Tag Archives: China

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

China’s cities face sobering cooling costs

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

Farmers face double trouble as world warms

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

At risk from heat and drought in a warming world, farmers face double trouble in two or more great farming regions at once.

LONDON, 30 November, 2018 – US researchers have confirmed that continued global warming means farmers face double trouble: a heightened possibility of a suddenly hungrier world, as ever-higher average global temperatures increase the probability of devastating heat and drought in two great agricultural regions of the world simultaneously.

This is not the first such warning. In October, a separate team of researchers used a different approach to find that continued climate change could increase the possibility of a return of the conditions that triggered the global drought and famine of 1875-78, which may have claimed 50 million lives.

Also in October, researchers at the University of Washington focused on the possible recurrence of three shifts in regional climate that combined to cause colossal harvest failure in India, China and Brazil.

This time, Californian scientists report in the journal Science Advances that they simply looked at the record of temperature change and the mathematical probabilities associated with it.

In the last century, thanks to profligate combustion of fossil fuels and the consequent increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the world has warmed on average by around 1°C.

“The default is to use historical probabilities. But … assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk”

“If it’s getting warmer everywhere, then it’s more likely to be hot in two places at once, and it’s probably also more likely to be hot when it’s also dry in two places at once,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, of Stanford’s school of earth, energy and environmental sciences.

“When we look in the historical data at the key crop and pasture regions, we find that before anthropogenic climate change, there were very low odds that any two regions would experience those really severe conditions simultaneously,” he said.

“The global marketplace provides a hedge against localised extremes, but we’re already seeing an erosion of that climate buffer as extremes have increased in response to global warming.”

For most of human history harvest failure has been a hazard, but losses in one region have usually been balanced by gains in another. The global famine that began with the Asian monsoon failure of 1875 was a rare event, made more damaging by imperial mismanagement by the European powers.

Lengthening odds

But climate change brings with it the double jeopardy of low crop yields in two great zones of agricultural production at the same time. The odds of both low rainfall and high temperatures in the same year in both China and India – two great farming nations, with the two biggest populations – were, in 1980, just one in 20. These have now increased to more than one in seven.

“So what used to be a rare occurrence can now be expected to occur with some regularity, and we have very strong evidence that global warming is the cause,” said Professor Diffenbaugh.

The researchers found that, if the world continued burning fossil fuels under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, the chances that average temperatures would rise well beyond the range normally experienced in the mid-20th century would, in many regions, increase by 75%.

The researchers also found that – were the world to honour the promise of the Paris Climate Accord of 2015, to contain global warming to well below 2°C by 2100 – the risk of double trouble for two separate regions simultaneously is curbed.

Extremes increase

Extremes of heat by themselves pose a risk to crop yields and, increasingly, more parts of the world are more at risk  of harvest losses.

The Californian scientists looked at multiple risks in one region at the same time – high winds, storm surges, calamitous tropical cyclones, and also low humidity, high temperatures, high winds and lethal wild fires – and then the probability that similar or slightly different multiple hazards could overtake another region in the same year.

The implication is that with increasing average global temperatures, the kinds of hazards farmers and communities expect to confront could be about to change. For centuries, societies made decisions based on the probabilities they already understood.

“The default is to use historical probabilities,” said Professor Diffenbaugh. “But our research shows that assuming that those historical probabilities will continue into the future doesn’t accurately reflect the current or future risk.” – Climate News Network

Doubled raw materials use is climate risk

We’re using more and more raw materials to build the world anew: our demands will almost have doubled by 2060. That’s bad news for the climate.

LONDON, 24 October, 2018 − Just when you might think the world has heard an unmistakable warning of the need to curb climate change drastically and fast, along comes another warning, about humans’ voracious appetite for the raw materials we use so profligately.

Its message is simple: one of the main causes of the Earth’s growing warmth is likely to be twice as severe 40 years from now as it is today.

This latest warning, from the club of the world’s richest countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says consumption of raw materials is on course to nearly double by 2060 as the global economy expands and living standards rise.

And that will mean a steep increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases which drive global warming. Total emissions are projected to reach 75 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq.) by 2060, of which materials management would constitute about 50 Gt CO2-eq. A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. Gt CO2eq is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”, a unit based on the global warming potential of different gases.

“More than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are related to materials management activities”

If you find it hard to visualise raw material, the OECD offers some helpful examples. The main sort of “stuff” it’s talking about includes the building blocks of the modern world: sand, gravel and crushed rock. Metals are next, and third is coal. It uses a disarmingly wide image to bring the message home: “The total raw materials consumed by an average family in a day would fill up a bathtub”.

The full OECD report, the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060, will be available from 27 November, but a preview  was released this week at the World Circular Economy Forum in Yokohama, Japan.

