Tag Archives: fossil fuels

Physicians press climate emergency button

If you were doubtful before, the news that British doctors are now acting to limit the climate emergency may prompt a rethink.

LONDON, 17 January, 2020 – The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies
not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.” – Climate News Network

If you were doubtful before, the news that British doctors are now acting to limit the climate emergency may prompt a rethink.

LONDON, 17 January, 2020 – The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies
not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.” – Climate News Network

Can batteries help to limit bushfire horrors?

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − 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.

The Australian inferno has yet to reach its worst, but already minds are seeking ways to reduce the bushfire horrors. Could batteries help next time?

LONDON, 9 January, 2020 − With at least 27 human fatalities and a scarcely credible estimate by scientists that more than one billion animals have been killed nationwide by the unprecedented blazes  since September 2019, Australia’s bushfire horrors have stunned the world.

The climate crisis is contributing to the catastrophe, at least to its scale and intensity, whether or not it is its primary cause. And scientists revealed only this month that global heating is causing daily weather change.

But something else happened in Australia in 2019 which could point the way towards a fast route, not for Australia alone but globally, to renewable energy and a safer future.

In the state of South Australia the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery – 129MWh, able to power 30,000 homes for an hour during a blackout – was switched on just 60 days after the contract to build it was signed.

So ways of cutting the use of fossil fuels and reducing their contribution to climate heating, now clearly implicated in Australia’s catastrophe, are within reach.

The battery was commissioned in order to bring greater reliability and stability to the state’s electricity grid, preventing blackouts, improving reliability across the network and helping to even out price spikes.

The state’s efforts to increase its proportion of renewable energy had previously been hampered by freak weather which caused outages, which in turn sparked a political brawl over energy policy. The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies.

40 days to spare

The state premier challenged the technology entrepreneur Elon Musk,  who replied by saying he would build a massive battery within 100 days of signing the deal. He managed it with 40 days to spare.

His approach − a familiar one in the renewable energy world − was to charge the battery packs when excess power was available and the cost of production very low, and then discharge them when the cost of power production rose.

The world is becoming increasingly reliant on battery power, largely because of the need to reduce carbon in the transport sector; almost 60% of new cars sold in Norway during March 2019 were entirely electric-powered. A recent World Economic Forum (WEF) report expects global battery demand to increase by more than 19 times its current levels in the next decade.

Batteries have historically been a dirty but convenient product, requiring the mining of metals such as nickel and zinc, yet considered disposable; landfills are strewn with these hazardous toxins, with more arriving every day. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each year Americans throw away more than three billion batteries – 180,000 tons of waste.

Yet the WEF report projects that new generation batteries could not only enable 30% of the required reductions in carbon emissions in the transport and power sectors, providing access to electricity to 600 million people who currently have no access; they will also create 10 million safe and sustainable jobs around the world.

Batteries will probably play a large part in future energy supply systems; in 2018, South Australia invested $100 million in a scheme to encourage householders to fit batteries to their solar systems, enabling them to use their own power on site rather than exporting it to the grid. This helps to reduce demand at peak times.

“The federal government blamed the supply failures on the use of renewable technologies”

Electric cars are not the only part of the transportation sector that will be in need of batteries. A number of companies are currently working on electric-powered commercial aircraft designs, and Norway is working on battery technology for shipping, with an all-electric passenger vessel already operating.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based organisation which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles . . . to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C”, with the slogan “Evidence-based hope for a warming world”.

It believes there is evidence that batteries can offer hope for Australia  and other countries facing similar lethal threats − provided they absorb several crucial lessons.

First, it says, technological leaps need both the flair of individual effort and the clout of institutional backing if they are to work at scale.

Then behavioural change must be practical and economically viable, because only a small minority of people will ever change for green reasons alone. Simply switching to electricity as a fuel source is not enough: to hit climate targets and maintain a habitable world, there needs to be an absolute reduction in energy consumption.

And finally, as batteries increasingly form part of the energy infrastructure, safeguards must be put in place around the mining involved in obtaining the minerals needed to make them, to ensure that poorer communities in the global South do not pay the price for cutting carbon emissions in richer countries. − 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.

Germany’s green energy quest stalls

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – 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.

Despite its ambitious goals and promising start, Germany’s green energy quest is faltering, and it has missed a key target.

LONDON, 8 January, 2020 – The city of Munich – one of Europe’s wealthiest urban conurbations – has expansive plans to tackle the fast-growing problems associated with climate change: its policies are a good example of Germany’s green energy quest, the Energiewende.

At the end of last year Munich, Germany’s third largest city with a population of just under one and a half million, joined a rapidly expanding group of countries, cities, towns and councils around the world in declaring a climate emergency.

Munich’s council has already announced plans to source all the city’s electricity from renewable sources by 2025. It has also pledged to make the city – its transport systems and building sector as well as its energy supplies – carbon neutral by 2035.

As the UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance and other similar organisations point out, switching energy sources away from fossil fuels, while vital for the future of the planet, is a considerable challenge. And transitions which start off at a gallop may as time passes risk slowing to a trot.

Under its Energiewende or energy transition policy unveiled 20 years ago, Germany has made substantial progress in transforming its energy sector, reducing the use of climate-changing fossil fuels and boosting energy from renewable sources.

“Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector”

According to the latest figures, renewables – wind, hydro-power, biomass and solar – now account for just over 40% of Germany’s total energy production.

Along with this transition, there’s been a 30% drop in Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) over the last 30 years.

