Tag Archives: Greenhouse Gases

Corporate climate polluters must pay for damage

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Who should pay the huge costs of climate change’s damage? There’s a case for corporate climate polluters to contribute.

LONDON, 25 February, 2021 − The world’s big oil and mining companies emit vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

By extension, the actions of these corporate giants stand accused of contributing to floods and droughts and other climate-related disasters around the globe, extremely costly in both human and financial terms.

Our suggestion, which we describe as “a hypothetical climate liability regime”, is for the companies to become at least partially liable to pay for their destructive, climate-changing activities.

Investors should also be made aware of the risks involved in putting money into such enterprises. Only then will a realistic market valuation of these companies be calculated.

We examined nine top-emitting publicly-owned companies – all fossil fuel giants: Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ConocoPhillips and Total are all primarily involved in oil.

Whilst Peabody Energy is one of the world’s biggest coal conglomerates, BHP Billiton is a mining behemoth and CNX Resources is a large gas company.

Cumulative emissions

In mid-2018 these nine companies had a combined market capitalisation  of US$1,358bn on the world’s stock markets. In total we estimate that the cumulative emissions of the companies concerned over an extended period of time have added up to 14.5% of total global emissions.

Analysing the occurrence of floods and droughts around the globe over a recent five-year period, it was calculated the costs totaled US$265bn.

If a liability regime was introduced, the nine companies above would stand to pay up to a 14.5% share of those costs – amounting to US$38.4bn, a figure representing 2.8% of their combined market worth.

Floods and droughts occurred before global warming, so only the additional intensity or frequency of flood and drought damages from company emissions matter – an active area of research.

How much should fossil fuel users pay as a share of responsibility? We explore this too. Not all is down to the users, but neither is all of it the responsibility of the producers. Even after allowing for both, we still suggest that 2.0% of their combined market worth might be a “fair” share.

Further impacts

If other impacts of global warming, such as hurricanes and sea-level rise, were taken into account, these companies would have to contribute much larger sums to pay for the damage caused.

Our calculations are based only on historical emissions: we do not take into account the damage, both in human and financial terms, likely to be caused by the activities of the companies concerned as global warming intensifies.

More than 50 years ago it became clear that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases were damaging the climate.

The leading carbon producers could see their activities were harmful and that they had a responsibility to reduce the damage caused by capturing emissions or developing safe substitutes, such as carbon-free energy.

Instead, fossil fuel firms ignored their responsibilities, and promoted climate denial.

Public pressure grows

If these and other companies became liable for the damage caused by their emissions, investors could well think again before putting their money into such enterprises.

The City of New York is taking steps to remove fossil fuel companies from its US$189bn pension fund portfolio. Other investment funds – both big and small – are following the New York pension fund lead in the face of mounting public pressure aimed at supporting more sustainable enterprises.

Investors are also becoming increasingly aware of the growing financial risks of investing in companies founded on the exploitation of fossil fuels.

The value of these conglomerates could rapidly decline if they became liable for their past emissions: new regulations aimed at tackling the climate crisis could result in corporate fossil fuel reserves being left in the ground as so-called stranded assets. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Quintin Rayer, the lead author of this article, founded P1 Investment Management’s ethical and sustainable investment proposition in January 2017. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, and a Chartered Fellow of the CISI, the Chartered Institute for Securities & Investment.

Dr Karsten Haustein, PhD (Barcelona), one of his co-authors, is a Research Associate, Climate Systems and Policy, at the School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford.

Dr Pete Walton, also a co-author, is a Knowledge Exchange Research Fellow at UKCIP, University of Oxford, where he works with a range of stakeholders in the UK and abroad in understanding how to build resilience to climate change.

