Category Archives: Economics

UK nuclear industry has a sinking feeling

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network

Warmer climate means US faces big losses

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Greenhouse gas emissions impose a social cost – in ecosystem damage, in climate extremes, in human health and wealth. The US faces big losses.

LONDON, 3 October, 2018 – Of the nations that stand to be most seriously affected by climate change, perhaps surprisingly, near the top of the list, the US faces big losses.

American and European scientists have taken a fresh look at what they call the social cost of carbon (SCC): that is, the damage that greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion will do to world economies. And whichever way they make the country-by-country comparisons, one nation is among the world leaders in self-harm – the USA.

It is not alone: India, a rapidly-growing economy, and Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest, join the US in the top three. China, which is now the world’s highest carbon dioxide emitter, is in the top five.

Calculations about the future economic costs of something that has yet to happen in a fast-changing world are of the kind that induce migraine, and always incorporate a wide range of possible outcomes.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has proposed that by 2020, the global costs of an additional tonne of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could range from $12 to $62. But a new study in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that these costs could be much higher, at approximately $180 to $800 per tonne.

“It’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies”

And the price to be paid by the US alone could be $50 per tonne. Since the US – which under President Trump has announced its intention to withdraw from a 2015 global agreement to limit greenhouse gas emissions – now emits almost five billion tonnes of CO2 a year, this could be costing the US economy about $250bn.

“We all know carbon dioxide released from burning fossil fuels affects people and ecosystems around the world, today and in the future; however, these impacts are not included in market prices, creating an environmental externality whereby consumers of fossil fuel energy do not pay for and are unaware of the true costs of their consumption,” said Katharine Ricke of the University of San Diego, who led the study.

President Trump once dismissed global warming and climate change driven by profligate fossil fuel use as a “hoax” devised by the Chinese. But US climate research – often from US government agencies such as NASA and the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration – has consistently warned of the potentially devastating future costs to the US.

Coastal flooding could create a new class of climate refugee within the US. Hurricanes will gain in ferocity and potential devastation. Forest fires are already on the increase.

The famously arid drylands of the US west have begun to march eastwards, and the extremes of heat and drought linked to a rise in global average warming are almost certain to cause harvest losses, all as a consequence of fossil fuel emissions. Clean energy policies, conversely, could cut air pollution and save American lives.

Assumptions reversed

The San Diego research reverses some long-standing assumptions, one of which is that while strong, rich economies benefit from fossil fuel use, the developing nations pay the highest price in the social costs of carbon, or SCCs.

The new calculations suggest much more uneven outcomes: the European Union, for instance, is likely to be less harmed by increased emissions, even though it is one of the world leaders in the attempt to combat climate change.

“Our analysis demonstrates that the argument that the primary beneficiaries of reductions in carbon dioxide emissions would be other countries is a total myth,” said Dr Ricke.

“We consistently find, through hundreds of uncertainty scenarios, that the US always has one of the highest country-level SCCs. It makes a lot of sense because the larger your economy is, the more you have to lose.

“Still, it’s surprising just how consistently the US is one of the biggest losers, even when compared to other large economies.” – Climate News Network

Protecting public health shows way on climate

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being 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.

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being 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.

‘Eternal’ Swiss snow is melting faster

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

LONDON, 21 September, 2018 – Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani. – Climate News Network

Scientists say stretches of “eternal” Swiss snow are melting faster than 20 years ago, with serious impacts for water supply and tourism.

LONDON, 21 September, 2018 – Parts of Europe’s alpine mountain chain are undergoing accelerating melting, as the “eternal” Swiss snow thaws ever faster, threatening both the skiing industry and the nation’s water supply.

Over a period of only 22 years, thousands of satellite images have provided irrefutable evidence that an extra 5,200 square kilometres of the country are now snow-free, compared with the decade 1995-2005.

Researchers from the University of Geneva and the United Nations Environment Programme have used data from four satellites which have been constantly photographing the Earth from space, compiling a record published by the Swiss Data Cube, which uses Earth observations to give a comprehensive  picture of the country’s snow cover and much else besides, including crops grown and forest cover.

It is the loss of snow cover that most disturbs the scientists. What they call “the eternal snow zone” still covered 27% of Swiss territory in the years from 1995 to 2005. Ten years later it had fallen to 23% – a loss of 2,100 sq km.

The eternal snow line marks the part of Switzerland above which the snow never used to melt in summer or winter. It is also defined as the area where any precipitation year-round has an 80-100% chance of being snow.

“We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible”

Other parts of the country, including the Swiss Plateau (about 30% of Switzerland’s area), the Rhone Valley, the Alps and the Jura mountains are also losing snow cover, adding up to the 5,200 sq km total. These areas, below the eternal snow line, have until now usually had lying snow in the winter.

The study was launched in 2016 on behalf of Switzerland’s Federal Office for the Environment. Knowing the extent of snow cover and its retreat is essential for developing public policies, the researchers say.

Beyond the economic issues linked to the threat to ski resorts – a familiar area of concern, heightened by this latest research, as many of them now face shortened seasons or outright abandonment – other problems such as flood risk and water supply are coming to the fore. Snow stores water in the winter for release in spring and summer, for both agriculture and drinking water.

Currently the increasing loss of ice from glaciers in the summer is making up for the missing snow, but previous work by scientists has shown that in the future, when glaciers disappear altogether, Switzerland could face a crisis.

