Tag Archives: China

Refugees and wildlife face risk from border walls

Not only humans but four-legged migrants are at risk from  border walls. Other species can be climate refugees too.

LONDON, 17 February 2021 − Something there is, wrote the American poet Robert Frost, “that does not love a wall.” Thanks to British researchers we now know that something is the white-lipped peccary, the jaguar and the southern spotted skunk. All of them − and many other species − could be affected by border walls like that separating  the US from Mexico.

The barrier between India and Myanmar, too, creates problems for the sloth bear, the Indian pangolin and the large spotted civet. And a fence along the Sino-Russian borders could be hard on the desert hare, the Tibetan antelope, the goitered gazelle and the Tibetan fox. When things become harsh on one side of the wall, none of them can move to a better home.

Which could be bad news because, as the planet heats up, and regional climate zones begin to shift, around one in three mammals and birds could by 2070 be forced to look for more welcoming habitat in another country.

Around 3,200 kilometres of man-made barrier now extend along national boundaries, precisely to prevent the unauthorised movement of refugees. But those same barriers could create problems for some of the 700 or so mammals that may have to shift home as regional climates change, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The US-Mexican border wall alone could obstruct the migration of 122 species of four-legged animal refugee.

“If we are serious about protecting nature, reducing the impacts of border barriers on species will be really important − although there’s no substitute for tackling the greenhouse gas emissions at the root of the issue”

“Species all across the planet are on the move as they respond to a changing climate. Our findings show how important it is that species can move across national boundaries through connected habitats in order to cope with this change,” said Stephen Willis of Durham University in the UK.

“Borders that are fortified with walls and fences pose a serious threat to any species that can’t get across them. If we are serious about protecting nature, expanding transboundary conservation initiatives and reducing the impacts of border barriers on species will be really important − although there’s no substitute for tackling the greenhouse gas emissions at the root of the issue.”

Professor Willis and his colleagues started from the premise that the effectiveness of conservation action is not separable from what they call “underlying sociopolitical factors.”

There has, for more than a decade, been serious concern that climate change and human population expansion could ultimately lead to a mass extinction of wild creatures.

But mathematical models of the natural niches occupied by birds and mammals worldwide show that the biggest losses of native species will be in those countries with weaker governance and lower Gross Domestic Product.

No justice

And the disappearance of mammals in particular will be in those countries with the lowest levels of the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

To survive, many of those species will have to migrate − and at that point, walls and fences designed to exclude human migrants will become major obstacles to the conservation of the wild things. The margay and the common opossum, the Mexican wolf and that wild cat the jaguarundi could all be turned back, along with hungry and near-desperate families, at the US-Mexican border.

“The stark inequities between those who contributed most to climate change and those who will be most impacted raise really important questions of international justice,” said Mark Titley, a researcher at Durham who led the study.

“Fortunately, our models also show how strong and urgent emissions reductions, in line with the Paris Agreement, could greatly reduce the impacts on biodiversity and relieve the burden of such losses on less wealthy nations.”

Or, as Robert Frost put it:

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out…”

− Climate News Network

Not only humans but four-legged migrants are at risk from  border walls. Other species can be climate refugees too.

LONDON, 17 February 2021 − Something there is, wrote the American poet Robert Frost, “that does not love a wall.” Thanks to British researchers we now know that something is the white-lipped peccary, the jaguar and the southern spotted skunk. All of them − and many other species − could be affected by border walls like that separating  the US from Mexico.

The barrier between India and Myanmar, too, creates problems for the sloth bear, the Indian pangolin and the large spotted civet. And a fence along the Sino-Russian borders could be hard on the desert hare, the Tibetan antelope, the goitered gazelle and the Tibetan fox. When things become harsh on one side of the wall, none of them can move to a better home.

Which could be bad news because, as the planet heats up, and regional climate zones begin to shift, around one in three mammals and birds could by 2070 be forced to look for more welcoming habitat in another country.

Around 3,200 kilometres of man-made barrier now extend along national boundaries, precisely to prevent the unauthorised movement of refugees. But those same barriers could create problems for some of the 700 or so mammals that may have to shift home as regional climates change, according to a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The US-Mexican border wall alone could obstruct the migration of 122 species of four-legged animal refugee.

“If we are serious about protecting nature, reducing the impacts of border barriers on species will be really important − although there’s no substitute for tackling the greenhouse gas emissions at the root of the issue”

“Species all across the planet are on the move as they respond to a changing climate. Our findings show how important it is that species can move across national boundaries through connected habitats in order to cope with this change,” said Stephen Willis of Durham University in the UK.

“Borders that are fortified with walls and fences pose a serious threat to any species that can’t get across them. If we are serious about protecting nature, expanding transboundary conservation initiatives and reducing the impacts of border barriers on species will be really important − although there’s no substitute for tackling the greenhouse gas emissions at the root of the issue.”

Professor Willis and his colleagues started from the premise that the effectiveness of conservation action is not separable from what they call “underlying sociopolitical factors.”

There has, for more than a decade, been serious concern that climate change and human population expansion could ultimately lead to a mass extinction of wild creatures.