The project of which this article is a summary is due to be published as a chapter in Water Risk and Its Impact on the Financial Markets and Our Society: New Developments in Risk Assessment and Management, forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan. Current title: Global Warming: Flood and Drought Investment Risks

Dr Rayer and Dr Haustein contributed to Global Warming and Extreme Weather Investment Risks (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Ireland’s peat is helping to fight climate chaos

A winning natural way to absorb greenhouse gases, Ireland’s peat is one route for the country to tackle the climate crisis.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

− From ‘Digging’, by Seamus Heaney

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 2 February, 2021 − Ireland’s peat is offering the country a novel way to back the global effort to save the planet from overheating dangerously. It is helping to lock up the carbon emissions which are feeding the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature.

For generations its farmers have cut turf from the bog lands for fuel, and now their laborious, back-breaking work, seen as an integral part of Irish rural life, immortalised in songs, paintings – and picture postcard images − is earning them plaudits for protecting the atmosphere.

Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most famous modern-day poet and winner of the Nobel prize in literature in 1995, wrote of turf-cutting rituals and the wild beauty of bog lands. In many rural areas the turf fire is still the centrepiece of home life. As part of the battle against climate chaos, though, old habits stretching back for centuries are having to change.

Carrownagappul is a 325-hectare area of bog land near the village of Mountbellew, in County Galway in the west of Ireland. Locals say the turf – also called peat – cut from the bog land is the best in Ireland.

Altogether, 100 families have what are called turbary rights to Carrownagappul, part of an old and complex system allowing certain people to cut and carry away turf from the area.

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”

Areas of peat or turf – formed by an accumulation of decayed vegetation – act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up and storing vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Peat lands around the world have been drained and destroyed at a great rate over the years: as a result large amounts of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere. Drought and rising temperatures have caused fires in many regions, drying out peat deposits. Nearly 20% of Ireland’s land is bog land, storing an estimated one billion tonnes of carbon.

Under a programme called The Living Bog – backed up with €5.4 million (£4.7m) of funds from the European Union – Ireland is now seeking to restore dozens of its bogs and make them able, once again, to store large amounts of carbon.

At Carrownagappul drains have been blocked to raise water levels and so re-wet the bog land: this encourages the growth of sphagnum moss, one of the main constituents of peat.

Ronan Casey is a spokesman for The Living Bog project. In an interview with the Irish Times Casey says it’s hard to overstate the importance of restoring Ireland’s peat lands as the country battles against climate chaos.

Paid to stop

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”, Casey tells the newspaper. “Peat lands are Ireland’s biggest carbon store; one-fifth of our soil is peat soil.

“Locking CO2 in is just as good as trying to plant trees somewhere else. They (peat bogs) store far more carbon dioxide than forests. A 15cm-thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest.”

Many of those who once cut turf at Carrownagappul have been given cash payments to stop their activities. The aim is to turn the area into a centre for tourism with an educational facility explaining the history and ecological importance of the bog.

A board walk is being built across the bog. Peat land is rich in flora and fauna. Casey refers to Ireland’s peat lands as the country’s coral reef.

As part of a scheme to encourage the local community to participate in the restoration work at Carrownagappul, a series of lectures and talks at schools is being arranged.

Not so green

At one stage the Irish government promoted the use of turf in order to achieve greater energy self-sufficiency. In the 1960s 40% of the country’s electricity was generated by turf-fired power plants. Most of these plants – chronically inefficient and heavily subsidised – are now being phased out: the government says all will be shut down by 2030 or sooner.

Work to restore peat lands is going on in several parts of the country. Bord na Mona, the semi-state company that once specialised in developing the country’s peat resources and running turf-powered power plants, has diversified into renewable energy projects and recycling; it is now spending €126 million restoring 80,000 hectares of bog.

But there has been resistance to bringing an end to the old turf-cutting ways, with people in some areas insisting on their ancient rights and saying that turf is still an important heating fuel, particularly in rural areas. The government is accused of being half-hearted about fighting climate change by allowing turf cutting to continue in some regions.

Despite its green and pastoral image, per head of population Ireland is one of the main emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases in Europe, due in large part to activities in the agricultural sector.

The burping and flatulence of the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd results in the emission of large amounts of methane gas. Fertilisers add to the country’s emissions. − Climate News Network

A winning natural way to absorb greenhouse gases, Ireland’s peat is one route for the country to tackle the climate crisis.

