accused of ignoring projections on population growth

The DA is charged too with blaming the unpredictability of the climate for their failure to plan: climate modellers have long been projecting a hotter, drier climate for the Cape, with longer droughts and more variable rainfall.

The city is selling this three-year drought as “unprecedented”, while some critics are calling it “the new normal”. Either way, the DA regularly points out that the climate models gave no warning of a drought this severe.

The issue is what happens next summer: no matter how much rain we get this winter, it won’t be enough to recharge the province’s dams

The city regularly says it will crack down on its top 100 most wasteful water users, through fines, temporary water cut-offs, or by installing devices letting it throttle back on household supplies to high users. Unfortunately it lacks the resources to install the devices fast enough.

Behavioural economists at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have done some preliminary research with city utility managers to see how short carefully crafted messages in people’s monthly utility bills can bring about voluntary adoption of water-wise behaviour.

Professor Martine Visser from the Environmental Policy Research Unit at UCT found that wealthy water consumers are more likely to cut their use if they know they will be praised publicly (for instance, on the city’s website) as “water wise”.

But they’re less likely to respond to threats of increased tariffs or fines for high usage, because their water bills constitute such a small part of their overall budget.

My water rationing

I have been surviving on about 40l of water a week for the past five months. I switched off my hot water cylinder in September because I found that even if I collected all the cold water that ran through the shower in a bucket, before hot water came through, it still collected twice as much water as I’d use to shower, once the hot was running. It is much more efficient to simply boil a kettle and then bucket-bath in about 3l of water.

From this month I’m now down to a daily water ration of about 26l:

Bucket bath: 3l (goes to first load of laundry, which then goes to flushing)
Dishes: 2l
Flushing: 20l (x 2 daily, about 12.8 l of which is grey water)
Cooking: 1l
Brushing teeth/washing hands: 1l
Drinking (water, tea etc): 2l
Laundry: 12.8l (2 x loads per week = 90l divided by 7 days = 12.8l, which goes to flushing)
TOTAL: ±26l dailyClimate News Network

Leonie Joubert is a freelance science writer and author, whose books include Scorched: South Africa’s changing climate, and Boiling Point: people in a changing climate.

Rising market failure puts planet in jeopardy

Until the world makes polluters pay for the damage they cause, market failure like climate change will increase the environmental risks we all face.

LONDON, 17 January, 2018 – Climate change is the result of the greatest market failure the world has ever seen.

So said Professor Nicholas Stern, the British economist who more than ten years ago wrote the first comprehensive report on the impact a warming planet would have on the world’s economies.

Stern’s thesis was that for years industrial concerns – big and small – had been allowed to pollute the atmosphere with climate-changing greenhouse gases. They had not been charged for the damage they had done.

“The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay,” said Stern.

More than a decade on from Stern’s report, there has been only limited progress on the implementation of a charging system for carbon emissions.

In general, market mechanisms have done little to bolster the fight against climate change

Regulations on polluting activities, new technologies and international agreements – in particular the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate – have been the main drivers in meeting the challenge posed by a warming world.

The European Union’s emissions trading system, the world’s first cross-border carbon market, has so far failed to set a carbon price high enough to deter most industrial concerns from their polluting activities.

Carbon markets in various US states have had only limited success and are viewed with disdain by an administration in Washington that is deeply sceptical on the whole issue of climate change.

Hopes now rest on a countrywide carbon market being set up in China, with Chinese officials predicting that high carbon prices will result in a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

But, in general, market mechanisms have done little to bolster the fight against climate change.

Plastic torrent

Meanwhile other market failures are threatening the environment – and it’s only now that governments seem to be waking up to the mounting dangers.

In the UK concern has recently been focussed on the scale of the environmental problem caused by plastic waste. Mainly in response to a BBC TV series on the world’s oceans, detailing how plastics are killing sea life and entering the marine food chain, politicians are suddenly talking of the dangers of a planet choking on plastic.

Newspapers have launched campaigns to cut the use of plastics and retailers are falling over themselves to be the first to announce plans to reduce or eliminate plastic packaging from their products.

Yet, as with action on climate change, this all comes late in the day. The market – until it is pushed and shoved by either public opinion or by government regulation – chooses to ignore the problems it is causing.

The world’s plastic problem has been evident for years. For several decades, scientists have been expressing concern about what’s known as the great Pacific garbage patch – a large stretch of once pristine sea where ocean currents have built up vast amounts of plastic rubbish.