But mathematical models of the natural niches occupied by birds and mammals worldwide show that the biggest losses of native species will be in those countries with weaker governance and lower Gross Domestic Product.

No justice

And the disappearance of mammals in particular will be in those countries with the lowest levels of the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change.

To survive, many of those species will have to migrate − and at that point, walls and fences designed to exclude human migrants will become major obstacles to the conservation of the wild things. The margay and the common opossum, the Mexican wolf and that wild cat the jaguarundi could all be turned back, along with hungry and near-desperate families, at the US-Mexican border.

“The stark inequities between those who contributed most to climate change and those who will be most impacted raise really important questions of international justice,” said Mark Titley, a researcher at Durham who led the study.

“Fortunately, our models also show how strong and urgent emissions reductions, in line with the Paris Agreement, could greatly reduce the impacts on biodiversity and relieve the burden of such losses on less wealthy nations.”

Or, as Robert Frost put it:

“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out…”

− Climate News Network

Solar power’s future could soon be overshadowed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Biden

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights concern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting for Biden

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

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

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

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

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

Human rights concern

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

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

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

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

Science suggests possible climate link to Covid-19

Researchers think there could be a climate link to Covid-19. In which case, worse could yet happen.

LONDON, 5 February, 2021 − British and US scientists think there may be a connection between global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use, and the emergence of the bat-borne virus that has triggered a global pandemic and has so far claimed more than two million lives worldwide − in short, a possible climate link to Covid-19.

The connection is possibly quite simple. Rising average temperatures encouraged a change in the natural vegetation of the forests of Yunnan, the southern Chinese province, close to the forests of Laos and Myanmar.

What had been tropical shrubland shifted to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland: the province became a suitable habitat for many bat species. It is also home to the scaly anteater known as the pangolin, and the masked palm civet: both of these have been also proposed as intermediate carriers of the virus. 

And, researchers say, in the last century an additional 40 bat species moved into Yunnan: these may have delivered 100 more types of bat coronavirus to the pool of potential infection.

Magnet for bats

And this “global hotspot” − far from the city where the first human cases were first confirmed − is where all the genetic data suggest that the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen, says a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Robert Beyer of the University of Cambridge, now at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research.

“Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

That animals carry viruses which can infect other species is well established: the HIV-Aids pandemic, the Ebola outbreaks in Africa and many other infections have all been linked to animal-to-human transmission.

For decades, scientists have been recording new “zoonotic” or animal-borne diseases in humans at the rate of two a year. An estimated 80% of all the viruses linked to human disease are of animal origin, including rabies.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions”

The link between human disturbance of wilderness and disease outbreak has been made before, and more than once. A study by Cambridge scientists last year identified 161 steps humankind could take to reduce the ever-growing risks of zoonotic infection that could lead to even more devastating pandemics.

The case for bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 driven by climate change remains circumstantial. It identifies a suspect and a set of possibly incriminating connections, but does not deliver the evidence for a secure conviction.

Using global records of temperature, rainfall and cloud cover, the scientists behind the latest study mapped global vegetation as it must have been a century ago. Then they used what they knew of the ecology of the world’s bat species to estimate the global distribution of each species 100 years ago. And then they matched this with records of species distribution in the last decade.

“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others − taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” Dr Beyer said.

There are more than 1,400 species of bat worldwide: these carry around 3,000 kinds of coronavirus, in ways that are mostly harmless to the host.

Risk increases

If the number of bat species increases, in a region also occupied by humans, then the risk of the infection of a new host, via bat urine, faeces, saliva or other transmission, also increases.

Bat viruses have been linked to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Cov-1 and CoV-2.

The region of Yunnan identified as now richer in bat species is also home to the pangolin, and one theory is that the virus jumped from bat to pangolin, or bat to masked palm civet, and then to humans when a pangolin was sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan, in Hubei province, more than 1200 kilometres away, where the first cases of Covid-19 were detected..

The implication of such a research finding is that, if human disturbance of the natural world increases the chance of such animal-to-human infection, then it will happen again. And it could happen with even greater potential loss of life.

That is why the discovery of this possible climate link to Covid-19 will now attract the minutest attention not only of scientists but of policymakers across the world.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” said Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii, another of the research team. − Climate News Network

Researchers think there could be a climate link to Covid-19. In which case, worse could yet happen.

LONDON, 5 February, 2021 − British and US scientists think there may be a connection between global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use, and the emergence of the bat-borne virus that has triggered a global pandemic and has so far claimed more than two million lives worldwide − in short, a possible climate link to Covid-19.

The connection is possibly quite simple. Rising average temperatures encouraged a change in the natural vegetation of the forests of Yunnan, the southern Chinese province, close to the forests of Laos and Myanmar.

What had been tropical shrubland shifted to tropical savannah and deciduous woodland: the province became a suitable habitat for many bat species. It is also home to the scaly anteater known as the pangolin, and the masked palm civet: both of these have been also proposed as intermediate carriers of the virus. 

