Tag Archives: China

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

Poor air inflicts billions of premature deaths in Asia

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

Air pollution by tiny particles is among the world’s worst health risks. In South Asia, poor air is as bad as it gets.

NEW DELHI, 22 October, 2020 − Poor air costs lives, but finding out just how many of them will come as a shock to many residents of South Asia’s big cities.

In India’s capital, New Delhi, just going outside and breathing the air can shorten your life by more than nine years, according to a new report into the region’s air quality that measures the effects of pollution on life expectancy.

For millions of people across across north-west India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it will be bad news − despite the Covid crisis − because of the current surge in air pollution in the region.

But none of the people of four countries, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal, will be happy with the prediction that their lives will be shortened unless their governments take air pollution seriously.

New Delhi is the worst single example in the four, but few of their citizens − a quarter of the world’s population − will escape.

Bangladesh worst hit

Averaged across the whole population, the people of Bangladesh suffer most from air pollution in any country, with their average life span cut short by 6.2 years.

An air quality index (AQI) provides daily air quality assessments, but not the actual health risk. An air quality life index (AQLI) goes further: it converts particulate air pollution into perhaps the most important air pollution metric that exists: its impact on life expectancy.

The report is the work of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago (EPIC), which has recently updated its AQLI, based on research by its director Michael Greenstone that quantified the causal relationship between human exposure to air pollution and reduced life expectancy.

While the report makes grim reading for nations south of the Himalayas, it does offer some hope, saying that the people of China can see marked improvements since their government began clamping down on polluting industries in 2013.

The report uses two measures to calculate lower expectations of life expectancy: the more stringent World Heath Organisation guidelines (WHO) and the limits imposed by the governments concerned.

“The threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving [but] embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives”

It says air pollution shortens Indian average life expectancy by 5.2 years, relative to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met, but by 2.3 years relative to the rate if pollution were reduced to meet the country’s own national standard.

Some areas of India fare much worse than the average, with air pollution shortening lives by 9.4 years in Delhi and 8.6 years in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the report’s India fact sheet 2020 says.

Similarly, the Pakistan sheet says the average Pakistani’s life expectancy has been shortened by 2.7 years, while air pollution cuts lives by more than 4 years in the most polluted areas.

Naming Bangladesh as the world’s most polluted country, EPIC’s report says air pollution shortens the average citizen’s life expectancy by 6.2 years, compared to what it would be if the WHO guidelines were met.

Again, some areas suffer far more, with lives cut by about 7 years in the most polluted district. In every one of the country’s 64 districts, particulate pollution levels are at least four times the WHO guidelines.

Possible underestimate

Surprisingly Nepal, which unlike its southern neighbours is not normally associated with air pollution, also had serious problems with its crowded and polluted cities. As a result, life expectancy there is cut by 4.7 years across the whole population.

“Though the threat of coronavirus is grave and deserves every bit of the attention it is receiving − perhaps more in some places − embracing the seriousness of air pollution with a similar vigour would allow billions of people around the world to lead longer and healthier lives,” says Professor Greenstone.

The science of air pollution, and the impact of poor air on the human body, is evolving rapidly, and some Asian scientists have expressed reservations about the accuracy of some of the calculations. However, none of them disputes the fact that millions are dying early because of the pollution.

The report concentrates on the effect of the smaller particulates that are known to do the most damage to lungs, and to enter the bloodstream, and it may in fact be underestimating the overall effects of poor air quality. − Climate News Network

* * * * * *

Nivedita Khandekar is an independent journalist based in New Delhi, covering development and the environment: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com and on twitter at @nivedita_Him

China’s climate lead offers the planet new hope

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Beijing’s plan to cut greenhouse gases could mean a global expansion of green industries following China’s climate lead.

LONDON, 19 October, 2020 – Whatever mixture of motives lies behind the announcement by President Xi Jinping that his country’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak before 2030, resulting in carbon neutrality before 2060, China’s climate lead offers the prospect of a new era in world affairs.

It alters the face of international negotiations to tackle the climate crisis and boosts hopes that catastrophic global heating can still be avoided.

It is not quite a month since the president took everyone by surprise by making the announcement at the United Nations. Cynics immediately began to question his motives.

Was he trying to corner the vast market in renewables, was he trying to upstage climate-denying and coal-loving President Trump, was he trying to divert attention from internal human rights issues and Hong Kong, or from accusations against China over the Covid crisis? Was he trying re-cast himself as a world leader on environmental matters?

