Tag Archives: China

Unanswered questions dog UK’s new nuclear plans

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

Carbon-neutral aircraft might work with ion drive

Ion drive works in outer space. Just possibly, plasma power could fill the skies with carbon-neutral aircraft.

LONDON, 10 June, 2020 − Chinese engineers may have designed the basis for the first carbon-neutral aircraft, perhaps a commercial jet airliner powered entirely by very hot air through an ion drive. If it works on that scale, there would be no high-octane aviation spirit, no greenhouse gas emissions and no contribution to long-term global warming.

Nor would such planes be fuelled by anything defined as ordinary matter. The driving force that delivers the thrust and overcomes gravitational pull and air friction would be plasma, the fourth state of matter, and the power source of the sun and all the stars.

Think of a jet stream of ionised atoms − dismantled atomic particles − roaring through the engines to take the vehicle to take-off speeds. That’s the ambition.

Right now, according to scientists at Wuhan University, writing in the American Institute of Physics journal AIP Advances, what they have is a propulsion thruster that utilises air plasma induced by microwave ionisation. It would simply need air and electricity to produce high temperature and pressurised plasma.

They have already assembled an experimental apparatus and used it to lift a one kilogram steel ball over a 24mm-diameter quartz tube, at half a litre per second of airflow at 400 watts to produce just 10 newtons of thrust.

“A carbon emission-free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere”

A newton is a unit of force that will accelerate one kg of mass at one metre per second, every second. The Wuhan achievement, they say, corresponds to a jet pressure of 24,000 newtons per square metre,

That is: with higher microwave power or greater airflow, they could achieve propulsion forces and jet pressures of the kind seen every minute of every day at commercial airports.

The journey from the laboratory equipment now – a one kilowatt magnetron, a circulator, a flattened wave guide, an igniter and a quartz tube – to a set of jet engines that can carry hundreds of passengers across half the world with complete confidence is going to be a long one: right now, the experiment is an indicator simply of the astonishing ingenuity being displayed in laboratories in Asia, Europe and America to find ways of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

And aircraft – and particularly jet aircraft – present almost intractable challenges. Until now, no tested power source other than high-quality liquid fossil fuel can deliver what is needed to fly very heavy aircraft to the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Rocket needed first

Relatively light all-electric planes with a short range are being tested now.  The US Space Agency Nasa has already deployed plasma power – science fiction fans have long known it as ion drive – in spacecraft, but at the low thrust levels needed to change the course of a spacecraft already in very high orbit and far from the planet’s gravitational drag.

But these first space probes had to be lifted into high orbit aboard a rocket. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has tested, using a different approach, a plasma-powered glider: it flew 55 metres in 12 seconds before touching down again. But the driving force would never be enough to lift a cargo or passenger plane.

Swiss scientists have explored the idea of a solar-powered plane: in effect
however this would deploy solar energy to split carbon dioxide and water and turn them into synthetic natural gas.

The Wuhan experiment has the potential for a much bigger force. For the moment, that is all it has: potential. The researchers call their prototype “a home-made device”, and they add: “Given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines using fossil fuels.

“Therefore, such a carbon-emission free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Ion drive works in outer space. Just possibly, plasma power could fill the skies with carbon-neutral aircraft.

LONDON, 10 June, 2020 − Chinese engineers may have designed the basis for the first carbon-neutral aircraft, perhaps a commercial jet airliner powered entirely by very hot air through an ion drive. If it works on that scale, there would be no high-octane aviation spirit, no greenhouse gas emissions and no contribution to long-term global warming.

Nor would such planes be fuelled by anything defined as ordinary matter. The driving force that delivers the thrust and overcomes gravitational pull and air friction would be plasma, the fourth state of matter, and the power source of the sun and all the stars.

Think of a jet stream of ionised atoms − dismantled atomic particles − roaring through the engines to take the vehicle to take-off speeds. That’s the ambition.

Right now, according to scientists at Wuhan University, writing in the American Institute of Physics journal AIP Advances, what they have is a propulsion thruster that utilises air plasma induced by microwave ionisation. It would simply need air and electricity to produce high temperature and pressurised plasma.