And, researchers say, in the last century an additional 40 bat species moved into Yunnan: these may have delivered 100 more types of bat coronavirus to the pool of potential infection.

Magnet for bats

And this “global hotspot” − far from the city where the first human cases were first confirmed − is where all the genetic data suggest that the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 may have arisen, says a study in the journal Science of the Total Environment.

“Climate change over the last century has made the habitat in Yunnan province suitable for more bat species,” said Robert Beyer of the University of Cambridge, now at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research.

“Understanding how the global distribution of bat species has shifted as a result of climate change may be an important step in reconstructing the origin of the Covid-19 outbreak.”

That animals carry viruses which can infect other species is well established: the HIV-Aids pandemic, the Ebola outbreaks in Africa and many other infections have all been linked to animal-to-human transmission.

For decades, scientists have been recording new “zoonotic” or animal-borne diseases in humans at the rate of two a year. An estimated 80% of all the viruses linked to human disease are of animal origin, including rabies.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions”

The link between human disturbance of wilderness and disease outbreak has been made before, and more than once. A study by Cambridge scientists last year identified 161 steps humankind could take to reduce the ever-growing risks of zoonotic infection that could lead to even more devastating pandemics.

The case for bat transmission of SARS-CoV-2 driven by climate change remains circumstantial. It identifies a suspect and a set of possibly incriminating connections, but does not deliver the evidence for a secure conviction.

Using global records of temperature, rainfall and cloud cover, the scientists behind the latest study mapped global vegetation as it must have been a century ago. Then they used what they knew of the ecology of the world’s bat species to estimate the global distribution of each species 100 years ago. And then they matched this with records of species distribution in the last decade.

“As climate change altered habitats, species left some areas and moved into others − taking their viruses with them. This not only altered the regions where viruses are present, but most likely allowed for new interactions between animals and viruses, causing more harmful viruses to be transmitted or evolve,” Dr Beyer said.

There are more than 1,400 species of bat worldwide: these carry around 3,000 kinds of coronavirus, in ways that are mostly harmless to the host.

Risk increases

If the number of bat species increases, in a region also occupied by humans, then the risk of the infection of a new host, via bat urine, faeces, saliva or other transmission, also increases.

Bat viruses have been linked to Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Cov-1 and CoV-2.

The region of Yunnan identified as now richer in bat species is also home to the pangolin, and one theory is that the virus jumped from bat to pangolin, or bat to masked palm civet, and then to humans when a pangolin was sold at a wildlife market in Wuhan, in Hubei province, more than 1200 kilometres away, where the first cases of Covid-19 were detected..

The implication of such a research finding is that, if human disturbance of the natural world increases the chance of such animal-to-human infection, then it will happen again. And it could happen with even greater potential loss of life.

That is why the discovery of this possible climate link to Covid-19 will now attract the minutest attention not only of scientists but of policymakers across the world.

“The fact that climate change can accelerate the transmission of wildlife pathogens to humans should be an urgent wake-up call to reduce global emissions,” said Camilo Mora, of the University of Hawaii, another of the research team. − Climate News Network

Rising sea levels may make some airports unusable

High flyers could soon have a problem with high water. Rising sea levels could one day shut down airports.

LONDON, 3 February, 2021 − Passengers, prepare for splashdown. Take-off may have to wait for low tide. By 2100, thanks to rising sea levels, around 100 of the world’s airports could be below mean sea level and at least 364 will be vulnerable to flooding.

And that’s assuming the world’s nations keep a promise made in 2015 and confine global heating to no more than 2°C above the average maintained for most of human history. If humans go on burning fossil fuels and clearing forests at the present rate, then at least 572 of the world’s airports could be at risk of flooding from extreme tides, according to a new study in the journal Climate Risk Management.

These things have already happened: in 2018 a typhoon storm surge inundated Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, Japan. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 closed New York City’s La Guardia Airport for three days. One-tenth of the planet’s population lives on coastlines less than 10 metres above sea level.

Airports grow up around the great cities: they require flat land and a clear flight path. Coastal flood plains, wetlands and reclaimed land provide exactly that.

Serious risk

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption,” said Richard Dawson, an engineer at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “Sea level rise therefore poses a serious risk to global passenger and freight movements, with considerable cost of damage and disruption.”

He and a colleague looked at the world’s 14,000 airports and helicopter pads to identify 1,238 airports in what geographers call low elevation coastal zones: that is, down by the seaside. Of these, 199, serving 3,436 routes, were in the US; China had 30 airports serving 2,333 routes.

They found that just 20 airports at risk handled more than 800 million passengers in 2018 − approaching a fifth of the world’s passenger traffic that year − and nearly 16 million tonnes of cargo: one-fourth of all the world’s air freight that year. They then started looking at what climate change could do to all that business.

Even before the shutdown of traffic because of the global pandemic, the world’s airlines had been feeling the heat. Research teams have confirmed that ever higher global temperatures mean more atmospheric turbulence at altitude; that wind speed changes will slow flights and raise costs; that extremes of heat could even close airport runways and delay flights for extended periods.