Few seemed generous enough to accept that President Xi was making the announcement because he was genuinely concerned about the effects of climate change on China and the rest of the planet.

Either way, the President’s new targets were certainly a remarkable turnaround. Although there have been more positive statements recently, for more than a decade at successive climate talks China, along with the rest of the developing world, regarded climate change as the developed nations’ problem.

“China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025”

The old industrial countries of the EU, the US and Japan had caused global heating by burning fossil fuels, they argued, so it was up to them to solve the crisis. The immediate job for the developing world’s leaders was to raise their citizens’ living standards, and to worry about their domestic carbon emissions later.

But this was never the whole story. Chinese scientists had long pointed out to its leaders that the country’s future was as bleak as any other nation’s in the world if climate change was not controlled – and quickly.

The major rivers that feed Chinese agriculture will dry up as the glaciers on the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau disappear; typhoons will regularly threaten the populous south; and the deserts of the north will grow.

And more recently fast-accelerating sea level rise has begun to threaten the economic powerhouse of Shanghai and much of the low-lying coast with inundation.

In addition, since the Beijing Olympics in 2008 it has been clear that air pollution from coal-burning and traffic fumes is a serious economic and health issue in China, while some drastic measures have succeeded in improving air quality.

On 12 October 18 Chinese think tanks combined to put some flesh on the bare bones of President Xi’s bold announcement. In a report published by the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, Beijing, they said immediate carbon cuts were required to keep temperature increases within 1.5°C by 2050.

Globally significant

Reuters news agency reported that a seminar held in Beijing to launch the Institute ’s report was attended by China’s top officials responsible for shaping the country’s energy policy.

One of the report’s contributors, He Jiankun, vice-director of the National Expert Committee on Climate Change, told the meeting: “China should strictly control coal consumption and the expansion of coal-fired power capacity in the next five years, aiming to cap carbon emissions from coal sectors by 2025 and even realise negative growth.

“China is still expected to see the growth of natural gas consumption in 2026-2030, so the growth of carbon emissions from gas use should be offset by the reduction from the coal sector.”

The report also called for China to cut its carbon intensity – the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per GDP unit – by 65% by 2030 from 2015 levels, and to raise non-fossil fuel consumption to 25% by 2030.

This is way above anything that the Chinese government has committed to in the annual UN climate talks and would mean a drastic change in direction, since new coal power stations are still being constructed in large numbers to meet an ever-growing energy demand.

Whatever the motives behind these reduction targets, they matter hugely to the rest of the world. China is currently the world’s largest carbon emitter, with about 29% of the total. This is mainly due to massive coal burning for electricity and for major heavy industries like steel-making, which have moved there from Europe and the US. Switching away from coal would make an immediate difference.

Eye on exports

While critics, particularly climate deniers and right-wing think tanks in the US and Europe, constantly remind the world of Chinese coal-burning habits, they often neglect to mention that the country is a world leader in on-shore wind energy and solar power.

China is also aiming to soon have the largest off-shore wind market, overtaking the United Kingdom.

This might be the key to the President’s thinking. China has a massive domestic demand for renewables, but with wind and solar being the two fastest-growing industries in the world the export market is a great prize.

With President Trump firmly stuck in the fossil fuel age, China has an opportunity to become the lead provider of the technology that many countries in the world need to meet their climate targets.

Depending on who wins the US election on 3 November, President Xi may consolidate his renewables lead at leisure, or be in a race against the Democrat contender, Joe Biden, who has pledged to turn America from a climate laggard to a world leader.

If Biden does win he may find President Xi is already a lap ahead, and hard to overtake. – Climate News Network

Supply chains generate massive carbon emissions

When it comes to cutting carbon emissions, think global. Think multinational. Think Coca-Cola, or Total. But don’t fly.

LONDON, 25 September, 2020 – Chinese and European researchers have identified the source of almost one-fifth of all the world’s carbon emissions. They come from the supply chains of giant multinational companies.

Not only does global business export investment, it exports carbon dioxide emissions as well. And the big players play it really big.

The US business Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, with 11,500 stores in 28 countries, in 2016 generated more emissions abroad than the whole of Germany’s foreign-owned retail sector.

That year Coca-Cola’s global emissions matched those from the entire foreign food-and-drink industry in China. Total SA’s foreign affiliates generated more than a tenth of the total emissions of France. Altogether, the multinational giants accounted for 18.7% of global emissions.

