Tag Archives: European Union

Ireland looks forward to a greener future

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Often called the Emerald Isle, Ireland prides itself on its green image – but the reality has been rather different.

DUBLIN, 6 July, 2020 – A predominantly rural country with a relatively small population and little heavy industry, Ireland is, per capita, one of the European Union’s biggest emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Now there are signs of change: after an inconclusive general election and months of political negotiations, a new coalition government has been formed in which, for the first time, Ireland’s Green Party has a significant role.

As part of a deal it has done with Fianna Fail and Fine Gael – the two parties that have dominated Ireland’s politics for much of the last century – the Green Party wants a halt to any further exploration for fossil fuels in the country’s offshore waters.

It’s also calling for a stop to all imports of shale gas from the US. A new climate action law will set legally binding targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions – Ireland aims to reduce net emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

“We do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”

Achieving that goal is a gargantuan task. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and an economic slowdown, Ireland’s carbon emissions are set to fall by nearly 10% this year according to a report by the country’s Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).

The report warns that due mainly to low international energy prices, the use of fossil fuels is likely to surge after Covid.

“Though the economic impacts of the Covid crisis are severe, due to among others the decreased energy prices, we do not expect large emissions reductions as seen during the financial crisis of 2008”, says the ESRI’s Kelly de Bruin, a co-author of the study.

“Ireland would still need to put in considerable effort to reach its EU emission goals.

Methane abundance

“The results of the study underline the importance of having a well-designed government response policy package, which considers the unique economic and environmental challenges presented by the Covid crisis.”

Emissions have to be tackled mainly in two sectors – transport and agriculture – which together account for more than 50% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

With increased use of electric vehicles, higher diesel taxes and more efficient goods distribution systems, emissions in the transport sector are relatively easy to sort out. But agriculture – one of the mainstays of Ireland’s economy – is a much more difficult proposition.

Ireland has a population of five million – and a cattle herd of nearly seven million. The flatulence of cattle produces considerable amounts of methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases.

Determined Greens

Farming organisations have traditionally wielded considerable political power. In the past politicians have been accused of indulging in plenty of rhetoric but taking little positive action to address the perils of climate change.

Ireland’s Green Party, which has four ministers in the new 16-member coalition cabinet, says it will not hesitate to bring down the government if environmental promises are not kept.

Eamon Ryan, the Green Party leader and Minister for Climate Action, Communication Networks and Transport, says the big challenge is to restore Ireland’s biodiversity and stop what he calls the madness of climate change.

“That’s our job in government. That’s what we’ve been voted in to do”, says Ryan. – Climate News Network

Hot rocks can help to cool the warming Earth

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

It’s a galloping goodbye to Europe’s coal

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total phase-out soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Total phase-out soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sandy beaches may succumb to rising seas

Ever higher seas are already eroding shorelines and flooding coasts. Soon the waves could wash away half the world’s sandy beaches.

LONDON, 5 March, 2020 – Right now, around a third of the world’s coastline is made up of sandy beaches and dunes which slope gently and softly to the sea. By the end of the century, these could make up only one-sixth of the frontier between land and ocean. Sea level rise driven by global heating could sweep half of them away.

Beaches are nature’s buffers between eroding land and tempestuous sea: they protect the coast, they provide a unique habitat for wildlife, and they have become powerful socio-economic resources.

But the paradise for surfers around sunlit Australia is almost certain to be diminished in the coming climate crisis as the waves lap ever higher, storm surges sweep away vast volumes of sand, and seas flood low-lying coasts. And – according to new European research in the journal Nature Climate Change – what is true for Australia is true for much of the rest of the world.

How much beach is lost will depend on how nations respond to the challenge of climate change. But in the worst-case scenario, Australia and Canada could each say goodbye to nearly 15,000 kilometres of sandy shore by 2100. Chile could lose more than 6,000 km, Mexico, China and the US more than 5,000 km, Russia more than 4,000 km and Argentina more than 3,000 km.

“Much of the world’s coast is already eroding, which could get worse with sea level rise”

And that’s the outlook for countries with vast coastlines. Some could fare even worse. Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia in West Africa, for instance, could lose 60% of their beaches.

The European scientists looked at more than 30 years of satellite data on coastal change – from 1984 to 2015 – and 82 years of climate and sea level predictions from a range of climate models. They also simulated 100 million storm events.

There is plenty of evidence that the world’s seas are responding to climate change; that sea levels are rising in response to warmer atmospheric temperatures driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels; and that coastal flooding is likely to become more extreme.

But the detailed questions remain: how exactly will ever-higher tides exact their toll of the wetlands, mangrove forests, estuaries, cliff faces, rocky coasts, storm beaches and dunes that serve as a barrier between the maritime cities and towns of the world, and the saltwater? The researchers found that even in the more hopeful scenarios, there would be considerable losses.

UK backs study

But if nations delivered on the promise made in Paris in 2015 – a promise that still has to be backed up by urgent action on a global scale – to contain global heating to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100, then perhaps 40% of the projected erosion of beaches could be halted.

Beaches are natural features of tidal landscapes: sand swept away by violent storms is eventually replaced by silt carried down the rivers to the coasts. The shoreline has always changed. But change is accelerating. Scientists in the UK have endorsed the European study.

“Much of the world’s coast is already eroding, which could get worse with sea level rise,” said Sally Brown, of Bournemouth University. Bournemouth is a famous British seaside resort.