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption”

Now Professor Dawson and his colleague have compiled a table of hazard rankings for flooded airstrips under a range of climate change scenarios.

Right now, 269 of the world’s airports are at some risk of coastal flooding. This number must rise: by how much, and at what cost, depends on what actions the world takes. But the researchers calculate that by 2100 the risk of disruption could increase 17-fold, or even 69-fold. And because so many important airports are already at or near sea level, up to a fifth of all the world’s routes will be at risk.

And that means higher costs for flood protection, or action to raise airport sites, or relocation. The choice is to adapt or, quite literally, to go under.

“The cost of adaptation will be modest in the context of global infrastructure expenditure,” Professor Dawson said. “However, in some locations the rate of sea level rise, limited economic resources or space for alternative locations will make some airports unviable.” − Climate News Network

High flyers could soon have a problem with high water. Rising sea levels could one day shut down airports.

LONDON, 3 February, 2021 − Passengers, prepare for splashdown. Take-off may have to wait for low tide. By 2100, thanks to rising sea levels, around 100 of the world’s airports could be below mean sea level and at least 364 will be vulnerable to flooding.

And that’s assuming the world’s nations keep a promise made in 2015 and confine global heating to no more than 2°C above the average maintained for most of human history. If humans go on burning fossil fuels and clearing forests at the present rate, then at least 572 of the world’s airports could be at risk of flooding from extreme tides, according to a new study in the journal Climate Risk Management.

These things have already happened: in 2018 a typhoon storm surge inundated Kansai International Airport in Osaka Bay, Japan. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 closed New York City’s La Guardia Airport for three days. One-tenth of the planet’s population lives on coastlines less than 10 metres above sea level.

Airports grow up around the great cities: they require flat land and a clear flight path. Coastal flood plains, wetlands and reclaimed land provide exactly that.

Serious risk

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption,” said Richard Dawson, an engineer at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. “Sea level rise therefore poses a serious risk to global passenger and freight movements, with considerable cost of damage and disruption.”

He and a colleague looked at the world’s 14,000 airports and helicopter pads to identify 1,238 airports in what geographers call low elevation coastal zones: that is, down by the seaside. Of these, 199, serving 3,436 routes, were in the US; China had 30 airports serving 2,333 routes.

They found that just 20 airports at risk handled more than 800 million passengers in 2018 − approaching a fifth of the world’s passenger traffic that year − and nearly 16 million tonnes of cargo: one-fourth of all the world’s air freight that year. They then started looking at what climate change could do to all that business.

Even before the shutdown of traffic because of the global pandemic, the world’s airlines had been feeling the heat. Research teams have confirmed that ever higher global temperatures mean more atmospheric turbulence at altitude; that wind speed changes will slow flights and raise costs; that extremes of heat could even close airport runways and delay flights for extended periods.

“These coastal airports are disproportionately important to the global airline network, and by 2100 between 10% and 20% of all routes will be at risk of disruption”

Now Professor Dawson and his colleague have compiled a table of hazard rankings for flooded airstrips under a range of climate change scenarios.

Right now, 269 of the world’s airports are at some risk of coastal flooding. This number must rise: by how much, and at what cost, depends on what actions the world takes. But the researchers calculate that by 2100 the risk of disruption could increase 17-fold, or even 69-fold. And because so many important airports are already at or near sea level, up to a fifth of all the world’s routes will be at risk.

And that means higher costs for flood protection, or action to raise airport sites, or relocation. The choice is to adapt or, quite literally, to go under.

“The cost of adaptation will be modest in the context of global infrastructure expenditure,” Professor Dawson said. “However, in some locations the rate of sea level rise, limited economic resources or space for alternative locations will make some airports unviable.” − Climate News Network

India has an (official) climate change of heart

India’s new approach seems to show a climate change of heart by one of the world’s most populous countries.


CHENNAI, 23 December, 2020 − The question taxing the brains of India’s climate campaigners is challenging. What’s going on in Delhi? Has the government really had a climate change of heart?

After all, it’s only a decade ago that United Nations climate conferences were routinely hearing from Indian delegates that their priority was development. Global warming was a problem for the industrialised countries, the Indians would insist, because they had caused the problem in the first place.

Now, after dozens of scientific reports showing how millions of Indians will suffer, many of India’s leading companies and civil society organisations  − and even the government itself − are making strenuous efforts to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which binds every signatory to reach an agreed level for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian government has set up a high-level group, the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (AIPA), to ensure that the country does in fact meet its Paris targets.

AIPA will monitor both government and private sector contributions towards climate change and see to it that India is on track to meet its obligations under the Agreement, including what are known in the jargon of climate negotiations as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change’’

A year ago a highly critical report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that governments which had signed the Paris accord were not reaching their declared NDC targets, which − even if implemented in full − would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable in the Agreement.

India’s creation of AIPA follows China’s unexpected decision to pursue a net zero emissions target in 2060. These moves, and the pledges of the developed world at the recent Climate Ambition Summit, are not enough to satisfy all the critics, but they are a big leap forward for the developing world.