They have already assembled an experimental apparatus and used it to lift a one kilogram steel ball over a 24mm-diameter quartz tube, at half a litre per second of airflow at 400 watts to produce just 10 newtons of thrust.

“A carbon emission-free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere”

A newton is a unit of force that will accelerate one kg of mass at one metre per second, every second. The Wuhan achievement, they say, corresponds to a jet pressure of 24,000 newtons per square metre,

That is: with higher microwave power or greater airflow, they could achieve propulsion forces and jet pressures of the kind seen every minute of every day at commercial airports.

The journey from the laboratory equipment now – a one kilowatt magnetron, a circulator, a flattened wave guide, an igniter and a quartz tube – to a set of jet engines that can carry hundreds of passengers across half the world with complete confidence is going to be a long one: right now, the experiment is an indicator simply of the astonishing ingenuity being displayed in laboratories in Asia, Europe and America to find ways of reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

And aircraft – and particularly jet aircraft – present almost intractable challenges. Until now, no tested power source other than high-quality liquid fossil fuel can deliver what is needed to fly very heavy aircraft to the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Rocket needed first

Relatively light all-electric planes with a short range are being tested now.  The US Space Agency Nasa has already deployed plasma power – science fiction fans have long known it as ion drive – in spacecraft, but at the low thrust levels needed to change the course of a spacecraft already in very high orbit and far from the planet’s gravitational drag.

But these first space probes had to be lifted into high orbit aboard a rocket. A team at Massachusetts Institute of Technology has tested, using a different approach, a plasma-powered glider: it flew 55 metres in 12 seconds before touching down again. But the driving force would never be enough to lift a cargo or passenger plane.

Swiss scientists have explored the idea of a solar-powered plane: in effect
however this would deploy solar energy to split carbon dioxide and water and turn them into synthetic natural gas.

The Wuhan experiment has the potential for a much bigger force. For the moment, that is all it has: potential. The researchers call their prototype “a home-made device”, and they add: “Given the same power consumption, its propulsion pressure is comparable to that of conventional airplane jet engines using fossil fuels.

“Therefore, such a carbon-emission free thruster could potentially be used as a jet thruster in the atmosphere.” − Climate News Network

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

A huge swathe of Arctic Russia is changing rapidly as oil leaks, the climate warms and Siberia dries out.

LONDON, 5 June, 2020 – Residents of the small Arctic town of Khatanga have never experienced anything like it: their home is changing at a gallop as Siberia dries out.

Khatanga – population around 3,500 – is well north of the Arctic Circle, with usual daytime temperatures at this time of year hovering round a chilly 0°C. On 22 May the temperature in the town reached 25°C – more than double the record to date.

Global warming is causing profound change across the Arctic, a region which acts like a giant air conditioning system regulating the Earth’s climate.

Temperatures are rising far faster than elsewhere: sea ice cover is rapidly disappearing, valuable fish stocks are moving ever further north in search of colder waters, land around the Arctic perimeter is drying out – particularly across the vast expanse of Siberia.

Permafrost is melting. This week a giant oil tank collapsed and ruptured at a nickel and palladium works near the city of Norilsk in northern Siberia, spilling thousands of tonnes of diesel into the nearby Ambarnaya river.

Worst for years

The storage tank is believed to have been built on permafrost: a state of emergency has been declared for what is being described as one of the worst environmental disasters in recent Russian history. State media say an area stretching over 350 square kilometres is polluted and will take years to clean up.

A series of wildfires, often enveloping hundreds of thousands of hectares of Siberia’s boreal forests, or taiga, have raged in many areas over recent weeks.

In early spring farmers across Siberia often light fires to clear land of dead grass and unwanted vegetation. A combination of high temperatures and strong winds has led to fires blazing out of control. Last year Siberia’s fires are estimated to have destroyed an area of forest the size of Belgium.

“2019 saw a record number of fires over the summer months in Siberia”, says Thomas Smith, an environmental geographer at the London School of Economics (LSE) and a wildfires expert.

“This year, aided by high temperatures and conditions that have promoted growth, the fires started early, though so far their incidence is about average and not as extensive as in 2019.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”

“But what’s important are the peak summer months: the soils are dry and there’s plenty of fuel, so conditions are favourable for more widespread fires”, Dr Smith told Climate News Network.