The Outlook expects global materials use to rise from 90 gigatonnes (GT) today to 167 GT in 2060, because of the increase in world population to 10 billion people expected by then, and the rise in average global income per capita to converge with the current OECD level of US$40,000 (€34,900).

Immense human footprint

The projected figures are immense. But so are those that quantify today’s hunger for materials. Scientists calculate, for instance, that the weight of objects made by humans is about 30 trillion tonnes, and that by 2050 we shall have built another 25 million km of roads, enough to circle the Earth 600 times. None of this bodes well for us, let alone for the other species that share the planet.

Without action to address these challenges, the projected increase in the extraction and processing of raw materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals is likely to worsen the pollution of air, water and soils, and contribute significantly to climate change, the OECD says.

This increase will happen despite both a shift from manufacturing to service industries and continual improvements in manufacturing efficiency, which has lessened the amount of resources consumed for each unit of GDP.

Without this, it says, environmental pressures would be even worse. The projection also acknowledges flattening demand in China and other emerging economies as their infrastructure booms end.

Coal boom

The preview report says the biggest rises in resource consumption will be in minerals, including construction materials and metals, particularly in fast-growing developing economies. The OECD projects a big increase in coal consumption by 2060, but a much smaller increase for oil.

Its overall conclusion on the impact of materials use on climate change is bleak: “More than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to materials management activities. GHG emissions related to materials management will rise to approximately 50 Gt CO2-equivalent by 2060.”

The report’s global environmental impact analysis of the extraction and production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese) plus building materials − concrete, sand and gravel − also shows significant impacts in areas like acidification, air and water pollution, energy demand, human health and the toxicity of water and land. − Climate News Network

We’re using more and more raw materials to build the world anew: our demands will almost have doubled by 2060. That’s bad news for the climate.

LONDON, 24 October, 2018 − Just when you might think the world has heard an unmistakable warning of the need to curb climate change drastically and fast, along comes another warning, about humans’ voracious appetite for the raw materials we use so profligately.

Its message is simple: one of the main causes of the Earth’s growing warmth is likely to be twice as severe 40 years from now as it is today.

This latest warning, from the club of the world’s richest countries, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says consumption of raw materials is on course to nearly double by 2060 as the global economy expands and living standards rise.

And that will mean a steep increase in emissions of the greenhouse gases which drive global warming. Total emissions are projected to reach 75 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-eq.) by 2060, of which materials management would constitute about 50 Gt CO2-eq. A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. Gt CO2eq is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”, a unit based on the global warming potential of different gases.

“More than half of all greenhouse gas emissions are related to materials management activities”

If you find it hard to visualise raw material, the OECD offers some helpful examples. The main sort of “stuff” it’s talking about includes the building blocks of the modern world: sand, gravel and crushed rock. Metals are next, and third is coal. It uses a disarmingly wide image to bring the message home: “The total raw materials consumed by an average family in a day would fill up a bathtub”.

The full OECD report, the Global Material Resources Outlook to 2060, will be available from 27 November, but a preview  was released this week at the World Circular Economy Forum in Yokohama, Japan.

The Outlook expects global materials use to rise from 90 gigatonnes (GT) today to 167 GT in 2060, because of the increase in world population to 10 billion people expected by then, and the rise in average global income per capita to converge with the current OECD level of US$40,000 (€34,900).

Immense human footprint

The projected figures are immense. But so are those that quantify today’s hunger for materials. Scientists calculate, for instance, that the weight of objects made by humans is about 30 trillion tonnes, and that by 2050 we shall have built another 25 million km of roads, enough to circle the Earth 600 times. None of this bodes well for us, let alone for the other species that share the planet.

Without action to address these challenges, the projected increase in the extraction and processing of raw materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals is likely to worsen the pollution of air, water and soils, and contribute significantly to climate change, the OECD says.

This increase will happen despite both a shift from manufacturing to service industries and continual improvements in manufacturing efficiency, which has lessened the amount of resources consumed for each unit of GDP.

Without this, it says, environmental pressures would be even worse. The projection also acknowledges flattening demand in China and other emerging economies as their infrastructure booms end.

Coal boom

The preview report says the biggest rises in resource consumption will be in minerals, including construction materials and metals, particularly in fast-growing developing economies. The OECD projects a big increase in coal consumption by 2060, but a much smaller increase for oil.

Its overall conclusion on the impact of materials use on climate change is bleak: “More than half of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are related to materials management activities. GHG emissions related to materials management will rise to approximately 50 Gt CO2-equivalent by 2060.”

The report’s global environmental impact analysis of the extraction and production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese) plus building materials − concrete, sand and gravel − also shows significant impacts in areas like acidification, air and water pollution, energy demand, human health and the toxicity of water and land. − Climate News Network

Fire and drought threaten China and Europe

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Even if nations do limit global warming, fire and drought will remain threats, ravaging more harvests in China and setting more of Europe ablaze.