But, though the Energiewende policy was initially successful, making further progress on replacing fossil fuels with renewables and cutting back on GHG emissions is now proving ever more difficult.

The initial aim was to achieve an overall 40% drop in GHG emissions by the end of 2019 as compared to 1990 levels: clearly that target has not been met.

Several factors are in play: despite early progress on cutting back on coal use, Germany – which has Europe’s largest economy – has so far failed to wean itself off its dependence on what is the dirtiest of fossil fuels.

Coal burning persists

More than 25% of Germany’s total energy production comes from coal – one of the highest rates among European countries. Most of the coal burned is lignite, the most polluting form of the fossil fuel.

In 2011, in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Germany announced it would be phasing out its use of nuclear power. Since then, 11 of its 17 nuclear reactors have closed, the latest at the end of 2019.

Critics of the Energiewende say the phase-out of nuclear power has meant that coal has continued to play a dominant role in Germany’s energy sector.

The German government says it will shut its more than 100 coal-fired power stations by 2038. Some say this is far too late, while others question Germany’s increasing reliance on imported energy – particularly gas from Russia.

Other factors are hindering the Energiewende. Though many German households and small businesses are switching to solar power, a large proportion of the country’s renewable energy – about 20% – is sourced from wind power, most of it land-based.

Out of sight

In recent years there’s been growing concern about the proliferation of land-based wind turbines: more restrictions have been brought in on their construction, resulting in a drastic cut-back in wind project start-ups.

All this means that the goals of the Energiewende will be tough to achieve for Munich – and for Germany.

Munich is the capital city of the southern state of Bavaria, home to BMW and many other leading German industries.

The state has brought in some of the country’s most stringent restrictions on wind power projects: to meet its ambitious decarbonisation targets and, at the same time, ensure its energy supply, Munich is now having to invest in wind power installations abroad, some as distant as Norway.

But such enterprises carry their own set of problems. Environmental groups in Norway have raised objections to wind power turbine installations which they say threaten the beauty of the landscape. In particular they criticise the construction of such projects solely for the export of energy. – 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.

Russia moves to exploit Arctic riches

As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and new shipping routes.

LONDON, 7 January, 2020 − The Russian government has published ambitious plans to exploit the Arctic riches off its northern coast, opening up the polar region to exploitation with a fleet of 40 ships, new roads and railways and four enlarged airports.

The plans, posted in Russian on the official government website on 30 December and signed off by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, have been translated and reported by the independent Barents Observer newspaper, based in Norway.

The scale of the plans will alarm other Arctic nations, particularly Canada, the United States, Norway and Finland, which all have coastlines on the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean.

None of these has the powerful nuclear-propelled ships required to compete with Russia’s existing fleet, let alone the new ones it intends to build.

Although the Russian plans will not be completed until 2035, because the scale of shipbuilding alone is enormous, work has already begun and many of the preparations are going forward this year with a regional geological survey being conducted to pinpoint the riches to be exploited.

“In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit”

The Barents Observer reports that the plan builds on decrees issued by President Putin from May 2018, and a request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route across the top of Siberia to 80 million tons by 2024.

Although Rosatom, the giant state-controlled nuclear company, is leading the push to exploit the Arctic, and has already led the way with a floating nuclear power station to help provide power, there are a host of other leading Russian companies involved.

The fact that they are mostly involved in fossil fuel extraction and mineral mining will send a shiver down the spine of all those who believe that the Arctic should be left alone – and that exploiting its potential riches will ensure the destruction of much of the planet through climate change.

The Russians, on the other hand, see the Arctic as their own backyard and climate change as a way of gaining both economic and financial advantage, because Siberia will become much warmer.

Tax-free incentive

Enterprises involved include oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition there are mineral and ore developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda.

The plans involve around 40 new vessels, several of them huge nuclear ice-breakers, designed to keep shipping lanes open in all circumstances. New railway lines, roads and bridges will be built in northern Siberia, with four airports upgraded to bring in supplies and people. Both companies and people will be encouraged by a special tax-free status for the region.

Exactly what is there to be exploited is not yet known. However, the Maritime Executive website has this to say: “What is generally understood is that there are vast resources to be harnessed. It is estimated that 30% of the world’s untapped hydrocarbons can be found in the Arctic, including a full 25% of proven hydrocarbon reserves.

“Much nickel, platinum, palladium, lead, diamonds, and other rare Earth metals are there as well. In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit.”

By coincidence the US Congressional Research Service put out an updated research paper on the Arctic on 20 December, discussing the tensions in the region.

American anxiety

Even before the latest Russian announcement there was concern in Washington that an Arctic takeover was planned. The document quotes US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo: “We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

“In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with its demands.

“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.”

As the ice in the region melts, it is clear that the tensions will continue to grow. − Climate News Network

As the polar sea ice vanishes faster, Russia unveils plans to exploit Arctic riches: fossil fuel deposits, minerals and new shipping routes.

LONDON, 7 January, 2020 − The Russian government has published ambitious plans to exploit the Arctic riches off its northern coast, opening up the polar region to exploitation with a fleet of 40 ships, new roads and railways and four enlarged airports.

The plans, posted in Russian on the official government website on 30 December and signed off by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, have been translated and reported by the independent Barents Observer newspaper, based in Norway.

The scale of the plans will alarm other Arctic nations, particularly Canada, the United States, Norway and Finland, which all have coastlines on the increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean.

None of these has the powerful nuclear-propelled ships required to compete with Russia’s existing fleet, let alone the new ones it intends to build.