The researchers have relied on the information available from the Data Cube to establish what is happening on the peaks. By superimposing repeated pictures of the same place over one another they have been able to observe small changes over time.

Wealth of data

The data was made freely available to researchers. One of them, Grégory Giuliani, said: “We have stored the equivalent of 6,500 images covering 34 years, a feat that only an open data policy has made possible. If we had had to acquire these images at market value, more than 6 million Swiss francs would have been invested.

“Knowing that each pixel of each image corresponds to the observation of a square of 10 by 10 meters, we have 110 billion observations today. It is inestimable wealth for the scientific community.”

Apart from snow cover scientists are worried about many other changes taking place in Switzerland because of climate change. They already know that glaciers are melting at record speeds and plants, birds and insects are heading further up the mountains, but there is much else to be gleaned from the new data base.

The Data Cube offers the possibility of studying vegetation, the evolution and rotation of agricultural areas, urbanisation and even water quality, as satellite images can be used to monitor three essential indicators in lakes and rivers: suspended particles, whether organic or mineral; chlorophyll content; and surface temperature.

The data are freely accessible, not only to scientists worldwide but also to the public, making it easy to compare data for specific areas of the territory at different times. “Our ambition is that everyone should be able to navigate freely in Swiss territory to understand its evolution”, said Grégory Giuliani. – Climate News Network

Contradictions beset China’s climate path

BOOK REVIEW

Triumph or catastrophe? Where will China’s climate path lead us all? So far there are both hopeful moves and warning signs, a new book says.

LONDON, 18 September, 2018 – Increasingly seen as a world leader towards a low- or no-carbon economy, China’s climate path is winning it many plaudits, particularly since Donald Trump – who has described global warming as a hoax – announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

China’s cheerleaders point to the often breathtaking progress the country has made on several climate change-related fronts, most notably in the growth of renewable energy.

Barbara Finamore, an Asia specialist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, who has spent several years in China, says in her book that only 100 MW of solar power was installed across the country 10 years ago.

Now China is well on the way to achieving its target of 213 GW of solar power by 2020 – five times more than the present total amount of solar power installed in the US.

It’s the same story with wind power; in the five years from 2007 to 2011 China installed more wind capacity than either the US or Germany achieved in more than 30 years of wind power development. By the end of 2016 China had built nearly 105,000 wind turbines, more than one out of every three turbines in the world.

Worldwide winners

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”, says Finamore.

She points out that these developments are not only benefitting China by lessening air pollution across many parts of the country – they are also having a positive impact in much of the rest of the world.

China’s massive investments in solar and wind manufacturing facilities mean renewable energy costs worldwide have been driven down. In many countries solar power is competing with more conventional energy sources.

China’s wholesale development of electrically powered vehicles is spurring the growth of the industry worldwide; in 2017 China was home to nearly half the world’s total of electric passenger vehicles and more than 90% of the global electric bus fleet.

Battery prices are falling; foreign manufacturers – keen to boost sales in the world’s fastest-growing vehicle market – are racing to develop new electrically powered models.

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”

“This push to scale up renewable energy has catapulted China to the forefront of a global clean energy revolution, with benefits that extend to every other country, as well as to the climate”, says Finamore.

But several factors cloud this rosy picture; as Finamore points out, China is still the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the burning of vast amounts of coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Despite talk by the leadership in Beijing of building what’s called an “ecological civilisation,” economic growth is still the overriding objective and the main factor which legitimises the Communist Party’s hold on power.

When growth flagged in recent years, China’s planners introduced a wide-ranging economic stimulus package, particularly connected with infrastructure. As a result, emissions in 2017 and the first half of 2018 went up, not down.

Policy bottleneck

Foreign observers of China often point to the country’s strictly controlled top-down political system, which is capable of quickly implementing climate change policies and other measures. But Finamore says government directives designed to combat climate change are often frustrated by local officials and assorted political rivalries.

Then there is the question of China’s role overseas. When it comes to climate change, Finamore sees this as generally positive. But what of the way China is using its new-found financial might to hoover up the world’s resources, causing widespread environmental damage along the way?

Chinese mining companies are polluting rivers in South America and chopping down rainforest in southeast Asia and West Africa. China’s state banks are funding coal-fired power stations around the world.

Yes, China has made significant progress on climate change and is eagerly embracing its new-found role as a global leader on the issue. But we should not be starry-eyed; a great deal more needs to be done. – Climate News Network

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore

BOOK REVIEW

Triumph or catastrophe? Where will China’s climate path lead us all? So far there are both hopeful moves and warning signs, a new book says.

LONDON, 18 September, 2018 – Increasingly seen as a world leader towards a low- or no-carbon economy, China’s climate path is winning it many plaudits, particularly since Donald Trump – who has described global warming as a hoax – announced his intention to withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord.

China’s cheerleaders point to the often breathtaking progress the country has made on several climate change-related fronts, most notably in the growth of renewable energy.

Barbara Finamore, an Asia specialist at the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, who has spent several years in China, says in her book that only 100 MW of solar power was installed across the country 10 years ago.

Now China is well on the way to achieving its target of 213 GW of solar power by 2020 – five times more than the present total amount of solar power installed in the US.

It’s the same story with wind power; in the five years from 2007 to 2011 China installed more wind capacity than either the US or Germany achieved in more than 30 years of wind power development. By the end of 2016 China had built nearly 105,000 wind turbines, more than one out of every three turbines in the world.

