Category Archives: Energy

Nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it survive

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

Cool homes and hot water are there on the cheap

Would you like cool homes and hot water without paying to power them? They’re already working in the laboratory.

LONDON, 27 April, 2021 − It sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of: fit equipment to provide cool homes and hot water, and then pay nothing in running costs.

US scientists have worked out how to install the equivalent of 10 kilowatts of cooling equipment without even switching on the electricity. It’s simple: paint the place white. Not just any old white, but a new ultrawhite pigment that can reflect back into the sky more than 98% of the sunlight that falls on it.

And another US team has devised a passive cooling system that could be turned into a roofing material able to lower room temperatures by 12°C by day and 14°C at night, while capturing enough solar power to heat household water to about 60°C.

Each innovation is still at the demonstration stage; neither is likely to be commercially available soon. But each is a fresh instance of the resourcefulness and ingenuity at work in the world’s laboratories to address what is soon going to be one of the hottest topics of the planet: potentially lethal extremes of summer heat as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels.

The problem could grow to nightmare proportions. Researchers have warned that in the next fifty years, up to 3bn people could face temperatures now experienced only by those who live in the Sahara desert.

Increased energy appetite

By 2100, some half a billion people could face heat extremes of 56°C − about the hottest recorded anywhere so far − and people in the cities may face even higher hazard levels.

Air-conditioning systems driven by electricity might cool the homes of the well-off, but they also heighten the demand for energy, and will raise the temperature in the streets. And once again, the poorest people in the most crowded cities will be most at risk.

So for years researchers have been examining new and sometimes ancient techniques for passive cooling. Researchers in Indiana have already devised a pigment that could reflect more than 95% of the sunlight that hits it. Now, in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, they report that their latest paint formulation based on barium sulphate particles can deflect up to 98.1% of the light away, while releasing infrared heat as well.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts,” said Xiulan Ruan, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, and one of the authors. “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

And at the University of Buffalo, New York state, electrical engineers have experimented with a passive system that under direct sunlight can not only lower the temperature of the chamber it shields: it can also capture enough solar power to heat water.

“It can retain both the heating and cooling effects in a single system with no electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire”

Right now, they say in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, their mirror-based system is no more than 70cms squared, but it could be scaled up to cover rooftops.

It could not only reduce the need for fossil fuels to generate heat and power cooling systems; it could also one day help those with little or no access to electricity.

The mirrors, based on silver and silicon dioxide, absorb sunlight, and then convert it to heat which is funnelled into an emitter that sends the warmth back into the sky. In outdoor tests it reduced temperatures by 12°C; in the laboratory, it achieved a cooling of more than 14°C.

“Importantly, our system does not simply waste the solar input energy. Instead, the solar energy is absorbed by the solar spectral selective mirrors and it can be used for solar water heating,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, an electrical engineer at Buffalo.

“It can retain both the solar heating and radiative cooling effects in a single system with no need of electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire.” − Climate News Network

Would you like cool homes and hot water without paying to power them? They’re already working in the laboratory.

LONDON, 27 April, 2021 − It sounds like the stuff that dreams are made of: fit equipment to provide cool homes and hot water, and then pay nothing in running costs.

US scientists have worked out how to install the equivalent of 10 kilowatts of cooling equipment without even switching on the electricity. It’s simple: paint the place white. Not just any old white, but a new ultrawhite pigment that can reflect back into the sky more than 98% of the sunlight that falls on it.

And another US team has devised a passive cooling system that could be turned into a roofing material able to lower room temperatures by 12°C by day and 14°C at night, while capturing enough solar power to heat household water to about 60°C.

Each innovation is still at the demonstration stage; neither is likely to be commercially available soon. But each is a fresh instance of the resourcefulness and ingenuity at work in the world’s laboratories to address what is soon going to be one of the hottest topics of the planet: potentially lethal extremes of summer heat as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever more profligate use of fossil fuels.

The problem could grow to nightmare proportions. Researchers have warned that in the next fifty years, up to 3bn people could face temperatures now experienced only by those who live in the Sahara desert.

Increased energy appetite

By 2100, some half a billion people could face heat extremes of 56°C − about the hottest recorded anywhere so far − and people in the cities may face even higher hazard levels.

Air-conditioning systems driven by electricity might cool the homes of the well-off, but they also heighten the demand for energy, and will raise the temperature in the streets. And once again, the poorest people in the most crowded cities will be most at risk.