The Apex Group will also regulate India’s carbon markets, formulating guidelines on carbon pricing, market mechanisms and other relevant measures, and “will engage with the private sector as well as multi- and bilateral agencies in the field of climate change and provide guidance for aligning their actions with national priorities”, the Hindustan Times reports.

At the recent G20 summit India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country was not only meeting its Paris targets but was exceeding them. It has made eight commitments under the NDC requirement, with three goals set to be achieved by 2030.

It has promised to work on reductions in the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It plans to be producing about 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources. And it intends to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

Decision by elite

Despite these sweeping promises there are still doubts among India’s environmental activists that, without involving ordinary citizens, the goals will be reached. One, a prominent campaigner, Arul Selvam, said that only when the government included grassroots leaders would it achieve its goals both on paper and in reality.

“Decisions are taken by experts, senior officers and ministers”, he said. “It would be useful to include members from associations of organic farmers, small-scale traders, village-level workers, fishermen and conservationists.”

This would improve the implementation of any programme on the ground, with many people across India already living sustainable daily lives.

India had seen protests against environmental degradation caused by industry and government, so at least the government should now start working with people to ensure that its plans succeeded on the ground and yielded results.

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change,’’ Arul Selvam said. − Climate News Network

India’s new approach seems to show a climate change of heart by one of the world’s most populous countries.


CHENNAI, 23 December, 2020 − The question taxing the brains of India’s climate campaigners is challenging. What’s going on in Delhi? Has the government really had a climate change of heart?

After all, it’s only a decade ago that United Nations climate conferences were routinely hearing from Indian delegates that their priority was development. Global warming was a problem for the industrialised countries, the Indians would insist, because they had caused the problem in the first place.

Now, after dozens of scientific reports showing how millions of Indians will suffer, many of India’s leading companies and civil society organisations  − and even the government itself − are making strenuous efforts to reach the targets of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which binds every signatory to reach an agreed level for cutting its greenhouse gas emissions.

The Indian government has set up a high-level group, the Apex Committee for the Implementation of the Paris Agreement (AIPA), to ensure that the country does in fact meet its Paris targets.

AIPA will monitor both government and private sector contributions towards climate change and see to it that India is on track to meet its obligations under the Agreement, including what are known in the jargon of climate negotiations as its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change’’

A year ago a highly critical report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) said that governments which had signed the Paris accord were not reaching their declared NDC targets, which − even if implemented in full − would still allow the world to warm by 2.6°C, 70% more than the 1.5°C regarded as desirable in the Agreement.

India’s creation of AIPA follows China’s unexpected decision to pursue a net zero emissions target in 2060. These moves, and the pledges of the developed world at the recent Climate Ambition Summit, are not enough to satisfy all the critics, but they are a big leap forward for the developing world.

The Apex Group will also regulate India’s carbon markets, formulating guidelines on carbon pricing, market mechanisms and other relevant measures, and “will engage with the private sector as well as multi- and bilateral agencies in the field of climate change and provide guidance for aligning their actions with national priorities”, the Hindustan Times reports.

At the recent G20 summit India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said the country was not only meeting its Paris targets but was exceeding them. It has made eight commitments under the NDC requirement, with three goals set to be achieved by 2030.

It has promised to work on reductions in the emissions intensity of its gross domestic product by 33-35% over 2005 levels. It plans to be producing about 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources. And it intends to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover.

Decision by elite

Despite these sweeping promises there are still doubts among India’s environmental activists that, without involving ordinary citizens, the goals will be reached. One, a prominent campaigner, Arul Selvam, said that only when the government included grassroots leaders would it achieve its goals both on paper and in reality.

“Decisions are taken by experts, senior officers and ministers”, he said. “It would be useful to include members from associations of organic farmers, small-scale traders, village-level workers, fishermen and conservationists.”

This would improve the implementation of any programme on the ground, with many people across India already living sustainable daily lives.

India had seen protests against environmental degradation caused by industry and government, so at least the government should now start working with people to ensure that its plans succeeded on the ground and yielded results.

“If government fails to work with people and include their suggestions in implementation, that will be reflected in its progress to combat climate change,’’ Arul Selvam said. − Climate News Network

Chill out the easy way: science can cool you down

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

There’s more than one way to chill out. White paint and watery windows could help. So could the deep blue sea.

LONDON, 21 December, 2020 − It’s getting simpler and cheaper to chill out: US scientists have developed an ultra-cool white paint that can reflect more than 95% of the sun’s rays and keep the house cooler on the hottest days.

Across the Pacific in Singapore, researchers have developed a “smart window” clever enough to block the incoming sunlight and regulate the building’s internal temperature. It’s pretty good at blocking the noise from the streets, too.

And people who live on tropical islands and find the heat a bit much can cool their homes with a steady flow of cold seawater from the ocean depths.

Austrian researchers calculate that a cubic metre of water from 700 metres below the ocean surface can deliver the same cooling power as 21 wind turbines, or a solarpowered-farm the size of 68 football fields.