LONDON, 9 October, 2018 – The most limited rise in global temperatures, never mind higher ones, is going to exact a price through fire and drought. Even assuming the world keeps to its Paris promise to contain average planetary temperature increases to “well below 2°C” by 2100, drought conditions in China will intensify ten or 20-fold, according to new research.

And even if this warming, driven by ever increasing emissions of greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas, is held to the implicit ambition of no more than 1.5°C above the average for most of human history, the area charred by wildfires each summer in Europe could increase by 40%, according to a separate study.

If the temperatures continue to rise to as much as 3°C by the century’s end, the area covered by charred foliage and smoking tree trunks could rise by 100%.

The temperature targets are important because 195 nations agreed in 2015 at a UN conference in Paris to limit greenhouse gas emissions and hold planetary average temperatures to if possible 1.5°C and certainly no more than 2°C.

3°C in prospect

In the last century or so, increasing ratios of carbon dioxide in the planet’s atmosphere have lifted average temperatures by about 1°C already, and although almost all nations have announced plans to switch to solar and wind power for future energy sources, and to restore the forests that absorb carbon, the world still seems on course for a rise to 3°C by the end of the century.

Politicians and climate sceptics argue that action to contain global warming will be expensive. But over and over again, climate science research continues to demonstrate that inaction could be even more expensive.

China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Scientists from China, Poland and Germany report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they used computer simulations and a range of climate change forecasts to model what could happen to rainfall and vegetation in China over the next 80 years, and then tried to calculate the effect on China’s developing economy.

Between 1949 and 2017, drought affected crops over an area of more than 2 million square kilometres – this is one sixth of the country’s arable land. And between 1984 and 2017, direct economic losses reached more than $7bn a year, at 2015 prices.

“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area”

If the temperature stabilises at a 1.5°C increase, losses compared to the period 1986-2005 will increase tenfold. Compared to the immediate past of 2006-2015, the study estimates that losses will still rise threefold. And should the temperature go beyond 1.5°C to 2°C, average drought loss could double again.

Studies such as these simply match what has happened in the past with what could happen in the future – always provided that things continue as they seem to be proceeding now. The studies can deliver only very broad-brush outlines of the shapes of things to come.

Higher average temperatures will mean ever more pronounced extremes of drought and rainfall, and a study earlier this year warned that, in China alone, catastrophic flooding as a consequence of climate change could cost the country $380bn over the next 20 years.

Europe, too, the same study argued, would suffer significant losses as a consequence of climate change. Another such study in 2017 estimated that climate change – and the attendant hazards of flood, drought, wildfire and heatwaves – could threaten 350 million Europeans every year.

Consistent pattern

Forest and scrub fires char on average about 4,500 square kilometres of Mediterranean Europe every year: in 2017, there were damaging blazes in France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, with human casualties and extensive ecological and economic losses.

Now new research led by Spanish scientists and reported in the journal Nature Communications uses computer simulations and available data to take a look at the fires next time, as the temperatures rise.

The authors warn that even though there are large uncertainties in such projections, there is also a consistent pattern: the higher the temperatures, the more sustained the droughts, and the larger the areas that will be incinerated.

They do offer a palliative solution, though. “Limiting global warming to 1.5°C can strongly reduce the increase of burned area,” they say. – Climate News Network

Contradictions beset China’s climate path

BOOK REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldwide winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy bottleneck

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

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

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

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

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore

BOOK REVIEW

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worldwide winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policy bottleneck

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

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

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

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

Will China Save the Planet?, by Barbara Finamore

Hungrier insects will bite into world’s crops

Higher temperatures mean hungrier insects. And that will mean more crop losses. The question is: who loses most?

LONDON, 13 September, 2018 – Researchers have confirmed, once again, that a warmer world is likely to have hungrier insects. The new predators could increase their share of the harvest of wheat, rice and maize by up to 25%.

That is, for every 1°C rise in average temperature, aphids, beetles, borers, caterpillars and other crop pests could increase their consumption of grain by between one tenth and one quarter.

And with a 2°C rise above the average temperature for most of human history – the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 – additional global losses of grain to insect pests could reach 213 million tonnes a year.

For once, the steepest losses could be experienced in the temperate zones, home to the richest nations, rather than in the poorest communities. The reasoning is simple, and the scientists spell it out with a clarity not normally found in scientific prose.

“Our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.”

“First, an individual insect’s metabolic rate accelerates with temperature, and an insect’s rate of food consumption must rise accordingly,” they write.

“Second, the number of insects will change, because population growth rates also vary with temperature.” And for that reason, insect numbers in the tropics might decline, but pest numbers in the cooler regions will rise.

Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues report in the journal Science that they set themselves the challenge of calculating potential crop losses to insect pests in a warmer world.