One of the regions worst affected is in the south of Siberia, around Lake Baikal, the world’s largest and deepest freshwater lake, where an estimated half a million hectares of forest were destroyed by fire earlier this year.

Evgeny Zinichev, Russia’s emergencies minister, speaks of a critical situation unfolding in Siberia and across Russia’s Far East. “The main reason, of course, is unauthorised and uncontrolled agricultural fires”, he says.

“A less snowy winter, an abnormal winter, and insufficient soil moisture are factors that create the conditions for the transition of landscape fires to settlements.”

Other factors have also led to the spread of wildfires. After weeks of lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, people trapped in often cramped and stiflingly hot apartment blocks have sought freedom in the countryside and forests, camping and lighting barbecues.

Hungry Chinese demand

In Soviet times the taiga was more closely monitored and policed: that system has tended to break down in recent years. The Covid crisis has also drawn attention away from the fires.

Corruption and illegal logging, driven in large part by China’s demand for forest products, is an additional threat to the taiga.

The warming and wildfires are having an impact not only across Siberia but around the world. Its forests act as an enormous carbon sink, storing millions of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Fires and logging release the gases into the atmosphere, creating what scientists call a positive feedback loop – the more gases that are released, the warmer and drier the air becomes, so that more areas of forest are at risk from fire.

“Substantial areas of forest in Siberia are on peat soils”, says Dr Smith. “When these soils dry out, fires go underground, threatening to release large amounts of carbon which can lead to a catastrophic climate event.”

Wide impact

Smoke from the fires is carried by winds to other parts of the globe, trapping warm air near the Earth’s surface. The warm air generated by the fires is also likely to result in a further depletion in ice cover and warming of the Arctic seas.

The temperature rises and the growing incidence of wildfires in Siberia have other effects too.

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports says the fires mean that more nutrients, particularly nitrogen, leak into streams and waterways.

“Forest fires in this region of the Arctic used to happen about every hundred years and now we’re seeing them every summer”, says Bianca Rodriguez-Cardona, of the University of New Hampshire, Durham, US, one of the study’s authors.

“This increase in fires leads to more input of inorganic solutes into local streams which can alter the chemistry and trigger issues like increased algal blooms and bacteria that can be harmful to humans who depend on these waterways for drinking water, fishing and their livelihoods.” When these waters reach the Arctic they can also dramatically alter the chemistry of the surrounding seas, says the study. – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide emissions fall – but by accident

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

The good news is that carbon dioxide emissions have fallen in line with global agreement. But we have chance to thank for that.

LONDON, 25 May, 2020 – Carbon dioxide emissions in 2020 will not reach record levels. The main greenhouse gas was released into the atmosphere to fuel global warming during April at a rate 17% lower than during the same month in 2019. That means a drop of 17 million tonnes of the gas every day.

The news is unlikely to be welcomed by climate scientists, environmental campaigners and governments interested in reducing the hazard of climate catastrophe. None of the fall in emissions was because of determined policies to reduce the rate of emissions and therefore the speed of climate change.

Emission levels have fallen to a level last observed in 2006. This is explained entirely by a series of simultaneous multinational lockdowns and economic slowdown as a consequence of an unexpected, and unprecedented, pandemic of a novel coronavirus that at the time of writing had worldwide claimed more than 330,000 lives.

The sudden slowdown in car journeys as businesses closed, workers were laid off and schoolchildren stayed at home accounted for almost half the decrease, according to a team of international scientists reporting in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Foreign travel fell, airports stayed silent, to account for a 10% fall. For the extent of a northern hemisphere spring, people had a chance to experience a world in which atmospheric pollution of every kind was reduced, fossil fuel consumption dropped, and people walked or cycled or simply stayed at home.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour”

It is, however, unlikely to be a rehearsal for the sustained social and economic change required to contain climate change: the slowdown is almost certainly temporary. But it does provide breathing space and an opportunity to change direction.

“The extent to which world leaders consider climate change when planning their economic responses post-Covid-19 will influence global CO2 emissions paths for decades to come,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Opportunities exist to make real, durable, changes and to be more resilient to future crises, by implementing economic stimulus packages that also help meet climate targets, especially for mobility, which accounts for half the decrease in emissions during confinement.”