Although the Russian plans will not be completed until 2035, because the scale of shipbuilding alone is enormous, work has already begun and many of the preparations are going forward this year with a regional geological survey being conducted to pinpoint the riches to be exploited.

“In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit”

The Barents Observer reports that the plan builds on decrees issued by President Putin from May 2018, and a request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route across the top of Siberia to 80 million tons by 2024.

Although Rosatom, the giant state-controlled nuclear company, is leading the push to exploit the Arctic, and has already led the way with a floating nuclear power station to help provide power, there are a host of other leading Russian companies involved.

The fact that they are mostly involved in fossil fuel extraction and mineral mining will send a shiver down the spine of all those who believe that the Arctic should be left alone – and that exploiting its potential riches will ensure the destruction of much of the planet through climate change.

The Russians, on the other hand, see the Arctic as their own backyard and climate change as a way of gaining both economic and financial advantage, because Siberia will become much warmer.

Tax-free incentive

Enterprises involved include oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition there are mineral and ore developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda.

The plans involve around 40 new vessels, several of them huge nuclear ice-breakers, designed to keep shipping lanes open in all circumstances. New railway lines, roads and bridges will be built in northern Siberia, with four airports upgraded to bring in supplies and people. Both companies and people will be encouraged by a special tax-free status for the region.

Exactly what is there to be exploited is not yet known. However, the Maritime Executive website has this to say: “What is generally understood is that there are vast resources to be harnessed. It is estimated that 30% of the world’s untapped hydrocarbons can be found in the Arctic, including a full 25% of proven hydrocarbon reserves.

“Much nickel, platinum, palladium, lead, diamonds, and other rare Earth metals are there as well. In the 21st century, there will be a maritime ‘gold rush’ to the upper latitudes once conditions permit.”

By coincidence the US Congressional Research Service put out an updated research paper on the Arctic on 20 December, discussing the tensions in the region.

American anxiety

Even before the latest Russian announcement there was concern in Washington that an Arctic takeover was planned. The document quotes US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo: “We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road.

“In the Northern Sea Route, Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with its demands.

“Just because the Arctic is a place of wilderness does not mean it should become a place of lawlessness. It need not be the case. And we stand ready to ensure that it does not become so.”

As the ice in the region melts, it is clear that the tensions will continue to grow. − Climate News Network

Investors fight back against climate wreckers

Investors are using their shareholdings to force polluting companies to change their ways and cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 9 December, 2019 − Two strands of action are being taken by investors against the planet’s biggest and most polluting companies to try to coerce them into complying with climate targets.

One group, known as the divest/invest movement, and including forty of the world’s largest cities, is acting on ethical grounds, simply selling members’ shares in polluters and investing in green alternatives.

Members of the second group are hanging on to their profitable holdings but attempting to use their financial clout to persuade companies to stop killing the planet.

The first group began in 2012, basing themselves on the principles so successful in achieving divestment in South Africa during the apartheid era, which Nelson Mandela acknowledged put great pressure on the regime. DivestInvest says the number of organisations involved has grown to 1,101, which between them promise to withdraw US$8.8 trillion (£6.7tn) from fossil fuel companies.

It is a diverse group of organisations from 48 countries including banks, insurance companies, trade union and other pension funds, universities, cultural organisations and local authorities, which are unloading their shares in oil companies and other heavy polluters that profit while making little effort to curb their contribution to climate change.

Seeking maximum return

The second group, Climate Action 100+, represents more than 370 investors with over $35tn in assets. Many of these “investors” are managed funds held on behalf of thousands of individual shareholders who expect maximum return on their investments.

The managers of these funds say this duty to their investors means it is difficult to sell off shares in profitable companies, so the sensible option is to get the companies to reform.

They think this is also in the best interests of their funds, because climate change is a long-term threat to companies’ financial health and therefore to their investments. So, the argument runs, persuading polluters to change their ways to protect the planet is in everyone’s interest.

Both groups are claiming success. The trump card for the first group is that they believe fossil fuel companies, particularly coal and oil producers, will have to leave most of their “reserves” in the ground if the planet is not to heat by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the internationally agreed limit.

The group argues that when the big oil companies like Shell, BP and Exxon count these reserves as assets they are deluding themselves and their shareholders, and the true worth of their companies is far less than they claim. DivestInvest calls them stranded assets.

“We are now at a tipping point. A significant number of companies have made bold commitments to achieve net zero emissions”

There is already strong evidence that this argument is having an effect on coal companies, with a string of bankruptcies in the US because sales have slumped as the power stations they supply have been unable to compete.

The movement cites some influential backers. “The fossil fuel industry is set to lose $33tn in revenues by 2040, including $27.9tn in oil and gas alone,” says Mark Lewis, global head of sustainability research at BNP Paribas Asset Management.

Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder director of Ashden, which supports sustainable energy enterprises worldwide, says: “Through DivestInvest, you can avoid the risks facing the fossil fuel sector, limit the wider climate risks, and make attractive returns from the clean economy.”

Among the lessons it draws from the experience so far of the campaigners, the Rapid Transition Alliance stresses two. It says:

“Finance is the lifeblood of the global economy. Withdrawing it from the coal, oil and gas sector pulls the plug on the fossil fuels that drive climate change. That leaves a challenge to ensure that divested funds get reinvested into low carbon transition, such as renewable energy.

Controversy continues

“Investors understand the language of risk and increasingly recognise that putting money into a potentially unusable commodity – fossil fuels which cannot be safely burned due to climate targets – runs the risk of their ‘assets’ being stranded, and therefore the loss of their investment.”