They took what is already known about 38 insect species from different latitudes, and the data for harvests over recent decades. About one third of all crops are lost to pests, diseases and weed competition: the point of the study was to isolate the impact of insect predation under a scenario of global warming.

Tropical impact lessened

Most crops are lost in the tropics, but the extra appetite in tropical pests could be offset by reduced numbers as the thermometer rises.

France, China and the US – the countries that produce most of the world’s maize – could experience the most dramatic crop losses from insect pests. France produces much of the world’s wheat, China much of its rice: both crops will be hit hard.

Altogether the scientists calculate that with a 2°C rise – and average global temperatures have already risen by about 1°C – by 2050 the median increase in losses of yield across all climates could be 46% for wheat, 19% for rice and 31% for maize: all of it to ever-hungrier caterpillars, beetles and borers.

These percentages translate to 59 million tonnes for wheat, 92 million tonnes for rice and 63 million tonnes for maize.

Food security jeopardised

Such research is a fresh iteration of an increasingly familiar theme: the threat to food security in a world of climate change driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere to unprecedented levels. Insect predation however is not the only factor.

Repeatedly over the last decade, researchers have warned that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect the levels of protein, iron and zinc delivered by crop plants; that the greater extremes of heat that must accompany higher average temperatures could hit grain harvests and yields of fruit and vegetables.

Rice, wheat and maize between them provide a huge share of the world’s calorie intake. The three grains are staples for about 4 billion people, and the UN calculates that more than 800 million worldwide do not have enough to eat.

Most of these are in the developing world, and in the tropics. The twist in the latest research is that it predicts that the biggest losses will be in the well-off zones.

Guiding policy

Eleven European countries are expected to experience a 75% increase in insect-linked wheat losses: altogether, by 2050, insects could be consuming 16 million tonnes of wheat. The US could see a 40% increase in maize losses to pests, and farmers will lose 20 million tonnes in yield. Rice losses in China alone could reach 27 million tonnes.

Such studies are intended as a guide to help ministries of agriculture, crop research institutions and other national and civic governments to confront a future of climate change.

Crop scientists could start devising new farming strategies, and working on more resistant crop varieties. Nations could begin to deliver on promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world,” said Dr Deutsch, “because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.” – Climate News Network

Higher temperatures mean hungrier insects. And that will mean more crop losses. The question is: who loses most?

LONDON, 13 September, 2018 – Researchers have confirmed, once again, that a warmer world is likely to have hungrier insects. The new predators could increase their share of the harvest of wheat, rice and maize by up to 25%.

That is, for every 1°C rise in average temperature, aphids, beetles, borers, caterpillars and other crop pests could increase their consumption of grain by between one tenth and one quarter.

And with a 2°C rise above the average temperature for most of human history – the target set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 – additional global losses of grain to insect pests could reach 213 million tonnes a year.

For once, the steepest losses could be experienced in the temperate zones, home to the richest nations, rather than in the poorest communities. The reasoning is simple, and the scientists spell it out with a clarity not normally found in scientific prose.

“Our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.”

“First, an individual insect’s metabolic rate accelerates with temperature, and an insect’s rate of food consumption must rise accordingly,” they write.

“Second, the number of insects will change, because population growth rates also vary with temperature.” And for that reason, insect numbers in the tropics might decline, but pest numbers in the cooler regions will rise.

Curtis Deutsch of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues report in the journal Science that they set themselves the challenge of calculating potential crop losses to insect pests in a warmer world.

They took what is already known about 38 insect species from different latitudes, and the data for harvests over recent decades. About one third of all crops are lost to pests, diseases and weed competition: the point of the study was to isolate the impact of insect predation under a scenario of global warming.

Tropical impact lessened

Most crops are lost in the tropics, but the extra appetite in tropical pests could be offset by reduced numbers as the thermometer rises.

France, China and the US – the countries that produce most of the world’s maize – could experience the most dramatic crop losses from insect pests. France produces much of the world’s wheat, China much of its rice: both crops will be hit hard.

Altogether the scientists calculate that with a 2°C rise – and average global temperatures have already risen by about 1°C – by 2050 the median increase in losses of yield across all climates could be 46% for wheat, 19% for rice and 31% for maize: all of it to ever-hungrier caterpillars, beetles and borers.

These percentages translate to 59 million tonnes for wheat, 92 million tonnes for rice and 63 million tonnes for maize.

Food security jeopardised

Such research is a fresh iteration of an increasingly familiar theme: the threat to food security in a world of climate change driven by ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to raise greenhouse gas ratios in the atmosphere to unprecedented levels. Insect predation however is not the only factor.

Repeatedly over the last decade, researchers have warned that higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide could affect the levels of protein, iron and zinc delivered by crop plants; that the greater extremes of heat that must accompany higher average temperatures could hit grain harvests and yields of fruit and vegetables.