Worldwide winners

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”, says Finamore.

She points out that these developments are not only benefitting China by lessening air pollution across many parts of the country – they are also having a positive impact in much of the rest of the world.

China’s massive investments in solar and wind manufacturing facilities mean renewable energy costs worldwide have been driven down. In many countries solar power is competing with more conventional energy sources.

China’s wholesale development of electrically powered vehicles is spurring the growth of the industry worldwide; in 2017 China was home to nearly half the world’s total of electric passenger vehicles and more than 90% of the global electric bus fleet.

Battery prices are falling; foreign manufacturers – keen to boost sales in the world’s fastest-growing vehicle market – are racing to develop new electrically powered models.

“Every hour, China now erects another wind turbine and installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field”

“This push to scale up renewable energy has catapulted China to the forefront of a global clean energy revolution, with benefits that extend to every other country, as well as to the climate”, says Finamore.

But several factors cloud this rosy picture; as Finamore points out, China is still the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the burning of vast amounts of coal, by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Despite talk by the leadership in Beijing of building what’s called an “ecological civilisation,” economic growth is still the overriding objective and the main factor which legitimises the Communist Party’s hold on power.

When growth flagged in recent years, China’s planners introduced a wide-ranging economic stimulus package, particularly connected with infrastructure. As a result, emissions in 2017 and the first half of 2018 went up, not down.

Policy bottleneck

Foreign observers of China often point to the country’s strictly controlled top-down political system, which is capable of quickly implementing climate change policies and other measures. But Finamore says government directives designed to combat climate change are often frustrated by local officials and assorted political rivalries.

Then there is the question of China’s role overseas. When it comes to climate change, Finamore sees this as generally positive. But what of the way China is using its new-found financial might to hoover up the world’s resources, causing widespread environmental damage along the way?

Chinese mining companies are polluting rivers in South America and chopping down rainforest in southeast Asia and West Africa. China’s state banks are funding coal-fired power stations around the world.

Yes, China has made significant progress on climate change and is eagerly embracing its new-found role as a global leader on the issue. But we should not be starry-eyed; a great deal more needs to be done. – Climate News Network

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore

Tax havens threaten oceans and rainforests

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Most of the foreign money funding ocean plunder and the felling of the Amazon forest comes through tax havens, researchers say.

LONDON, 14 August, 2018 – Tax havens have provided more than two-thirds of the foreign capital known to be linked to Amazon deforestation and pirate fishing, a new study says.

The researchers say 70% of known vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing are or have been flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction. On average, they report, 68% of all investigated foreign capital (US$18.4bn of a total $26.9bn) which went to sectors associated with Amazon  deforestation between 2000 and 2011 was transferred through tax havens.

The report is the work of a team of researchers from the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) and the Global Economic Dynamics and the Biosphere programme (GEDB), who say it is the first study to show how tax havens are linked to economic sectors with the potential to cause serious global environmental damage.

They say the release of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers exposed how multinationals, politicians and the rich use offshore tax havens to conceal their wealth and money flows, and to reduce their exposure to tax. Accepting that the term “tax haven” is contested, their report uses a definition proposed in a report prepared for the US Congress.

The study’s lead author, Victor Galaz, deputy director of the SRC, says: “Our analysis shows that the use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one. While the use of tax haven jurisdictions is not illegal in itself, financial secrecy hampers the ability to analyse how financial flows affect economic activities on the ground, and their environmental impacts.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, is part of an on-going research project, Earth System Finance: New perspectives on financial markets and sustainability, led by GEDB and the Stockholm Resilience Centre in collaboration with Future Earth.

Systematic approach

The researchers say most previous analyses of the environmental impacts of tax havens are the work of investigative journalists focusing on a few locations. The new study, in contrast, takes a more systematic approach to analyse how the havens influence the sustainability of the ocean and the Amazon rainforest, two examples of the global environmental commons.

The Amazon forest is critical for stabilising the Earth’s climate system, and the oceans provide protein and income for millions of people worldwide, particularly in low-income food-deficit countries.

“The absence of a more systemic view is not surprising considering the chronic lack of data resulting from the financial opaqueness created by the use of these jurisdictions,” says co-author Beatrice Crona, GEDB’s executive director.

The study says lack of transparency hides how tax havens are linked to the degradation of environmental commons that are crucial for both people and planet at global scales.

“The use of tax havens is not only a socio-political and economic challenge, but also an environmental one”

It includes the first calculation of the foreign capital that flows into the beef and soya sectors operating in the Brazilian Amazon, both linked to deforestation.

The Cayman Islands proved to be the largest governmental source of transfers for foreign capital to both sectors. Well-known as a tax haven, the Islands provide three benefits to investors: legal efficiency, tax minimisation, and secrecy.

The study also includes a systematic analysis of tax havens’ role in global IUU fishing. With 70% of the vessels found to carry out or support IUU fishing, and for which flag information is available, flagged under a tax haven jurisdiction now or in the past, Belize and Panama are frequently mentioned.

Many of these tax havens are also so-called flags of convenience states, countries with limited monitoring and enforcement capacity that do not penalise vessels sailing under their flag even if they are identified as operating in violation of international law.

Dual identities

This combination of tax havens and flags of convenience allows companies to operate fishing vessels with dual identities, one used for legal and the other for illegal fishing.