“Building defences helps maintain coastline position, but defences are known to reduce beach width or depth over multiple decades. Responding to sea level rise means looking strategically at how and where we defend coasts today, which may mean protecting only limited parts of the coast.” – Climate News Network

Ever higher seas are already eroding shorelines and flooding coasts. Soon the waves could wash away half the world’s sandy beaches.

LONDON, 5 March, 2020 – Right now, around a third of the world’s coastline is made up of sandy beaches and dunes which slope gently and softly to the sea. By the end of the century, these could make up only one-sixth of the frontier between land and ocean. Sea level rise driven by global heating could sweep half of them away.

Beaches are nature’s buffers between eroding land and tempestuous sea: they protect the coast, they provide a unique habitat for wildlife, and they have become powerful socio-economic resources.

But the paradise for surfers around sunlit Australia is almost certain to be diminished in the coming climate crisis as the waves lap ever higher, storm surges sweep away vast volumes of sand, and seas flood low-lying coasts. And – according to new European research in the journal Nature Climate Change – what is true for Australia is true for much of the rest of the world.

How much beach is lost will depend on how nations respond to the challenge of climate change. But in the worst-case scenario, Australia and Canada could each say goodbye to nearly 15,000 kilometres of sandy shore by 2100. Chile could lose more than 6,000 km, Mexico, China and the US more than 5,000 km, Russia more than 4,000 km and Argentina more than 3,000 km.

“Much of the world’s coast is already eroding, which could get worse with sea level rise”

And that’s the outlook for countries with vast coastlines. Some could fare even worse. Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia in West Africa, for instance, could lose 60% of their beaches.

The European scientists looked at more than 30 years of satellite data on coastal change – from 1984 to 2015 – and 82 years of climate and sea level predictions from a range of climate models. They also simulated 100 million storm events.

There is plenty of evidence that the world’s seas are responding to climate change; that sea levels are rising in response to warmer atmospheric temperatures driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels; and that coastal flooding is likely to become more extreme.

But the detailed questions remain: how exactly will ever-higher tides exact their toll of the wetlands, mangrove forests, estuaries, cliff faces, rocky coasts, storm beaches and dunes that serve as a barrier between the maritime cities and towns of the world, and the saltwater? The researchers found that even in the more hopeful scenarios, there would be considerable losses.

UK backs study

But if nations delivered on the promise made in Paris in 2015 – a promise that still has to be backed up by urgent action on a global scale – to contain global heating to “well below” a maximum of 2°C by 2100, then perhaps 40% of the projected erosion of beaches could be halted.

Beaches are natural features of tidal landscapes: sand swept away by violent storms is eventually replaced by silt carried down the rivers to the coasts. The shoreline has always changed. But change is accelerating. Scientists in the UK have endorsed the European study.

“Much of the world’s coast is already eroding, which could get worse with sea level rise,” said Sally Brown, of Bournemouth University. Bournemouth is a famous British seaside resort.

“Building defences helps maintain coastline position, but defences are known to reduce beach width or depth over multiple decades. Responding to sea level rise means looking strategically at how and where we defend coasts today, which may mean protecting only limited parts of the coast.” – Climate News Network

North Sea dams could save Europe’s coasts

There is a way to stop Europe’s coastal cities from vanishing below the waves – enclose the North Sea. But there’s a simpler solution.

LONDON, 4 March, 2020 − Two European scientists have proposed the ultimate flood barrier: they want to dam the North Sea and the English Channel with more than 600 kilometres (373 miles) of sea wall.

This would protect 15 nations in western Europe against the ravages of what could one day be 10 metres (33 feet) of sea level rise. It would ultimately turn the North Sea into a freshwater lake and, at up to €500 billion (£435 bn) or more, represent the single most costly piece of engineering ever.

But, the pair reason, to do nothing could cost the people of Europe perhaps 10 times as much as coasts eroded, the sea overwhelmed the Low Countries, reshaped the contours of a continent and forced 25 million people to move inland.

In their paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological SocietySjoerd Groeskamp of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Joakim Kjellsson of Geomar, the Helmholtz oceanographic research centre in Kiel, Germany, concede that what they propose “may seem an overwhelming and unrealistic solution at first.”

But compared with the cost of inaction, or the cost of managed retreat from the coastline that would displace millions, it could be the cheapest option. “It might be impossible to truly fathom the magnitude of the threat that global-mean sea level rise poses,” they warn.

Least bad option

Global average temperatures have risen by 1°C and sea levels by 21 cms (8 inches) since 1880. Sea level rise lags behind atmospheric warming, but the guess is that every degree Celsius in the air will be followed eventually by 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) of higher seas.

By 2100, temperatures could have risen more than 3°C and sea levels by up to 1.5 metres (5 feet). If nations carry on burning fossil fuels the icecaps will melt inexorably, and by 2500 seas could have risen by 10 metres.

“The best solution will always be the treatment of the cause: human-caused climate change,” they write. However, if nations do not act to control the greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction that cause global heating, and ever higher tides, then solutions such as the North European Enclosure Dam, known for short as NEED, are the only option.

The two researchers propose a barrier, a dike of sloping sides 50 metres wide across the North Sea from Bergen in Norway to the north-east tip of Scotland, via the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

This would be 475 kms (295 miles) long, with an average depth of 127 metres (417 feet), but would have to cross a trench more than 300 metres (985 feet) deep. To withstand continued sea level rise beyond 2500, it would need to be 20 metres or more above the Atlantic waves.

