Tag Archives: climate policy

Tripled climate cuts needed to fulfil pledge

The gap between the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and countries’ planned reductions is growing, and only tripled climate cuts can reduce global warming enough, researchers say.

LONDON, 28 November, 2018 − The world is not yet living up to its undertaking to tackle global warming, and it will have to make tripled climate cuts − at least − if it is to do so, a report says.

The emissions gap − the difference between the global emissions of greenhouse gases scientists expect in 2030 and the level they need to be at to honour the world’s promises to cut them − is the largest ever.

The 2018 Emissions Gap Report is published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). While it is still possible to keep global warming below 2°C, its authors say, the world’s current pace of action to cut emissions must triple for that to happen.

In 2015 almost 200 governments adopted the target of keeping global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to try for a lower level, 1.5°C. Their decision is set out in the Paris Agreement.

Inadequate targets

But the Gap Report spells out in detail a criticism scientists have been making since soon after the Agreement was reached, saying the current pace of countries’ plans for reducing emissions − which they decide for themselves − is not enough to meet the Paris targets.

As well as allowing signatories the freedom to cut emissions as savagely or as modestly as they wish, the Agreement is also condemned by those who believe its targets are themselves so unrealistic that they fail to measure up to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.

The combination of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action to slow them means that the emissions gap is bigger than it has ever been.

Meeting the 2°C target will require climate action efforts to triple, the Gap Report says. But to meet the 1.5°C limit, which many governments and scientists are urging, needs nations not just to triple their efforts, but to increase them five-fold.

“The science is clear … governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach”

Current action to limit emissions suggests that global warming will reach about 3°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, and will continue to rise after that. If the gap is not closed by 2030, the report’s authors say, it is highly unlikely that the 2°C target can be reached.

In 2017 global emissions rose again, after a three-year decrease, as countries’ efforts to combat climate change fell short of what was necessary for global emissions to peak. That year global emissions reached reached 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), the highest levels yet recorded. Just 57 countries, representing 60% of global emissions, were on track to peak emissions by 2030.

(A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. “GtCO2e” is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide” − emissions of various GHGs put on a common footing to express them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.)

The Gap Report has been released just before this year’s UN global climate summit, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Polish city of Katowice.

Critical decade ahead

Two of the contributors are researchers from IIASA, based in Laxenburg, Austria: Joeri Rogelj and Daniel Huppmann.
“This year’s report shows with renewed urgency that emissions reductions in the next decade are critical, and that there are readily available options to achieve this”, said Dr Rogelj.

He is a lead author of the chapter that updated the assessment of the emissions gap, which found that little or no progress had been made in the past year on new policies or more ambitious pledges.

New, more conservative assumptions about the potential contribution of negative emissions technologies (geoengineering) in the future mean that even bigger emissions cuts will be needed.

Dr Huppmann led the year-long effort to compile a large database of emissions scenarios through the IIASA Scenario Explorer. The 2018 Emissions Gap Report draws from this database, first published in Nature Climate Change.

Closing the gap

The report outlines a roadmap which could still meet the Paris Agreement targets and close the emissions gap by 2030. It includes possible contributions by government fiscal policy, the pace of innovation, and a review of climate action by groups other than governments.

If they make commitments to the strongest climate action globally, the authors say, emissions could be cut by 19 GtCO2e, enough to close the 2°C gap.

Governments could subsidise low-emission alternatives and impose higher taxes on fossil fuels. If a carbon price of US$70 a tonne were adopted, emissions could be cut by 40% in some countries.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would cut global emissions by 10% by 2030, compared with a situation where no climate policies were imposed.

“If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation,” said UN Environment’s deputy executive director, Joyce Msuya. “The science is clear; for all the ambitious climate action we’ve seen, governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach.” − Climate News Network

The gap between the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and countries’ planned reductions is growing, and only tripled climate cuts can reduce global warming enough, researchers say.

LONDON, 28 November, 2018 − The world is not yet living up to its undertaking to tackle global warming, and it will have to make tripled climate cuts − at least − if it is to do so, a report says.

The emissions gap − the difference between the global emissions of greenhouse gases scientists expect in 2030 and the level they need to be at to honour the world’s promises to cut them − is the largest ever.

The 2018 Emissions Gap Report is published by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). While it is still possible to keep global warming below 2°C, its authors say, the world’s current pace of action to cut emissions must triple for that to happen.

In 2015 almost 200 governments adopted the target of keeping global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and to try for a lower level, 1.5°C. Their decision is set out in the Paris Agreement.

Inadequate targets

But the Gap Report spells out in detail a criticism scientists have been making since soon after the Agreement was reached, saying the current pace of countries’ plans for reducing emissions − which they decide for themselves − is not enough to meet the Paris targets.

As well as allowing signatories the freedom to cut emissions as savagely or as modestly as they wish, the Agreement is also condemned by those who believe its targets are themselves so unrealistic that they fail to measure up to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.

The combination of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly inadequate action to slow them means that the emissions gap is bigger than it has ever been.

Meeting the 2°C target will require climate action efforts to triple, the Gap Report says. But to meet the 1.5°C limit, which many governments and scientists are urging, needs nations not just to triple their efforts, but to increase them five-fold.

“The science is clear … governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach”

Current action to limit emissions suggests that global warming will reach about 3°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century, and will continue to rise after that. If the gap is not closed by 2030, the report’s authors say, it is highly unlikely that the 2°C target can be reached.

In 2017 global emissions rose again, after a three-year decrease, as countries’ efforts to combat climate change fell short of what was necessary for global emissions to peak. That year global emissions reached reached 53.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e), the highest levels yet recorded. Just 57 countries, representing 60% of global emissions, were on track to peak emissions by 2030.

(A gigatonne is a thousand million tonnes. “GtCO2e” is an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide” − emissions of various GHGs put on a common footing to express them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.)