“The global nature of fisheries value chains, complex ownership structures and limited governance capacities of many coastal nations, make the sector susceptible to the use of tax havens,” says co-author Henrik Österblom, SRC  deputy science director.

Among issues which the researchers suggest should be central to future research and to the governance of tax havens is the loss of tax revenue the havens cause. This, they argue, should be seen as an indirect subsidy to economic activities which damage the global commons, and organisations like UN Environment should assess the environmental costs involved.

And they argue that the international community should view tax evasion and aggressive tax planning as not only a socio-political problem, but also an environmental one. Putting tax havens on the global sustainability agenda, they say, is key to protecting the environment and achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals. – Climate News Network

Climate strategy needs tailoring to poorest

Climate change presents a dilemma. Inaction means ultimate catastrophe. But before then an ill-considered climate strategy could harm the poorest even more.

LONDON, 10 August, 2018 – An effective climate strategy to protect everyone on Earth, and the natural world as well, is what the planet needs. But Austrian-based scientists have now confirmed something all climate scientists have suspected for more than a decade: there can be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the twin challenges of climate change and human poverty.

That catastrophic climate change driven by “business as usual” fossil fuel energy reliance will by 2100 impose devastating costs worldwide, and drive millions from their homes and even homelands,  has been repeatedly established.

So has the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, almost certainly by imposing some kind of “carbon tax” worldwide.

But a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis warns that if agriculture is included in stringent climate mitigation schemes, there will be higher costs in the short term.

If humans don’t act, then climate change driven by global warming will create conditions that will put an extra 24 million people, or perhaps 50 million extra, at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Crop yields could fall by 17%, and market prices could rise by 20% by 2050.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations”

And if they do act with a global carbon tax or its equivalent, then by 2050 an extra 78 million – or perhaps 170 million, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa and India – could be priced out of the food market.

So for many of the poorest people on the planet, the cure could be worse than the disease.

“The findings are important to help realise that agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies,” said Tomoko Hasegawa, a systems engineer and researcher at IIASA, and of Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Mitigation in agriculture should instead be integrated with development policies.”

Thinking ahead

Studies such as these should not be understood as excuses for doing nothing: they are precautionary exercises in foresight. All human acts impose some kind of environmental and social costs. Rich nations can absorb the price of climate mitigation. The poorest communities, ironically the ones most at risk from climate change, cannot.

Dr Hasegawa and her co-authors report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at eight global agricultural models to analyse a range of outcomes for 2050.

Their scenarios contemplated socio-economic development options. These included the one in which the world actually pursued the sustainable programme implicitly agreed in 2015 in Paris, when 195 nations vowed to contain warming to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

They also included one in which the world followed current development trends, along with various levels of global warming, and various mitigation policies.

Possible solutions

And the researchers concluded that, instead of simply focusing on reducing emissions, policymakers would have to look at the big picture.

Carbon taxes will in various forms raise the prices of food, in some models by 110%. But the same study offers potential solutions. Right now, grazing animals in the developing world produce three-fourths of the world’s ruminant greenhouse gases, but only half its milk and beef. So techniques used in the developed world could if introduced at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote economic growth, reduce poverty and improve health in the poorest nations.

There are other options: money raised from carbon taxes could be used for food aid programmes to help those areas hardest hit. The point the researchers make is that when it comes to mitigation policies, governments and international organisations need to think carefully.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its specific impacts and efforts to mitigate its impacts will be realised at national and local levels,” the scientists conclude. “As such, future research will be required to assess the unique local and national challenges to adapting to and mitigating climate change while also reducing food insecurity.” – Climate News Network

Climate change presents a dilemma. Inaction means ultimate catastrophe. But before then an ill-considered climate strategy could harm the poorest even more.

LONDON, 10 August, 2018 – An effective climate strategy to protect everyone on Earth, and the natural world as well, is what the planet needs. But Austrian-based scientists have now confirmed something all climate scientists have suspected for more than a decade: there can be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the twin challenges of climate change and human poverty.

That catastrophic climate change driven by “business as usual” fossil fuel energy reliance will by 2100 impose devastating costs worldwide, and drive millions from their homes and even homelands,  has been repeatedly established.

So has the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, almost certainly by imposing some kind of “carbon tax” worldwide.

But a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis warns that if agriculture is included in stringent climate mitigation schemes, there will be higher costs in the short term.

If humans don’t act, then climate change driven by global warming will create conditions that will put an extra 24 million people, or perhaps 50 million extra, at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Crop yields could fall by 17%, and market prices could rise by 20% by 2050.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations”

And if they do act with a global carbon tax or its equivalent, then by 2050 an extra 78 million – or perhaps 170 million, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa and India – could be priced out of the food market.

So for many of the poorest people on the planet, the cure could be worse than the disease.

“The findings are important to help realise that agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies,” said Tomoko Hasegawa, a systems engineer and researcher at IIASA, and of Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Mitigation in agriculture should instead be integrated with development policies.”

Thinking ahead

Studies such as these should not be understood as excuses for doing nothing: they are precautionary exercises in foresight. All human acts impose some kind of environmental and social costs. Rich nations can absorb the price of climate mitigation. The poorest communities, ironically the ones most at risk from climate change, cannot.

Dr Hasegawa and her co-authors report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at eight global agricultural models to analyse a range of outcomes for 2050.