“This dam is mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, then this extreme dam might just be the only solution”

The 160 kms (100 miles) of sea defence from south-west England to the westernmost point of France would be a little less problematic: sea depths are hardly more than 100 metres (330 feet).

But the engineers would also have to factor in the 40,000 cubic metres of river water that would discharge into this enclosed basin every second. This would mean the same volume would need pumping continuously into the Atlantic on the far side of the dikes.

Since the barrier would enclose a number of the world’s great shipping ports, there would have to be sluice gates to let the big ships through, or alternatively new ports on the ocean side of the barriers.

The very nature of the enclosed North Sea would begin to change. Within a decade or two, it would start to turn into a freshwater lake: it would be the end of centuries of a fishing industry.

It could – the scientists admit their calculations are of the “back of an envelope” variety – be done. They scaled up the costs of the world’s largest dikes so far in the Netherlands and South Korea, to calculate the 51 billion tonnes of sand needed for the project. This is about what the world uses every year in construction.

Technology tested

They note that fixed seabed oil platforms have been constructed to a depth of 500 metres (1,640 feet), so engineers already know how to do such things. Pumps of the scale required to handle the incoming river discharges are already in use, but they would be needed in their hundreds.

And although the cost would reach somewhere between €250-550 bn (£220-480 bn), this − spread over the 20 years the project would take − would represent only at most 0.32% of the gross domestic product of the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Denmark combined: the five nations with most to lose from the rising tides.

It would, the authors argue, cost just the Netherlands – which already has 3,600 km (2,240 miles) of flood protection − a third of that sum to defend against sea level rises of only 1.5 metres. The good news is that, if such a project worked for western Europe, then the same techniques could enclose the Irish Sea, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

“This dam makes it almost tangible what the consequences of continued sea level rise will be; a rise of 10 metres by the year 2500 according to the bleakest scenarios,” said Dr Groeskamp.

“This dam is therefore mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, then this extreme dam might just be the only solution.” − Climate News Network

There is a way to stop Europe’s coastal cities from vanishing below the waves – enclose the North Sea. But there’s a simpler solution.

LONDON, 4 March, 2020 − Two European scientists have proposed the ultimate flood barrier: they want to dam the North Sea and the English Channel with more than 600 kilometres (373 miles) of sea wall.

This would protect 15 nations in western Europe against the ravages of what could one day be 10 metres (33 feet) of sea level rise. It would ultimately turn the North Sea into a freshwater lake and, at up to €500 billion (£435 bn) or more, represent the single most costly piece of engineering ever.

But, the pair reason, to do nothing could cost the people of Europe perhaps 10 times as much as coasts eroded, the sea overwhelmed the Low Countries, reshaped the contours of a continent and forced 25 million people to move inland.

In their paper in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological SocietySjoerd Groeskamp of the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research and Joakim Kjellsson of Geomar, the Helmholtz oceanographic research centre in Kiel, Germany, concede that what they propose “may seem an overwhelming and unrealistic solution at first.”

But compared with the cost of inaction, or the cost of managed retreat from the coastline that would displace millions, it could be the cheapest option. “It might be impossible to truly fathom the magnitude of the threat that global-mean sea level rise poses,” they warn.

Least bad option

Global average temperatures have risen by 1°C and sea levels by 21 cms (8 inches) since 1880. Sea level rise lags behind atmospheric warming, but the guess is that every degree Celsius in the air will be followed eventually by 2.3 metres (7.5 feet) of higher seas.

By 2100, temperatures could have risen more than 3°C and sea levels by up to 1.5 metres (5 feet). If nations carry on burning fossil fuels the icecaps will melt inexorably, and by 2500 seas could have risen by 10 metres.

“The best solution will always be the treatment of the cause: human-caused climate change,” they write. However, if nations do not act to control the greenhouse gas emissions and forest destruction that cause global heating, and ever higher tides, then solutions such as the North European Enclosure Dam, known for short as NEED, are the only option.

The two researchers propose a barrier, a dike of sloping sides 50 metres wide across the North Sea from Bergen in Norway to the north-east tip of Scotland, via the Shetland and Orkney Islands.

This would be 475 kms (295 miles) long, with an average depth of 127 metres (417 feet), but would have to cross a trench more than 300 metres (985 feet) deep. To withstand continued sea level rise beyond 2500, it would need to be 20 metres or more above the Atlantic waves.

“This dam is mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, then this extreme dam might just be the only solution”

The 160 kms (100 miles) of sea defence from south-west England to the westernmost point of France would be a little less problematic: sea depths are hardly more than 100 metres (330 feet).

But the engineers would also have to factor in the 40,000 cubic metres of river water that would discharge into this enclosed basin every second. This would mean the same volume would need pumping continuously into the Atlantic on the far side of the dikes.

Since the barrier would enclose a number of the world’s great shipping ports, there would have to be sluice gates to let the big ships through, or alternatively new ports on the ocean side of the barriers.

The very nature of the enclosed North Sea would begin to change. Within a decade or two, it would start to turn into a freshwater lake: it would be the end of centuries of a fishing industry.