Prototypes tested

None of these developments is anywhere near commercial scale exploitation. But two have been tested in prototype and each is a reminder of the ingenuity and imagination at work in the world’s laboratories in bids to confront the energy crisis, limit climate change and find new and carbon-free ways to solve the planet’s mounting challenges.

One of the biggest of those challenges is the soaring thermometer: as global heating driven by profligate fossil fuel use steadily drives up the mercury, yet more and more people, if they want to chill out, are being forced to invest in air-conditioning, a technology that demands even more energy use and heightens the temperature in the city streets.

So the case for passive, or sophisticated, or simply new ways to turn to stay cool is irresistible. Researchers from Purdue University in Indiana in the US write, in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, that they have developed a technology that could be used in commercial paints, that could be cheaper to make, and that could reflect so much sunlight back into space that the surface of the property could be cooler than the air around it. And it used calcium carbonate − think chalk, or limestone − rather than the more difficult-to-find titanium dioxide to do the trick.

Tests in West Lafayette, Indiana found that when the sun was at its zenith the paint surface stayed 1.7°C cooler than the atmosphere around it. At night, the paint temperature dropped to 10°C below the ambient surroundings.

“Scientists in Singapore have developed a liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that in tests can cut 45% of the energy needed to heat, ventilate and air-condition a property”

Windows are vital in building design, but they can be the least energy-efficient part of any construction. Scientists at Nanyang Technical University in Singapore report in the journal Joule that they have developed a hydrogel-based liquid sandwiched between two glass panes that − in tests − can cut 45% of the energy needed in heating, ventilation and air-conditioning a property.

This could be big business: buildings account for 40% of global energy usage, and half of that goes out of the world’s windows. With savings on that scale possible, all will be able to chill out.

So researchers have been experimenting with glass coatings that cut down the infra-red traffic − the waves that carry heat − from within and without the building, but which do not regulate visible sunlight, which heats the interior as it shines through the glass.

The Singapore scientists found that their micro-hydrogel could respond to temperature change, and turn opaque when exposed to heat. So it could block incoming sunlight, and return to clear glass when things got cooler. At the same time, the trapped hydrogel water stored a lot of thermal energy rather than let it into the building during the heat of the day, but gradually released it at night.

District cooling

In midsummer noonday tests in Beijing, when a normal glass window registered 84°C, the smart window glass stayed at 50°C and saved 11% of the energy required to maintain the same indoor air temperature.

They tested the smart glass in Shanghai in China, Las Vegas in the US, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and in Singapore: in each case, it performed better than regular glass or low-emission windows. It also reduced noise 15% more efficiently than normal double-glazing.

And rather than cool indoor air, and pump the hot air back into the streets with an electric motor − the basis of most air-conditioning − scientists at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria report in the journal Energy Efficiency that for those who live on tropical or subtropical coasts, a short distance from the deep ocean, in places where electricity costs are high, it might be much cheaper to cool whole districts − universities, airports, data centres, hotels and resorts and so on − with pumped deep ocean water at temperatures of around 3°C to 5°C.

Stored tanks of cold seawater could even make chiller facilities more efficient, and reduce the costs of food storage. But, the IIASA team warns, there might be problems with the impact on coastal wildlife while returning the used seawater to the ocean surface. − Climate News Network

China and Australia face a climate tipping point

Once again, scientists warn that at least part of the world could be facing a climate tipping point. Two parts, in fact.

LONDON, 8 December 2020 − The grasslands of northern China and Mongolia could be about to lurch into a climate tipping point, an irreversible sequence of heat and drought.

This is a landscape that helped shape world history. The Hun forces that humbled the western Roman Empire 16 centuries ago, and the conquering hordes led by Genghis Khan that commanded most of the Asian continent and threatened Europe eight centuries later, both emerged from tribes of nomad herdsmen from its grasslands. Now it could itself be about to be reconfigured by human-driven climate change.

And that same anthropogenic climate tipping point poses the same threat to great tracts of south-east Australia: water could become more scarce, bush fires could become more frequent, and winds could begin to blow away the parched soils in droughts that could last decades, or even centuries.

Both studies are based on evidence from the past, and both on the story told by preserved annual growth rings. The warning from inner East Asia is based on the testimony of tree stumps and timbers from the last 260 years, say researchers in the journal Science.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings…if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at”

The patterns of tree growth suggest that the recent consecutive summers marked by both heat and drought are new events, and could increase in frequency.

The high plains of central Asia can be very cold in winter, very hot in summer. But soil moisture normally evaporates to cool the air at the surface. In a sustained drought, the air becomes hotter. In recent years, the region’s lakes have been shrinking in extent − and in number.

“The result is more heatwaves, which means more soil water losses, which means more heatwaves − and where this might end, we cannot say,” said Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, one of the research team.

He and his co-authors warn bluntly that the double impact of sustained heat and prolonged drought “is potentially irreversible beyond a tipping point in the East Asian climate system.”

Mega-drought link

The evidence from Australia is based on a much more distant past, and preserved in stalagmites deep in a cave in New South Wales. Researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that during a warm interval in the last Ice Age, from 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, global temperatures rose to levels much as they are today, and perhaps slightly warmer.