So for years researchers have been examining new and sometimes ancient techniques for passive cooling. Researchers in Indiana have already devised a pigment that could reflect more than 95% of the sunlight that hits it. Now, in the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, they report that their latest paint formulation based on barium sulphate particles can deflect up to 98.1% of the light away, while releasing infrared heat as well.

“If you were to use this paint to cover a roof area of about 1,000 square feet, we estimate that you could get a cooling power of 10 kilowatts,” said Xiulan Ruan, a mechanical engineer at Purdue University, and one of the authors. “That’s more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses.”

And at the University of Buffalo, New York state, electrical engineers have experimented with a passive system that under direct sunlight can not only lower the temperature of the chamber it shields: it can also capture enough solar power to heat water.

“It can retain both the heating and cooling effects in a single system with no electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire”

Right now, they say in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, their mirror-based system is no more than 70cms squared, but it could be scaled up to cover rooftops.

It could not only reduce the need for fossil fuels to generate heat and power cooling systems; it could also one day help those with little or no access to electricity.

The mirrors, based on silver and silicon dioxide, absorb sunlight, and then convert it to heat which is funnelled into an emitter that sends the warmth back into the sky. In outdoor tests it reduced temperatures by 12°C; in the laboratory, it achieved a cooling of more than 14°C.

“Importantly, our system does not simply waste the solar input energy. Instead, the solar energy is absorbed by the solar spectral selective mirrors and it can be used for solar water heating,” said Qiaoqiang Gan, an electrical engineer at Buffalo.

“It can retain both the solar heating and radiative cooling effects in a single system with no need of electricity. It’s really a sort of a ‘magic’ system of ice and fire.” − Climate News Network

Tidal power fuels Scottish electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are catching on in many countries, notably the Nordic states – and Scottish tides are powering cars there.

LONDON, 30 March, 2021 – The race to meet present and future demand for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) is on, with new projects being announced or swinging into action with increasing frequency.

The latest to join the rush into EV technology is the Norwegian company Freyr AS, which has announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery cell production facility in northern Norway.

The company has big ambitions: by 2025 it aims to become one of Europe’s biggest cell suppliers.

The oil, gas and aluminium industries have traditionally played a central role in Norway’s economy. But now there are signs of a change.

Useful similarities

The Freyr facility is being constructed in the small city of Mo I Rana, close to the Arctic Circle. The company says it’s hiring many executives and workers formerly employed in the country’s fossil fuel and aluminium industries.

Tom Einar Rysst-Jensen, Freyr’s CEO, says battery production is complex and has many similarities with the oil and gas industries.

“Battery production are large, capital-intensive, energy-intensive projects,” Rysst-Jensen told the Bloomberg news service. “If you want to be competitive, then you have to build on scale.”

Norway is a world leader in the uptake of EVs. At present about 60% of new vehicle sales in the country are fully electric and the government has announced a deadline of 2025 for ending the sale of all fossil fuelled transport.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource”

The Nordic region is positioning itself as a centre of battery development and technology in Europe.

Two of Norway’s largest companies, the oil firm Equinor and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, are teaming up with Japan’s Panasonic conglomerate to build a large battery production facility in northern Norway.

In neighbouring Sweden the Northvolt company, backed by car makers VW and BMW together with the furnishings conglomerate IKEA and bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to open a battery-making factory in the north of the country, close to the Arctic Circle, in 2024.

The Nordic region is viewed as well placed to meet Europe’s fast-expanding EV market. Battery production is power intensive: most electricity in the area comes from hydro sources – renewable and relatively cheap.

Mineral wealth

The region also has access to many of the commodities needed for producing batteries. “Seabed minerals have been proven in the Norwegian Sea, with large concentrations of cobalt and manganese”, Freyr’s Rysst-Jensen told Bloomberg.

“In the Nordics you will find graphite, cobalt, lithium – everything you need of raw materials for battery cell production.”

At present China dominates the market for EV batteries, with about 70% of the world’s total production.

Europe, which has only a 3% share, is keen to lessen its dependence on China for batteries and aims to have a 25% share of the global market by 2028. In late 2019 the European Commission announced a €3.2bn (£2.7bn) package for funding battery technology research and development.