It could – the scientists admit their calculations are of the “back of an envelope” variety – be done. They scaled up the costs of the world’s largest dikes so far in the Netherlands and South Korea, to calculate the 51 billion tonnes of sand needed for the project. This is about what the world uses every year in construction.

Technology tested

They note that fixed seabed oil platforms have been constructed to a depth of 500 metres (1,640 feet), so engineers already know how to do such things. Pumps of the scale required to handle the incoming river discharges are already in use, but they would be needed in their hundreds.

And although the cost would reach somewhere between €250-550 bn (£220-480 bn), this − spread over the 20 years the project would take − would represent only at most 0.32% of the gross domestic product of the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and Denmark combined: the five nations with most to lose from the rising tides.

It would, the authors argue, cost just the Netherlands – which already has 3,600 km (2,240 miles) of flood protection − a third of that sum to defend against sea level rises of only 1.5 metres. The good news is that, if such a project worked for western Europe, then the same techniques could enclose the Irish Sea, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf.

“This dam makes it almost tangible what the consequences of continued sea level rise will be; a rise of 10 metres by the year 2500 according to the bleakest scenarios,” said Dr Groeskamp.

“This dam is therefore mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, then this extreme dam might just be the only solution.” − Climate News Network

Speeding sea level rise threatens nuclear plants

With sea level rise accelerating faster than thought, the risk is growing for coastal cities − and for nuclear power stations.

LONDON, 14 February, 2020 − The latest science shows how the pace of sea level rise is speeding up, fuelling fears that not only millions of homes will be under threat, but that vulnerable installations like docks and power plants will be overwhelmed by the waves.

New research using satellite data over a 30-year period shows that around the year 2000 sea level rise was 2mm a year, by 2010 it was 3mm and now it is at 4mm, with the pace of change still increasing.

The calculations were made by a research student, Tadea Veng, at the Technical University of Denmark, which has a special interest in Greenland, where the icecap is melting fast. That, combined with accelerating melting in Antarctica and further warming of the oceans, is raising sea levels across the globe.

The report coincides with a European Environment Agency (EEA) study whose maps show large areas of the shorelines of countries with coastlines on the North Sea will go under water unless heavily defended against sea level rise.

Based on the maps, newspapers like The Guardian in London have predicted that more than half of one key UK east coast provincial port − Hull − will be swamped. Ironically, Hull is the base for making giant wind turbine blades for use in the North Sea.

“It’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges”

The argument about how much the sea level will rise this century has been raging in scientific circles since the 1990s. At the start, predictions of sea level rise took into account only two possible causes: the expansion of seawater as it warmed, and the melting of mountain glaciers away from the poles.

In the early Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports back then, the melting of the polar ice caps was not included, because scientists could not agree whether greater snowfall on the top of the ice caps in winter might balance out summer melting. Many of them also thought Antarctica would not melt at all, or not for centuries, because it was too cold.

Both the extra snow theory and the “too cold to melt” idea have now been discounted. In Antarctica this is partly because the sea has warmed up so much that it is melting the glaciers’ ice from beneath – something the scientists had not foreseen.

Alarm about sea level rise elsewhere has been increasing outside the scientific community, partly because many nuclear power plants are on coasts. Even those that are nearing the end of their working lives will be radio-active for another century, and many have highly dangerous spent fuel on site in storage ponds with no disposal route organised.

Perhaps most alarmed are British residents, whose government is currently planning a number of new seaside nuclear stations in low-lying coastal areas. Some will be under water this century according to the EEA, particularly one planned for Sizewell in eastern England.

Hard to tell

The Agency’s report says estimates of sea level rise by 2100 vary, with an upper limit of one metre generally accepted, but up to 2.5 metres predicted by some scientists. The latest research by Danish scientists suggests judiciously that with the speed of sea level rise continuing to accelerate, it is impossible to be sure.

A report by campaigners who oppose building nuclear power stations on Britain’s vulnerable coast expresses extreme alarm, saying both nuclear regulators and the giant French energy company EDF are too complacent about the problem.

The report says: “Polar ice caps appear to be melting faster than expected, and what is particularly worrying is that the rate of melting seems to be increasing. Some researchers say sea levels could rise by as much as six metres or more by 2100, even if the 2°C Paris targethttps://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement is met.

“But it’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. If you increase that to a metre, then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade.

“Bearing in mind that there will probably be nuclear waste on the Hinkley Point C site [home to the new twin reactors being built by EDF in the West of England] until at least 2150, the question neither the Office of Nuclear Regulation nor EDF seem to be asking is whether further flood protection measures can be put in place fast enough to deal with unexpected and unpredicted storm surges.” − Climate News Network

With sea level rise accelerating faster than thought, the risk is growing for coastal cities − and for nuclear power stations.

LONDON, 14 February, 2020 − The latest science shows how the pace of sea level rise is speeding up, fuelling fears that not only millions of homes will be under threat, but that vulnerable installations like docks and power plants will be overwhelmed by the waves.

New research using satellite data over a 30-year period shows that around the year 2000 sea level rise was 2mm a year, by 2010 it was 3mm and now it is at 4mm, with the pace of change still increasing.

The calculations were made by a research student, Tadea Veng, at the Technical University of Denmark, which has a special interest in Greenland, where the icecap is melting fast. That, combined with accelerating melting in Antarctica and further warming of the oceans, is raising sea levels across the globe.