There is still controversy, though, because many in the oil industry predict that demand for their product will continue to rise for a decade or more. Others argue that there is already over-production of oil, keeping the price at less than $60 a barrel, and meaning that even setting aside the arguments about climate, extracting a large proportion of the “assets” in the ground is unlikely ever to be economic.

But although BP and Shell are said to be already “cooperating” with Climate Action 100+, fossil fuels are only part of the story. Steel, mining, and all sorts of manufacturing industries are also heavy polluters. The investors are focusing on 161 of the world’s largest polluting companies in which they are shareholders.

Apart from getting them to curb emissions, obviously a core issue, the investors are demanding that companies stop campaigning to cast doubt on the science of climate change, funding climate deniers and attacking campaigners.

The group says it has secured record support for action on climate at company meetings, with many companies committing to reaching net zero emissions. Carbon emissions are already falling, it says, although acknowledging that progress is nowhere near fast enough.

Improving on Paris

Already 70% of the 161 companies have emission reduction targets, and 9% have targets that are in line with or better than the maximum 2°C rise agreed at the Paris climate talks in 2015.

Stephanie Maier, director of responsible investment at HSBC Global Asset Management and a steering committee member at Climate Action 100+, said: “We are now at a tipping point. A significant number of companies have made bold commitments to achieve net zero emissions, with others increasingly following suit.

“Given the urgency of the situation, the role of investor engagement is critical in ensuring we build on this momentum.”

However Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and also a steering committee member at Climate Action 100+, was more cautious.

“We have much more to do before business is on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, she said. “We must now build on the momentum achieved to date if we are to succeed in addressing the climate crisis and safeguarding investments on which the futures of millions of pensioners depend.” − 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.

Investors are using their shareholdings to force polluting companies to change their ways and cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 9 December, 2019 − Two strands of action are being taken by investors against the planet’s biggest and most polluting companies to try to coerce them into complying with climate targets.

One group, known as the divest/invest movement, and including forty of the world’s largest cities, is acting on ethical grounds, simply selling members’ shares in polluters and investing in green alternatives.

Members of the second group are hanging on to their profitable holdings but attempting to use their financial clout to persuade companies to stop killing the planet.

The first group began in 2012, basing themselves on the principles so successful in achieving divestment in South Africa during the apartheid era, which Nelson Mandela acknowledged put great pressure on the regime. DivestInvest says the number of organisations involved has grown to 1,101, which between them promise to withdraw US$8.8 trillion (£6.7tn) from fossil fuel companies.

It is a diverse group of organisations from 48 countries including banks, insurance companies, trade union and other pension funds, universities, cultural organisations and local authorities, which are unloading their shares in oil companies and other heavy polluters that profit while making little effort to curb their contribution to climate change.

Seeking maximum return

The second group, Climate Action 100+, represents more than 370 investors with over $35tn in assets. Many of these “investors” are managed funds held on behalf of thousands of individual shareholders who expect maximum return on their investments.

The managers of these funds say this duty to their investors means it is difficult to sell off shares in profitable companies, so the sensible option is to get the companies to reform.

They think this is also in the best interests of their funds, because climate change is a long-term threat to companies’ financial health and therefore to their investments. So, the argument runs, persuading polluters to change their ways to protect the planet is in everyone’s interest.

Both groups are claiming success. The trump card for the first group is that they believe fossil fuel companies, particularly coal and oil producers, will have to leave most of their “reserves” in the ground if the planet is not to heat by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the internationally agreed limit.

The group argues that when the big oil companies like Shell, BP and Exxon count these reserves as assets they are deluding themselves and their shareholders, and the true worth of their companies is far less than they claim. DivestInvest calls them stranded assets.

“We are now at a tipping point. A significant number of companies have made bold commitments to achieve net zero emissions”

There is already strong evidence that this argument is having an effect on coal companies, with a string of bankruptcies in the US because sales have slumped as the power stations they supply have been unable to compete.

The movement cites some influential backers. “The fossil fuel industry is set to lose $33tn in revenues by 2040, including $27.9tn in oil and gas alone,” says Mark Lewis, global head of sustainability research at BNP Paribas Asset Management.

Sarah Butler-Sloss, founder director of Ashden, which supports sustainable energy enterprises worldwide, says: “Through DivestInvest, you can avoid the risks facing the fossil fuel sector, limit the wider climate risks, and make attractive returns from the clean economy.”

Among the lessons it draws from the experience so far of the campaigners, the Rapid Transition Alliance stresses two. It says:

“Finance is the lifeblood of the global economy. Withdrawing it from the coal, oil and gas sector pulls the plug on the fossil fuels that drive climate change. That leaves a challenge to ensure that divested funds get reinvested into low carbon transition, such as renewable energy.

Controversy continues

“Investors understand the language of risk and increasingly recognise that putting money into a potentially unusable commodity – fossil fuels which cannot be safely burned due to climate targets – runs the risk of their ‘assets’ being stranded, and therefore the loss of their investment.”

There is still controversy, though, because many in the oil industry predict that demand for their product will continue to rise for a decade or more. Others argue that there is already over-production of oil, keeping the price at less than $60 a barrel, and meaning that even setting aside the arguments about climate, extracting a large proportion of the “assets” in the ground is unlikely ever to be economic.

But although BP and Shell are said to be already “cooperating” with Climate Action 100+, fossil fuels are only part of the story. Steel, mining, and all sorts of manufacturing industries are also heavy polluters. The investors are focusing on 161 of the world’s largest polluting companies in which they are shareholders.