My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.

− From ‘Digging’, by Seamus Heaney

COUNTY MAYO, IRELAND, 2 February, 2021 − Ireland’s peat is offering the country a novel way to back the global effort to save the planet from overheating dangerously. It is helping to lock up the carbon emissions which are feeding the steady rise in the Earth’s temperature.

For generations its farmers have cut turf from the bog lands for fuel, and now their laborious, back-breaking work, seen as an integral part of Irish rural life, immortalised in songs, paintings – and picture postcard images − is earning them plaudits for protecting the atmosphere.

Seamus Heaney, Ireland’s most famous modern-day poet and winner of the Nobel prize in literature in 1995, wrote of turf-cutting rituals and the wild beauty of bog lands. In many rural areas the turf fire is still the centrepiece of home life. As part of the battle against climate chaos, though, old habits stretching back for centuries are having to change.

Carrownagappul is a 325-hectare area of bog land near the village of Mountbellew, in County Galway in the west of Ireland. Locals say the turf – also called peat – cut from the bog land is the best in Ireland.

Altogether, 100 families have what are called turbary rights to Carrownagappul, part of an old and complex system allowing certain people to cut and carry away turf from the area.

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”

Areas of peat or turf – formed by an accumulation of decayed vegetation – act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up and storing vast amounts of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

Peat lands around the world have been drained and destroyed at a great rate over the years: as a result large amounts of greenhouse gases have been released into the atmosphere. Drought and rising temperatures have caused fires in many regions, drying out peat deposits. Nearly 20% of Ireland’s land is bog land, storing an estimated one billion tonnes of carbon.

Under a programme called The Living Bog – backed up with €5.4 million (£4.7m) of funds from the European Union – Ireland is now seeking to restore dozens of its bogs and make them able, once again, to store large amounts of carbon.

At Carrownagappul drains have been blocked to raise water levels and so re-wet the bog land: this encourages the growth of sphagnum moss, one of the main constituents of peat.

Ronan Casey is a spokesman for The Living Bog project. In an interview with the Irish Times Casey says it’s hard to overstate the importance of restoring Ireland’s peat lands as the country battles against climate chaos.

Paid to stop

“There is no better, quicker or cheaper way for Ireland to reduce its carbon footprint than restoring peat lands”, Casey tells the newspaper. “Peat lands are Ireland’s biggest carbon store; one-fifth of our soil is peat soil.

“Locking CO2 in is just as good as trying to plant trees somewhere else. They (peat bogs) store far more carbon dioxide than forests. A 15cm-thick peat layer contains more carbon per hectare than a tropical forest.”

Many of those who once cut turf at Carrownagappul have been given cash payments to stop their activities. The aim is to turn the area into a centre for tourism with an educational facility explaining the history and ecological importance of the bog.

A board walk is being built across the bog. Peat land is rich in flora and fauna. Casey refers to Ireland’s peat lands as the country’s coral reef.

As part of a scheme to encourage the local community to participate in the restoration work at Carrownagappul, a series of lectures and talks at schools is being arranged.

Not so green

At one stage the Irish government promoted the use of turf in order to achieve greater energy self-sufficiency. In the 1960s 40% of the country’s electricity was generated by turf-fired power plants. Most of these plants – chronically inefficient and heavily subsidised – are now being phased out: the government says all will be shut down by 2030 or sooner.

Work to restore peat lands is going on in several parts of the country. Bord na Mona, the semi-state company that once specialised in developing the country’s peat resources and running turf-powered power plants, has diversified into renewable energy projects and recycling; it is now spending €126 million restoring 80,000 hectares of bog.

But there has been resistance to bringing an end to the old turf-cutting ways, with people in some areas insisting on their ancient rights and saying that turf is still an important heating fuel, particularly in rural areas. The government is accused of being half-hearted about fighting climate change by allowing turf cutting to continue in some regions.