Explosive use

Other market-related environmental failures are already evident. Over the last 30 years, the use of computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices has exploded.

Technology companies like Apple, Microsoft and Huawei make billions of dollars in profits. Apple’s revenues each year – nearly US$230 billion in 2017 – exceed the gross domestic products of many countries.

Electronic waste is a growing problem worldwide, with piles of computers and millions of mobile phones and other devices ending up on toxin-ridden waste dumps in the developing world.

Companies – whether plastic producers or the giants of the technology sector – should be charged for the waste they generate. The Paris Agreement acknowledged that the world cannot go on pouring waste products like greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. If there is not effective action, the consequences will be catastrophic.

Wide-ranging regulations on limiting emissions – and on other wastes we generate – have to be put in place. Ultimately, the polluter has to pay. – Climate News Network

Cheap renewables undercut nuclear power

The technology advances and plunging costs of cheap renewables make base load nuclear power redundant.

LONDON, 29 December, 2017 – Cheap renewables are mounting a serious challenge to nuclear power, which in 2017 has had a difficult year.

Key projects have been abandoned, costs are rising, and politicians in countries which previously championed the industry are withdrawing their support.

Renewables, on the other hand, especially wind and solar power, have continued to expand at an enormous rate. Most importantly, they have got significantly cheaper.

And newer technologies like large-scale battery storage and production of hydrogen are becoming economic, because they harness cheap power from excess renewable capacity.

This latest trend – the production of hydrogen from excess wind and solar power – raises the possibility of replacing natural gas, at least in part, for domestic heating and cooking and for power stations.

The output from renewables can be stored and balanced out. Base load nuclear power is no longer needed

Many existing gas pipelines and domestic networks are equally capable of taking natural gas, biogas and hydrogen, or a mixture of all three.

The speed with which the transition is taking place has exceeded all official estimates. In favourable locations across the world, including the United States, Europe and India, onshore wind and solar farms are the least expensive way of producing electricity.

Even off-shore wind, five years ago more expensive than nuclear power, has developed so quickly that the latest Dutch off-shore farms are to be built without any subsidy at all.

These advances in renewables that are cutting the cost of power are in sharp contrast to continued cost overruns and delays in nuclear power stations.

An analysis of countries’ plans for tackling climate change showed that 108 were looking to expand renewables and just nine wanted to build new nuclear stations.

US blow

The biggest single blow to nuclear power’s expansion came in August: two nuclear reactors under construction in the US state of South Carolina were abandoned when 40% complete. This was a humiliation for the US giant Westinghouse, already in Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings to escape its creditors.

The models concerned were its flagship design, AP 1000 pressurised water reactors, which were supposed to spur a nuclear revival. Their cost, already $9 billion, was expected to rise to $25 billion by the time the reactors were completed – three years behind schedule.

This month, December 2017, in the nearby state of Georgia, building work on the only other plants of this design still under construction was allowed to continue despite already accumulated delays and costs. When the project is completed it is expected to increase consumer bills in the state by10%.

The continued difficulties of nuclear power are reflected in the French government’s declared intention to reduce nuclear’s share in electricity generation from 75% to 50%, by closing old stations and building more renewables.

Long delay

While it will not close old reactors as fast as it originally intended, France does not plan to build any new nuclear plants beyond the one still awaiting completion at Flamanville, which is years late and over budget.

The South Korean government has similarly been promising to halt nuclear expansion and develop more renewables. Japan, still suffering from the after-effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011, is abandoning plans to restart some of its older reactors because of public resistance and the expense of upgrading safety.

Even in China and Russia, where state control means market economics have little effect on decision-making, plans to build more nuclear stations appear to be on hold, although no official statements have been made.

This has not stopped the nuclear industries in all these countries trying to export their technologies – notably to the UK, which is inviting all of them except Russia to build their latest nuclear power station design on its shores. If the plans succeed, the UK would have four different designs

The most advanced of these, Hinkley Point C in the west of England, is a set of two reactors of similar design to the badly delayed French reactor at Flamanville. It was originally due to be completed by Christmas 2017, but is now scheduled for 2025, although that is now seen as optimistic.

Completion doubts

Even the former UK energy secretary Sir Edward Davey, who signed off on the Hinkley Point deal, said “the economics have clearly gone away.” He doubted that the building would ever be completed, he told Greenpeace in an interview.