Apart from getting them to curb emissions, obviously a core issue, the investors are demanding that companies stop campaigning to cast doubt on the science of climate change, funding climate deniers and attacking campaigners.

The group says it has secured record support for action on climate at company meetings, with many companies committing to reaching net zero emissions. Carbon emissions are already falling, it says, although acknowledging that progress is nowhere near fast enough.

Improving on Paris

Already 70% of the 161 companies have emission reduction targets, and 9% have targets that are in line with or better than the maximum 2°C rise agreed at the Paris climate talks in 2015.

Stephanie Maier, director of responsible investment at HSBC Global Asset Management and a steering committee member at Climate Action 100+, said: “We are now at a tipping point. A significant number of companies have made bold commitments to achieve net zero emissions, with others increasingly following suit.

“Given the urgency of the situation, the role of investor engagement is critical in ensuring we build on this momentum.”

However Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change and also a steering committee member at Climate Action 100+, was more cautious.

“We have much more to do before business is on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, she said. “We must now build on the momentum achieved to date if we are to succeed in addressing the climate crisis and safeguarding investments on which the futures of millions of pensioners depend.” − 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.

Worst hurricanes both more frequent and harmful

The worst hurricanes are increasing. It’s not just that there are more potential victims than before. There are also more disastrous storms.

LONDON, 3 December, 2019 – Danish researchers have settled a problem of US disaster accounting, confirming that in the last century North America’s worst hurricanes have become three times more frequent – and significantly more destructive.

Such calculations sound as though they ought to be simple. They are not. In 1900, the entire population of the planet was about 1.6 billion people, most of whom lived in rural areas. By 2018, global population had reached 7.5 billion, and more than half of the world was concentrated in cities. In effect, any hurricane would threaten more victims, and there would be more, and more expensive, property to be destroyed.

So the damage from hurricanes would tend always to rise, and the count of destructive hurricanes would grow, because any violent windstorm would be more likely to slam into an urban area rather than sweep over a few farms.

Tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes start at sea, as sea surface temperatures rise. With ever-increasing global temperatures, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels, more hurricanes would be expected, with higher windspeeds and ever-greater burdens of rain to bring disastrous floods as well as severe damage.

“The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century”

But it is harder to show that the climate crisis is intrinsically more dangerous, even though windstorm damage is on the rise. Researchers tend to use economic accounting to try to work out what a hurricane in, for example 1950, would cost if it swept in from the ocean today.

Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters in the US. Scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen set about making their comparisons in a new way. Rather than match financial losses on a case by case basis, they tried to calculate how large an area would have to be completely destroyed to account for a particular financial loss.

They extended this “area of total destruction” accounting back to 1900, to see what the new comparison approach would reveal.

And, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found what they call “an emergent positive trend in damage, which we attribute to a detectable change in extreme storms due to global warming.” And they add: “The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century.” – Climate News Network.

The worst hurricanes are increasing. It’s not just that there are more potential victims than before. There are also more disastrous storms.

LONDON, 3 December, 2019 – Danish researchers have settled a problem of US disaster accounting, confirming that in the last century North America’s worst hurricanes have become three times more frequent – and significantly more destructive.

Such calculations sound as though they ought to be simple. They are not. In 1900, the entire population of the planet was about 1.6 billion people, most of whom lived in rural areas. By 2018, global population had reached 7.5 billion, and more than half of the world was concentrated in cities. In effect, any hurricane would threaten more victims, and there would be more, and more expensive, property to be destroyed.

So the damage from hurricanes would tend always to rise, and the count of destructive hurricanes would grow, because any violent windstorm would be more likely to slam into an urban area rather than sweep over a few farms.

Tropical cyclones, typhoons and hurricanes start at sea, as sea surface temperatures rise. With ever-increasing global temperatures, driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels, more hurricanes would be expected, with higher windspeeds and ever-greater burdens of rain to bring disastrous floods as well as severe damage.

“The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century”

But it is harder to show that the climate crisis is intrinsically more dangerous, even though windstorm damage is on the rise. Researchers tend to use economic accounting to try to work out what a hurricane in, for example 1950, would cost if it swept in from the ocean today.

Hurricanes are the costliest natural disasters in the US. Scientists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen set about making their comparisons in a new way. Rather than match financial losses on a case by case basis, they tried to calculate how large an area would have to be completely destroyed to account for a particular financial loss.

They extended this “area of total destruction” accounting back to 1900, to see what the new comparison approach would reveal.

And, they report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they found what they call “an emergent positive trend in damage, which we attribute to a detectable change in extreme storms due to global warming.” And they add: “The frequency of the most damaging hurricanes has increased at the rate of 350% per century.” – Climate News Network.

Human ancestors lived in a low-carbon world

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear cannot help against climate crisis

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

With new plants costing from five to ten times more than renewable options, and taking far longer to build, nuclear cannot help against global warming.

LONDON, 30 September, 2019 − Finding a way to head off the galloping climate crisis, although it’s taxing the world’s best brains, leaves one clear and inescapable conclusion, reiterated not only by researchers but acknowledged implicitly by the industry: nuclear cannot help.

Last week the French builders of the nuclear reactors being built in the United Kingdom announced a startling rise in construction costs. The news came on the day a report was published which said nuclear generation worldwide is now hopelessly uncompetitive in cost compared with renewable power.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2019 also stresses that as far as climate change is concerned nuclear power has another huge disadvantage. Wind and solar power stations take only months to build before they produce power, so they quickly start to displace fossil fuels and save emissions of carbon dioxide.