The year began with high confidence that the world’s nations – almost all of which had in Paris in 2015 vowed to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – would go on burning ever more fossil fuel and clearing ever more forest, to take greenhouse gas emissions to ever higher levels.

The researchers analysed government policies for the 69 countries that account for 97% of carbon dioxide emissions. At the height of confinement, territories responsible for 89% of global emissions experienced some level of restriction.

Meagre drop

Armed with economic data that measured the slowdown, the researchers were able to make estimates of the CO2 emissions that never happened: by the end of April, these amounted to 1,048 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas, with the largest drops being in China, the US and Europe.

On present form, however, the annual total is likely to be down by only between 4% and 7% compared with 2019. The larger figure is roughly the annual drop required year on year to keep the promises made in Paris.

“The drop in emissions is substantial, but illustrates the challenge of reaching our Paris climate commitments,” said Rob Jackson, of Stanford University in California, another of the authors.

“We need systemic change through green energy and electric cars, not temporary reductions from enforced behaviour.” – Climate News Network

Fossil fuels: Heading down, but not yet out

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Renewable energy is making rapid inroads into the market, but fossil fuels still wield enormous global influence.

LONDON, 20 May, 2020 – At a casual glance, you could be forgiven for thinking that fossil fuels are here to stay for a long time yet, although not everything on the horizon is rosy.

The world, admittedly, is awash with surplus oil. The use of coal is in sharp decline. The price of gas – in recent years the fuel of choice for an increasing number of power plants around the globe – is falling.

The fossil fuel industry – the main driver behind the growing climate crisis – is undoubtedly going through one of its worst times in decades.

The Covid 19 pandemic has resulted in a severe downturn in the global economy and a sharp drop in demand for energy.

But the fossil fuel industry’s problems, many of them of its own making, were evident well before Covid swept the globe.

At the centre of the sector’s difficulties is over-production, particularly of oil.

Shale tips the scales

In 2010 world crude oil production was running at about 86 million barrels per day (MBPD). This year production is forecast to top 100 MBPD.

Though oil consumption has grown as the global economy has expanded over recent years, production has exceeded demand as utilities and industries, particularly in Europe, China, Japan and South Korea, have become ever more efficient in the way they produce energy.

The big change in the oil market over the past decade has been the rise in US production, brought about by the boom in the shale oil and gas industry.

In 2010 the US was producing just over 5 MBPD. Earlier this year, production was running at more than 13 MBPD. Once a net importer of crude, the US is now the world’s biggest producer – ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia.

The days when the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could more or less determine the global oil price by tweaking production levels have long gone: neither the US nor Russia is an OPEC member.

The big producers have argued amongst themselves and have not been able to agree on output levels. Oil prices have fluctuated wildly: in recent weeks they reached an historic low.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”

In the US many shale oil operators who borrowed heavily to fund their operations are threatened with going bust as the price of oil falls well below production costs.

In Saudi Arabia and Russia the dramatic fall in oil revenues is threatening economic crisis – and potential political trouble as well.

Adding further to the problems of the oil and other fossil fuel producers – but at the same time contributing to the well being of the planet – has been the rise of the renewable energy industry.

In 2010 the share of renewables in the global energy mix was 8.6%. Data from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) indicate that renewables now account for more than 30% of the world’s power supply.

Massive solar and wind operations are being built around the world. Solar heating systems have been installed in millions of homes.

Concerns over a warming world and new regulations governing emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases have in part driven the rise of renewables; dramatic falls in the price of technologies such as wind and solar have also had a big impact.

Holding on to power

The cost of producing electricity from solar power has dropped by about 80% over the past decade. The cost of wind power and other renewables has also dropped.

“Renewable energy is a cost-effective source of new power that insulates power markets and consumers from volatility”, says IRENA.

The fossil fuel sector is still able to wield immense financial and political clout and those prophesying its demise are likely to be disappointed, in the short term at least.

In the US it looks as though coal, oil and gas companies will qualify for multi-billion dollar payments under revised federal government Covid-19 bailout measures.

The Saudis and the Russians will do everything in their power to protect their fossil fuel industries on which their economies – and power structures – depend.