Rice, wheat and maize between them provide a huge share of the world’s calorie intake. The three grains are staples for about 4 billion people, and the UN calculates that more than 800 million worldwide do not have enough to eat.

Most of these are in the developing world, and in the tropics. The twist in the latest research is that it predicts that the biggest losses will be in the well-off zones.

Guiding policy

Eleven European countries are expected to experience a 75% increase in insect-linked wheat losses: altogether, by 2050, insects could be consuming 16 million tonnes of wheat. The US could see a 40% increase in maize losses to pests, and farmers will lose 20 million tonnes in yield. Rice losses in China alone could reach 27 million tonnes.

Such studies are intended as a guide to help ministries of agriculture, crop research institutions and other national and civic governments to confront a future of climate change.

Crop scientists could start devising new farming strategies, and working on more resistant crop varieties. Nations could begin to deliver on promises to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“I hope our results demonstrate the importance of collecting more data on how pests will impact crop losses in a warming world,” said Dr Deutsch, “because collectively, our choice now is not whether or not we will allow warming to occur, but how much warming we are willing to tolerate.” – Climate News Network

Growing risk of extreme heat and humidity

Hazards multiply when extreme heat and humidity join in lethal combination. Scientists now know exactly where this twin danger could be greatest.

LONDON, 6 August, 2018 – By the close of the century, the two-fisted assault of
extreme heat and humidity could make the North China plain a deadly zone.

As water vapour rises from irrigated farmland, in heat extremes which are likely if humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then air temperatures and moisture conditions could become such that outdoor workers could no longer cool by perspiration.

In such circumstances no normal healthy person could survive more than six hours. And since 400 million people already live on the North China plain, by 2070 the consequences of ever-greater temperatures could be devastating, according to new research in the journal Nature Communications.

Simultaneously, a second study in a separate journal confirms that by 2080 excess deaths from extremes of heat will have risen in the tropics, subtropics and even the temperate zones.

In three of Australia’s great cities, deaths from heat waves will have risen by more than 470%.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer”

The warning for China – which already emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation – is based on what meteorologists call “wet bulb” temperature, the combination of heat and humidity. When this climbs towards the natural body temperatures of humans and other mammals, conditions become dangerous. The North China plain covers 400,000 square kilometres of fertile floodplain irrigated by three great rivers.

The alarm is sounded by Elfatih Eltahir and a colleague at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
Professor Eltahir first identified the additional hazard of humidity in extremes of heat with a simulation of close-of-the-century temperatures that pinpointed the Gulf region, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, as the zone where temperatures could become lethal. But the worst extremes would be over water.

A second examination of likely conditions under what climate scientists call the “business-as-usual” scenario, in which nations go on burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases in ever-increasing quantities, pinpointed Asia as the continent most at risk of lethal heat extremes for the greatest numbers of people.

The latest study is a refinement of the projections, and is based on evidence from the most recent three decades. Warming in the North China region has been double the global average – 0.24°C per decade compared to 0.13°C for the rest of the world. In 2013 there were extremes of heat that lasted for up to 50 days, and maximum temperatures topped 38°C (around the accepted limit for humans).

Irrigation key

And the potential lethal factor for the region is likely to be irrigation: rainfall in the north is low, and evaporation from the soil moisture adds around another 0.5°C to local temperatures. Water vapour is itself a greenhouse gas.

“This spot is just going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future, especially under climate change,” said Professor Eltahir.

That extremes of heat combined with higher hazards from humidity are already on the increase, and will continue with ever-greater ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is firmly established. A second international study, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine, looks at the risks for more than 400 communities in 20 countries for the decades 2031 to 2100, and once again it is based on a business-as-usual scenario, and data from recent decades.

If the world goes on warming according to the gloomiest predictions, the levels of heat-related excess mortality, the statistician’s phrase for death by heatstroke or heat exhaustion, then deaths in Colombia will by 2080 have risen by 2,000%. Even in Moldova, the sample country with the lowest risk, they will have risen by 150%. In Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the hazard will have soared by 470%.

Inexorable rise

That heat can kill has been known for decades, and the tens of thousands of extra deaths during heatwaves in Europe in 2003, and Russia in 2010, were harsh reminders. More extremes of temperature are inevitable.

Research of this kind is intended to encourage thinking about ways in which health authorities and city bosses could act to reduce the hazard. But for a global problem, a global solution could be the surest answer.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” said Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia, who led the research.

“If we cannot find a way to mitigate climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heat waves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in poor countries located around the equator.” – Climate News Network

Hazards multiply when extreme heat and humidity join in lethal combination. Scientists now know exactly where this twin danger could be greatest.

LONDON, 6 August, 2018 – By the close of the century, the two-fisted assault of
extreme heat and humidity could make the North China plain a deadly zone.

As water vapour rises from irrigated farmland, in heat extremes which are likely if humans go on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuels, then air temperatures and moisture conditions could become such that outdoor workers could no longer cool by perspiration.