Tidal help

A smaller but nonetheless significant EV-related development has been announced in the past few days – this time on the Shetland Islands, off the far north of Scotland.

Tidal energy company Nova Innovation has put into use what it says is the world’s first EV charge point with energy sourced from the power of the sea.

The company’s tidal turbines have supplied power to homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years. EV drivers on the island of Yell can now charge up their vehicles from a charge point adjacent to the sea and have their cars powered entirely by the tide.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource” said one local EV driver. – Climate News Network

Electric vehicles are catching on in many countries, notably the Nordic states – and Scottish tides are powering cars there.

LONDON, 30 March, 2021 – The race to meet present and future demand for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) is on, with new projects being announced or swinging into action with increasing frequency.

The latest to join the rush into EV technology is the Norwegian company Freyr AS, which has announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery cell production facility in northern Norway.

The company has big ambitions: by 2025 it aims to become one of Europe’s biggest cell suppliers.

The oil, gas and aluminium industries have traditionally played a central role in Norway’s economy. But now there are signs of a change.

Useful similarities

The Freyr facility is being constructed in the small city of Mo I Rana, close to the Arctic Circle. The company says it’s hiring many executives and workers formerly employed in the country’s fossil fuel and aluminium industries.

Tom Einar Rysst-Jensen, Freyr’s CEO, says battery production is complex and has many similarities with the oil and gas industries.

“Battery production are large, capital-intensive, energy-intensive projects,” Rysst-Jensen told the Bloomberg news service. “If you want to be competitive, then you have to build on scale.”

Norway is a world leader in the uptake of EVs. At present about 60% of new vehicle sales in the country are fully electric and the government has announced a deadline of 2025 for ending the sale of all fossil fuelled transport.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource”

The Nordic region is positioning itself as a centre of battery development and technology in Europe.

Two of Norway’s largest companies, the oil firm Equinor and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, are teaming up with Japan’s Panasonic conglomerate to build a large battery production facility in northern Norway.

In neighbouring Sweden the Northvolt company, backed by car makers VW and BMW together with the furnishings conglomerate IKEA and bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to open a battery-making factory in the north of the country, close to the Arctic Circle, in 2024.

The Nordic region is viewed as well placed to meet Europe’s fast-expanding EV market. Battery production is power intensive: most electricity in the area comes from hydro sources – renewable and relatively cheap.

Mineral wealth

The region also has access to many of the commodities needed for producing batteries. “Seabed minerals have been proven in the Norwegian Sea, with large concentrations of cobalt and manganese”, Freyr’s Rysst-Jensen told Bloomberg.

“In the Nordics you will find graphite, cobalt, lithium – everything you need of raw materials for battery cell production.”

At present China dominates the market for EV batteries, with about 70% of the world’s total production.

Europe, which has only a 3% share, is keen to lessen its dependence on China for batteries and aims to have a 25% share of the global market by 2028. In late 2019 the European Commission announced a €3.2bn (£2.7bn) package for funding battery technology research and development.

Tidal help

A smaller but nonetheless significant EV-related development has been announced in the past few days – this time on the Shetland Islands, off the far north of Scotland.

Tidal energy company Nova Innovation has put into use what it says is the world’s first EV charge point with energy sourced from the power of the sea.

The company’s tidal turbines have supplied power to homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years. EV drivers on the island of Yell can now charge up their vehicles from a charge point adjacent to the sea and have their cars powered entirely by the tide.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource” said one local EV driver. – Climate News Network

Small nuclear power plants no use in climate crisis

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

The price of coal weighs heavy on planetary health

In air pollution terms alone, the price of coal is huge. The true price of energy in almost any fossil form is colossal.

LONDON, 11 March, 2021 − Does anyone think fossil fuels should be more expensive? The true price of coal, oil and gas − the cost they exact on human health and in environmental destruction − in the energy and transport sectors worldwide could add up to very nearly US$25 trillion (£18tn).

And in the economists’ favourite measure of wealth, that is more than one fourth of the whole world’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

That fossil fuels are subsidised and their “external” costs rarely factored in to the price is well known and widely condemned.

But researchers in the UK and Korea report in the journal Energy Research and Social Science that they decided to try to put a price on all the “externalities” − both the unrecorded or unexpected costs and the unconsidered benefits to be connected with the supply of electricity, energy efficicency, and transport.