By contrast, and to provide perspective, the entire global aviation industry contributes just 3.5% of the forces that drive climate change – and that includes the impact of condensation trails and soot and sulphur exhausts as well as carbon dioxide emissions.

“If the world’s leading companies exercised leadership on climate change they could have a transformative effect on global efforts to reduce emissions”

In fact, in eight decades, the aviation industry’s total carbon dioxide discharges add up to only 1.5% of all humankind’s total carbon emissions up to 2018, according to British researchers.

These two very different studies illuminate the great challenge of climate change: it’s not enough for a country to claim it has reduced its carbon footprint, if its big achievement has been to export the burden of emissions to a labour force somewhere else.

And it’s not enough to measure just carbon dioxide. Tomorrow’s planners, investors, economists, designers and engineers must also think about the whole package of anthropogenic change that has begun to raise the planetary temperature to dangerous levels. And in each case the message is the same: think of it as a transnational challenge.

“Multinational companies have enormous influence stretching far beyond national borders,” said Dabo Guan of University College London. “If the world’s leading companies exercised leadership on climate change – for instance by requiring energy efficiency in their supply chains – they could have a transformative effect on global efforts to reduce emissions.”

Outsourced responsibility

Professor Guan and colleagues from Beijing and Norway report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked for a new way to measure the impact of big business.

They followed the money. They found that when investment flowed from developed to developing countries, those businesses were also outsourcing the responsibility for carbon emissions. So a fair way of accounting carbon responsibility would be to return it to the investor nation.

For example in 2011, US investment in India resulted in emissions of more than 43 million tonnes. By 2016, this figure had passed more than 70 million tonnes. In 2011, emissions from multinational investment stood at 22% of all emissions worldwide. By 2016 this figure had fallen to 18.7% – partly because of improvements in energy efficiency, and partly because of a fall in foreign investment.

Although carbon dioxide emissions have become a standard measure for potential climate change, they are only part of the story. The climate damage from a jet flight is more than just the greenhouse gas from burning high-octane fuel.

New analysis in the journal Atmospheric Environment confirms that aviation’s biggest contribution to global warming is the effects on clouds: cirrus condensation trails formed by the almost-explosive growth in air traffic reflect and trap heat escaping from the atmosphere on a massive scale.

International flights exempted

The discharge of water vapour, soot and sulphate particles from the engines is also part of what the researchers call “effective radiative forcing,” or ERF.

And when these aspects are factored in, it seems that aviation on a global scale adds up to 3.5% of all human activities that drive climate change. The Paris Agreement on climate change – a global resolve to contain global heating by 2100 to “well below” 2°C above the norm for most of human history – includes domestic aviation within national targets to reduce emissions.

But it does not address international aviation, which adds up to 64% of all air traffic.

“The new study means that aviation’s impact on climate change can be compared with other sectors such as maritime shipping, ground transportation and energy generation, as it has a consistent set of ERF measurements,” said David Lee, of Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

When it comes to cutting carbon emissions, think global. Think multinational. Think Coca-Cola, or Total. But don’t fly.

LONDON, 25 September, 2020 – Chinese and European researchers have identified the source of almost one-fifth of all the world’s carbon emissions. They come from the supply chains of giant multinational companies.

Not only does global business export investment, it exports carbon dioxide emissions as well. And the big players play it really big.

The US business Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, with 11,500 stores in 28 countries, in 2016 generated more emissions abroad than the whole of Germany’s foreign-owned retail sector.

That year Coca-Cola’s global emissions matched those from the entire foreign food-and-drink industry in China. Total SA’s foreign affiliates generated more than a tenth of the total emissions of France. Altogether, the multinational giants accounted for 18.7% of global emissions.

By contrast, and to provide perspective, the entire global aviation industry contributes just 3.5% of the forces that drive climate change – and that includes the impact of condensation trails and soot and sulphur exhausts as well as carbon dioxide emissions.

“If the world’s leading companies exercised leadership on climate change they could have a transformative effect on global efforts to reduce emissions”

In fact, in eight decades, the aviation industry’s total carbon dioxide discharges add up to only 1.5% of all humankind’s total carbon emissions up to 2018, according to British researchers.

These two very different studies illuminate the great challenge of climate change: it’s not enough for a country to claim it has reduced its carbon footprint, if its big achievement has been to export the burden of emissions to a labour force somewhere else.

And it’s not enough to measure just carbon dioxide. Tomorrow’s planners, investors, economists, designers and engineers must also think about the whole package of anthropogenic change that has begun to raise the planetary temperature to dangerous levels. And in each case the message is the same: think of it as a transnational challenge.