Their scenarios contemplated socio-economic development options. These included the one in which the world actually pursued the sustainable programme implicitly agreed in 2015 in Paris, when 195 nations vowed to contain warming to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

They also included one in which the world followed current development trends, along with various levels of global warming, and various mitigation policies.

Possible solutions

And the researchers concluded that, instead of simply focusing on reducing emissions, policymakers would have to look at the big picture.

Carbon taxes will in various forms raise the prices of food, in some models by 110%. But the same study offers potential solutions. Right now, grazing animals in the developing world produce three-fourths of the world’s ruminant greenhouse gases, but only half its milk and beef. So techniques used in the developed world could if introduced at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote economic growth, reduce poverty and improve health in the poorest nations.

There are other options: money raised from carbon taxes could be used for food aid programmes to help those areas hardest hit. The point the researchers make is that when it comes to mitigation policies, governments and international organisations need to think carefully.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its specific impacts and efforts to mitigate its impacts will be realised at national and local levels,” the scientists conclude. “As such, future research will be required to assess the unique local and national challenges to adapting to and mitigating climate change while also reducing food insecurity.” – Climate News Network

Washington’s political lobbying shackles science

Money talks, says a study of Washington’s political lobbying and its influence on climate change law. Most of the most vocal money comes from big energy.

LONDON, 24 July 2018 – Between 2000 and 2016 Washington’s political lobbying used money as lavishly as ever. The electricity utilities, fossil fuel companies and transportation companies spent around $2bn to “lobby” the US Congress and Senate on matters of climate legislation. Those sectors most likely to be affected by any changes in the law spent most on the issue.

In contrast, environmental organisations and the renewable energy sector each spent no more than a thirtieth of such sums.

And during the first 16 years of the new century, lobby spending in the US fluctuated: between 2000 and 2006, lobbyists for big energy spent only about $50m.

But as President Obama began office in the White House in 2009, and the US Congress started to contemplate legislation to contain or limit global warming driven by profligate fossil fuel use worldwide, lobbyist spending had peaked at $362m, according to new research in the journal Climatic Change.

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process”

Since then, President Trump has announced the US withdrawal from a global agreement to contain climate change signed by President Obama. The implication is that when it comes to influencing climate legislation, money talks more urgently and effectively than evidence.

Lobbying is not new. In democracies, all groups active in business, politics, the law and the economy seek to persuade lawmakers, and persuasion involves expense. But voters and ordinary citizens most affected by climate change and energy policy may be aware of neither the thrust and professionalism of the persuasion, nor the price paid for it.

“Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye,” says the sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia, who worked through almost 2 million official quarterly reports required by law in the US of all professional lobbyists paid to lobby on behalf of a client who make more than one contact with government officials and spend more than 20% of their time on lobbying.

“There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials. Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication.

Small fraction

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process.”

In fact, professional lobbyists spent more than $50bn during the 16 relevant years of this century, and climate issues constituted only a fraction of that investment.

Professor Brulle found that the electrical utilities sector spent $554m – a quarter of all climate lobbying – over the 16 years. Fossil fuel investors spent $370m and the transport providers dug into their pockets for $252m during these years.

It is no secret that big fossil fuel companies have resisted the logic of climate science and countered attempts to contain global warming.

Five years ago, Professor Brulle set himself the challenge of identifying political manipulation of US climate change legislation: he looked at Inland Revenue Service data from 91 climate denial organisations and found that they had received $558m in “dark money” – that is, money from 140 foundations and trusts whose own sources of finance were not clear.

Forceful messaging

Three years ago a researcher at Yale University worked through 20 years of contrarian literature, US media coverage and presidential documents to confirm that organisations with powerful corporate benefactors – and these included at least one oil giant – were better at getting their message across.

The conclusion, once again: money talks. And, Professor Brulle warns, his latest study still doesn’t reveal quite how forcefully money talks.

His figures cover “only reported lobbying spending. It does not count activities related to lobbying, including grassroots mobilisation, media relations and public relations. It has been estimated that an equally large amount is spent on these activities.” – Climate News Network

Money talks, says a study of Washington’s political lobbying and its influence on climate change law. Most of the most vocal money comes from big energy.

LONDON, 24 July 2018 – Between 2000 and 2016 Washington’s political lobbying used money as lavishly as ever. The electricity utilities, fossil fuel companies and transportation companies spent around $2bn to “lobby” the US Congress and Senate on matters of climate legislation. Those sectors most likely to be affected by any changes in the law spent most on the issue.

In contrast, environmental organisations and the renewable energy sector each spent no more than a thirtieth of such sums.

And during the first 16 years of the new century, lobby spending in the US fluctuated: between 2000 and 2006, lobbyists for big energy spent only about $50m.

But as President Obama began office in the White House in 2009, and the US Congress started to contemplate legislation to contain or limit global warming driven by profligate fossil fuel use worldwide, lobbyist spending had peaked at $362m, according to new research in the journal Climatic Change.

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process”

Since then, President Trump has announced the US withdrawal from a global agreement to contain climate change signed by President Obama. The implication is that when it comes to influencing climate legislation, money talks more urgently and effectively than evidence.

Lobbying is not new. In democracies, all groups active in business, politics, the law and the economy seek to persuade lawmakers, and persuasion involves expense. But voters and ordinary citizens most affected by climate change and energy policy may be aware of neither the thrust and professionalism of the persuasion, nor the price paid for it.