The Gap Report has been released just before this year’s UN global climate summit, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the Polish city of Katowice.

Critical decade ahead

Two of the contributors are researchers from IIASA, based in Laxenburg, Austria: Joeri Rogelj and Daniel Huppmann.
“This year’s report shows with renewed urgency that emissions reductions in the next decade are critical, and that there are readily available options to achieve this”, said Dr Rogelj.

He is a lead author of the chapter that updated the assessment of the emissions gap, which found that little or no progress had been made in the past year on new policies or more ambitious pledges.

New, more conservative assumptions about the potential contribution of negative emissions technologies (geoengineering) in the future mean that even bigger emissions cuts will be needed.

Dr Huppmann led the year-long effort to compile a large database of emissions scenarios through the IIASA Scenario Explorer. The 2018 Emissions Gap Report draws from this database, first published in Nature Climate Change.

Closing the gap

The report outlines a roadmap which could still meet the Paris Agreement targets and close the emissions gap by 2030. It includes possible contributions by government fiscal policy, the pace of innovation, and a review of climate action by groups other than governments.

If they make commitments to the strongest climate action globally, the authors say, emissions could be cut by 19 GtCO2e, enough to close the 2°C gap.

Governments could subsidise low-emission alternatives and impose higher taxes on fossil fuels. If a carbon price of US$70 a tonne were adopted, emissions could be cut by 40% in some countries.

Removing fossil fuel subsidies would cut global emissions by 10% by 2030, compared with a situation where no climate policies were imposed.

“If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation,” said UN Environment’s deputy executive director, Joyce Msuya. “The science is clear; for all the ambitious climate action we’ve seen, governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We’re feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach.” − Climate News Network

Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro puts Amazon at risk

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

If their new leader, Jair Bolsonaro, acts as many Brazilians expect him to, the Amazon forest is likely to suffer serious damage.

SÃO PAULO, 16 November, 2018 − The Amazon rainforest, the greatest remaining in the world, faces a new threat − from the policies espoused by Jair Bolsonaro, the ex-army captain who is now Brazil’s president-elect. The forest is globally vital for its ability to store atmospheric carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Bolsonaro has caused alarm both in the country and abroad with his views on the environment. In anticipation of his victory, deforestation in the Amazon region increased by 50% in the three months before the poll.

The Real Time System for Detection of Deforestation in the Amazon region, Deter, which is administered by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) and provides data for environmental inspectors, found that between August and October, the Amazon rainforest lost 1,674 square kilometres, an area bigger than Brazil’s largest metropolis, São Paulo. This was an increase of 48.8% compared to the same months in 2017.

Imazon, an NGO which also monitors deforestation, using a different system called SAD (Deforestation Alert System) registered an even bigger increase of 84% (in Portuguese) compared to 2017.

“Up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection”

In the area that showed the greatest increase in illegal deforestation, the border region between the states of Acre and Amazonas, the main cause was cattle ranching. It is the cattle ranchers, together with the soy farmers, who are among Bolsonaro’s most enthusiastic supporters.

But even they were alarmed when he announced, as one of his first measures, the merging of the Ministry of the Environment, one of whose main functions is to enforce environmental laws, with the powerful Ministry of Agriculture, more or less like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop. Brazil is one of the world’s top exporters of soy and beef, and farmers know they must adhere to the strict environmental and health conditions demanded by importers.

The president-elect’s radical plans also came under fire from eight former environment ministers. In an open letter to Bolsonaro, published in the newspaper Opinião do jornal Folha de São Paulo (in Portuguese), they urged him not to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on tackling climate change, which, as an enthusiastic fan of Donald Trump, he has said he wants to do.

They point out that Brazil, host to the first Earth Summit in 1992 and to the follow-up 20 years later, Rio+20, is a world leader in sustainable development and the use of renewable energy resources, and, because of the importance of the Amazon rainforest to the world’s climate, a leading player in global environmental policy.

Double disaster possible

To abolish the Environment Ministry and leave the Paris Agreement, they say, would also be disastrous politically and commercially: “We cannot run the risk of international political isolation or the closing of consumer markets to our exports. In the 21st century Brazil can’t get off the world”.

Especially as, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the next decade Brazil is expected to become the world’s biggest agricultural producer and food exporter, unless the reckless destruction of its natural resources prevents this.

Leaving the Paris Agreement, however, seems to be part of the anti-global mindset which predominates among Bolsonaro and his followers, very much influenced by the Steve Bannon playbook.

The president-elect has just announced the choice of an ultra-conservative diplomat to become Brazil’s new foreign minister. The new minister, Ernesto Araujo, sees globalisation as a Marxist plot, and wants Brazil, notable for its leadership of developing countries during previous governments and its active role in international organisations, to ally itself uncritically with the US, because “Donald Trump will save the Western world for Christianity.”

Partial retreat

However, under pressure from exporters, Bolsonaro has been forced to back down and maintain the Ministry of the Environment, although he is determined to weaken its monitoring and enforcement functions, and to water down environmental licensing laws.

He has also said that too much land in the Amazon is occupied by indigenous peoples and conservation units, and wants to open up these areas to economic exploitation. SAD figures show that while private properties account for the most deforested areas (58%), and even conservation units make up 24%, indigenous territories account for only 4% of the total. In other words, they are a barrier against deforestation.

Besides the ex-ministers, scientists and environmentalists have warned that if the president-elect carries out his promises, deforestation in the Amazon could explode. A group of researchers at INPE have used mathematical modelling to simulate possible changes in land use and calculated an increase of 268% in deforestation, rising from 6.9m km² in 2017 to 25.6m km² from 2020.

New risk

There is an added danger from another source, if individual Amazon states decide to invoke a clause in the Forest Code, which allows them to authorise a reduction in the 80% of land compulsorily set aside for conservation on private properties. A new study concludes that because of this potential reduction, “up to 15 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon is at risk of losing its legal protection.”

Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden, and the University of São Paulo (in Portuguese) say this is equivalent to more than 4 times the entire forest area of the UK. As most of the newly elected state governors and members of state legislatures have declared support for Bolsonaro, the probability that they will enact the clause, leading to more deforestation, is high.

Unfortunately, many of them choose to ignore the warnings of scientists like Paulo Moutinho of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) who said that “one of the ways to value this great forest is to recognise it as a great irrigation system . . . we can say that the food that is produced in Brazil, not only now but in the future, depends on this gigantic irrigation system which is the standing forest.” − Climate News Network

Geoengineering is no closer to working

Humans cannot expect a safer, cooler world from geoengineering. The only sure way to slow dangerous global warming and climate change is to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 30 October, 2018 – Scientists have established a strategic error in one version of the climate change debate: they still say geoengineering is no guarantee of a cooler world.

There is no practical technology available to cool the Earth, they say – except the obvious one of ceasing to stoke the fires with fossil fuels.

One new study looks at all the tested and yet-to-be-explored mechanisms for either lowering global temperatures by reducing sunlight, or by harnessing new and old ways to capture the extra carbon dioxide released by two centuries of industrial growth.

And, the authors report, the sure way to reduce the dangers of global warming and keep the planetary temperature increase to 2°C or lower by 2100 is to switch to wind and solar energy sources and drastically cut fossil fuel emissions.

A second, separate study looks closely at an often-proposed form of geoengineering – the injection of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to intercept sunlight and shade the planet – and delivers a cautious verdict.

“None of the proposed technologies can realistically be implemented on a global scale in the next few decades”

Yes, it might reduce planetary surface warming. But the same technology could lead to continued ocean warming and ever-faster loss of the ice caps.

Geoengineering – the technological fix that would permit humans to go on burning coal, oil and natural gas – has been repeatedly dismissed as an answer by successive teams of researchers: either the outcome is uncertain, or the consequences potentially hazardous or politically dangerous.

European climate scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked at the goals of the Paris Agreement – in which 195 nations in Paris in 2015 vowed to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C and if possible 1.5°C above the average for most of recorded human history – and came to a simple answer: no proposed technological solution could make much difference to global warming, without also the impact of drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Plans to sow the soil with biochar as a form of carbon storage were probably impractical on any scale. Massive planting of trees to draw down carbon from the atmosphere might not work as planned. The addition of nutrients to spur phytoplankton blooms in the oceans would disrupt natural nutrient cycles and might increase the emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Plans to capture carbon directly from the air could be ferociously expensive – because humans released 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in 2017.

No significant contribution

“None of the proposed technologies can realistically be implemented on a global scale in the next few decades. In other words, we can’t rely on these technologies to make any significant contribution to holding the average temperature increase under the 2°C limit, much less the 1.5°C limit”, said Mark Lawrence, scientific director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, who led the research.

And scientists at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado took a close look at perhaps the most-studied and much-disputed proposal to engineer the climate: the injection of sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

This is in one sense nature’s way to cool down the planet a little: it happened, for instance, after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 hurled enough ash into the stratosphere to lower planetary temperatures by 0.5°C for about two years.

And, the scientists report in Nature Geoscience, one version of the proposal could be made to work, and computer modelling predicted that it would minimise changes in the planetary surface temperature.

Seas to rise

But it would also accelerate the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – a powerful force at work in the ocean – and lead to continued warming of the deep, and of the polar oceans.

So the ice caps would go on melting, and sea levels would rise. There would be unpredictable changes in the Indian, South American and African rainy seasons and in hurricane activity.

“Considerable uncertainty therefore surrounds the potential impacts of such shifts, and the relative magnitude of such impacts to those where geoengineering is not implemented”, they write.

They say their study highlights the need to better understand the risks of such actions, along with the sheer complexity of the planetary climate machine and “the need to better develop our understanding of the climate system before the character of a geoengineered climate can be estimated with confidence.” – Climate News Network

Humans cannot expect a safer, cooler world from geoengineering. The only sure way to slow dangerous global warming and climate change is to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

LONDON, 30 October, 2018 – Scientists have established a strategic error in one version of the climate change debate: they still say geoengineering is no guarantee of a cooler world.

There is no practical technology available to cool the Earth, they say – except the obvious one of ceasing to stoke the fires with fossil fuels.

One new study looks at all the tested and yet-to-be-explored mechanisms for either lowering global temperatures by reducing sunlight, or by harnessing new and old ways to capture the extra carbon dioxide released by two centuries of industrial growth.

And, the authors report, the sure way to reduce the dangers of global warming and keep the planetary temperature increase to 2°C or lower by 2100 is to switch to wind and solar energy sources and drastically cut fossil fuel emissions.

A second, separate study looks closely at an often-proposed form of geoengineering – the injection of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere to intercept sunlight and shade the planet – and delivers a cautious verdict.

“None of the proposed technologies can realistically be implemented on a global scale in the next few decades”

Yes, it might reduce planetary surface warming. But the same technology could lead to continued ocean warming and ever-faster loss of the ice caps.

Geoengineering – the technological fix that would permit humans to go on burning coal, oil and natural gas – has been repeatedly dismissed as an answer by successive teams of researchers: either the outcome is uncertain, or the consequences potentially hazardous or politically dangerous.

European climate scientists report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked at the goals of the Paris Agreement – in which 195 nations in Paris in 2015 vowed to limit global warming to “well below” 2°C and if possible 1.5°C above the average for most of recorded human history – and came to a simple answer: no proposed technological solution could make much difference to global warming, without also the impact of drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Plans to sow the soil with biochar as a form of carbon storage were probably impractical on any scale. Massive planting of trees to draw down carbon from the atmosphere might not work as planned. The addition of nutrients to spur phytoplankton blooms in the oceans would disrupt natural nutrient cycles and might increase the emissions of another greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. Plans to capture carbon directly from the air could be ferociously expensive – because humans released 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in 2017.