“Our research has identified immense hidden costs that are almost never factored into the true expense of driving a car or operating a coal-powered power station”

Their considered estimate? It adds up to $24.662 million million. And measured against the global GDP, that reaches 28.7%.

What the scientists see in this accounting is a measure of the way the market has failed the world’s energy systems. If governments included the social costs as well as the production costs of nuclear power plant and fossil-fuelled generation systems, they’d pronounce them economically unviable.

“Our research has identified immense hidden costs that are almost never factored into the true expense of driving a car or operating a coal-powered power station,” said Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex, UK, who led the study.

“Including these costs would dramatically change least-cost planning processes and integrated resource portfolios that energy suppliers and others depend on. It is not that these costs are never paid by society, they are just not reflected in the costs of energy. And unfortunately, these costs are not distributed equally or fairly.”

Coal’s highest price

The “externalities factor” extends to all human action: there are unconsidered costs to wind, hydro, solar and other renewable energy systems too. What Professor Sovacool and his colleagues did was scrutinise 139 separate studies of these hidden costs to identify 704 separate estimates of externalities. Of these, 83 were for energy supply, 13 for energy efficiency, and 43 for transport.

Coal exacted by far the highest hidden price across the energy markets of just four countries and regions: China, Europe, India and the US. Coal had three times as many “negative externalities” as solar photovoltaic power generation, five times that of wind turbines and 155 times more than geothermal power.

Climate risks from fossil fuel emissions could cost some countries 19% of their GDP by 2030: developing nations would be hardest hit.

That coal and oil combustion has, over two centuries, cost lives, damaged human health and blighted natural ecosystems is not news. Indoor and outdoor pollution, from power utilities, exhaust pipes and household ovens is behind 4.7 million deaths and the loss of 147 million years of healthy life, every year.

Guiding post-Covid recovery

Pollution kills three times more people than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-Aids combined. The surprise is in the scale of economic costs.

The point of research like this is to help national and regional governments to make practical and sustainable decisions in a concerted effort to revive economic activity but at the same time to contain climate change.

“Our findings are timely and we hope they will help inform the design of Green New Deals or post-pandemic Covid-19 recovery packages around the world,” said Jinsoo Kim, a co-author, of both Sussex and Hanyang University in Korea.

“Some of the most important commonalities of many stimulus packages have been bailouts for the fossil fuel, automotive and aeronautic industries, but a global and national recovery may not be sustainable if the true cost of these industries is not factored in.” − Climate News Network

In air pollution terms alone, the price of coal is huge. The true price of energy in almost any fossil form is colossal.

LONDON, 11 March, 2021 − Does anyone think fossil fuels should be more expensive? The true price of coal, oil and gas − the cost they exact on human health and in environmental destruction − in the energy and transport sectors worldwide could add up to very nearly US$25 trillion (£18tn).

And in the economists’ favourite measure of wealth, that is more than one fourth of the whole world’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP.

That fossil fuels are subsidised and their “external” costs rarely factored in to the price is well known and widely condemned.

But researchers in the UK and Korea report in the journal Energy Research and Social Science that they decided to try to put a price on all the “externalities” − both the unrecorded or unexpected costs and the unconsidered benefits to be connected with the supply of electricity, energy efficicency, and transport.

“Our research has identified immense hidden costs that are almost never factored into the true expense of driving a car or operating a coal-powered power station”

Their considered estimate? It adds up to $24.662 million million. And measured against the global GDP, that reaches 28.7%.

What the scientists see in this accounting is a measure of the way the market has failed the world’s energy systems. If governments included the social costs as well as the production costs of nuclear power plant and fossil-fuelled generation systems, they’d pronounce them economically unviable.

“Our research has identified immense hidden costs that are almost never factored into the true expense of driving a car or operating a coal-powered power station,” said Benjamin Sovacool of the University of Sussex, UK, who led the study.

“Including these costs would dramatically change least-cost planning processes and integrated resource portfolios that energy suppliers and others depend on. It is not that these costs are never paid by society, they are just not reflected in the costs of energy. And unfortunately, these costs are not distributed equally or fairly.”

Coal’s highest price

The “externalities factor” extends to all human action: there are unconsidered costs to wind, hydro, solar and other renewable energy systems too. What Professor Sovacool and his colleagues did was scrutinise 139 separate studies of these hidden costs to identify 704 separate estimates of externalities. Of these, 83 were for energy supply, 13 for energy efficiency, and 43 for transport.