The report coincides with a European Environment Agency (EEA) study whose maps show large areas of the shorelines of countries with coastlines on the North Sea will go under water unless heavily defended against sea level rise.

Based on the maps, newspapers like The Guardian in London have predicted that more than half of one key UK east coast provincial port − Hull − will be swamped. Ironically, Hull is the base for making giant wind turbine blades for use in the North Sea.

“It’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges”

The argument about how much the sea level will rise this century has been raging in scientific circles since the 1990s. At the start, predictions of sea level rise took into account only two possible causes: the expansion of seawater as it warmed, and the melting of mountain glaciers away from the poles.

In the early Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports back then, the melting of the polar ice caps was not included, because scientists could not agree whether greater snowfall on the top of the ice caps in winter might balance out summer melting. Many of them also thought Antarctica would not melt at all, or not for centuries, because it was too cold.

Both the extra snow theory and the “too cold to melt” idea have now been discounted. In Antarctica this is partly because the sea has warmed up so much that it is melting the glaciers’ ice from beneath – something the scientists had not foreseen.

Alarm about sea level rise elsewhere has been increasing outside the scientific community, partly because many nuclear power plants are on coasts. Even those that are nearing the end of their working lives will be radio-active for another century, and many have highly dangerous spent fuel on site in storage ponds with no disposal route organised.

Perhaps most alarmed are British residents, whose government is currently planning a number of new seaside nuclear stations in low-lying coastal areas. Some will be under water this century according to the EEA, particularly one planned for Sizewell in eastern England.

Hard to tell

The Agency’s report says estimates of sea level rise by 2100 vary, with an upper limit of one metre generally accepted, but up to 2.5 metres predicted by some scientists. The latest research by Danish scientists suggests judiciously that with the speed of sea level rise continuing to accelerate, it is impossible to be sure.

A report by campaigners who oppose building nuclear power stations on Britain’s vulnerable coast expresses extreme alarm, saying both nuclear regulators and the giant French energy company EDF are too complacent about the problem.

The report says: “Polar ice caps appear to be melting faster than expected, and what is particularly worrying is that the rate of melting seems to be increasing. Some researchers say sea levels could rise by as much as six metres or more by 2100, even if the 2°C Paris targethttps://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement is met.

“But it’s not just the height of the rise in sea level that is important for the protection of nuclear facilities, it’s also the likely increase in storm surges. An increase in sea level of 50cm would mean the storm that used to come every thousand years will now come every 100 years. If you increase that to a metre, then that millennial storm is likely to come once a decade.

“Bearing in mind that there will probably be nuclear waste on the Hinkley Point C site [home to the new twin reactors being built by EDF in the West of England] until at least 2150, the question neither the Office of Nuclear Regulation nor EDF seem to be asking is whether further flood protection measures can be put in place fast enough to deal with unexpected and unpredicted storm surges.” − Climate News Network

Europe fails to keep up on solar power

Europe needs new factories to harness solar power, with a huge effort to install the panels they’ll make, for the world to avoid catastrophic warming.

LONDON, 6 February, 2020 − Europe is falling well behind in the race to install enough solar power to keep the rise in global temperatures below dangerous levels, and to reach its own renewable energy targets. But it’s  not impossible.

Once a world leader in the technology and manufacture of solar panels, Europe now lags far behind China and other Asian countries. It faces shortages of supplies and disruption to them, according to the annual PV status report of the European Commission’s Science Hub.

The report says the installation rate of panels has to increase “drastically” − more than five times by 2025, and double that again if Europe is to convert to electric cars and fuels like hydrogen.

It says current policies in place to limit global greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to keep the temperature increase below 2°C above historic levels, considered by governments to be the maximum acceptable to avoid dangerous climate change.

To keep below that level the decarbonisation of the energy system is the single most important element, but it is moving far too slowly.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own”

In order to reach the world’s climate targets the power sector has to be fully decarbonised – not by 2060, but well before 2050 – and photo-voltaic solar energy (PV) is one of the key technologies for implementing this shift.

“PV is a key technology option for decarbonising the power sector. It can be deployed in a modular way almost anywhere, solar resources in the world are abundant and they cannot be monopolised by one country”, said JRC director Piotr Szymanski.

The report’s author, Arnulf Jäger-Waldau, added: “Although (last year) the new installed capacity increased worldwide by 7% and solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the ninth year in a row, a much more rapid increase in the installation rate is needed to decarbonise the power sector by 2050”.

Current capacity equips the EU to provide just under 5% of its electricity demand from solar PV. There was an installed capacity of 117 GW at the end of 2018, and in 2019 the EU lost further ground in the worldwide market.

Marked drop

Its share of global installed capacity was about 23%. This is a steep decline from the 66 % recorded at the end of 2012.

The report looks at the state of solar PV in individual countries across Europe and in large players across the world and shows how governments are failing to support the industry while they continue to subsidise fossil fuels on a large scale.

The report says that instead of lagging further behind, the EU needs to increase its solar capacity by five times to over 630GW by 2025, and then by five times again by 2050 if it is to cover all its electricity needs with renewables – and that is including the very large share of the market taken by wind and other technologies like hydro-power.

One of the problems for the EU is that it has lost all but a few of its panel manufacturers and needs to re-open solar panel factories or face a shortage of supply.

Until 2006 solar cell production was dominated by Japan and Europe, but in 2014 a new trend emerged which saw China and Taiwan rapidly increase their production capacities. Since then, other Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have followed their lead.