Despite its green and pastoral image, per head of population Ireland is one of the main emitters of climate-changing greenhouse gases in Europe, due in large part to activities in the agricultural sector.

The burping and flatulence of the country’s seven million-strong cattle herd results in the emission of large amounts of methane gas. Fertilisers add to the country’s emissions. − Climate News Network

Energy efficiency boosts jobs and cuts climate heat

Creating millions of jobs in energy efficiency schemes is the fastest way to restore prosperity and cut climate heating.

LONDON, 26 January, 2021 − Improving energy efficiency creates far more jobs than generating it, and at the same time provides a way out of the Covid crisis by bringing prosperity.

That’s the verdict of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says efficiency-related stimulus packages that have been announced already will create 1.8 million jobs in the next two years, with many more to come if governments spend their money wisely.

Two-thirds of the jobs would be in the building sector, most of them in retrofitting homes, factories and offices with insulation and other efficiency measures. One of the main benefits of the scheme, the IEA says, would be for young people with few academic qualifications, currently the worst hit by unemployment, who would be needed for most of the building jobs. The remaining jobs would be in transport (20%) and industry (16%).

Based on information received by the IEA by December, when the report was published, 80% of these new jobs would be created in Europe. At the time the US was the largest employer of workers in energy efficiency, despite the anti-climate policies of the Trump administration. With Joe Biden now occupying the presidency and rejoining the Paris Agreement, jobs in energy efficiency in the US are expected to snowball.

“Energy efficiency investments are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing or generate new jobs”

Altogether the scope for jobs in the sector across the world is enormous, with the developing world yet to take energy efficiency seriously. Before the pandemic hit, the IEA estimated that there were 2.4 million energy efficiency jobs in the US, up to 3 million in Europe, but fewer than 750,000 in China and a maximum of 62,000 in Brazil.

With China now taking climate change far more seriously and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, energy efficiency is likely to create a boom for building workers there.

Although many building jobs have been lost because of Covid-19, the IEA estimates that the labour-intensive nature of many energy efficiency upgrades means spending US$1million on improving efficiency will generate between six and 15 jobs on average, depending on the sector. Investments announced to date have created 3.4 million new job years (one job for one year) in the sector.

The report says: “As energy efficiency investments can also be mobilised quickly, they are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing jobs or generate new jobs during the recession.”

Best for new jobs

As part of their public relations drives when suggesting potentially unpopular new developments, most energy industries stress how many jobs will result. For example, building a nuclear power station in the UK, Sizewell C, is said by the would-be builders to promise the creation of  more than 5,000 jobs.

However, figures compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics show that energy efficiency trumps all other energy industries for job creation.

In the UK’s low-carbon and renewables energy sector, which includes all nuclear and renewable energy options, energy efficiency formed easily the largest component of jobs, with 114,000 full-time employees (51%) in 2018. There were 49,800 people employed in renewable activity, wind and solar for example, and only 12,400 in the whole nuclear energy sector, most of them in reprocessing spent fuel.

As the IEA notes, scaled-up world wide there are potentially millions of jobs in energy efficiency, and it is clearly the single quickest and cheapest way of reducing carbon emissions, since it both reduces existing demand for energy and makes new fossil fuel power stations unnecessary. − Climate News Network

Creating millions of jobs in energy efficiency schemes is the fastest way to restore prosperity and cut climate heating.

LONDON, 26 January, 2021 − Improving energy efficiency creates far more jobs than generating it, and at the same time provides a way out of the Covid crisis by bringing prosperity.

That’s the verdict of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says efficiency-related stimulus packages that have been announced already will create 1.8 million jobs in the next two years, with many more to come if governments spend their money wisely.

Two-thirds of the jobs would be in the building sector, most of them in retrofitting homes, factories and offices with insulation and other efficiency measures. One of the main benefits of the scheme, the IEA says, would be for young people with few academic qualifications, currently the worst hit by unemployment, who would be needed for most of the building jobs. The remaining jobs would be in transport (20%) and industry (16%).