But big changes are under way. Maybe, just maybe, fossil fuels are in terminal decline. – Climate News Network

Tigers retreat before spreading road networks

The global push to save an iconic species from extinction struggles, as tigers retreat before the relentless growth of roads.

LONDON, 4 May, 2020 − Humans have made inroads into the last territory of the tiger – literally: the inexorable increase in roads is driving the tigers’ retreat.

A new study of the wilderness set aside for the rapidly-dwindling populations of Panthera tigris in 13 countries warns that more than half of all this supposedly untouched reserve is within 5kms of a road.

Altogether, tiger conservation landscapes considered crucial for the recovery of an endangered species are now home to 134,000 kilometres of road. This intrusion alone may have reduced the abundance of both the carnivore and its natural prey by about one fifth.

And by 2050 researchers expect that another 24,000kms of road will have been built through the 1.16 million square kilometres of wilderness officially conserved in Russia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan. Many of these will have been built under China’s so-called “belt-and-road initiative” in the developing world.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, overall, tigers face a ubiquitous and mounting threat from road networks across much of their 13-country range,” said Neil Carter, of the University of Michigan in the US, who led the research.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and average species abundance in all 76 blocks of land set aside for tiger conservation, to confirm conservationists’ worst fears.

Encroaching roads discourage the herbivores that tigers might prey upon; they degrade the habitat for all wildlife in the region; and they provide easier access for poachers, for whom a tiger carcass is a valuable commodity. In the Russian Far East, collisions with road vehicles were enough to reduce tiger survival rates.

The road seems the first enemy of conservation. Researchers have recently established that even the presence of human intrusion – the border of a ranch, a commercial clearing, a palm oil plantation or just a simple road – is enough to weaken and in some way damage the integrity of the 500 metres of wilderness next to the clearing.

The global record for the protection of those areas set aside for the conservation of endemic species is not good: another study found that, worldwide, since 1993, more than 280,000 sq kms of natural reserve had been subjected to “intense human pressure.”

And a third study fingered the road itself as the problem, and a growing problem: roads already fragment the world’s landscapes, and by 2050 governments will have added another 25 million kilometres of asphalt, traffic and settlement, most of it in the developing world.

Numbers still dropping

Thanks to human population growth and climate change, the planet is poised for the extinction of wild creatures and plants on a massive scale. So the tiger study reflects a wider pattern.

The difference is that for more than 50 years conservationists and governments have encouraged international efforts to conserve one of the most iconic and at the same time one of the most endangered of all the big cats, but the numbers are still falling, as roads turn what had been undisturbed habitat into an archipelago of little “tiger islands” in which populations are isolated from each other.

The scientists found that those areas most strictly protected in the tiger conservation were less densely interrupted by roads: however, these densities varied widely across countries. China’s average road density in tiger conservation landscapes was almost eight times greater than, for example, Malaysia’s.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late,” Dr Carter said.

“Given that roads will be a pervasive challenge to tiger recovery in the future, we urge decision-makers to make sustainable road development a top priority.” − Climate News Network

The global push to save an iconic species from extinction struggles, as tigers retreat before the relentless growth of roads.

LONDON, 4 May, 2020 − Humans have made inroads into the last territory of the tiger – literally: the inexorable increase in roads is driving the tigers’ retreat.

A new study of the wilderness set aside for the rapidly-dwindling populations of Panthera tigris in 13 countries warns that more than half of all this supposedly untouched reserve is within 5kms of a road.

Altogether, tiger conservation landscapes considered crucial for the recovery of an endangered species are now home to 134,000 kilometres of road. This intrusion alone may have reduced the abundance of both the carnivore and its natural prey by about one fifth.

And by 2050 researchers expect that another 24,000kms of road will have been built through the 1.16 million square kilometres of wilderness officially conserved in Russia, China, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos and Bhutan. Many of these will have been built under China’s so-called “belt-and-road initiative” in the developing world.

“Our analysis demonstrates that, overall, tigers face a ubiquitous and mounting threat from road networks across much of their 13-country range,” said Neil Carter, of the University of Michigan in the US, who led the research.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late”

He and colleagues report in the journal Science Advances that they calculated road density, distance to the nearest road and average species abundance in all 76 blocks of land set aside for tiger conservation, to confirm conservationists’ worst fears.