Costs head downwards

The rapid cost reduction in PV manufacturing would merit a fresh look at the potential to bring PV factories back to Europe. The investment costs required by PV manufacturing have decreased by about 90% over the past 10 years, and the European manufacturing chain could be competitive with factories with an annual production volume from 5 to 10 GW.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own. It will require a sustained effort and support of all stakeholders to implement the change to a sustainable energy supply, with PV delivering a major part”, Dr Jäger-Waldau concluded.

The massive drop in the cost of producing electricity from solar power – about 80% in the last decade – makes it competitive with fossil fuels across the world. Regardless of how fast energy prices increase in the future, and of the reasons behind these increases, PV and other renewable energies are the only ones offering stable prices in future, or even a reduction.

The report says the main barriers to the changes needed include regulatory frameworks and the limitations of the existing electricity transmission and distribution systems. − Climate News Network

Europe needs new factories to harness solar power, with a huge effort to install the panels they’ll make, for the world to avoid catastrophic warming.

LONDON, 6 February, 2020 − Europe is falling well behind in the race to install enough solar power to keep the rise in global temperatures below dangerous levels, and to reach its own renewable energy targets. But it’s  not impossible.

Once a world leader in the technology and manufacture of solar panels, Europe now lags far behind China and other Asian countries. It faces shortages of supplies and disruption to them, according to the annual PV status report of the European Commission’s Science Hub.

The report says the installation rate of panels has to increase “drastically” − more than five times by 2025, and double that again if Europe is to convert to electric cars and fuels like hydrogen.

It says current policies in place to limit global greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient to keep the temperature increase below 2°C above historic levels, considered by governments to be the maximum acceptable to avoid dangerous climate change.

To keep below that level the decarbonisation of the energy system is the single most important element, but it is moving far too slowly.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own”

In order to reach the world’s climate targets the power sector has to be fully decarbonised – not by 2060, but well before 2050 – and photo-voltaic solar energy (PV) is one of the key technologies for implementing this shift.

“PV is a key technology option for decarbonising the power sector. It can be deployed in a modular way almost anywhere, solar resources in the world are abundant and they cannot be monopolised by one country”, said JRC director Piotr Szymanski.

The report’s author, Arnulf Jäger-Waldau, added: “Although (last year) the new installed capacity increased worldwide by 7% and solar power attracted the largest share of new investments in renewable energies for the ninth year in a row, a much more rapid increase in the installation rate is needed to decarbonise the power sector by 2050”.

Current capacity equips the EU to provide just under 5% of its electricity demand from solar PV. There was an installed capacity of 117 GW at the end of 2018, and in 2019 the EU lost further ground in the worldwide market.

Marked drop

Its share of global installed capacity was about 23%. This is a steep decline from the 66 % recorded at the end of 2012.

The report looks at the state of solar PV in individual countries across Europe and in large players across the world and shows how governments are failing to support the industry while they continue to subsidise fossil fuels on a large scale.

The report says that instead of lagging further behind, the EU needs to increase its solar capacity by five times to over 630GW by 2025, and then by five times again by 2050 if it is to cover all its electricity needs with renewables – and that is including the very large share of the market taken by wind and other technologies like hydro-power.

One of the problems for the EU is that it has lost all but a few of its panel manufacturers and needs to re-open solar panel factories or face a shortage of supply.

Until 2006 solar cell production was dominated by Japan and Europe, but in 2014 a new trend emerged which saw China and Taiwan rapidly increase their production capacities. Since then, other Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam have followed their lead.

Costs head downwards

The rapid cost reduction in PV manufacturing would merit a fresh look at the potential to bring PV factories back to Europe. The investment costs required by PV manufacturing have decreased by about 90% over the past 10 years, and the European manufacturing chain could be competitive with factories with an annual production volume from 5 to 10 GW.

“There are huge opportunities for PV in the future, but such developments will not happen on their own. It will require a sustained effort and support of all stakeholders to implement the change to a sustainable energy supply, with PV delivering a major part”, Dr Jäger-Waldau concluded.

The massive drop in the cost of producing electricity from solar power – about 80% in the last decade – makes it competitive with fossil fuels across the world. Regardless of how fast energy prices increase in the future, and of the reasons behind these increases, PV and other renewable energies are the only ones offering stable prices in future, or even a reduction.

The report says the main barriers to the changes needed include regulatory frameworks and the limitations of the existing electricity transmission and distribution systems. − Climate News Network

Reliance on coal divides European states

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

Two European states with a traditional reliance on coal are taking radically different paths as the climate crisis worsens.

LONDON, 3 February, 2020 − Both countries are in the European Union, both have for years been known for their reliance on coal. But now their policies could not differ more: one is turning away from coal, the most polluting fossil fuel, while the other is enthusiastically developing it.

At one end of the spectrum is Spain: it plans to close its last operating coal mine by the end of 2021. Not so long ago the country was heavily dependent on coal for its power: last year coal generated less than 5% of Spain’s electricity.

At the other extreme is Poland. Despite EU-wide commitments to phase out the use of coal over the coming years, Poland is still opening new coal pits and coal-fired power plants.

In recent days the government in Warsaw granted POLSKA PGE, the state-owned energy company, a permit to expand a lignite mine at Turów, on Poland’s borders with Germany and the Czech Republic.