“Multinational companies have enormous influence stretching far beyond national borders,” said Dabo Guan of University College London. “If the world’s leading companies exercised leadership on climate change – for instance by requiring energy efficiency in their supply chains – they could have a transformative effect on global efforts to reduce emissions.”

Outsourced responsibility

Professor Guan and colleagues from Beijing and Norway report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked for a new way to measure the impact of big business.

They followed the money. They found that when investment flowed from developed to developing countries, those businesses were also outsourcing the responsibility for carbon emissions. So a fair way of accounting carbon responsibility would be to return it to the investor nation.

For example in 2011, US investment in India resulted in emissions of more than 43 million tonnes. By 2016, this figure had passed more than 70 million tonnes. In 2011, emissions from multinational investment stood at 22% of all emissions worldwide. By 2016 this figure had fallen to 18.7% – partly because of improvements in energy efficiency, and partly because of a fall in foreign investment.

Although carbon dioxide emissions have become a standard measure for potential climate change, they are only part of the story. The climate damage from a jet flight is more than just the greenhouse gas from burning high-octane fuel.

New analysis in the journal Atmospheric Environment confirms that aviation’s biggest contribution to global warming is the effects on clouds: cirrus condensation trails formed by the almost-explosive growth in air traffic reflect and trap heat escaping from the atmosphere on a massive scale.

International flights exempted

The discharge of water vapour, soot and sulphate particles from the engines is also part of what the researchers call “effective radiative forcing,” or ERF.

And when these aspects are factored in, it seems that aviation on a global scale adds up to 3.5% of all human activities that drive climate change. The Paris Agreement on climate change – a global resolve to contain global heating by 2100 to “well below” 2°C above the norm for most of human history – includes domestic aviation within national targets to reduce emissions.

But it does not address international aviation, which adds up to 64% of all air traffic.

“The new study means that aviation’s impact on climate change can be compared with other sectors such as maritime shipping, ground transportation and energy generation, as it has a consistent set of ERF measurements,” said David Lee, of Manchester Metropolitan University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

Global offshore wind industry takes huge strides

The global offshore wind industry is booming, rapidly growing in size and earning vastly more across the globe.

LONDON, 12 August, 2020 − Despite Covid-19’s grim effects on many industries, the orders for the global offshore wind industry have increased dramatically in the first half of 2020, totalling US$35 billion (£26bn), up 319% on 2019.

Although this already makes it the fastest-growing industry in the world, it seems likely to be only the start of an extraordinary boom in a business that is still improving its technology, and because of that the prices for the electricity it produces are tumbling.

Europe was a pioneer of the industry, since its many square kilometres of shallow sea in the continental shelf meant there were many locations ideal for driving piles into the seabed to anchor the turbines, which happily were close to markets in major coastal cities.

As the technology has improved, so the size of the turbines being installed has increased, now reaching 10 megawatts (MW) and heading soon for 12.

“Offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 18 times global electricity demand today”

And as the turbines have grown bigger, the cost of the electricity they produce has come down, and offshore farms now not only compete with fossil fuels but are far cheaper than nuclear energy. The Far East, China and Taiwan have already become huge markets, and the US is beginning to invest heavily too.

Designs by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are already available for 15 to 20MW turbines. These will be 150 metres high, with rotor diameters of 240m, longer than two football pitches.

The extraordinary size of these models allows them to take advantage of the higher and more constant wind speeds available further out to sea, which provides a more reliable output.

While the boom in wind farms fixed to the seabed develops, a new surge is also expected in floating farms. These use what are basically identical turbines mounted on rafts anchored by cables to the seabed, allowing them to operate in much deeper water.

Costs head downwards

Floating wind farms have already been in operation and have exceeded output expectations, but like all prototypes they were expensive. As with all successful renewable energy technologies, though, the price of installation and operation will continue to fall as the industry gains experience and confidence.

Only 20 years ago turbines producing 3MW of electricity were considered giants. Today’s engineers are already considering whether models able to generate more than 20MW are feasible.

The International Energy Agency said in 2019 that the European Union (then including the UK), the US, Japan, India and even China had enough offshore wind potential to cover all their electricity needs. That was before the latest designs for even bigger turbines had been unveiled.

Its report said: “Today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 TWh per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.” − Climate News Network

The global offshore wind industry is booming, rapidly growing in size and earning vastly more across the globe.