Coal exacted by far the highest hidden price across the energy markets of just four countries and regions: China, Europe, India and the US. Coal had three times as many “negative externalities” as solar photovoltaic power generation, five times that of wind turbines and 155 times more than geothermal power.

Climate risks from fossil fuel emissions could cost some countries 19% of their GDP by 2030: developing nations would be hardest hit.

That coal and oil combustion has, over two centuries, cost lives, damaged human health and blighted natural ecosystems is not news. Indoor and outdoor pollution, from power utilities, exhaust pipes and household ovens is behind 4.7 million deaths and the loss of 147 million years of healthy life, every year.

Guiding post-Covid recovery

Pollution kills three times more people than malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-Aids combined. The surprise is in the scale of economic costs.

The point of research like this is to help national and regional governments to make practical and sustainable decisions in a concerted effort to revive economic activity but at the same time to contain climate change.

“Our findings are timely and we hope they will help inform the design of Green New Deals or post-pandemic Covid-19 recovery packages around the world,” said Jinsoo Kim, a co-author, of both Sussex and Hanyang University in Korea.

“Some of the most important commonalities of many stimulus packages have been bailouts for the fossil fuel, automotive and aeronautic industries, but a global and national recovery may not be sustainable if the true cost of these industries is not factored in.” − Climate News Network

Japanese nuclear power station leaves toxic legacy

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

Ten years ago, the Japanese nuclear power station at Fukushima was devastated by a tsunami. Its baleful ruins remain today.

LONDON, 10 March, 2021 − Almost a decade ago, on 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake created a 14 metre-high tsunami wave which destroyed the reactors of a Japanese nuclear power station at the town of Fukushima. Ten years on, the clean-up has barely begun.

Large areas of farmland and towns near the plant are still highly contaminated, too dangerous to inhabit. Constant vigilance is needed to prevent the stricken reactors causing further danger. It will be at least another 20 years before they can be made safe.

At first the gravity of the accident was overshadowed by the other damage the tsunami had caused, particularly the loss of nearly 20,000 people from communities along the coast who were swept to their deaths as their towns and villages were ruined.

Heart-rending scenes filled television screens across the world for days as rescue teams hunted for survivors and parents separated from their children searched evacuation centres.

Damage downplayed

As with the Chernobyl accident in 1986, the world’s worst nuclear disaster, the true extent of the damage to Fukushima’s six reactors was not fully grasped. When it was, the authorities tried to play it down.

Because the wave had overwhelmed the cooling system three reactors had suffered a meltdown, but for some this was not public knowledge. The damage had meant that overheated uranium fuel had melted, turning to liquid and dissolving its cladding. The cladding contained zirconium, which reacted with the cooling water to make hydrogen; by 14 March this had caused three explosions at the plant.

Downwind the danger from the radiation spewing from the plant was so great that 164,000 people were evacuated from their homes. Many will never return, because the houses are too contaminated.

In an attempt to get people to return to the villages and towns in the less affected areas the government spent US$28 billion (£20bn) and created 17 million tonnes of nuclear waste. This has proved only partially successful because of widespread mistrust of the government, and measurements by independent groups, including Greenpeace − which show that levels of radiation are well above internationally agreed safe limits for members of the public.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination … they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan”

But the knock-on effects of the disaster, both in Japan and in the rest of the world, are still being felt. Japan’s nuclear industry shut down its 54 operational reactors, and both the nuclear companies and the government are still trying to persuade local people to allow most of them to reopen.

This year there are 33 reactors that could still be restored to use, but only nine (in five power plants) that are actually operating.

Across the world some countries decided to close down their reactors as soon as possible, and not to build any more. Among them was Germany.
Even in countries like France, where nuclear power dominates the electricity system, there were demands for the country’s reactors to fit far tighter safety measures.

The net effect of the accident has been to turn public opinion against nuclear power in many countries. Even in those still interested in building new stations, the higher safety standards now demanded have made nuclear power more expensive.

Opting for close-down

In Japan itself the Fukushima crisis is far from over. The government is still facing compensation claims from citizens, and the bill for the clean-up keeps mounting.

One of the most critical current problems is the 1.25 million tonnes of cooling water used to prevent the stricken reactors from further meltdown. It is now stored in tanks on site.