According to campaign groups, the permit was rushed through without an environmental impact assessment being completed and before an appeals process was allowed to start.

Both Germany and the Czech Republic have protested about the mine.

“There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal”

Belchatow power station in central Poland is Europe’s biggest coal-burning power station. Emitting an estimated 30 million tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases each year, it is also the most polluting. More than 80% of Poland’s electricity is generated from coal.

In Spain, more than 50,000 people were employed in coal mining in the mid-1990s, mainly in the northern province of Asturias. Mining communities formed an integral part of the country’s social fabric and played an important role in its history, having launched attacks against the forces of the dictator General Franco during Spain’s bitter civil war.

Over recent years the Spanish government has inaugurated a series of initiatives with mining communities, promising early retirement packages, money, and jobs in renewable power industries.

Analysts say a number of additional factors have helped Spain wean itself off coal. State subsidies to the industry have been cut.

Renewables flourish

The EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) has, after many years of inactivity and failed policy objectives, finally managed to set a price on carbon emissions which discourages large users of fossil fuels.

Falling prices for gas – a fossil fuel, but one with far lower emissions than coal – have helped Spain’s power turnaround. Spain has also made big investments in renewables such as wind and solar power.

But all is not rosy in Spain on the emissions front. While coal-burning emissions have fallen dramatically in recent years, greenhouse gas emissions from the transport and other sectors have risen by well above the EU average.

Poland does not have the solar advantages of sunny Spain. It also requires far more energy for heating purposes. Like Spain, Poland has a long coal-mining tradition and, despite many mine closures following the collapse of communism in the early 1990s, mining unions remain strong and exert considerable political influence.

Poland’s ruling populist Law and Justice Party has consistently backed the country’s coal lobby and the mining unions: large subsidies are still granted to the sector and legislation has recently come into force making it easier for operators to open new mines.

Independence cherished

There are wider political and security issues at play: historically, coal has been seen in Poland as vital, ensuring the country’s independence. Warsaw is acutely suspicious of any form of reliance on gas supplies from Russia for its energy needs.

But change could be on the way. There is growing awareness in Poland about the dangers to the climate as a whole – and to the health of the population – of continued reliance on coal. Protests have been held in several towns and cities about the impact of coal-mining on air quality and water supplies.

The EU is exerting more pressure on states to cut back on fossil fuel use and meet emission reduction targets.

In the end finance – or the lack of it – could be the key to reducing coal use. Financial institutions and insurers are becoming increasingly wary about investing or supporting coal projects.

Coal, within the EU and worldwide, is rapidly running out of friends. – Climate News Network

Wildfire risk can be reduced with agroforestry

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

As Australia struggles to recover from months of wildfires, farmers and foresters say agroforestry could help to protect the country.

LONDON, 28 January, 2020 – Researchers in Europe have found that simply adopting a way of managing land to support animals, crops and trees – a system known as agroforestry – can help significantly to cut the risk of wildfires breaking out in areas around the Mediterranean.

As uncontrolled wildfires threaten natural vegetation, biodiversity, communities and economies – and lives – and release large amounts of carbon dioxide, contributing to global temperature rise, the pressure to find ways of controlling them is urgent.

Studying ten years’ worth of data, the researchers analysed the relationship between the incidence of fire and several different uses of land (for agroforestry, forests, shrublands and grasslands). Agroforestry, occupying 12% of the land area, was linked to just 6% of the fires, while shrubland, which occupied 16%, suffered from 41% of the fires (these figures are based on two European Union documents – LUCAS, its Land use and land cover survey, and the European Forest Fire Information System, EFFIS, 2008-17.

Paul Burgess, reader in crop ecology and management at Cranfield University, UK, said: “Areas of shrubland were at particular risk of wildfire – where the land is not proactively managed or used, there is a build-up of dry vegetation and shrubs creating fuel.

Work boost

“Agroforestry is shown to reduce wildfire risk by encouraging rural employment and removing part of the dry ground-level vegetation through livestock grazing. Taking into account the effect of climate change in this region, it is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being.”

Combining livestock and trees on agroforestry land can create habitats rich in a variety of species that provide an annual income for farmers through livestock products. For clearing vegetation, agroforestry uses less machinery and fossil fuel.

Dr Burgess, who is secretary of the Farm Woodland Forum, told the Climate News Network that agroforestry could help countries like Australia and Portugal to cut the extreme fire risk they have been facing.

He said: “Compared with unmanaged shrubland areas, agroforestry can provide three benefits. Firstly, it encourages local employment and management on the ground which can allow for more rapid initial responses. Then, in most agroforestry systems, the understorey, the vegetation between the forest canopy and the floor, is managed, and this reduces the store of fuel. Third, in many agroforestry systems there are breaks between the trees, which can also help to limit fire spread.”

“Agroforestry is a land management option that can successfully reduce fires, protect the environment and improve human well-being”

The proportion of burnt land in the area studied by the team over 10 years ranged from 0.1% of the area of France to 1-2% of the area of Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Spain, and to 14% of the area of Portugal. The researchers report their study in the journal Agroforestry Systems.

Land abandonment is an important element in the risk of wildfires. In many parts of the Mediterranean, an ageing population and the end of traditional farming and forestry activity have led to extensive unmanaged lands.

This results in an increase in decayed biomass, plant material which readily serves as fuel in shrublands that can be easily ignited by natural events such as thunderstorms, or by human activity.