In such circumstances no normal healthy person could survive more than six hours. And since 400 million people already live on the North China plain, by 2070 the consequences of ever-greater temperatures could be devastating, according to new research in the journal Nature Communications.

Simultaneously, a second study in a separate journal confirms that by 2080 excess deaths from extremes of heat will have risen in the tropics, subtropics and even the temperate zones.

In three of Australia’s great cities, deaths from heat waves will have risen by more than 470%.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer”

The warning for China – which already emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation – is based on what meteorologists call “wet bulb” temperature, the combination of heat and humidity. When this climbs towards the natural body temperatures of humans and other mammals, conditions become dangerous. The North China plain covers 400,000 square kilometres of fertile floodplain irrigated by three great rivers.

The alarm is sounded by Elfatih Eltahir and a colleague at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.
Professor Eltahir first identified the additional hazard of humidity in extremes of heat with a simulation of close-of-the-century temperatures that pinpointed the Gulf region, between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, as the zone where temperatures could become lethal. But the worst extremes would be over water.

A second examination of likely conditions under what climate scientists call the “business-as-usual” scenario, in which nations go on burning fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases in ever-increasing quantities, pinpointed Asia as the continent most at risk of lethal heat extremes for the greatest numbers of people.

The latest study is a refinement of the projections, and is based on evidence from the most recent three decades. Warming in the North China region has been double the global average – 0.24°C per decade compared to 0.13°C for the rest of the world. In 2013 there were extremes of heat that lasted for up to 50 days, and maximum temperatures topped 38°C (around the accepted limit for humans).

Irrigation key

And the potential lethal factor for the region is likely to be irrigation: rainfall in the north is low, and evaporation from the soil moisture adds around another 0.5°C to local temperatures. Water vapour is itself a greenhouse gas.

“This spot is just going to be the hottest spot for deadly heat waves in the future, especially under climate change,” said Professor Eltahir.

That extremes of heat combined with higher hazards from humidity are already on the increase, and will continue with ever-greater ratios of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, is firmly established. A second international study, in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS Medicine, looks at the risks for more than 400 communities in 20 countries for the decades 2031 to 2100, and once again it is based on a business-as-usual scenario, and data from recent decades.

If the world goes on warming according to the gloomiest predictions, the levels of heat-related excess mortality, the statistician’s phrase for death by heatstroke or heat exhaustion, then deaths in Colombia will by 2080 have risen by 2,000%. Even in Moldova, the sample country with the lowest risk, they will have risen by 150%. In Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne, the hazard will have soared by 470%.

Inexorable rise

That heat can kill has been known for decades, and the tens of thousands of extra deaths during heatwaves in Europe in 2003, and Russia in 2010, were harsh reminders. More extremes of temperature are inevitable.

Research of this kind is intended to encourage thinking about ways in which health authorities and city bosses could act to reduce the hazard. But for a global problem, a global solution could be the surest answer.

“Future heatwaves in particular will be more frequent, more intense and will last much longer,” said Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia, who led the research.

“If we cannot find a way to mitigate climate change (reduce the heatwave days) and help people adapt to heat waves, there will be a big increase of heatwave-related deaths in the future, particularly in poor countries located around the equator.” – Climate News Network

China’s falling emissions raise climate hopes

China’s falling emissions of greenhouse gases offer optimism that moves to curb global temperature rise may be starting to work.

LONDON, 12 July, 2018 – Say it softly, but a look at China’s falling emissions of carbon dioxide may suggest that there could be some good news on the climate change front.

Over recent years China has supplanted the US as the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the country’s booming economy and its reliance for energy on coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels.

But new data show that China’s emissions fell substantially in the years from 2013 to 2016. The big question now – both for China and for the planet – is whether that downward trend can be maintained.

The data, compiled by a team led by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK and published in the journal Nature Geoscience, indicate that after nearly two decades of a rapid rise, China’s CO2 emissions fell by 4.2% in the 2013 to 2016 period.

“Now the important question is whether the decline in Chinese emissions will persist”

“As the world’s top emitting and manufacturing nation, this reversal is cause for cautious optimism among those seeking to stabilise the Earth’s climate”, says Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA.

“Now the important question is whether the decline in Chinese emissions will persist.”

Professor Dabo Guan and his colleagues say that the drop in China’s emissions is largely associated with changes in the structure of the economy, with a move from heavy industry to more advanced technical and services enterprises and a decline in the amount of coal used for energy.

More efficient energy production, together with a big jump in the use of renewables such as solar and wind power, have also contributed to the emissions decline.

Continuing decline likely

“We conclude that the decline of Chinese emissions is structural and likely to be sustained if the growing industrial and energy systems transitions continue”, say the study’s authors.

“Government policies are also a sign that the decline in China’s emissions will carry on.”