LONDON, 12 August, 2020 − Despite Covid-19’s grim effects on many industries, the orders for the global offshore wind industry have increased dramatically in the first half of 2020, totalling US$35 billion (£26bn), up 319% on 2019.

Although this already makes it the fastest-growing industry in the world, it seems likely to be only the start of an extraordinary boom in a business that is still improving its technology, and because of that the prices for the electricity it produces are tumbling.

Europe was a pioneer of the industry, since its many square kilometres of shallow sea in the continental shelf meant there were many locations ideal for driving piles into the seabed to anchor the turbines, which happily were close to markets in major coastal cities.

As the technology has improved, so the size of the turbines being installed has increased, now reaching 10 megawatts (MW) and heading soon for 12.

“Offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 18 times global electricity demand today”

And as the turbines have grown bigger, the cost of the electricity they produce has come down, and offshore farms now not only compete with fossil fuels but are far cheaper than nuclear energy. The Far East, China and Taiwan have already become huge markets, and the US is beginning to invest heavily too.

Designs by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are already available for 15 to 20MW turbines. These will be 150 metres high, with rotor diameters of 240m, longer than two football pitches.

The extraordinary size of these models allows them to take advantage of the higher and more constant wind speeds available further out to sea, which provides a more reliable output.

While the boom in wind farms fixed to the seabed develops, a new surge is also expected in floating farms. These use what are basically identical turbines mounted on rafts anchored by cables to the seabed, allowing them to operate in much deeper water.

Costs head downwards

Floating wind farms have already been in operation and have exceeded output expectations, but like all prototypes they were expensive. As with all successful renewable energy technologies, though, the price of installation and operation will continue to fall as the industry gains experience and confidence.

Only 20 years ago turbines producing 3MW of electricity were considered giants. Today’s engineers are already considering whether models able to generate more than 20MW are feasible.

The International Energy Agency said in 2019 that the European Union (then including the UK), the US, Japan, India and even China had enough offshore wind potential to cover all their electricity needs. That was before the latest designs for even bigger turbines had been unveiled.

Its report said: “Today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 TWh per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.” − Climate News Network

South Korea backtracks on green promise

For South Korea, it seems, climate care is a case of going green at home – and doing the opposite overseas.

LONDON, 17 July, 2020 – After a landslide victory in South Korea’s national elections earlier this year, President Moon Jae-in and his Democratic Party of Korea announced a major plan to tackle climate change.

A package, known as the Green New Deal, aimed to transform what is one of the world’s most dynamic economies: emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases would be sharply reduced over coming years and totally eliminated by 2050.

There were also promises of big public investments in renewable energy and a commitment to phase out state support for overseas coal projects. Coal is by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Moon Jae-in’s administration is now backtracking on many of its green promises.

Environmental groups are particularly concerned by an announcement late last month that South Korea’s largest state-owned electricity company – along with state banks – is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia.

More to come

The Indonesian project – called Java 9 &10 – is at the giant Suralaya plant at Cilegon, near Jakarta.

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the South Korean and Indonesian state authorities, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) will invest US$51 million (£40m) in adding two power units to the Cilegon plant.

In addition, South Korea’s state banks will make further investments amounting to more than $1billion, while Kepco will offer loan guarantees.

The Cilegon project is highly controversial: the plant is already one of the main sources of pollution in the densely populated area surrounding Jakarta.

Energy analysts and opponents of the project say that the additional power the plant will provide is not needed. They say enlarging the plant not only runs counter to South Korea government policy but also conflicts with the Indonesian government’s policies on tackling climate change: Jakarta recently announced ambitious plans to dramatically increase the use of solar power.

“By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”

“Kepco’s decision to continue the Java 9 &10 project in the midst of a pandemic has shown the true face of the South Korean government and proves it is concerned with short-term profits rather than humans and the environment”, said Didit Haryo Wicaksono of Greenpeace Indonesia.

Elsewhere in the region, Kepco is involved in discussions on a multi-million dollar expansion of the coal-fired Vung Tau power plant in Vietnam.

Kepco shareholders have voiced concerns about both the Indonesia and Vietnam projects, saying that worries about pollution might lead to the loss of millions invested.

South Korea is not alone in touting green policies at home while seeking to make money from polluting projects overseas.

China is making efforts to clean up its once notorious urban pollution hot spots. It is the world’s biggest producer and also consumer of coal: many coal-fired enterprises have been shut down or converted to other energy sources.