No significant contribution

“None of the proposed technologies can realistically be implemented on a global scale in the next few decades. In other words, we can’t rely on these technologies to make any significant contribution to holding the average temperature increase under the 2°C limit, much less the 1.5°C limit”, said Mark Lawrence, scientific director of the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, Germany, who led the research.

And scientists at the US National Centre for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado took a close look at perhaps the most-studied and much-disputed proposal to engineer the climate: the injection of sulphate aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reduce incoming radiation.

This is in one sense nature’s way to cool down the planet a little: it happened, for instance, after the eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 hurled enough ash into the stratosphere to lower planetary temperatures by 0.5°C for about two years.

And, the scientists report in Nature Geoscience, one version of the proposal could be made to work, and computer modelling predicted that it would minimise changes in the planetary surface temperature.

Seas to rise

But it would also accelerate the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation – a powerful force at work in the ocean – and lead to continued warming of the deep, and of the polar oceans.

So the ice caps would go on melting, and sea levels would rise. There would be unpredictable changes in the Indian, South American and African rainy seasons and in hurricane activity.

“Considerable uncertainty therefore surrounds the potential impacts of such shifts, and the relative magnitude of such impacts to those where geoengineering is not implemented”, they write.

They say their study highlights the need to better understand the risks of such actions, along with the sheer complexity of the planetary climate machine and “the need to better develop our understanding of the climate system before the character of a geoengineered climate can be estimated with confidence.” – Climate News Network

China’s action on air quality is saving lives

air quality

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

Slower climate warming is still possible

The world can achieve slower climate warming, preventing temperatures from rising by more than 1.5˚C, a global scientific panel says. But time is short.

LONDON, 8 October, 2018 – The good news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that slower climate warming is still within reach. With an enormous and united effort, it says, the world is certainly still capable of keeping global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5˚C over historic levels (they’ve already risen by over 1˚C).

The more worrying findings in the IPCC’s report, described by one scientist as “historic”, show that the impacts of even 1.5˚C of warming are far greater than previously thought, and that the problem is far more urgent than most governments have acknowledged.

The IPCC, set up 30 years ago, assesses the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options, to provide a scientific base to help governments to decide policy.

Its conclusions are published in the Panel’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which says limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society of a sort not yet seen.

One British IPCC scientist, Jim Skea, said: “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

“Act now, because it’s almost too late! … We have to phase out CO2 emissions completely”

In one cautionary section the report warns that letting the global temperature temporarily exceed 1.5ºC would require more reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air to return it to below 1.5ºC by 2100. “The effectiveness of such techniques is unproven at large scale”, it says judiciously.

But the report says there is plenty of action that will help. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner of the IPCC’s Working Group II.

For instance, the report says, by 2100 global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C.

The 1.5ºC limit was accepted as a goal by 195 governments in 2015 in the Paris Agreement, which committed them to work to keep temperatures “well below” the 2°C previously agreed and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The IPCC’s report has been widely welcomed. Climate Analytics is a global research organisation whose scientists have contributed widely to the literature used by the IPCC and also advise small island developing states and least developed countries on climate change. It says the IPCC has shown that it is “definitely still feasible to hold warming to that level” [1.5ºC].

Hopeful message

Bill Hare, the CEO of Climate Analytics, said: “We welcome the conclusions of this historic report, one that should give the international community not just a wake-up call, but also hope that we can avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

He said the report was “very clear in its confirmation that wide-ranging impacts of climate change will be much worse at 2˚C of warming than at 1.5˚C. This report shows the longer we leave it to act, the more difficult, the more expensive and the more dangerous it will be.”

The report says renewable energy must make up half of the global energy mix by 2050, and coal needs to be out of the power sector altogether by then. Carbon dioxide emissions must be halved by 2030, and reach zero by 2050.

“The advantages of early action are made stark in this report – especially regarding the sustainable development benefits, around poverty alleviation, health and access to clean energy,” said Hare.

“It is clear that governments must be preparing now to commit to much stronger 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement that need to be submitted by all governments no later than 2020, and they have to ditch coal.”

Complete CO2 phase-out

Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute is an author of the IPCC ‘s Fourth and Fifth Assessment reports. He says the IPCC report sends a clear message to policymakers: “Act now, because it’s almost too late! Fulfilling the 1.5°C limit is extremely difficult, but not impossible. We have to phase out CO2 emissions completely.”

Limiting warming to 1.5 °C is technically and economically feasible and, properly implemented, it can contribute to sustainable development, he says – but only if all join forces. Almost every area of life will have to be turned upside down: how we live, eat, move around, what we consume.

Accurately, as regular readers of the Climate News Network will recognise, Professor Höhne points out that the report contains nothing new: it sums up what has already been published. But it does it starkly, in black and white..

The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, and its Fifth (2013) both expected a probable temperature rise by 2100 of up to 4°C. Less than a year ago, one leading climatologist suggested that was too optimistic. Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said there was a 93% chance that global warming would exceed 4°C by the century’s end.

The IPCC reminds us that 2100 is really quite close. Even its mix of rigorous science with unambiguous explanation of what it will bring is familiar. We have been here before. But this report leaves us with less room than ever for doubt. – Climate News Network

The world can achieve slower climate warming, preventing temperatures from rising by more than 1.5˚C, a global scientific panel says. But time is short.

LONDON, 8 October, 2018 – The good news from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is that slower climate warming is still within reach. With an enormous and united effort, it says, the world is certainly still capable of keeping global temperatures from increasing by more than 1.5˚C over historic levels (they’ve already risen by over 1˚C).

The more worrying findings in the IPCC’s report, described by one scientist as “historic”, show that the impacts of even 1.5˚C of warming are far greater than previously thought, and that the problem is far more urgent than most governments have acknowledged.

The IPCC, set up 30 years ago, assesses the science related to climate change, its impacts and potential future risks, and possible response options, to provide a scientific base to help governments to decide policy.