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, China pledged to peak its emissions of CO2 by 2030. The study finds that this goal has already been achieved, though it cautions that emissions might still rise, with preliminary figures for 2017 showing an increase.

China is still heavily dependent on coal for its energy. Recent government directives call for the use of coal to be limited to four billion tonnes per year, with its share in the country’s energy mix decreasing from 64% in 2015 to 58% in 2020.

Emergent leader

“In response to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate change mitigation, and its five-year progress reports under the agreement will be heavily scrutinised by the rest of the world”, says Professor Dabo Guan.

As part of its programme for reducing emissions, China has set up a number of local and regional carbon market trading schemes in recent years. Later this year these schemes are due to be replaced by a nationwide carbon trading system.

Though China, concerned about chronic air pollution in many of its cities, is seeking to cut its coal use at home, it is investing heavily in coal plants abroad.

Recently China has been particularly active in the Balkans in financing and building coal-fired power plants. – Climate News Network

China’s falling emissions of greenhouse gases offer optimism that moves to curb global temperature rise may be starting to work.

LONDON, 12 July, 2018 – Say it softly, but a look at China’s falling emissions of carbon dioxide may suggest that there could be some good news on the climate change front.

Over recent years China has supplanted the US as the world’s biggest emitter of climate-changing greenhouse gases, mainly because of the country’s booming economy and its reliance for energy on coal, the most polluting of fossil fuels.

But new data show that China’s emissions fell substantially in the years from 2013 to 2016. The big question now – both for China and for the planet – is whether that downward trend can be maintained.

The data, compiled by a team led by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the UK and published in the journal Nature Geoscience, indicate that after nearly two decades of a rapid rise, China’s CO2 emissions fell by 4.2% in the 2013 to 2016 period.

“Now the important question is whether the decline in Chinese emissions will persist”

“As the world’s top emitting and manufacturing nation, this reversal is cause for cautious optimism among those seeking to stabilise the Earth’s climate”, says Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA.

“Now the important question is whether the decline in Chinese emissions will persist.”

Professor Dabo Guan and his colleagues say that the drop in China’s emissions is largely associated with changes in the structure of the economy, with a move from heavy industry to more advanced technical and services enterprises and a decline in the amount of coal used for energy.

More efficient energy production, together with a big jump in the use of renewables such as solar and wind power, have also contributed to the emissions decline.

Continuing decline likely

“We conclude that the decline of Chinese emissions is structural and likely to be sustained if the growing industrial and energy systems transitions continue”, say the study’s authors.

“Government policies are also a sign that the decline in China’s emissions will carry on.”

As part of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, China pledged to peak its emissions of CO2 by 2030. The study finds that this goal has already been achieved, though it cautions that emissions might still rise, with preliminary figures for 2017 showing an increase.

China is still heavily dependent on coal for its energy. Recent government directives call for the use of coal to be limited to four billion tonnes per year, with its share in the country’s energy mix decreasing from 64% in 2015 to 58% in 2020.

Emergent leader

“In response to the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, China has increasingly assumed a leadership role in climate change mitigation, and its five-year progress reports under the agreement will be heavily scrutinised by the rest of the world”, says Professor Dabo Guan.

As part of its programme for reducing emissions, China has set up a number of local and regional carbon market trading schemes in recent years. Later this year these schemes are due to be replaced by a nationwide carbon trading system.

Though China, concerned about chronic air pollution in many of its cities, is seeking to cut its coal use at home, it is investing heavily in coal plants abroad.

Recently China has been particularly active in the Balkans in financing and building coal-fired power plants. – Climate News Network

China’s trade plan may cause lasting harm

China’s trade plan could cause  environmental catastrophe, scientists warn, because of its voracious appetite for natural resources and its climate impact.

LONDON, 1 June, 2018 – Possibly the most ambitious and far-reaching development scheme ever launched, China’s trade plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), may pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, scientists say.

Launched in 2013, the BRI plans a huge expansion of trade routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe, involving China itself and 64 other countries, and affecting about two thirds of the world’s people and one third of its economy. There will be new ports on the Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts, new roads, and a rail network linking China to north-west Europe.

But an international group of scientists, writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, expresses serious doubts about the possibility of completing the scheme without causing permanent environmental damage.

Economy vs. environment

The scientists write: “Economic development aspirations under the BRI may clash with environmental sustainability goals, given the expansion and upgrading of transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas, and the large amounts of raw material needed to support that expansion…

“If not properly addressed, the negative environmental impacts of the BRI are likely to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, hence putting at risk the wellbeing of the very people it aims to help.”

Some of the scientists’ comments are positive. They say, for instance, that the BRI includes “examples of well-planned road developments” with negligible impacts on wildlife and protected areas.