In October 2020 the government announced plans to release it into the Pacific Ocean, because it could think of no other way of getting rid of it. This idea has caused outrage among fishermen along the coast, who fear that no one will buy their catch for fear of the radiation.

Longer-term technical problems also remain unresolved. With the reactor cores too dangerous to approach, special robots have been developed to dismantle them. This is perhaps one of the most difficult engineering tasks it is possible to envisage, because intense radioactivity attacks electrical equipment and can destroy the expensive robots.

Forced to return

The government continues to reassure citizens that it has the situation under control, although it expects it will take decades to make the area completely safe.

But there continues to be criticism among environmental groups about the government’s handling of the situation, both at the plant and in the surrounding countryside.

The Greenpeace report details moves to coerce local people into returning to their homes, even though they remain well above international safety levels.

The report said the result of a November 2020 survey showed that in some areas which the government had designated as safe, Greenpeace’s measurements found radiation remains too high for normal life to be considered possible without increased health risks to returning citizens, particularly children and women of child-bearing age.

‘False narrative’

It says: “One decade after March 2011, we are in the early stages of the impact of this disaster. This is not the official narrative. For the government of Shinzo Abe, in power for most of the last 10 years, and his successor Yoshihide Suga, the communication to the people of Japan and the wider world is that decontamination has been effective, completed and that radiation levels are safe. This is clearly false.

“The government of Japan is on a mission to erase from public memory the triple reactor meltdown and radioactive contamination of a large part of Japan. However, they have failed to impose their atomic amnesia on the people of Japan.”

Greenpeace says this failure is largely due to active citizens and their lawyers holding the Tokyo Electric Power Company to account for the accident and asking for compensation.

It pledges that, together with scientists and various United Nations agencies that monitor the plant, it will ensure that the “ongoing nuclear disaster, its effects and consequences will continue to be better understood and explained in the years and decades ahead.” − Climate News Network

Carbon emissions slow, but not nearly fast enough

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Corporate climate polluters must pay for damage

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

India’s energy policy is key to the planet’s future

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

India must adopt a clean energy policy, a real industrial revolution, if the world is to slow the rising climate crisis.

LONDON, 18 February, 2021 − Here’s the bad news. Unless India opts for a totally new energy policy, a revolutionary switch to a clean future, the world has no chance of avoiding dangerous climate change.

But there’s some much better news too: with the right policies, it can both improve the lives of its own citizens and offer the entire planet hope of a livable climate.

That is the view of the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says that as it is the world’s third largest consumer of energy after China and the United States, the direction India takes is crucial to everyone’s future.

In a report, India Energy Outlook 2021, the Agency says the country’s energy use has doubled in the last 20 years, with 80% of the energy consumed still coming from coal, oil and wood.

“The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India”

Despite this growth, India’s emissions per capita are still only half the world average. But this is set to change. Economic growth is expected to accelerate dramatically, and the rate of energy demand growth is already three times the global average.

Millions of Indian households are expected to buy new domestic appliances, air conditioning units and vehicles. Increasing urbanisation means four million people need new urban homes annually, requiring a city the size of Los Angeles to be built every year.

To meet this growth in electricity demand over the next twenty years, India will also need to add a power system the size of the whole European Union to what it already has, the IEA says.

The report describes the huge developments taking place in what is soon to overtake China as the world’s most populous country and explains how this growth can be achieved without destroying the planet in the process. The IEA has just entered what it calls “a strategic partnership” with India to help it towards a clean energy transition.

Huge opportunity

Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, admitted it was a daunting task: “The stakes could not be higher, for India and for the world. All roads to successful global clean energy transitions go via India.

“What our new report makes clear is the tremendous opportunity for India to successfully meet the aspirations of its citizens without following the high-carbon pathway that other economies have pursued in the past.”

The report agrees. Transformations in the energy sector – on a scale no country has achieved in history – require huge advances in innovation, strong partnerships and vast amounts of capital.

The extra funding for the clean energy technologies required to put India on a sustainable path over the next 20 years is US$1.4 trillion (£1tn), or 70% higher than in a scenario based on its current policy settings. But the benefits are huge, including savings of the same magnitude on oil import bills, the IEA calculates.

Solar’s bright future

At present the Indian government’s projected 50% rise in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 is enough to offset entirely the projected fall in emissions in Europe over the same period.