Its conclusions are published in the Panel’s Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, which says limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society of a sort not yet seen.

One British IPCC scientist, Jim Skea, said: “Limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible within the laws of chemistry and physics but doing so would require unprecedented changes.”

“Act now, because it’s almost too late! … We have to phase out CO2 emissions completely”

In one cautionary section the report warns that letting the global temperature temporarily exceed 1.5ºC would require more reliance on techniques that remove CO2 from the air to return it to below 1.5ºC by 2100. “The effectiveness of such techniques is unproven at large scale”, it says judiciously.

But the report says there is plenty of action that will help. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5ºC or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” said Hans-Otto Pörtner of the IPCC’s Working Group II.

For instance, the report says, by 2100 global sea level rise would be 10 cm lower with global warming of 1.5°C compared with 2°C. The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with 1.5°C, compared with at least once per decade with 2°C.

The 1.5ºC limit was accepted as a goal by 195 governments in 2015 in the Paris Agreement, which committed them to work to keep temperatures “well below” the 2°C previously agreed and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C.

The IPCC’s report has been widely welcomed. Climate Analytics is a global research organisation whose scientists have contributed widely to the literature used by the IPCC and also advise small island developing states and least developed countries on climate change. It says the IPCC has shown that it is “definitely still feasible to hold warming to that level” [1.5ºC].

Hopeful message

Bill Hare, the CEO of Climate Analytics, said: “We welcome the conclusions of this historic report, one that should give the international community not just a wake-up call, but also hope that we can avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

He said the report was “very clear in its confirmation that wide-ranging impacts of climate change will be much worse at 2˚C of warming than at 1.5˚C. This report shows the longer we leave it to act, the more difficult, the more expensive and the more dangerous it will be.”

The report says renewable energy must make up half of the global energy mix by 2050, and coal needs to be out of the power sector altogether by then. Carbon dioxide emissions must be halved by 2030, and reach zero by 2050.

“The advantages of early action are made stark in this report – especially regarding the sustainable development benefits, around poverty alleviation, health and access to clean energy,” said Hare.

“It is clear that governments must be preparing now to commit to much stronger 2030 targets under the Paris Agreement that need to be submitted by all governments no later than 2020, and they have to ditch coal.”

Complete CO2 phase-out

Niklas Höhne of the NewClimate Institute is an author of the IPCC ‘s Fourth and Fifth Assessment reports. He says the IPCC report sends a clear message to policymakers: “Act now, because it’s almost too late! Fulfilling the 1.5°C limit is extremely difficult, but not impossible. We have to phase out CO2 emissions completely.”

Limiting warming to 1.5 °C is technically and economically feasible and, properly implemented, it can contribute to sustainable development, he says – but only if all join forces. Almost every area of life will have to be turned upside down: how we live, eat, move around, what we consume.

Accurately, as regular readers of the Climate News Network will recognise, Professor Höhne points out that the report contains nothing new: it sums up what has already been published. But it does it starkly, in black and white..

The IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report, published in 2007, and its Fifth (2013) both expected a probable temperature rise by 2100 of up to 4°C. Less than a year ago, one leading climatologist suggested that was too optimistic. Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said there was a 93% chance that global warming would exceed 4°C by the century’s end.

The IPCC reminds us that 2100 is really quite close. Even its mix of rigorous science with unambiguous explanation of what it will bring is familiar. We have been here before. But this report leaves us with less room than ever for doubt. – Climate News Network

Protecting public health shows way on climate

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.

Tackling climate change is urgent. Can we act in time? Yes, one argument runs. What we are doing in protecting public health shows how.

LONDON, 1 October, 2018 – The world’s growing urgency in protecting public health is an encouraging example of what we can do to slow planetary warming, a new group says.

Most climate scientists – and many politicians – agree that the time left for effective action to tackle climate change is frighteningly short. A report due out on 8 October from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to say that only radical and systemic change now will avert disaster.

One of the report’s co-authors has said already that it will be “extraordinarily challenging” for the world to reach the target of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, and that governments are “nowhere near on track” to do so.

He urges “a real sea change” leading to “a massive, immediate transformation” of global production and use of energy, transport and agriculture.

The 1.5°C limit, agreed by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, is approaching fast: world temperatures have already risen by about 1°C over their historic level.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible … We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change”

But one group of researchers argues that we are not bound to breach it: there may still be time to save the day. In a report they say efforts to alter people’s behaviour so that they address climate change seriously must learn from the great public health campaigns of the past: on smoking, drink-driving and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Their report (sub-titled “Evidence-based hope”) reviews lessons from campaigns not only for public health but for disaster awareness and equality as well. It is the first publication of the Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA), a global initiative which aims to learn from rapid change to address urgent environmental problems.

It suggests that rapid change may now be more possible than ever. The authors say recent cultural shifts in diet and single-use plastics, sexism and attitudes to gender and identity are examples of accelerating change in society and culture, aided by the speed of new communication technologies and social media in spreading ideas.

The report finds that while measures focused on modifying behaviour have been sidelined in the mix of policies considered for tackling climate change, the past shows that people can change even the most ingrained and addictive behaviours.

Wider changes

Campaigns have succeeded especially when accompanied by transformations in finance, infrastructure and culture and to be effective, the report says, behavioural change campaigns must be linked to wider structural changes.

“The complexity of climate change means that to address it, we’ll need changes in areas ranging from food, to transport, manufacturing, water use, urban planning and finance. To be legitimate and effective, these need to be fair and democratic,” says Andrew Simms, the report’s lead author.

He and his colleagues say such changes are not simple to achieve. For example, cutting smoking in the UK needed legislation on age limits and workplace smoking, public awareness campaigns, taxation and information campaigns, and advertising. They say long-term support and helpful  pricing mechanisms will also be essential, even though these can never be enough on their own.