They cite the proposed Serengeti Highway in Tanzania, which would go round the national park, not through it. An alternative route for Nigeria’s planned Cross River Superhighway will cause far less environmental harm than the original scheme, and the Bangladesh Railway is improving the protection of elephants by building five overpasses across the tracks for them at well-used crossing points.

“In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff”

To improve the BRI’s research and monitoring, Beijing has announced its intention to build a Digital Silk Road with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a potential boost to environmental research elsewhere in Asia.

But despite these expected benefits from the BRI, doubts remain. The scientists say a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found “a clear risk of severe negative environmental impacts from infrastructure developments”.

These include the scheme’s gargantuan appetite for natural resources, including sand and limestone for making the immense quantities of concrete and cement that it will demand. Global sand extraction, the scientists say, has already passed its natural renewal rate, causing severe damage to deltas and coastal ecosystems.

And with China already responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the vast pipeline network planned under the BRI, and the infrastructure construction involved, will mean further and faster exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Riskiest scheme ever

One of the authors of the commentary in Nature Sustainability is Bill Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia. In an interview with Nexus Media he had more to say about his concerns – and he didn’t pull his punches.

Professor Laurance thinks the BRI “environmentally, the riskiest venture ever undertaken”, which “simply blows out of the water anything else that’s been attempted in human history…In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff in the Amazon, Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.”

On climate change, he holds out little hope that the Initiative can offer anything much: “If you also consider everything China is doing or promoting overseas in terms of extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure, they utterly overwhelm any other nation as climate changers.

“In real terms – digging through a great deal of greenwashing – I don’t see anything in the BRI that squares with China’s stated climate goals.” – Climate News Network

China’s trade plan could cause  environmental catastrophe, scientists warn, because of its voracious appetite for natural resources and its climate impact.

LONDON, 1 June, 2018 – Possibly the most ambitious and far-reaching development scheme ever launched, China’s trade plan, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), may pose an unacceptable risk to the environment, scientists say.

Launched in 2013, the BRI plans a huge expansion of trade routes linking Asia, Africa and Europe, involving China itself and 64 other countries, and affecting about two thirds of the world’s people and one third of its economy. There will be new ports on the Pacific and Indian Ocean coasts, new roads, and a rail network linking China to north-west Europe.

But an international group of scientists, writing in the journal Nature Sustainability, expresses serious doubts about the possibility of completing the scheme without causing permanent environmental damage.

Economy vs. environment

The scientists write: “Economic development aspirations under the BRI may clash with environmental sustainability goals, given the expansion and upgrading of transportation infrastructure in environmentally sensitive areas, and the large amounts of raw material needed to support that expansion…

“If not properly addressed, the negative environmental impacts of the BRI are likely to disproportionately affect the world’s poor, hence putting at risk the wellbeing of the very people it aims to help.”

Some of the scientists’ comments are positive. They say, for instance, that the BRI includes “examples of well-planned road developments” with negligible impacts on wildlife and protected areas.

They cite the proposed Serengeti Highway in Tanzania, which would go round the national park, not through it. An alternative route for Nigeria’s planned Cross River Superhighway will cause far less environmental harm than the original scheme, and the Bangladesh Railway is improving the protection of elephants by building five overpasses across the tracks for them at well-used crossing points.

“In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff”

To improve the BRI’s research and monitoring, Beijing has announced its intention to build a Digital Silk Road with the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a potential boost to environmental research elsewhere in Asia.

But despite these expected benefits from the BRI, doubts remain. The scientists say a recent report by the World Wildlife Fund found “a clear risk of severe negative environmental impacts from infrastructure developments”.

These include the scheme’s gargantuan appetite for natural resources, including sand and limestone for making the immense quantities of concrete and cement that it will demand. Global sand extraction, the scientists say, has already passed its natural renewal rate, causing severe damage to deltas and coastal ecosystems.

And with China already responsible for one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, the vast pipeline network planned under the BRI, and the infrastructure construction involved, will mean further and faster exploitation of fossil fuel reserves.

Riskiest scheme ever

One of the authors of the commentary in Nature Sustainability is Bill Laurance, of James Cook University, Australia. In an interview with Nexus Media he had more to say about his concerns – and he didn’t pull his punches.

Professor Laurance thinks the BRI “environmentally, the riskiest venture ever undertaken”, which “simply blows out of the water anything else that’s been attempted in human history…In biodiversity and environmental terms, it’s the worst thing we’ve seen anywhere  –  and in the past forty years, I and my colleagues have seen some pretty horrific stuff in the Amazon, Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.”

On climate change, he holds out little hope that the Initiative can offer anything much: “If you also consider everything China is doing or promoting overseas in terms of extractive industries and large-scale infrastructure, they utterly overwhelm any other nation as climate changers.

“In real terms – digging through a great deal of greenwashing – I don’t see anything in the BRI that squares with China’s stated climate goals.” – Climate News Network