Based on information received by the IEA by December, when the report was published, 80% of these new jobs would be created in Europe. At the time the US was the largest employer of workers in energy efficiency, despite the anti-climate policies of the Trump administration. With Joe Biden now occupying the presidency and rejoining the Paris Agreement, jobs in energy efficiency in the US are expected to snowball.

“Energy efficiency investments are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing or generate new jobs”

Altogether the scope for jobs in the sector across the world is enormous, with the developing world yet to take energy efficiency seriously. Before the pandemic hit, the IEA estimated that there were 2.4 million energy efficiency jobs in the US, up to 3 million in Europe, but fewer than 750,000 in China and a maximum of 62,000 in Brazil.

With China now taking climate change far more seriously and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, energy efficiency is likely to create a boom for building workers there.

Although many building jobs have been lost because of Covid-19, the IEA estimates that the labour-intensive nature of many energy efficiency upgrades means spending US$1million on improving efficiency will generate between six and 15 jobs on average, depending on the sector. Investments announced to date have created 3.4 million new job years (one job for one year) in the sector.

The report says: “As energy efficiency investments can also be mobilised quickly, they are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing jobs or generate new jobs during the recession.”

Best for new jobs

As part of their public relations drives when suggesting potentially unpopular new developments, most energy industries stress how many jobs will result. For example, building a nuclear power station in the UK, Sizewell C, is said by the would-be builders to promise the creation of  more than 5,000 jobs.

However, figures compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics show that energy efficiency trumps all other energy industries for job creation.

In the UK’s low-carbon and renewables energy sector, which includes all nuclear and renewable energy options, energy efficiency formed easily the largest component of jobs, with 114,000 full-time employees (51%) in 2018. There were 49,800 people employed in renewable activity, wind and solar for example, and only 12,400 in the whole nuclear energy sector, most of them in reprocessing spent fuel.

As the IEA notes, scaled-up world wide there are potentially millions of jobs in energy efficiency, and it is clearly the single quickest and cheapest way of reducing carbon emissions, since it both reduces existing demand for energy and makes new fossil fuel power stations unnecessary. − Climate News Network

Reformed trade rules can help to save the climate

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

If the British government agrees to reformed trade rules, that could help the crucial climate talks it will chair in November.

LONDON, 20 January, 2021 – This could be the year of opportunity for the United Kingdom – and far beyond it – in securing real action on tackling the climate crisis: reformed trade rules could provide a climate dividend of the rancorous Brexit process of leaving the European Union.

Success could earn the UK government an honoured place among the politicians visionary enough to confront probably the worst threat facing humankind. Failure would damn this generation of British leaders as a lightweight irrelevance.

Barely ten months from now, in November, the British government faces a massive challenge. In the Scottish city of Glasgow it will host and chair the annual United Nations climate conference, which must breathe new energy and hope into the global climate treaty, the Paris Agreement, adopted by 197 countries in the French capital in 2015.

Paris promised much but so far has delivered little in achieving the reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases the world urgently needs. Unless the Glasgow conference (COP-26 in UN jargon – the 26th Conference of the Parties) ends with iron-clad agreement that will inexorably ensure global average temperatures stay below 1.5°C, the planet faces dangerous and perhaps irreversible climate heating.

On the first day of 2021 the UK struck out on its own politically, leaving the EU after 47 years of membership to follow an independent route, not least on trade.

“We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”

Opponents of Brexit have dismissed the move as a risky gamble. Supporters say it gives the UK the alluring prospect of trade on British terms alone. Both agree in hoping the country may now enjoy more freedom and flexibility in trade policy.

Whether or not it does, campaigners argue, Brexit could open the way to a different but immensely important goal: it could be a game-changer in Glasgow.

They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that the UK will decide to join a new green trade grouping – ACCTS, the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability, formed by six countries committed to using trade policy to support action on the climate (New Zealand, Norway, Iceland, Costa Rica, Fiji and Switzerland).