The Agency says these high emissions can be avoided. Although solar energy accounts for less than 4% of India’s electricity generation at the moment, and coal 70%, this will change: “Solar power is set for explosive growth, matching coal’s share in the Indian power generation mix within two decades.”

Even so, the government is not going far or fast enough. The scope for rooftop solar panels, solar thermal heating and pumps for irrigation and drinking water is very great.

Transport is another problem area. “An extra 25 million trucks will be travelling on India’s roads by 2040 as road freight activity triples, and a total of 300 million vehicles of all types are added to India’s fleet between now and then,” the report says.

Health will improve

India has many good policies to reduce the effect of this by electrifying rail routes and vehicles. But even so, without more policy improvements, its demand for oil is set to increase more than any other country’s.

Perhaps the most difficult area to control emissions is in the construction sector, with cement and steel production heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Ways to use electricity made with renewables for manufacturing rather than fossil fuels must be found.

There is also a need to replace and improve cooking stoves using gas and electricity instead of firewood and other traditional fuels, like animal dung.

The report makes the point that all the moves to reduce greenhouse gas emissions also help the country’s balance of payments and security by substituting home-produced renewables for fossil fuel imports. This cuts air pollution as well and improves people’s health, further improving economic output. − Climate News Network

Solar power’s future could soon be overshadowed

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network

Despite its recent runaway success, solar power’s future as a key way to counter climate chaos could soon be at risk.

LONDON, 12 February, 2021– As more households and industries have opted to harness the sun’s energy, a small but definite shadow is nagging at the many manufacturers who have put their faith in solar power’s future.

Prices have fallen dramatically: according to the International Energy Agency, the cost of producing electricity from solar energy dropped 80% over the past decade. But a mix of international economic rivalries and human rights issues could hamper the onward expansion of solar around the world.

Up till 15 years ago companies in Europe and Japan dominated the solar manufacturing industry. That has all changed: as with so many manufactured products, China now accounts for the bulk of solar equipment produced globally, with about a 70% share.

China itself is also by far the world’s biggest market for solar: about half of all solar power installed round the globe is in China.

China-based companies have invested heavily in sophisticated manufacturing facilities and in research and development. The country’s dominance of the solar manufacturing sector has caused concern in some countries.

“We’ve been telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region”

Manufacturers of photovoltaic panels and other solar products in East Asia, the US and Europe have alleged that cheaper, state-subsidised goods from China have hampered development of home-grown solar industries.

The former Trump administration in the US voiced increasingly strident opposition to what it saw as unfair trading practices by China: in early 2018 Washington slapped a 30% tariff on solar imports from China.

The resulting setback for the US solar market – and China’s exporters – was only temporary. The appetite in the US and elsewhere for solar power continues to grow.

In many countries solar energy is out-competing fossil fuels on price. Meanwhile new technologies and more efficient batteries mean large amounts of solar power can be stored for use in periods when the sun doesn’t shine.

Waiting for Biden

In 2019 there was a 24% increase in the number of solar installations in the US, with utility companies, particularly in sunnier and more environmentally progressive states such as California, leading the solar surge.

Whether or not the new Biden administration in the US will soften the hard line taken on China by former President Trump is uncertain.

Some feel that, while Biden might seek to ease trade tensions, there could be more emphasis on human rights issues, particularly in relation to the widely reported actions taken by Beijing against the Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in the north-western province of Xinjiang.

This could have serious implications for the solar industry, not only in China but worldwide. A number of China’s big solar manufacturers, some in partnership with foreign companies, have concentrated their operations in Xinjiang. The province accounts for the bulk of China’s production of polysilicon, one of the most important base materials for solar panels.

There have been reports not only about Uighurs and other groups in Xinjiang being forcibly herded into so-called re-education camps, but also of local people being used as forced labour in solar and other industries.

Human rights concern

Reacting to reports of widespread repression in the region, the US recently banned the import of tomatoes and cotton from Xinjiang.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) – a trade body representing the US solar industry and a sector employing an estimated 250,000 people – said it was taking the reports very seriously.

“Forced labour has no place in the solar industry”, said the SEIA. “Since the fall we’ve been proactively telling all solar companies operating in the Xinjiang region to immediately move their supply chains. We’d like to reiterate this call to action and ask all solar companies to immediately leave the region.”

Beijing has described the reports of forced labour in the province as “the biggest lie of the century”. – Climate News Network