Pollution linked to climate change is already causing unprecedented concern, the report points out. In September the European Union Court of Auditors found that air pollution is responsible for an estimated 400,000 premature deaths a year across the EU. Climate, the report says, needs to be seen in the context of dementia, asthma and deaths from extreme weather.

Tipping point

“Climate now and into the future is set to be among our greatest public health challenges,” says Simms. And that is what encourages him to think that global society may be approaching a tipping point where radical change is possible.

“We’ve shown in the past that surprising changes are possible in how people behave, in smoking, driving, antibiotics, and sexual health. We now know more than ever about how to create the conditions for this kind of change.

“Past radical changes in behaviour are about inclusive cultural movements, not just government campaigns. In moving urgently to address climate change, we should ensure that the onus for change falls on those most responsible for it, and the benefits are shared by all.

“The climate is changing faster than we are”, says Simms. But we can change too. “First, we can’t imagine a situation being different. Then things change and we can’t imagine going back to how they were before.” – Climate News Network

* * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance will be launched later in 2018. It is being coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK.

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

Carbon removal is not enough to save climate

Carbon removal from the atmosphere cannot match reducing emissions of greenhouse gases as a way of slowing global warming, US analysts say.

LONDON, 10 September, 2018 – New studies from the US provide an answer to one of the thorniest questions facing climate policymakers: carbon removal will not replace stringent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions enough, they say, to avert the threat of global warming.

In a world making (so far) only halting progress to cut the pollutants that heat the planet through reducing emissions there is support for a different approach, using carbon removal and other forms of geo-engineering rather than emission cuts to remove the pollution already in the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere.

If we can be certain the gains will exceed the risks, then geoengineering might even let us avoid any need to cut fossil fuel emissions at all, its enthusiasts say. Could it really be the future?

Among all the uncertainties, few have stuck their necks out decisively either for or against carbon removal as the answer to warming – until now. But reports by a group of US analysts have changed that.

Carbon removal, they say, cannot on its own provide the answer, nor is it likely to do so. It may have a part to play in tackling the climate crisis, but there is no evidence that it will ever be able to replace emission reductions.

“There is no evidence that carbon removal could serve as a viable alternative to emissions reduction”

On 8 October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to publish a report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC (the Paris Agreement on climate change calls for the temperature increase caused by climate change to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C).

The IPCC is expected to say that to avoid dangerous levels of global warming the world must couple a rapid shift to a low carbon economy with efforts to capture and store some of the carbon already released.

So the analysts, from the World Resources Institute, are making a significant contribution to the debate. Their language is judicious, many of their judgments are carefully hedged, but their conclusion that simply trying to engineer our way out of trouble is not an option will carry considerable weight.

They explain their thinking in three research papers, focused on the US. One tackles what WRI calls “the big foundational questions” (for example, is carbon removal mission-critical, or simply a distraction?).

Other approaches

Another examines land management approaches and implications for forests and agriculture, while the third explores emerging technological solutions designed to remove billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the  atmosphere.

This paper also explores other possible ,approaches for carbon removal in the US, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS); direct air capture and storage (DACS); and several emerging technologies, including biochar, plant selection or engineering, enhanced weathering, and seawater capture.

The land management paper explores possible approaches for US carbon removal. The authors say there is untapped potential to increase removal in America’s forests and farms. But using these approaches on a large scale will mean addressing issues such as scientific uncertainty, and ways to encourage landowners to adopt new methods.

The paper on foundational questions says many possible approaches to large-scale carbon removal hold promise “but also face challenges and limitations”.

New resources

More widely, the authors write: “Although carbon removal has raised some concerns about the degree to which it might detract from ongoing efforts to reduce emissions, it has the potential to broaden the public policy agenda on climate change in ways that bring additional stakeholders and resources to the table”.

One concern they address is the question of who would control the technologies which some approaches   would need, a conundrum preoccupying many scientists. Others make the point that carbon removal may often prove a double-edged sword, offering both benefits and risks. For all that, some studies show that, in principle anyway, the concept works. And at least one group of scientists has found that carbon dioxide can yield a new fuel able to slow climate change.

But the WRI team’s conclusion appears definitive in a way few previous analysts have been able to reach. They say that emissions cuts must remain the main way humans tackle the climate crisis.

“For carbon removal to play a meaningful role in stabilising the climate, it must supplement, not become a substitute for, deep decarbonisation of the economy. There is no evidence that carbon removal could serve as a viable alternative to emissions reduction.” – Climate News Network

Carbon removal from the atmosphere cannot match reducing emissions of greenhouse gases as a way of slowing global warming, US analysts say.

LONDON, 10 September, 2018 – New studies from the US provide an answer to one of the thorniest questions facing climate policymakers: carbon removal will not replace stringent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions enough, they say, to avert the threat of global warming.

In a world making (so far) only halting progress to cut the pollutants that heat the planet through reducing emissions there is support for a different approach, using carbon removal and other forms of geo-engineering rather than emission cuts to remove the pollution already in the atmosphere, the oceans and the biosphere.

If we can be certain the gains will exceed the risks, then geoengineering might even let us avoid any need to cut fossil fuel emissions at all, its enthusiasts say. Could it really be the future?

Among all the uncertainties, few have stuck their necks out decisively either for or against carbon removal as the answer to warming – until now. But reports by a group of US analysts have changed that.

Carbon removal, they say, cannot on its own provide the answer, nor is it likely to do so. It may have a part to play in tackling the climate crisis, but there is no evidence that it will ever be able to replace emission reductions.

“There is no evidence that carbon removal could serve as a viable alternative to emissions reduction”

On 8 October the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is due to publish a report, Global Warming of 1.5ºC (the Paris Agreement on climate change calls for the temperature increase caused by climate change to be kept to a maximum of 1.5°C).

The IPCC is expected to say that to avoid dangerous levels of global warming the world must couple a rapid shift to a low carbon economy with efforts to capture and store some of the carbon already released.