Nuclear reactors, on the other hand, take at least five years to build and very often more than a decade and so the fossil fuel plants they are designed to replace continue to pump out greenhouse gases. With the need to cut carbon emissions increasingly urgent, this makes nuclear power the wrong solution to climate change, the report says.

The announcement by the French nuclear giant Électricité de France (EDF) of the rise in costs of the twin reactors being built at Hinkley Point C in the West of England put the cost of construction at up to £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) an increase of up to £2.9bn ($3.6bn) from its last estimate in 2017.

“Nuclear new-build costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar”

With the construction of the station still in its initial stages, costs are expected to rise further before the first power is generated in late 2025 – even if there are no further delays.

Two similar pressurised water reactors close to completion in France and Finland have taken more than twice as long to construct as originally estimated and are still not producing power. Both projects have recently announced yet more delays.

The 2019 status report, produced by a group of independent energy consultants and academics, makes grim reading for the nuclear industry because it compares the cost of producing electricity from renewables – particularly wind and solar – with nuclear. It says nuclear now costs between five and ten times as much as solar and wind power.

The report says: “Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt hour, so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors. That reality could usefully guide policy and investment decisions if the objective is to save money or the climate or both.”

Existing plants affected

This gap is widening as nuclear costs keep rising and renewable costs falling. The report quotes the International Energy Agency which says: “Solar PV costs fell by 65 percent between 2012 and 2017, and are projected to fall by a further 50% by 2040; onshore wind costs fell by 15% over the same period and are projected to fall by another 10–20% to 2040.”

But the report also makes clear that it is not just in new build that renewables are a much better option than nuclear in combating climate change.

In many nuclear countries, especially the US, the largest nuclear energy producer, new renewables now compete with existing nuclear plants. If the money spent on operating expensive nuclear plants were invested instead in cheaper renewables, or in energy efficiency projects, then that would displace more fossil fuel generation than keeping nuclear plants running.

The report catalogues the dismal record of delays in nuclear new build across the world. At the beginning of 2018, 15 reactors were scheduled for startup during the year; seven of these made it, plus two that were expected in 2019; of these nine startups, seven were in China and two in Russia. Of the 13 reactors scheduled to start up in 2019, four have already been postponed to 2020.

The problem for the industry is that the capital cost of new stations is so great that outside totalitarian regimes the finance cannot be found without massive subsidies from the taxpayer or levies on electricity consumers.

Plans abandoned

Even in the UK, where the government has enthusiastically endorsed new nuclear power station projects, most planned projects for new stations have been abandoned.

Even before the latest cost escalation for Hinkley Point was announced, the Nuclear Status report was casting doubt that EDF’s follow-on project for another giant nuclear station on the UK’s east coast, Sizewell C, was likely to come to fruition.

The report says: “Given the problems EDF is having financing Hinkley, this makes the Sizewell project appear implausible.

“Over the past decade the extraordinary cost of the UK’s proposed nuclear power program has become apparent to a wider academic community and public bodies. Even when the Government was willing to invest directly into the project, nuclear costs were prohibitive.” − Climate News Network

Faster global warming may bring much more heat

Climate scientists are haunted by a global temperature rise 56 million years ago, which could mean much more heat very soon.

LONDON,19 September, 2019 − We could in the near future be experiencing much more heat than we now expect. As carbon dioxide levels rise, global warming could accelerate, rather than merely keep pace with the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

This is a lesson to be drawn from new computer simulations of the conditions that must have precipitated a dramatic shift in global climate 56 million years ago, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose at least 1000 parts per million (ppm) and perhaps substantially higher.

For most of human history, carbon dioxide levels stood at around 285ppm. They have now passed 400ppm. By the century’s end, if humans go on burning ever greater quantities of fossil fuels to drive global heating, then these could reach 1000 ppm.

The last time that happened, during a period known as the Early Eocene 56 million years ago, the surface temperatures became up to 9°C hotter than today. The period has been repeatedly explored as a lesson for the pattern of events that might follow from global heating by profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

“The temperature response to an increase in carbon dioxide in the future might be larger than the response to the same increase in CO2 now. This is not good news for us”

The polar ice melted. Antarctic ocean temperatures reached 20°C. Sea levels rose dramatically, oceans became increasingly acidic, mammals evolved to smaller dimensions and crocodiles haunted the Arctic.

It is a principle of geology that the present is a key to the past – and it follows that the past must contain lessons for the future. So climate scientists have always taken a close interest in the Early Eocene.

US scientists report in the journal Science Advances that, for the first time, they were able to simulate the extreme surface warmth of the Early Eocene in a computer model. After decades of geological investigation, there is not much argument about the real conditions 56 million years ago, and the immensely high levels of carbon dioxide. What is not clear is quite how the link between atmosphere and temperature in that vanished era must have played out.

Research of this kind is based on mathematical simulation, which is only a tentative guide to what might actually happen on a rapidly changing planet, but the scientists count their results a success. Previous attempts have simply been built around the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Temperatures too low

This study managed to incorporate models of water vapour, cloud formation, atmospheric aerosols and other factors that would have set up a system of feedbacks that might lead to the sweltering tropics and the very warm polar regions of the era.

“For decades, the models have underestimated these temperatures, and the community has long assumed that the problem was with the geological data, or that there was a warming mechanism that had not been recognized,” said Christopher Poulsen, of the University of Michigan.