Green deal undermined?

Yet China continues to promote coal-fired projects overseas. It is building and financing several coal-fired power plants in Pakistan and in the Balkans, as well as supporting the expansion of coal projects in various African countries. Japan is another large financier of overseas coal projects.

South Korea is among the world’s top ten emitters of greenhouse gases,  much of the pollution caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate more than 40% of the country’s electricity.

Under the terms of Seoul’s new green deal it’s planned to phase out the use of coal by 2030. In the aftermath of the Indonesia coal plant deal, there are doubts that South Korea will put a halt to its overseas coal projects.

Jessica Yun of the South Korea climate group Solutions For Our Climate,  quoted in the Eco-Business journal, says that if the government refuses to stop financing coal projects, the whole green deal will be undermined. “By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”, Yun said.

“That would just push dirty air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions abroad – the height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.” – Climate News Network

For South Korea, it seems, climate care is a case of going green at home – and doing the opposite overseas.

LONDON, 17 July, 2020 – After a landslide victory in South Korea’s national elections earlier this year, President Moon Jae-in and his Democratic Party of Korea announced a major plan to tackle climate change.

A package, known as the Green New Deal, aimed to transform what is one of the world’s most dynamic economies: emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases would be sharply reduced over coming years and totally eliminated by 2050.

There were also promises of big public investments in renewable energy and a commitment to phase out state support for overseas coal projects. Coal is by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Moon Jae-in’s administration is now backtracking on many of its green promises.

Environmental groups are particularly concerned by an announcement late last month that South Korea’s largest state-owned electricity company – along with state banks – is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia.

More to come

The Indonesian project – called Java 9 &10 – is at the giant Suralaya plant at Cilegon, near Jakarta.

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the South Korean and Indonesian state authorities, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) will invest US$51 million (£40m) in adding two power units to the Cilegon plant.

In addition, South Korea’s state banks will make further investments amounting to more than $1billion, while Kepco will offer loan guarantees.

The Cilegon project is highly controversial: the plant is already one of the main sources of pollution in the densely populated area surrounding Jakarta.

Energy analysts and opponents of the project say that the additional power the plant will provide is not needed. They say enlarging the plant not only runs counter to South Korea government policy but also conflicts with the Indonesian government’s policies on tackling climate change: Jakarta recently announced ambitious plans to dramatically increase the use of solar power.

“By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”

“Kepco’s decision to continue the Java 9 &10 project in the midst of a pandemic has shown the true face of the South Korean government and proves it is concerned with short-term profits rather than humans and the environment”, said Didit Haryo Wicaksono of Greenpeace Indonesia.

Elsewhere in the region, Kepco is involved in discussions on a multi-million dollar expansion of the coal-fired Vung Tau power plant in Vietnam.

Kepco shareholders have voiced concerns about both the Indonesia and Vietnam projects, saying that worries about pollution might lead to the loss of millions invested.

South Korea is not alone in touting green policies at home while seeking to make money from polluting projects overseas.

China is making efforts to clean up its once notorious urban pollution hot spots. It is the world’s biggest producer and also consumer of coal: many coal-fired enterprises have been shut down or converted to other energy sources.

Green deal undermined?

Yet China continues to promote coal-fired projects overseas. It is building and financing several coal-fired power plants in Pakistan and in the Balkans, as well as supporting the expansion of coal projects in various African countries. Japan is another large financier of overseas coal projects.

South Korea is among the world’s top ten emitters of greenhouse gases,  much of the pollution caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate more than 40% of the country’s electricity.

Under the terms of Seoul’s new green deal it’s planned to phase out the use of coal by 2030. In the aftermath of the Indonesia coal plant deal, there are doubts that South Korea will put a halt to its overseas coal projects.

Jessica Yun of the South Korea climate group Solutions For Our Climate,  quoted in the Eco-Business journal, says that if the government refuses to stop financing coal projects, the whole green deal will be undermined. “By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”, Yun said.

“That would just push dirty air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions abroad – the height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.” – Climate News Network

Powerful backers support a UK nuclear future

Insulating homes and installing renewable energy are the cheapest answers to climate change. Yet powerful backers urge a UK nuclear future.

LONDON, 15 July, 2020 – You may think a UK nuclear future, given the bright prospects for wind and solar power, is a dream that has finally died. Perhaps. But don’t be too sure.