So the analysts, from the World Resources Institute, are making a significant contribution to the debate. Their language is judicious, many of their judgments are carefully hedged, but their conclusion that simply trying to engineer our way out of trouble is not an option will carry considerable weight.

They explain their thinking in three research papers, focused on the US. One tackles what WRI calls “the big foundational questions” (for example, is carbon removal mission-critical, or simply a distraction?).

Other approaches

Another examines land management approaches and implications for forests and agriculture, while the third explores emerging technological solutions designed to remove billions of tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the  atmosphere.

This paper also explores other possible ,approaches for carbon removal in the US, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS); direct air capture and storage (DACS); and several emerging technologies, including biochar, plant selection or engineering, enhanced weathering, and seawater capture.

The land management paper explores possible approaches for US carbon removal. The authors say there is untapped potential to increase removal in America’s forests and farms. But using these approaches on a large scale will mean addressing issues such as scientific uncertainty, and ways to encourage landowners to adopt new methods.

The paper on foundational questions says many possible approaches to large-scale carbon removal hold promise “but also face challenges and limitations”.

New resources

More widely, the authors write: “Although carbon removal has raised some concerns about the degree to which it might detract from ongoing efforts to reduce emissions, it has the potential to broaden the public policy agenda on climate change in ways that bring additional stakeholders and resources to the table”.

One concern they address is the question of who would control the technologies which some approaches   would need, a conundrum preoccupying many scientists. Others make the point that carbon removal may often prove a double-edged sword, offering both benefits and risks. For all that, some studies show that, in principle anyway, the concept works. And at least one group of scientists has found that carbon dioxide can yield a new fuel able to slow climate change.

But the WRI team’s conclusion appears definitive in a way few previous analysts have been able to reach. They say that emissions cuts must remain the main way humans tackle the climate crisis.

“For carbon removal to play a meaningful role in stabilising the climate, it must supplement, not become a substitute for, deep decarbonisation of the economy. There is no evidence that carbon removal could serve as a viable alternative to emissions reduction.” – Climate News Network

Climate strategy needs tailoring to poorest

Climate change presents a dilemma. Inaction means ultimate catastrophe. But before then an ill-considered climate strategy could harm the poorest even more.

LONDON, 10 August, 2018 – An effective climate strategy to protect everyone on Earth, and the natural world as well, is what the planet needs. But Austrian-based scientists have now confirmed something all climate scientists have suspected for more than a decade: there can be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the twin challenges of climate change and human poverty.

That catastrophic climate change driven by “business as usual” fossil fuel energy reliance will by 2100 impose devastating costs worldwide, and drive millions from their homes and even homelands,  has been repeatedly established.

So has the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, almost certainly by imposing some kind of “carbon tax” worldwide.

But a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis warns that if agriculture is included in stringent climate mitigation schemes, there will be higher costs in the short term.

If humans don’t act, then climate change driven by global warming will create conditions that will put an extra 24 million people, or perhaps 50 million extra, at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Crop yields could fall by 17%, and market prices could rise by 20% by 2050.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations”

And if they do act with a global carbon tax or its equivalent, then by 2050 an extra 78 million – or perhaps 170 million, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa and India – could be priced out of the food market.

So for many of the poorest people on the planet, the cure could be worse than the disease.

“The findings are important to help realise that agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies,” said Tomoko Hasegawa, a systems engineer and researcher at IIASA, and of Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Mitigation in agriculture should instead be integrated with development policies.”

Thinking ahead

Studies such as these should not be understood as excuses for doing nothing: they are precautionary exercises in foresight. All human acts impose some kind of environmental and social costs. Rich nations can absorb the price of climate mitigation. The poorest communities, ironically the ones most at risk from climate change, cannot.

Dr Hasegawa and her co-authors report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at eight global agricultural models to analyse a range of outcomes for 2050.

Their scenarios contemplated socio-economic development options. These included the one in which the world actually pursued the sustainable programme implicitly agreed in 2015 in Paris, when 195 nations vowed to contain warming to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

They also included one in which the world followed current development trends, along with various levels of global warming, and various mitigation policies.

Possible solutions

And the researchers concluded that, instead of simply focusing on reducing emissions, policymakers would have to look at the big picture.

Carbon taxes will in various forms raise the prices of food, in some models by 110%. But the same study offers potential solutions. Right now, grazing animals in the developing world produce three-fourths of the world’s ruminant greenhouse gases, but only half its milk and beef. So techniques used in the developed world could if introduced at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote economic growth, reduce poverty and improve health in the poorest nations.

There are other options: money raised from carbon taxes could be used for food aid programmes to help those areas hardest hit. The point the researchers make is that when it comes to mitigation policies, governments and international organisations need to think carefully.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its specific impacts and efforts to mitigate its impacts will be realised at national and local levels,” the scientists conclude. “As such, future research will be required to assess the unique local and national challenges to adapting to and mitigating climate change while also reducing food insecurity.” – Climate News Network

Climate change presents a dilemma. Inaction means ultimate catastrophe. But before then an ill-considered climate strategy could harm the poorest even more.

LONDON, 10 August, 2018 – An effective climate strategy to protect everyone on Earth, and the natural world as well, is what the planet needs. But Austrian-based scientists have now confirmed something all climate scientists have suspected for more than a decade: there can be no simple, one-size-fits-all solution to the twin challenges of climate change and human poverty.

That catastrophic climate change driven by “business as usual” fossil fuel energy reliance will by 2100 impose devastating costs worldwide, and drive millions from their homes and even homelands,  has been repeatedly established.

So has the need to shift from fossil fuels to renewable resources, almost certainly by imposing some kind of “carbon tax” worldwide.

But a new study from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis warns that if agriculture is included in stringent climate mitigation schemes, there will be higher costs in the short term.

If humans don’t act, then climate change driven by global warming will create conditions that will put an extra 24 million people, or perhaps 50 million extra, at risk of hunger and malnutrition.