“Lobbying is conducted away from the public eye,” says the sociologist Robert Brulle of Drexel University in Philadelphia, who worked through almost 2 million official quarterly reports required by law in the US of all professional lobbyists paid to lobby on behalf of a client who make more than one contact with government officials and spend more than 20% of their time on lobbying.

“There is no open debate or refutation of viewpoints offered by professional lobbyists meeting in private with government officials. Control over the nature and flow of information to government decision-makers can be significantly altered by the lobbying process and creates a situation of systematically distorted communication.

Small fraction

“The process may limit the communication of accurate scientific information in the decision-making process.”

In fact, professional lobbyists spent more than $50bn during the 16 relevant years of this century, and climate issues constituted only a fraction of that investment.

Professor Brulle found that the electrical utilities sector spent $554m – a quarter of all climate lobbying – over the 16 years. Fossil fuel investors spent $370m and the transport providers dug into their pockets for $252m during these years.

It is no secret that big fossil fuel companies have resisted the logic of climate science and countered attempts to contain global warming.

Five years ago, Professor Brulle set himself the challenge of identifying political manipulation of US climate change legislation: he looked at Inland Revenue Service data from 91 climate denial organisations and found that they had received $558m in “dark money” – that is, money from 140 foundations and trusts whose own sources of finance were not clear.

Forceful messaging

Three years ago a researcher at Yale University worked through 20 years of contrarian literature, US media coverage and presidential documents to confirm that organisations with powerful corporate benefactors – and these included at least one oil giant – were better at getting their message across.

The conclusion, once again: money talks. And, Professor Brulle warns, his latest study still doesn’t reveal quite how forcefully money talks.

His figures cover “only reported lobbying spending. It does not count activities related to lobbying, including grassroots mobilisation, media relations and public relations. It has been estimated that an equally large amount is spent on these activities.” – Climate News Network

Smarter renewables open up new markets

The need to stop global warming in its tracks has spurred the growth of two smarter renewables that are helping to reshape the electricity industry.

LONDON, 9 July, 2018 – It’s bad news for Old King Coal, Big Oil and their mates, but smarter renewables are helping to break new ground. The offshore wind industry and concentrated solar power have so far been tried only on a large scale, and in a few pioneer countries. But that is changing fast.

Both ways of generating electricity, from wind and sun, were once thought technically feasible but too expensive to compete with fossil fuels. Advances in technology, though, and economies of scale have meant that costs are falling quickly.

One key factor in their new success has been that surplus renewable energy can now be stored, either by batteries or heat reservoirs, and can then be used at periods of peak demand.

Offshore wind power, pioneered in Denmark in 1991, has now become a major provider of energy in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Outside Europe China is also a major investor. Altogether 17 countries now have offshore wind, but more than 100 have coastlines where the technology could be deployed, so the potential is enormous.

Among the countries now considering large-scale offshore wind farms are Poland and Ireland in Europe, the US and, in the Far East, Taiwan, according to the organisers of a conference on offshore wind technology to be held in November.

Increasing efficiency

One innovation that has made a difference is the improved design of turbine blades that makes them more efficient, as well as the enormous increase in the size of offshore installations (up to 9 megawatts for each turbine), and the development of floating wind farms.

Although installing wind onshore is far cheaper than offshore, it is often far more difficult to obtain permission to build because of public opposition. Offshore, the turbines can be much larger, the wind flows are more regular, and uncertainties and costs from delays are reduced.

The second technology that is taking off is concentrated (or concentrating) solar power (CSP), a way of producing electricity that has been around for longer than offshore wind.

Till now its development has always taken second place to solar panels, which are quicker and cheaper to install. The cost of generating electricity from panels had also fallen so dramatically that they seemed to have edged out their solar rival.

But CSP is making a comeback, largely because it can now guarantee a 24-hour supply by using heat generated during the day to drive turbines at night.

“CSP has become a technology of major interest . . . the potential in the Middle East and North Africa is enormous”

Another advantage is that, unlike solar panels which lose efficiency if they get too hot, CSP thrives in such conditions – the hotter the better. This makes the Middle East, where temperatures are getting ever higher as a result of climate change, a huge potential market for CSP.

In Europe Spain, with abundant sunshine, has led the way. More recently, across the Straits of Gibraltar Morocco has become a world leader. It has a 40% target for renewable energy by 2020, rising to 52% by 2030, and already has a 160 megawatt CSP plant up and running. Three more are expected to come on line in the next few months.

So far the best form of CSP has not been settled. Some systems use parabolic troughs which concentrate the sun’s rays on a tower containing molten salt, or a combination of other substances capable of heating to a temperature of 500°C or more. The heat can then be used directly to drive turbines housed in underground reservoirs, generating electricity for later use and ensuring an uninterrupted supply.

Some systems use mirrors that follow the sun’s path to make the maximum use of its rays. Others include hybrids that use both mirrors and solar panels.

Price hopes

Currently, with the support of the World Bank, Morocco is running a competition for more hybrid CSP systems to reduce the price of the electricity. Although the first Moroccan venture produced electricity at $189 a megawatt hour, the second is already down to $140 and later proposals are expected to be between $50 and $100.

This hope of reduced costs is partly because Dubai, another desert kingdom intent on exploiting the sun’s power, is building a 200 megawatt CSP plant due to generate current at $73 a megawatt hour under a 35-year power purchase agreement with China’s Shanghai Electric.