If you watched BBC television in the 1980s, you might well have seen the Blackadder comedy series, one of whose stars was the hapless dogsbody Baldrick. However dire the plight into which the scriptwriters had plunged him and his companions, Baldrick unfailingly reassured them: he would save the day with his latest “cunning plan”, a phrase now hallowed as a guarantee of doom.

Leap forward 30 years to the present day, where one of the most influential figures involved with the UK government of prime minister Boris Johnson is his senior special adviser (an unelected figure), Dominic Cummings. He too has a plan, it’s said. But this is no comedy: the plan is serious, and it’s nuclear.

It envisages a massive expansion of the United Kingdom’s nuclear industry, prompting a reputed joke by civil servants that Cummings’ plan is little different from one of Baldrick’s.

The Cummings plan involves three elements: building several large nuclear reactors in the UK, plus dozens of prefabricated ones, called small modular reactors or SMRs, and investing heavily in research for what are called Generation IV nuclear reactors – technologies planned for deployment around 2030.

Rescue in sight?

Dominic Cummings is not alone in his enthusiasm. Donald Trump, President Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping all favour this approach.

His plan is also backed by the British company Rolls-Royce. It is suffering badly from its heavy involvement in the aviation industry, and it sees government investment in a new generation of reactors as a lifeline. The company is already building small reactors for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.

Backing for Cummings has come from a government-funded thinktank, Catapult Energy Systems. In a report, Nuclear For Net Zero, Catapult envisages using SMRs for district heating schemes and advanced reactors for producing hydrogen. This would be used for transport in cars, lorries and trains, or for storing energy for peak electricity production.

Although it is described as independent Catapult is largely funded by Innovate UK, itself funded by the government, and has as its strategy and performance director Guy Newey, previously an adviser to energy ministers in previous Conservative administrations when successive governments were aggressively pushing pro-nuclear policies.

Catapult’s report appears to mirror Dominic Cummings’ desire for imaginative solutions to climate problems. He is said to regard the idea of insulating millions of homes to reduce electricity bills and to improve health as “boring.”

“Only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to finance the nuclear stations’ construction”

His attitude, in turn, appears to reflect Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for grandiose projects like a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland – and other projects, now abandoned, such as a new airport in the Thames estuary and a garden bridge across the Thames further upstream in central London, which Johnson championed when he was the capital’s mayor.

The problems that this nuclear agenda faces are both financial and political. The cost of developing such a programme is astronomical. Two reactors currently being built at Hinkley Point in the West of England are costing more than £10 billion (US$12.5bn) each. That price is likely to be exceeded for each of the eight further reactors proposed for the current building programme.

The second problem is that only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to stump up the cash in the form of a levy or tax on electricity bills to finance the nuclear stations’ construction.

Since the French and Chinese companies are both state-owned it might be politically difficult for the UK government to impose a tax on British consumers to enrich them. There is also a lot of disquiet among UK Members of Parliament about Chinese involvement in vital services like electricity supply and nuclear energy.

As for the SMRs, the idea is to build dozens in factories and then erect them on-site in prefabricated form. Apart from the fact that the technology is unproven and the expense of the electricity unknown (but likely to be high), the problem of where to site them does not seem to have been addressed.

Hydrogen’s appeal

It seems unlikely, given past public opposition to siting nuclear power stations close to centres of population, that they would be welcomed in cities, even if they did provide district heating.

The Generation IV reactors are still on the drawing board. Their development time is always quoted as more than a decade away.

In the meantime, while politicians make their plans, there is increasing business enthusiasm and an economic case for making green hydrogen from surplus wind and solar power, because it is much cheaper. The electricity needed will be surplus to grid requirements and therefore virtually free.

There is also a vast public and business appetite for building very competitive new onshore and offshore wind projects and small and large-scale solar installations. Finance would be no problem, because they are profit-making and quick to build.

Given a helping hand by government, many experts think the United Kingdom could be 100% powered by renewables by 2050, without any need for a Cummings plan. – Climate News Network

Insulating homes and installing renewable energy are the cheapest answers to climate change. Yet powerful backers urge a UK nuclear future.

LONDON, 15 July, 2020 – You may think a UK nuclear future, given the bright prospects for wind and solar power, is a dream that has finally died. Perhaps. But don’t be too sure.

If you watched BBC television in the 1980s, you might well have seen the Blackadder comedy series, one of whose stars was the hapless dogsbody Baldrick. However dire the plight into which the scriptwriters had plunged him and his companions, Baldrick unfailingly reassured them: he would save the day with his latest “cunning plan”, a phrase now hallowed as a guarantee of doom.