Encroaching roads discourage the herbivores that tigers might prey upon; they degrade the habitat for all wildlife in the region; and they provide easier access for poachers, for whom a tiger carcass is a valuable commodity. In the Russian Far East, collisions with road vehicles were enough to reduce tiger survival rates.

The road seems the first enemy of conservation. Researchers have recently established that even the presence of human intrusion – the border of a ranch, a commercial clearing, a palm oil plantation or just a simple road – is enough to weaken and in some way damage the integrity of the 500 metres of wilderness next to the clearing.

The global record for the protection of those areas set aside for the conservation of endemic species is not good: another study found that, worldwide, since 1993, more than 280,000 sq kms of natural reserve had been subjected to “intense human pressure.”

And a third study fingered the road itself as the problem, and a growing problem: roads already fragment the world’s landscapes, and by 2050 governments will have added another 25 million kilometres of asphalt, traffic and settlement, most of it in the developing world.

Numbers still dropping

Thanks to human population growth and climate change, the planet is poised for the extinction of wild creatures and plants on a massive scale. So the tiger study reflects a wider pattern.

The difference is that for more than 50 years conservationists and governments have encouraged international efforts to conserve one of the most iconic and at the same time one of the most endangered of all the big cats, but the numbers are still falling, as roads turn what had been undisturbed habitat into an archipelago of little “tiger islands” in which populations are isolated from each other.

The scientists found that those areas most strictly protected in the tiger conservation were less densely interrupted by roads: however, these densities varied widely across countries. China’s average road density in tiger conservation landscapes was almost eight times greater than, for example, Malaysia’s.

“Tiger habitats have declined by 40% since 2006, underscoring the importance of maintaining roadless areas and resisting road expansion in places where tigers still exist, before it is too late,” Dr Carter said.

“Given that roads will be a pervasive challenge to tiger recovery in the future, we urge decision-makers to make sustainable road development a top priority.” − Climate News Network

It’s a galloping goodbye to Europe’s coal

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

Europe’s coal has powered it for centuries. But with gathering speed it is now turning its back on the fuel.

LONDON, 26 April, 2020 – The energy that has powered a continent for several hundred years, driving its industry, fighting its wars and keeping its people warm, is on the way out, fast: Europe’s coal is in rapid decline.

Coal is far and away the most polluting of fossil fuels and is a major factor in the build-up of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

But, according to a recent report by two of Europe’s leading energy analyst groups, the use of coal for power generation among the 27 countries of the European Union fell by a record 24% last year.

The report, by the Germany-based Agora Energiewende group and Ember, an independent London climate think-tank focused on speeding up the global electricity transition, will make stark reading for Europe’s coal lobbyists.

Renewables are on the rise across most of Europe, while coal use is in sharp decline. In 2019 wind and solar power together accounted for 18% of the EU’s power generation, while coal produced 15%. That’s the first time renewables have trumped coal in Europe’s energy generation mix.

“Europe is leading the world on rapidly replacing coal generation with wind and solar and, as a result, power sector CO2 emissions have never fallen so quickly”, says Dave Jones, an electricity specialist at Ember.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too.”

Total phase-out soon

The report says that greenhouse gas emissions from the EU’s power sector have fallen by more than 30% since 2012, with a year-on-year drop of 12% in 2019.

A number of European countries have already said goodbye to coal. In 2016 Belgium closed its last coal-fired energy plant. In April this year both Austria and Sweden followed suit.

The report highlights the way in which many EU countries have sharply reduced coal use in recent years: most plan to totally eliminate it as an energy source in the near future.

Eight years ago more than 30% of the power generated in the UK came from coal-fired power plants. Last year only 2% of power was derived from coal. The UK plans to stop using it for energy generation in four years’ time.

Germany has traditionally been one of the EU’s biggest coal users. In 2013 coal fuelled 45% of the country’s power generation: last year that figure fell to 28%.

Germany says it will eliminate coal from its power mix by 2038, though government critics say this is not nearly fast enough to meet EU-wide emission reduction targets.

A number of factors are behind coal’s decline. Economics has played a big role.

“Europe has become a test bed for replacing coal with wind and solar power, and the fast results should give reassurance to other countries that they can rapidly phase out coal too”

In the wake of the 2008 financial crash industrial activity slowed and Europe’s coal use dropped.