All the other UK nuclear projects are still at various stages of planning, and how any of them will be paid for is yet to be worked out. It is already clear that none can be financed without government subsidy.

An important political development in 2017 was that for the first time both the US and the UK admitted that their support for the nuclear industry is linked to the need to maintain their military capability in nuclear submarines and personnel. This is key, because both powers have previously claimed that there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries.

Even before their admission it was already clear that the big economies which have no nuclear weapons, like Germany, can see no point in having a civil nuclear industry.

Export drive

That does not stop smaller countries, some without any nuclear power stations at all at present, signing agreements with the Russian state-owned company Rosatom. In what many see as a Russian policy to extend its international influence, Rosatom already says it is building reactors in Belarus, China, India, Bangladesh, Hungary, Turkey, Finland and Iran, and is seeking to expand, with tenders in for 23 other reactors abroad.

These include Sudan, where the current president is wanted for war crimes. Whether all the plans will come to fruition remains doubtful.

The claim to a bright future which the nuclear industry clung to for the last 20 years was that the technology produced large quantities of low carbon electricity at a low price – something that intermittent renewables could not do.

In 2017 it is clear this argument has fallen apart. Nuclear is ever more expensive, and the cost is growing, while renewables are getting cheaper all the time.

But perhaps most important is that, with the development of batteries, biogas and hydrogen, the output from renewables can be stored and balanced out. Base load nuclear power is no longer needed. – Climate News Network

Trump confused on climate’s security threat

The new US national defence strategy appears to leave President Trump in two minds on the risk from climate’s security threat.

LONDON, 19 December, 2017 – Confused about climate’s security threat? Don’t worry – you’re not the only one. Donald Trump seems to be having great difficulty in knowing what to make of it too.

He’s even explicitly contradicted a senior colleague – and himself. And he’s prompted suggestions from retired military officers that America’s armed forces will continue to prepare for the reality of climate change undeterred.

The Trump administration has dropped climate change from a list of global threats in a new National Security Strategy the president has launched.

Instead, President Trump’s NSS emphasises the need for the US to regain its economic competitiveness in the world, with his “America First” plan focussing on four themes surrounding economic security for the US.

America first

The Associated Press lists them as “protecting the homeland and way of life; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world”.

“Climate change is not identified as a national security threat, but climate and the importance of the environment and environmental stewardship are discussed,” a senior administration official told the London Guardian. Last June the president announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

By contrast, former President Obama said that “climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security. And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”

The new doctrine is hard to reconcile with a statement by a man Mr Trump himself appointed to high office, the US Defense Secretary, Jim Mattis, who said in March that climate change was affecting stability in parts of the world where American troops were operating, and that it was appropriate for commanders to plan for the instability it would cause.

“We have a responsibility to prepare, and that’s becoming clearer every day”

The US Government Accountability Office said recently that military authorities are neglecting to plan for climate risks. A GAO study team said that of 45 military installations worldwide, only a third had integrated climate change adaptation into their planning.

Dozens of bases were exempted from a department-wide climate vulnerability assessment, including “key national security sites.” The report said the Pentagon omitted a number of facilities without adequate explanation – in some cases it simply stated that there was no risk, but gave no reasons.

But the starkest contrast between the new strategy and the past appears to be the work of Donald Trump himself. On 12 December he signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act. Its provisions include requiring the Pentagon to report on how military installations and overseas staff may be vulnerable to climate change over the next two decades.

To make sure that nobody missed the point, the act stated explicitly: “Climate change is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.” But the president who signed that act now, one week later, thinks climate change is not a security threat worth the name.

Continued preparation

The Center for Climate & Security (CCS) is a US non-partisan policy institute of security and military experts (many of them high-ranking former members of the armed forces). It regards the threats of climate change and nuclear conflict as inseparably joined.

The co-founder and president of the CCS, Francesco Femia, told the Climate News Network: “It’s very unfortunate that climate change is not being explicitly addressed as a national security threat in the National Security Strategy . . .

“However, despite this strategy, which is more of a political document than anything else, I think the broader national security community in the US will continue to prepare for this challenge, as was made clear by the defense bill, and as has been made clear by the Department of Defense.

“We have a responsibility to prepare, and that’s becoming clearer every day.” – Climate News Network