Leap forward 30 years to the present day, where one of the most influential figures involved with the UK government of prime minister Boris Johnson is his senior special adviser (an unelected figure), Dominic Cummings. He too has a plan, it’s said. But this is no comedy: the plan is serious, and it’s nuclear.

It envisages a massive expansion of the United Kingdom’s nuclear industry, prompting a reputed joke by civil servants that Cummings’ plan is little different from one of Baldrick’s.

The Cummings plan involves three elements: building several large nuclear reactors in the UK, plus dozens of prefabricated ones, called small modular reactors or SMRs, and investing heavily in research for what are called Generation IV nuclear reactors – technologies planned for deployment around 2030.

Rescue in sight?

Dominic Cummings is not alone in his enthusiasm. Donald Trump, President Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping all favour this approach.

His plan is also backed by the British company Rolls-Royce. It is suffering badly from its heavy involvement in the aviation industry, and it sees government investment in a new generation of reactors as a lifeline. The company is already building small reactors for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.

Backing for Cummings has come from a government-funded thinktank, Catapult Energy Systems. In a report, Nuclear For Net Zero, Catapult envisages using SMRs for district heating schemes and advanced reactors for producing hydrogen. This would be used for transport in cars, lorries and trains, or for storing energy for peak electricity production.

Although it is described as independent Catapult is largely funded by Innovate UK, itself funded by the government, and has as its strategy and performance director Guy Newey, previously an adviser to energy ministers in previous Conservative administrations when successive governments were aggressively pushing pro-nuclear policies.

Catapult’s report appears to mirror Dominic Cummings’ desire for imaginative solutions to climate problems. He is said to regard the idea of insulating millions of homes to reduce electricity bills and to improve health as “boring.”

“Only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to finance the nuclear stations’ construction”

His attitude, in turn, appears to reflect Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for grandiose projects like a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland – and other projects, now abandoned, such as a new airport in the Thames estuary and a garden bridge across the Thames further upstream in central London, which Johnson championed when he was the capital’s mayor.

The problems that this nuclear agenda faces are both financial and political. The cost of developing such a programme is astronomical. Two reactors currently being built at Hinkley Point in the West of England are costing more than £10 billion (US$12.5bn) each. That price is likely to be exceeded for each of the eight further reactors proposed for the current building programme.

The second problem is that only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to stump up the cash in the form of a levy or tax on electricity bills to finance the nuclear stations’ construction.

Since the French and Chinese companies are both state-owned it might be politically difficult for the UK government to impose a tax on British consumers to enrich them. There is also a lot of disquiet among UK Members of Parliament about Chinese involvement in vital services like electricity supply and nuclear energy.

As for the SMRs, the idea is to build dozens in factories and then erect them on-site in prefabricated form. Apart from the fact that the technology is unproven and the expense of the electricity unknown (but likely to be high), the problem of where to site them does not seem to have been addressed.

Hydrogen’s appeal

It seems unlikely, given past public opposition to siting nuclear power stations close to centres of population, that they would be welcomed in cities, even if they did provide district heating.

The Generation IV reactors are still on the drawing board. Their development time is always quoted as more than a decade away.

In the meantime, while politicians make their plans, there is increasing business enthusiasm and an economic case for making green hydrogen from surplus wind and solar power, because it is much cheaper. The electricity needed will be surplus to grid requirements and therefore virtually free.

There is also a vast public and business appetite for building very competitive new onshore and offshore wind projects and small and large-scale solar installations. Finance would be no problem, because they are profit-making and quick to build.

Given a helping hand by government, many experts think the United Kingdom could be 100% powered by renewables by 2050, without any need for a Cummings plan. – Climate News Network

Unanswered questions dog UK’s new nuclear plans

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

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

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

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

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

Anxieties abound

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

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

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

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

Cheaper options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking on the bright side

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

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

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

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

Extensive repairs

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

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

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

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

Unexpected snags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxieties abound

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

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

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

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

Cheaper options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking on the bright side

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

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

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

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

Extensive repairs

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

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

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

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

Unexpected snags

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

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

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

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

Carbon-neutral aircraft might work with ion drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocket needed first

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rocket needed first

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

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

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

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

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

Siberia dries out as forests burn and climate heats

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst for years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hungry Chinese demand

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

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

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

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

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

Wide impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst for years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hungry Chinese demand

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

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

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

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

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

Wide impact

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

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

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

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

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