His co-author Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona said: “For the first time a climate model matches the geological evidence out of the box − that is, without deliberate tweaks made to the model. It’s a breakthrough in our understanding of past climates.”

Other scientists have already predicted that what happened in the Early Eocene could turn out to be a lesson for what is happening now. The finding may play into the larger puzzle of something called “climate sensitivity”: that is, how so much extra carbon dioxide might lead to so much average global temperature rise?

Risk of underestimation

Researchers have assumed that the one would be in step with the other. But the latest finding also raises the possibility that warming might indeed accelerate as carbon dioxide concentrations rise. So far, the world has warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with the planet perhaps on track to pass 3°C by 2100.

But more recent studies have warned that this could be a serious underestimate. The lesson of the Early Eocene, a period of change that played out over hundreds of thousands of years, is that the questions of climate sensitivity have yet to be settled.

“We were surprised that the climate sensitivity increased as much as it did with increasing carbon dioxide levels,” said Jiang Zhu, of the University of Michigan, who led the study.

“It is a scary finding because it indicates that the temperature response to an increase in carbon dioxide in the future might be larger than the response to the same increase in CO2 now. This is not good news for us.” − Climate News Network

Climate scientists are haunted by a global temperature rise 56 million years ago, which could mean much more heat very soon.

LONDON,19 September, 2019 − We could in the near future be experiencing much more heat than we now expect. As carbon dioxide levels rise, global warming could accelerate, rather than merely keep pace with the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

This is a lesson to be drawn from new computer simulations of the conditions that must have precipitated a dramatic shift in global climate 56 million years ago, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rose at least 1000 parts per million (ppm) and perhaps substantially higher.

For most of human history, carbon dioxide levels stood at around 285ppm. They have now passed 400ppm. By the century’s end, if humans go on burning ever greater quantities of fossil fuels to drive global heating, then these could reach 1000 ppm.

The last time that happened, during a period known as the Early Eocene 56 million years ago, the surface temperatures became up to 9°C hotter than today. The period has been repeatedly explored as a lesson for the pattern of events that might follow from global heating by profligate combustion of fossil fuels.

“The temperature response to an increase in carbon dioxide in the future might be larger than the response to the same increase in CO2 now. This is not good news for us”

The polar ice melted. Antarctic ocean temperatures reached 20°C. Sea levels rose dramatically, oceans became increasingly acidic, mammals evolved to smaller dimensions and crocodiles haunted the Arctic.

It is a principle of geology that the present is a key to the past – and it follows that the past must contain lessons for the future. So climate scientists have always taken a close interest in the Early Eocene.

US scientists report in the journal Science Advances that, for the first time, they were able to simulate the extreme surface warmth of the Early Eocene in a computer model. After decades of geological investigation, there is not much argument about the real conditions 56 million years ago, and the immensely high levels of carbon dioxide. What is not clear is quite how the link between atmosphere and temperature in that vanished era must have played out.

Research of this kind is based on mathematical simulation, which is only a tentative guide to what might actually happen on a rapidly changing planet, but the scientists count their results a success. Previous attempts have simply been built around the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Temperatures too low

This study managed to incorporate models of water vapour, cloud formation, atmospheric aerosols and other factors that would have set up a system of feedbacks that might lead to the sweltering tropics and the very warm polar regions of the era.

“For decades, the models have underestimated these temperatures, and the community has long assumed that the problem was with the geological data, or that there was a warming mechanism that had not been recognized,” said Christopher Poulsen, of the University of Michigan.

His co-author Jessica Tierney of the University of Arizona said: “For the first time a climate model matches the geological evidence out of the box − that is, without deliberate tweaks made to the model. It’s a breakthrough in our understanding of past climates.”

Other scientists have already predicted that what happened in the Early Eocene could turn out to be a lesson for what is happening now. The finding may play into the larger puzzle of something called “climate sensitivity”: that is, how so much extra carbon dioxide might lead to so much average global temperature rise?

Risk of underestimation

Researchers have assumed that the one would be in step with the other. But the latest finding also raises the possibility that warming might indeed accelerate as carbon dioxide concentrations rise. So far, the world has warmed by around 1°C in the last century, with the planet perhaps on track to pass 3°C by 2100.

But more recent studies have warned that this could be a serious underestimate. The lesson of the Early Eocene, a period of change that played out over hundreds of thousands of years, is that the questions of climate sensitivity have yet to be settled.

“We were surprised that the climate sensitivity increased as much as it did with increasing carbon dioxide levels,” said Jiang Zhu, of the University of Michigan, who led the study.

“It is a scary finding because it indicates that the temperature response to an increase in carbon dioxide in the future might be larger than the response to the same increase in CO2 now. This is not good news for us.” − Climate News Network

Paris climate accord awaits Russian backing

Reports from Moscow suggest that Russia will announce its support for the Paris climate accord before the end of 2019.

LONDON, 30 August, 2019 − Officials in Moscow say the Russian government plans, after several years’ hesitation, to ratify the global agreement, the Paris climate accord, within the next few months.

Enough countries had completed the ratification process for the Agreement to enter into force in 2016, so Russia’s long-awaited move will make little practical difference to efforts to strengthen progress through the Paris Agreement towards a net zero economy.

But Russia is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases to have failed so far to ratify the Agreement, signed by 195 countries in December 2015, so its move may have some effect in spurring on other laggards. Ratification defines the international act by which a country agrees to be bound by an accord like the Paris Agreement.

Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW) journalism network that a Russian announcement is expected before the end of 2019.

Urgency missed

It will probably come either during the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate summit in New York on 23 September or during the next annual UN climate conference (COP-25) in Chile in December, she said.

Probably more remarkable than the ratification itself is what it will say about the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, which already faces widespread criticism for its slow progress towards achieving greenhouse gas emissions cuts that reflect the growing urgency of the climate crisis.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations which have been tracking climate action since 2009. It checks progress towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming to well below 2°C, and trying to limit it to 1.5°C.

It says Russia’s present course on cutting emissions is “critically insufficient”, CAT’s lowest rating. If all governments’ targets for cuts matched Russia’s, it says, the world would be committed to warming by more than 4°C − over twice the upper limit agreed in Paris, and likely to prove catastrophic for much of the world.

“The vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required”

In its Mid-Year Update, published last June, CAT provides a wider perspective, setting Russia’s lacklustre performance in a global context. It says: “2018 saw energy-related emissions reach yet another historic high after significant net greenhouse gas increases, 85% of which came from the US, India and China.

“Coal reversed its recent decline and was responsible for over a third of CO2 emissions. At the same time there was a huge 4.6% surge in natural gas CO2 emissions and an associated rise in atmospheric methane.

“This, plus a stagnation in the number of renewable energy installations, make it clear that governments must do a lot more to address the climate crisis…

“…the vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required, especially given that global emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to keep the goal of 1.5°C alive.”

Lack of ambition

Davydova sees progress in Russia, but recognises that it is slow. She said the country’s coal and steel lobby was more or less persuaded that it was “not that threatened” by the ratification. “Russia still has very unambitious climate goals (the target is actually below what we have now)”, she said.

“But overall, climate change is becoming more of an important topic on the political and public agenda. There is increasing concern about climate change, mainly in the form of estimations of risks and need for adaptation.”

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged recently that climate change is dangerous for Russia. “But he also said renewables (solar and wind in particular) might not be that beneficial for Russia, since the country has so much oil and gas and needs to make use of [them]”.

Davydova added. “Russia is far less of a climate sceptic than it used to be … we even have a youth climate movement now, and there are Fridays for Future demonstrations running in Moscow and a number of other cities.” − Climate News Network

Reports from Moscow suggest that Russia will announce its support for the Paris climate accord before the end of 2019.

LONDON, 30 August, 2019 − Officials in Moscow say the Russian government plans, after several years’ hesitation, to ratify the global agreement, the Paris climate accord, within the next few months.

Enough countries had completed the ratification process for the Agreement to enter into force in 2016, so Russia’s long-awaited move will make little practical difference to efforts to strengthen progress through the Paris Agreement towards a net zero economy.

But Russia is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases to have failed so far to ratify the Agreement, signed by 195 countries in December 2015, so its move may have some effect in spurring on other laggards. Ratification defines the international act by which a country agrees to be bound by an accord like the Paris Agreement.

Angelina Davydova, a Russian journalist who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, told the Clean Energy Wire (CLEW) journalism network that a Russian announcement is expected before the end of 2019.

Urgency missed

It will probably come either during the United Nations Secretary-General’s climate summit in New York on 23 September or during the next annual UN climate conference (COP-25) in Chile in December, she said.

Probably more remarkable than the ratification itself is what it will say about the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement, which already faces widespread criticism for its slow progress towards achieving greenhouse gas emissions cuts that reflect the growing urgency of the climate crisis.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis produced by three research organisations which have been tracking climate action since 2009. It checks progress towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming to well below 2°C, and trying to limit it to 1.5°C.

It says Russia’s present course on cutting emissions is “critically insufficient”, CAT’s lowest rating. If all governments’ targets for cuts matched Russia’s, it says, the world would be committed to warming by more than 4°C − over twice the upper limit agreed in Paris, and likely to prove catastrophic for much of the world.

“The vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required”

In its Mid-Year Update, published last June, CAT provides a wider perspective, setting Russia’s lacklustre performance in a global context. It says: “2018 saw energy-related emissions reach yet another historic high after significant net greenhouse gas increases, 85% of which came from the US, India and China.

“Coal reversed its recent decline and was responsible for over a third of CO2 emissions. At the same time there was a huge 4.6% surge in natural gas CO2 emissions and an associated rise in atmospheric methane.

“This, plus a stagnation in the number of renewable energy installations, make it clear that governments must do a lot more to address the climate crisis…

“…the vast majority of countries have targets that are woefully inadequate and, collectively, have no chance of meeting the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement … most governments are nowhere near taking the radical steps required, especially given that global emissions need to halve by 2030 in order to keep the goal of 1.5°C alive.”

Lack of ambition

Davydova sees progress in Russia, but recognises that it is slow. She said the country’s coal and steel lobby was more or less persuaded that it was “not that threatened” by the ratification. “Russia still has very unambitious climate goals (the target is actually below what we have now)”, she said.

“But overall, climate change is becoming more of an important topic on the political and public agenda. There is increasing concern about climate change, mainly in the form of estimations of risks and need for adaptation.”

President Vladimir Putin acknowledged recently that climate change is dangerous for Russia. “But he also said renewables (solar and wind in particular) might not be that beneficial for Russia, since the country has so much oil and gas and needs to make use of [them]”.

Davydova added. “Russia is far less of a climate sceptic than it used to be … we even have a youth climate movement now, and there are Fridays for Future demonstrations running in Moscow and a number of other cities.” − Climate News Network