And the record of lower falls of snow, higher temperatures and ever-scarcer water, preserved in the ancient annual growths of underground calcium carbonate, provided the scientists with a hint of what to expect in a world of global heating driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and ever-greater destruction of natural ecosystems.

“We found that, in the past, a similar amount of warming has been associated with mega-drought conditions all over south-eastern Australia. These drier conditions prevailed for centuries, sometimes for more than 1000 years,” said Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland, who led the study.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings that climate scientists have released over the last few decades. We hope that this new research allows for new insights to our future climate and the risks it may bring, such as drought and associated bushfires. But importantly, if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at.” − Climate News Network

Once again, scientists warn that at least part of the world could be facing a climate tipping point. Two parts, in fact.

LONDON, 8 December 2020 − The grasslands of northern China and Mongolia could be about to lurch into a climate tipping point, an irreversible sequence of heat and drought.

This is a landscape that helped shape world history. The Hun forces that humbled the western Roman Empire 16 centuries ago, and the conquering hordes led by Genghis Khan that commanded most of the Asian continent and threatened Europe eight centuries later, both emerged from tribes of nomad herdsmen from its grasslands. Now it could itself be about to be reconfigured by human-driven climate change.

And that same anthropogenic climate tipping point poses the same threat to great tracts of south-east Australia: water could become more scarce, bush fires could become more frequent, and winds could begin to blow away the parched soils in droughts that could last decades, or even centuries.

Both studies are based on evidence from the past, and both on the story told by preserved annual growth rings. The warning from inner East Asia is based on the testimony of tree stumps and timbers from the last 260 years, say researchers in the journal Science.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings…if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at”

The patterns of tree growth suggest that the recent consecutive summers marked by both heat and drought are new events, and could increase in frequency.

The high plains of central Asia can be very cold in winter, very hot in summer. But soil moisture normally evaporates to cool the air at the surface. In a sustained drought, the air becomes hotter. In recent years, the region’s lakes have been shrinking in extent − and in number.

“The result is more heatwaves, which means more soil water losses, which means more heatwaves − and where this might end, we cannot say,” said Deliang Chen of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, one of the research team.

He and his co-authors warn bluntly that the double impact of sustained heat and prolonged drought “is potentially irreversible beyond a tipping point in the East Asian climate system.”

Mega-drought link

The evidence from Australia is based on a much more distant past, and preserved in stalagmites deep in a cave in New South Wales. Researchers write in the journal Scientific Reports that during a warm interval in the last Ice Age, from 129,000 to 116,000 years ago, global temperatures rose to levels much as they are today, and perhaps slightly warmer.

And the record of lower falls of snow, higher temperatures and ever-scarcer water, preserved in the ancient annual growths of underground calcium carbonate, provided the scientists with a hint of what to expect in a world of global heating driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels, and ever-greater destruction of natural ecosystems.

“We found that, in the past, a similar amount of warming has been associated with mega-drought conditions all over south-eastern Australia. These drier conditions prevailed for centuries, sometimes for more than 1000 years,” said Hamish McGowan of the University of Queensland, who led the study.

“They’re alarming findings, in a long list of alarming findings that climate scientists have released over the last few decades. We hope that this new research allows for new insights to our future climate and the risks it may bring, such as drought and associated bushfires. But importantly, if humans continue to warm the planet, this is the future we may all be looking at.” − Climate News Network

Dubai heads backwards to its clean energy future

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network

A clean energy future is what Dubai says it’s aiming for. So why has it built a huge new coal-burning power station?

LONDON, 3 November, 2020 − Dubai, surrounded by desert but with its skyscrapers, luxury hotels, beach resorts and kilometres of shopping malls, promotes itself as a city with a clean energy future.

Yet when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by climate change, the Gulf state is going smartly backwards.

Within the next few months, what will be the Gulf’s first coal-fired power plant will start operations in the desert south of Dubai city.

The 2,400 MW Hassyan coal plant, when fully operational in 2023, aims to supply up to 20% of Dubai’s electricity, a big step towards a clean energy future.

The state-controlled Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) describes the project as a clean coal facility fitted with the latest technology, including facilities for carbon capture and storage – the aim being to bury harmful greenhouse gas emissions from the plant deep underground.

“Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried way of coping with carbon emissions”

But a number of questions surround the plant’s operations. Under the Dubai clean energy strategy 2050, unveiled five years ago, the emirate aims to turn itself into what it calls a global clean energy centre by mid-century, with Dubai city having the smallest carbon footprint of any urban centre in the world.

As part of its clean energy future strategy, Dubai aims to produce 75% of its energy from what it calls clean sources by 2050.

Talk of clean coal is a contradiction in terms. Burning coal is the most polluting way of producing energy. No matter what equipment and technology is installed at the Hassyan plant, substantial carbon emissions will be produced.

Carbon capture and storage is still a relatively untried and disputed way of coping with carbon emissions: many power firms have shied away from implementing projects due to their complexity and great expense.