These prices are still relatively high compared with onshore wind, but all have the advantage of removing the intermittency of other renewables by building in 24-hour supply. They also have other benefits for countries which otherwise would have to import fossil fuels, saving substantial sums.

With countries with plenty of sunshine and deserts, like Egypt, and in some cases lots of money for investment, like Saudi Arabia and China, CSP has become a technology of major interest. Like offshore wind it is currently in development in a relatively few countries, but the potential in the Middle East and North Africa is enormous. – Climate News Network

The need to stop global warming in its tracks has spurred the growth of two smarter renewables that are helping to reshape the electricity industry.

LONDON, 9 July, 2018 – It’s bad news for Old King Coal, Big Oil and their mates, but smarter renewables are helping to break new ground. The offshore wind industry and concentrated solar power have so far been tried only on a large scale, and in a few pioneer countries. But that is changing fast.

Both ways of generating electricity, from wind and sun, were once thought technically feasible but too expensive to compete with fossil fuels. Advances in technology, though, and economies of scale have meant that costs are falling quickly.

One key factor in their new success has been that surplus renewable energy can now be stored, either by batteries or heat reservoirs, and can then be used at periods of peak demand.

Offshore wind power, pioneered in Denmark in 1991, has now become a major provider of energy in the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands. Outside Europe China is also a major investor. Altogether 17 countries now have offshore wind, but more than 100 have coastlines where the technology could be deployed, so the potential is enormous.

Among the countries now considering large-scale offshore wind farms are Poland and Ireland in Europe, the US and, in the Far East, Taiwan, according to the organisers of a conference on offshore wind technology to be held in November.

Increasing efficiency

One innovation that has made a difference is the improved design of turbine blades that makes them more efficient, as well as the enormous increase in the size of offshore installations (up to 9 megawatts for each turbine), and the development of floating wind farms.

Although installing wind onshore is far cheaper than offshore, it is often far more difficult to obtain permission to build because of public opposition. Offshore, the turbines can be much larger, the wind flows are more regular, and uncertainties and costs from delays are reduced.

The second technology that is taking off is concentrated (or concentrating) solar power (CSP), a way of producing electricity that has been around for longer than offshore wind.

Till now its development has always taken second place to solar panels, which are quicker and cheaper to install. The cost of generating electricity from panels had also fallen so dramatically that they seemed to have edged out their solar rival.

But CSP is making a comeback, largely because it can now guarantee a 24-hour supply by using heat generated during the day to drive turbines at night.

“CSP has become a technology of major interest . . . the potential in the Middle East and North Africa is enormous”

Another advantage is that, unlike solar panels which lose efficiency if they get too hot, CSP thrives in such conditions – the hotter the better. This makes the Middle East, where temperatures are getting ever higher as a result of climate change, a huge potential market for CSP.

In Europe Spain, with abundant sunshine, has led the way. More recently, across the Straits of Gibraltar Morocco has become a world leader. It has a 40% target for renewable energy by 2020, rising to 52% by 2030, and already has a 160 megawatt CSP plant up and running. Three more are expected to come on line in the next few months.

So far the best form of CSP has not been settled. Some systems use parabolic troughs which concentrate the sun’s rays on a tower containing molten salt, or a combination of other substances capable of heating to a temperature of 500°C or more. The heat can then be used directly to drive turbines housed in underground reservoirs, generating electricity for later use and ensuring an uninterrupted supply.

Some systems use mirrors that follow the sun’s path to make the maximum use of its rays. Others include hybrids that use both mirrors and solar panels.

Price hopes

Currently, with the support of the World Bank, Morocco is running a competition for more hybrid CSP systems to reduce the price of the electricity. Although the first Moroccan venture produced electricity at $189 a megawatt hour, the second is already down to $140 and later proposals are expected to be between $50 and $100.

This hope of reduced costs is partly because Dubai, another desert kingdom intent on exploiting the sun’s power, is building a 200 megawatt CSP plant due to generate current at $73 a megawatt hour under a 35-year power purchase agreement with China’s Shanghai Electric.

These prices are still relatively high compared with onshore wind, but all have the advantage of removing the intermittency of other renewables by building in 24-hour supply. They also have other benefits for countries which otherwise would have to import fossil fuels, saving substantial sums.

With countries with plenty of sunshine and deserts, like Egypt, and in some cases lots of money for investment, like Saudi Arabia and China, CSP has become a technology of major interest. Like offshore wind it is currently in development in a relatively few countries, but the potential in the Middle East and North Africa is enormous. – Climate News Network

Electric vehicle sales promise shock for Big Oil

If motor manufacturers are right about the prospects for electric vehicle sales, an oil price crash won’t be far behind.

LONDON, 5 July, 2018 – Oil and gas companies have underestimated probable electric vehicle sales and the effect they will have on their own businesses and profits, a new report says.

If the car manufacturers’ projections of future sales of electric cars are correct, then demand for oil will have peaked by 2027 or even earlier, sending the price of oil in a downward spiral as supply exceeds demand, says Carbon Tracker (CT), an independent financial think-tank carrying out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets.

It says fossil fuel companies have taken into account some engine fuel efficiencies and the effect they would have on oil demand, but not the expected increase in electric vehicles themselves. There is a big mismatch between forecasts of EV market penetration from vehicle manufacturers and from oil majors, says Laurence Watson, a CT data scientist.

“The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day. Increases in fuel efficiency will also eat into oil demand and the industry’s profits. The oil majors’ myopic position presents a serious investor risk,” he told the Climate News Network.