The power sector became more efficient: although in recent years – before the Covid-19 pandemic – industrial activity picked up, the EU’s total electricity consumption was 4% lower in 2019 than a decade earlier.

Falling installation and operating costs for solar and wind power plants have resulted in renewable energy becoming ever more competitive: the price of natural gas – a less polluting fossil fuel than coal – has also been declining, while reforms in the European carbon trading scheme resulting in higher charges being levied on polluters have driven up the cost of coal.

All is not clean air and clear blue skies in Europe, however. Coal is still a significant source of power in Poland, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. And while Germany has reduced its reliance on coal, it still burns large amounts of lignite or brown coal, the dirtiest form of the fuel.

Pollution and climate change do not recognise borders. Many states surrounding the EU are still reliant on coal and have plans for expanding coal-fired power plants.

China is helping Serbia to expand its coal-fired power capacity. Kosovo, which has some of the biggest reserves of lignite in the world, is also building more coal-fired power plants.

The World Bank says Kosovo has some of the worst air pollution in Europe, with emissions from its lignite-fuelled power stations causing many premature deaths each year. – Climate News Network

US coal economics make little sense

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warnings ignored

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fantasy’ virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warnings ignored

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Fantasy’ virus

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

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

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

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

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

Renewable energy could power the world by 2050

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network

Wind, water and solar sources − the renewable energy trio − could meet almost all the needs of our power-hungry society in 30 years.

LONDON, 19 February, 2020 − Virtually all the world’s demand for electricity to run transport and to heat and cool homes and offices, as well as to provide the power demanded by industry, could be met by renewable energy by mid-century.

This is the consensus of 47 peer-reviewed research papers from 13 independent groups with a total of 91 authors that have been brought together by Stanford University in California.

Some of the papers take a broad sweep across the world, adding together the potential for each technology to see if individual countries or whole regions could survive on renewables.

Special examinations of small island states, sub-Saharan Africa and individual countries like Germany look to see what are the barriers to progress and how they could be removed.

In every case the findings are that the technology exists to achieve 100% renewable power if the political will to achieve it can be mustered.

“It seems that every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs”

The collection of papers is a powerful rebuff to those who say that renewables are not reliable or cannot be expanded fast enough to take over from fossil fuels and nuclear power.

Once proper energy efficiency measures are in place, a combination of wind, solar and water power, with various forms of storage capacity, can add up to 100% of energy needs in every part of the planet.

Stanford puts one of its own papers at the top of the list. It studies the impacts of the Green New Deal proposals on grid stability, costs, jobs, health and climate in 143 countries.

With the world already approaching 1.5°C of heating, it says, seven million people killed by air pollution annually, and limited fossil fuel resources potentially sparking conflict, Stanford’s researchers wanted to compare business-as-usual with a 100% transition to wind-water-solar energy, efficiency and storage by 2050 – with at least 80% by 2030.

By grouping the countries of the world together into 24 regions co-operating on grid stability and storage solutions, supply could match demand by 2050-2052 with 100% reliance on renewables. The amount of energy used overall would be reduced by 57.1%, costs would fall by a similar amount, and 28.6 million more long-term full-time jobs would be created than under business-as-usual.

Clean air bonus

The remarkable consensus among researchers is perhaps surprising, since climate and weather conditions differ so much in different latitudes. It seems though that as the cost of renewables, particularly wind and solar, has tumbled, and energy storage solutions multiplied, every part of the world can now find a system that edges fossil fuels out in costs.

That, plus the benefit of clean air, particularly in Asian countries like India and China, makes renewables far more beneficial on any cost-benefit analysis.

The appearance of so many papers mirrors the consensus that climate scientists have managed to achieve in warning the world’s political leaders that time is running out for them to act to keep the temperature below dangerous levels.

Since in total the solutions offered cover countries producing more than 97% of the world’s greenhouse gases, they provide a blueprint for the next round of UN climate talks, to be held in Glasgow in November. At COP-26, as the conference is called, politicians will be asked to make new commitments to avoid dangerous climate change.

This Stanford file shows them that all they need is political will for them to be able to achieve climate stability. − Climate News Network