Cheaper solar

Then there is the question of the cost of the Dubai coal project. The Hassyan plant has a price tag of US$3.4bn (£2.5bn). Under prices agreed four years ago, DEWA agreed to buy electricity from Hassyan for about 5 US cents (£0.04) per kilowatt hour (kWh).

Since then solar power has expanded considerably in the emirate – with prices dropping to less that 2 US cents per kWh.

At present the bulk of Dubai’s electricity is sourced from gas-powered plants. Part of the reasoning behind the Hassyan project was worries over dependence on imports of gas from Qatar – now at loggerheads with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Though it awaits development, one of the world’s biggest gas fields was recently discovered in Dubai and neighbouring Abu Dhabi.

While many global financial institutions have turned their backs on funding for coal plants, China continues to be one of the biggest sponsors of coal projects around the world. China’s banks, including the state-owned Bank of China, have given loans to the Hassyan plant.

Much of the construction work there will be carried out by Chinese companies, including the giant Harbin Electrical International group.

Gulf penguins

Per capita emissions of climate-changing CO2 gases in Dubai and its fellow United Arab Emirates (UAE) states are among the highest in the world.

In order to meet ever-growing power needs, the first nuclear plant in the Arab world began operations in the UAE emirate of Abu Dhabi in August this year. The Barakah nuclear plant came on stream three years behind schedule and millions of dollars over budget.

And despite the talk of reducing emissions and clean energy targets, Dubai is still one of the most energy-wasteful territories on the planet: its desalination plants, air-conditioned shopping malls, skyscraper office blocks and luxury hotels use enormous amounts of energy, making a clean energy future a very ambitious goal.

The desert city even has an enclosed snow and ski complex, complete with a 1.5km ski slope – and penguins. − Climate News Network

Western Europe cools on plans for nuclear power

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

Western US and Southeast Asia face rising dust risk

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network

It obscures the skies and darkens the snows. Wind-borne dust risk is increasingly ominous in a warming world.

LONDON, 26 October, 2020 − Half a planet apart, one low-lying and the other on the roof of the world, two huge regions confront an increasing dust risk − a menace to jobs, to food and to lives.

The Great Plains of North America are getting dustier every year because more soil is now being exposed to erosion. And high in the Himalayas on the continent of Asia, the peaks too are becoming dustier, in ways that threaten to increase the melting of high-altitude snows.

Both findings are in essence bad news. In the western US, higher levels of wind erosion as a consequence of changing farm practices combined with ever-greater probabilities of drought mean ever-higher probabilities of a return of the Dust Bowl that devastated the US Midwest 90 years ago.

And 700 million people in Southeast Asia, China and India depend on the slow melting of the Himalayan glaciers to irrigate their crops in the hot dry season: earlier melting threatens not just livelihoods but lives.

Taken for farming

In the 1930s, the Great Plains region was hit by drought that extended from Canada to Mexico. By then, vast tracts of prairie had been converted from wild grassland to ploughed field.

“The result was massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl. These dust storms removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur,” said Andrew Lambert of the University of Utah.

He and colleagues from Colorado report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that they measured atmospheric dust levels by studying evidence from both space and from the ground, and collected data from 1988 to 2018.

They found that atmospheric dust over the Great Plains was increasing at 5% a year. That would mean a doubling in just two decades.

“The massive dust storms we associate with the Dust Bowl removed nutrients from the soil, making it difficult for crops to grow and more likely for wind erosion to occur”

They also found that levels of dust matched the planting and harvest months of soybean in the north, and corn in the southern states. How the land was farmed could be connected directly to the haze in the air.

Dust plays a powerful role in planetary management: researchers established years ago that the rich biodiversity of the Amazon rainforest was nourished and supplemented almost annually by deposits of fertile dust blown across the Atlantic from the African Sahara. And dust falling into the ocean on the journey also helped nourish marine life far below the surface of the Atlantic.

Now it seems that wind-blown dust from two continents also settles on the biggest and highest tracts of the Himalayas, to darken the snow, change its reflectivity and absorb the sun’s warmth.

Scientists from the US Pacific Northwest National Laboratory report in Nature Climate Change that they used detailed satellite imagery of the Himalayas to measure aerosols, elevation and snow surfaces to identify dust and other pollutants.

Constant release

They found that, at up to 4500 metres altitude, black carbon or soot played an important role in influencing the melt timetable of the high snows. Above that altitude, dust was the most important factor: dust from the Thar desert in India, from Saudi Arabia and even from the African Sahara.

Although this was part of a natural cycle, humankind may be accelerating the traffic and adding to the dust risk: ever-higher planetary temperatures have begun to affect atmospheric circulation. And as humans turn natural ecosystems into farmland, they release even more dust.

“The snow in the western Himalayas is receding rapidly. We need to understand why this is happening and we need to understand the implications,” said Chandan Sarangi, then at Pacific Northwest but now at the Madras Institute of Technology in Chennai, and one of the authors.

“We’ve shown that dust can be a big contributor to the accelerated snowmelt. Hundreds of millions of people in the region rely on snow for their drinking water − we need to consider factors like dust seriously to understand what’s happening.” − Climate News Network