Crop yields could fall by 17%, and market prices could rise by 20% by 2050.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations”

And if they do act with a global carbon tax or its equivalent, then by 2050 an extra 78 million – or perhaps 170 million, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa and India – could be priced out of the food market.

So for many of the poorest people on the planet, the cure could be worse than the disease.

“The findings are important to help realise that agriculture should receive a very specific treatment when it comes to climate change policies,” said Tomoko Hasegawa, a systems engineer and researcher at IIASA, and of Japan’s National Institute for Environment Studies.

“Carbon pricing schemes will not bring any viable options for developing countries where there are highly vulnerable populations. Mitigation in agriculture should instead be integrated with development policies.”

Thinking ahead

Studies such as these should not be understood as excuses for doing nothing: they are precautionary exercises in foresight. All human acts impose some kind of environmental and social costs. Rich nations can absorb the price of climate mitigation. The poorest communities, ironically the ones most at risk from climate change, cannot.

Dr Hasegawa and her co-authors report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they looked at eight global agricultural models to analyse a range of outcomes for 2050.

Their scenarios contemplated socio-economic development options. These included the one in which the world actually pursued the sustainable programme implicitly agreed in 2015 in Paris, when 195 nations vowed to contain warming to “well below” 2°C by 2100.

They also included one in which the world followed current development trends, along with various levels of global warming, and various mitigation policies.

Possible solutions

And the researchers concluded that, instead of simply focusing on reducing emissions, policymakers would have to look at the big picture.

Carbon taxes will in various forms raise the prices of food, in some models by 110%. But the same study offers potential solutions. Right now, grazing animals in the developing world produce three-fourths of the world’s ruminant greenhouse gases, but only half its milk and beef. So techniques used in the developed world could if introduced at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote economic growth, reduce poverty and improve health in the poorest nations.

There are other options: money raised from carbon taxes could be used for food aid programmes to help those areas hardest hit. The point the researchers make is that when it comes to mitigation policies, governments and international organisations need to think carefully.

“Although climate change is a global phenomenon, its specific impacts and efforts to mitigate its impacts will be realised at national and local levels,” the scientists conclude. “As such, future research will be required to assess the unique local and national challenges to adapting to and mitigating climate change while also reducing food insecurity.” – Climate News Network

Small modular reactors have little appeal

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network

The last hope of the nuclear industry for competing with renewables is small modular reactors, but despite political support their future looks bleak.

LONDON, 27 July, 2018 – On both sides of the Atlantic billions of dollars are being poured into developing small modular reactors. But it seems increasingly unlikely that they will ever be commercially viable.

The idea is to build dozens of the reactors (SMRs) in factories in kit form, to be assembled on site, thereby reducing their costs, a bit like the mass production of cars. The problem is finding a market big enough to justify the building of a factory to build nuclear power station kits.

For the last 60 years the trend has been to build ever-larger nuclear reactors, hoping that they would pump out so much power that their output would be cheaper per unit than power from smaller stations. However, the cost of large stations has escalated so much that without massive government subsidies they will never be built, because they are not commercially viable.

To get costs down, small factory-built reactors seemed the answer. It is not new technology, and efforts to introduce it are nothing new either, with UK hopes high just a few years ago. Small reactors have been built for decades for nuclear submarine propulsion and for ships like icebreakers, but for civilian use they have to produce electricity more cheaply than their renewable competitors, wind and solar power.

“For entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy”

One of the problems for nuclear weapons states is that they need a workforce of highly skilled engineers and scientists, both to maintain their submarine fleets and constantly to update the nuclear warheads, which degrade over time. So maintaining a civil nuclear industry means there is always a large pool of people with the required training.

Although in the past the UK and US governments have both claimed there is no link between civil and military nuclear industries, it is clear that a skills shortage is now a problem.

It seems that both the industry and the two governments have believed SMRs would be able to solve the shortage and also provide electricity at competitive rates, benefitting from the mass production of components in controlled environments and assembling reactors much like flat-pack furniture.

This is now the official blueprint for success – even though there are no prototypes yet to prove the technology works reliably. But even before that happens, there are serious doubts about whether there is a market for these reactors.

Among the most advanced countries on SMR development are the US, the UK  and Canada. Russia has already built SMRs and deployed one of them as a floating power station in the Arctic. But whether this is an economic way of producing power for Russia is not known.

Finding investors

A number of companies in the UK and North America are developing SMRs, and prototypes are expected to be up and running as early as 2025. However, the next big step is getting investment in a factory to build them, which will mean getting enough advance orders to justify the cost.

A group of pro-nuclear US scientists, who believe that nuclear technology is vital to fight climate change, have concluded that there is not a large enough market to make SMRS work.

Their report, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, says that large reactors will be phased out on economic grounds, and that the market for SMRs is too small to be viable. On a market for the possible export of the hundreds of SMRs needed to reach viability, they say none large enough exists.

They conclude: “It should be a source of profound concern for all who care about climate change that, for entirely predictable and resolvable reasons, the United States appears set to virtually lose nuclear power, and thus a wedge of reliable and low-carbon energy, over the next few decades.”

Doubts listed

In the UK, where the government in June poured £200 million ($263.8) into SMR development, a parliamentary briefing paper issued in July lists a whole raft of reasons why the technology may not find a market.

The paper’s authors doubt that a mass-produced reactor could be suitable for every site chosen; there might, for instance, be local conditions requiring extra safety features.

They also doubt that there is enough of a market for SMRs in the UK to justify building a factory to produce them, because of public opposition to nuclear power and the reactors’ proximity to population centres. And although the industry and the government believe an export market exists, the report suggests this is optimistic, partly because so many countries have already rejected nuclear power.

The paper says those countries still keen on buying the technology often have no experience of the nuclear industry. It suggests too that there may be international alarm about nuclear proliferation in some markets. – Climate News Network