Other suggestions for reducing wildfires include using sunlight to replace fossil fuel-derived kerosene with a synthetic version, and cutting fossil fuel reliance through wide use of new generation batteries. – Climate News Network

Sun shines on Germany’s solar sector

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is 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. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

A few years ago its future looked dim, but new technology is offering Germany’s solar sector a fast new lease of life.

LONDON, 18 December, 2019 – Not only does it promise the revival of Germany’s solar sector. It’s also the dream of any householder keen both to cut back on fuel bills and help in the fight against climate change – a combined solar and battery unit capable of supplying power to the home on a 24-hour basis.

Now the dream is being turned into reality – with Germany leading the way. Over the past five years more than 150,000 German homeowners and small businesses have installed combined solar and battery storage units.

Advances in technology mean that battery storage units for an average-sized house can be relatively small – about the dimensions of a medium-sized fridge.

Solar power for general household use is supplied from rooftop photovoltaic panels. Additional energy is fed into the battery storage unit – often placed in a basement – for use at night or on days when there is no sun.

Popularity rising

If there is more energy than battery capacity, a digital control system feeds any excess into the grid, with the owner being compensated by the grid operator.

While sales of the systems are still relatively small in comparison with Germany’s population of more than 80 million, the units – which let consumers be independent of power companies and escape increasing energy prices – are proving ever more popular.

Energy experts say that more than 50% of rooftop solar systems now being sold in Germany are installed along with a battery storage facility.

“Before 2013 such combined systems were not a commercial proposition”, says Kai-Philipp Kairies, an expert on energy storage technology at Germany’s RWTH Aachen University.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money”

“Due to advances in battery storage capabilities and other improvements, sales in Germany over the past five years have been increasing by 100%, year on year.

“No one really anticipated this sort of growth, and German companies have been at the forefront of developments in the sector.”

The switch to small-sized combined energy systems forms another stage in Germany’s ambitious Energiewende project – a state-sponsored programme aimed at improving power efficiency and switching the country’s entire energy sector to renewables by 2050.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance, which reports on programmes and projects both in the UK and worldwide that are following Energiewende-type policies, provides extensive further details.

Earlier fade-out

German companies have been piling into the combined unit sector with more than 40 enterprises at present involved.

In the past, the big power companies shied away from solar. In 2012 the head of RWE, Germany’s biggest energy company, said that giving support to the country’s solar power industry was like “farming pineapples in Alaska” – it was just not a viable proposition.

Now the giants of the power industry are entering the market: Shell, the Dutch-British energy conglomerate, recently purchased Sonnen, Germany’s leading supplier of home storage batteries. E.ON, the German power company, has teamed up with Solarwatt, another leading German renewables company. EnBW, one of the big four German utility companies, recently bought Senec, another supplier of battery storage units.

The systems are not cheap, though industry analysts say a fall in the cost of both batteries and solar panels in recent years has made such equipment far more affordable.

Rapid switch

“The units are getting cheaper at an incredible pace”, says Aachen University’s Dr Kairies. “We estimate that the relative cost of the systems has gone down by more than 50% over the past five years, though this may not be reflected in the price paid by the homeowner.

“What’s happened is that now, due to greater efficiencies, buyers are getting twice as much battery storage power for their money.”

Owners of a relatively small house would be likely to pay a total sum in the region of US$20,000 for both solar panels and batteries, though prices vary widely, dependent on actual house size, insulation and on how the building is positioned in regard to sunlight.

Sales of the units have provided a lifeline for Germany’s solar industry, which not so long ago was on its knees. Cheap solar panel imports from China had forced many domestic manufacturers out of business; a decline in the level of feed-in tariffs – the guaranteed payments consumers received for supplying energy to the grid – had further damaged the solar business.

Not so sunny

There were questions over Germany’s suitability for solar. “Germany is not exactly one of the world’s sunniest holiday destinations”, says a report on the sector by the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW),  a Germany-based journalism group which focuses on the country’s transition to renewable energy. “In fact, the central European country ranks among countries with the fewest hours of sunshine per year.”

According to CLEW, more than 150,000 people were employed in Germany’s solar sector in 2011. Six years later that number had shrunk to 36,000.

Today, according to figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA),  Germany is top of the world rankings in terms of installed solar capacity per capita, accounting for about 10% of total global installed solar capacity.

The bulk of solar panels and batteries are still manufactured in Asia, mainly in China. Retailers in Germany package the systems and make adjustments, as well as carrying out installation work and servicing. All systems come with a 10-year warranty.

Exports take off

Exports of the combined solar and battery units are rising. A recent report by Wood Mackenzie, the investment and research group, says other countries in Europe, particularly Spain and Italy, are following Germany’s example.

“Germany’s world-leading foray into the residential storage market has enabled Europe to claim the title of the largest residential storage market globally”, says the report.

“Off the back of Germany’s success, residential storage is beginning to proliferate in other European countries, particularly where market structures, prevailing power prices and disappearing feed-in tariffs create a favourable early-stage deployment landscape.”

The UK and Australia are seen as strong growth markets and – as long as the sun keeps shining – the future looks bright: McKinsey, the consultancy and research group, predicts that the costs of energy storage systems around the world will fall further – by more than 50% by 2025 – because of advances in design, more streamlined production processes and economies of scale as output is expanded. – Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is 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. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.