Expectations far lower

The report looks at all the projections of the oil majors, including Exxon and BP, and says their figures for electric vehicle growth in the 2020s are 75% to 250% smaller than those expected by the global car manufacturers that have announced targets.

Electric vehicle sales in China alone, a figure bolstered by government intervention, are expected to be seven million a year by 2025. These, plus the three million a year aim of Volkswagen by the same date, would exceed oil industry estimates for sales for the whole world.

There are immense variables taken into account in the report. These include the number of miles driven by the average electric vehicle and the sort of car it replaces.

These variables depend on the influence of various governments’ policies to reduce oil in transportation in order to keep global temperature rise below 2°C beyond pre-industrial levels. The need to reduce air pollution also strongly favours the introduction of electric vehicles in cities.

More demand reduction

Another of the imponderables is the increasing efficiency of the internal combustion engine, which in itself also reduces demand for oil. It follows a growing trend already well-established in several countries, including Sweden, which from 2019 will produce no more vehicles powered by internal combustion alone.

The take-up of electric vehicles is crucial to the future of the oil industry because transportation takes up 50% of total oil demand. About half of the demand from transport is from light passenger vehicles, those that are most likely in the short term to switch to electricity.

Heavy-duty transport, aviation and shipping are also beginning to switch, but it is cars that will make the early difference.

The report argues that it is not total oil demand that matters but the difference between supply and demand. The 2014 crash in the oil price was caused by a surplus of 2 million barrels of oil a day, mainly because of a boom in US shale production.

“The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day”

To get the price back up in order to improve oil company profits took the combined efforts of the OPEC oil countries and the Russian government in cutting production, a process that needed three years.

According to the CT report, demand for oil will fall by 8 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 because of the expected deployment of electric vehicles, meaning that the oil-producing countries will have to constantly reduce their production in order to keep prices up.

The report argues that although oil demand will continue to be very large, the peak demand will have been reached around 2025. Demand displacement by electric vehicles “will significantly disrupt oil and gas company business models. Furthermore, we believe that when global oil demand peaks this will fundamentally alter investors’ approach to the industry.” – Climate News Network

If motor manufacturers are right about the prospects for electric vehicle sales, an oil price crash won’t be far behind.

LONDON, 5 July, 2018 – Oil and gas companies have underestimated probable electric vehicle sales and the effect they will have on their own businesses and profits, a new report says.

If the car manufacturers’ projections of future sales of electric cars are correct, then demand for oil will have peaked by 2027 or even earlier, sending the price of oil in a downward spiral as supply exceeds demand, says Carbon Tracker (CT), an independent financial think-tank carrying out in-depth analysis on the impact of the energy transition on capital markets.

It says fossil fuel companies have taken into account some engine fuel efficiencies and the effect they would have on oil demand, but not the expected increase in electric vehicles themselves. There is a big mismatch between forecasts of EV market penetration from vehicle manufacturers and from oil majors, says Laurence Watson, a CT data scientist.

“The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day. Increases in fuel efficiency will also eat into oil demand and the industry’s profits. The oil majors’ myopic position presents a serious investor risk,” he told the Climate News Network.

Expectations far lower

The report looks at all the projections of the oil majors, including Exxon and BP, and says their figures for electric vehicle growth in the 2020s are 75% to 250% smaller than those expected by the global car manufacturers that have announced targets.

Electric vehicle sales in China alone, a figure bolstered by government intervention, are expected to be seven million a year by 2025. These, plus the three million a year aim of Volkswagen by the same date, would exceed oil industry estimates for sales for the whole world.

There are immense variables taken into account in the report. These include the number of miles driven by the average electric vehicle and the sort of car it replaces.

These variables depend on the influence of various governments’ policies to reduce oil in transportation in order to keep global temperature rise below 2°C beyond pre-industrial levels. The need to reduce air pollution also strongly favours the introduction of electric vehicles in cities.

More demand reduction

Another of the imponderables is the increasing efficiency of the internal combustion engine, which in itself also reduces demand for oil. It follows a growing trend already well-established in several countries, including Sweden, which from 2019 will produce no more vehicles powered by internal combustion alone.

The take-up of electric vehicles is crucial to the future of the oil industry because transportation takes up 50% of total oil demand. About half of the demand from transport is from light passenger vehicles, those that are most likely in the short term to switch to electricity.

Heavy-duty transport, aviation and shipping are also beginning to switch, but it is cars that will make the early difference.

The report argues that it is not total oil demand that matters but the difference between supply and demand. The 2014 crash in the oil price was caused by a surplus of 2 million barrels of oil a day, mainly because of a boom in US shale production.

“The oil industry is underestimating the disruptive potential of electric vehicles, which could reduce oil demand by millions of barrels a day”

To get the price back up in order to improve oil company profits took the combined efforts of the OPEC oil countries and the Russian government in cutting production, a process that needed three years.

According to the CT report, demand for oil will fall by 8 million barrels of oil a day by 2030 because of the expected deployment of electric vehicles, meaning that the oil-producing countries will have to constantly reduce their production in order to keep prices up.

The report argues that although oil demand will continue to be very large, the peak demand will have been reached around 2025. Demand displacement by electric vehicles “will significantly disrupt oil and gas company business models. Furthermore, we believe that when global oil demand peaks this will fundamentally alter investors’ approach to the industry.” – Climate News Network