If the UK does join ACCTS this year (it is an open agreement, which welcomes new members), that would send a clear message to the other members of the World Trade Organisation, its supporters believe, that post-Brexit Britain champions environmentally-sustainable trade and sees it as a potent way to strengthen action on the climate crisis.

Supporters of ACCTS say signatories are showing they back the reform of trade rules so as to give priority to the environment – a huge shift in emphasis for the global trading system. The Agreement has three main aims:

  • Liberalising trade in environmental goods and services: This means cutting tariffs on environmentally-friendly products (including, for example, wind turbines and solar panels) so they can be traded more freely and reach the countries where they are most needed, attracting investment and development. The UK already charges very low tariffs, so compliance will be simple
  • Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies: 89% of global carbon emissions come from fossil fuels and industry. Yet governments continue to subsidise coal, oil and gas, pouring US$500 billion (£367bn) of public money into their production and consumption every year. The UK currently offers an estimated £10bn (US$13.6bn) of public support to fossil fuels each year, in the form of direct subsidies and tax breaks. This runs counter to all the UK’s climate goals, which instead favour funding support for renewable energy
  • Developing eco-labels for goods: This aims to develop a common way of labelling goods with information about their environmental impact, to give consumers information on which to base their decisions.

‘Incoherence’

Speaking in Stockholm in March 2020 at an event to discuss climate change, trade, and sustainable development in the run-up to the Glasgow talks, Andrew Jenks, New Zealand’s ambassador to Sweden, said: “Fossil fuel subsidies are the height of policy incoherence on an issue where we cannot afford to carry on the mistakes of the past.”

From his diplomatic colleague the British ambassador, Judith Gough, there was if anything even more exuberant language for the potential offered by ACCTS: “We must shake up the economic model so that it doesn’t pay to destroy the environment”.

An active supporter of the ACCTS countries is the UK charity Traidcraft Exchange. It concludes a recent report, Getting in on the ACCTS, with these words: “In November 2020, the UK prime minister Boris Johnson announned a ten-point plan to ‘create, support and protect hundreds of thousands of green jobs, whilst making strides towards net zero [greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050.’

“Joining ACCTS would strengthen these commitments, and would send a clear message about how Britain plans to use its new independent trade policy.” There will be many listeners waiting intently in Glasgow to hear that message. – Climate News Network

A new city rises in the desert, under a fake moon

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

The world’s biggest oil exporter, Saudi Arabia, is planing a new city entirely dependent on clean energy.

LONDON, 18 January, 2021 − Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, who has not till now shown any great enthusiasm for tackling climate chaos, is working on designs for an environmentally-friendly new city in the kingdom.

At successive international climate meetings Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has been among those states which have obstructed rather than encouraged attempts to tackle the increasingly urgent problems associated with a fast-warming world.

But recently Prince Mohammed, seen very much as the power behind the Saudi throne, has been talking of building a zero emissions city and establishing what he describes as “a blueprint for how people and planet can co-exist in harmony.”

In a glitzy presentation high on vision but low on detail, the prince outlined plans for a new, futuristic urban area to be carved out of the desert in the province of Tabuk, in north-west Saudi Arabia.

The city, to be called The Line, will stretch inwards for 106 miles from the Saudi Red Sea coast. It will be powered by 100% clean energy, says the prince, with no roads or cars. Instead “a belt of hyper-connected future communities” will be established.

Future techno-hub

There will be flying taxis, and scores of robot servants. The whole scheme will be built around nature, Prince Mohammed says. “Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development?”, he asks. “Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

The cost of the project will be between US$100-200 billion: initial construction work will begin early next year, and an airport has already been built.

The Line is just one element in an overall Saudi plan called Vision 2030,  which seeks to wean the country off its dependence on oil revenues – which account for a major part of gross domestic product.

The aim is to turn Saudi Arabia into one of the world’s technological hubs. A multi-billion dollar tourist industry will also be established. Eventually, says Prince Mohammed, desert lands bordering Egypt and Jordan covering more than 10,000 square miles – an area roughly the size of Belgium – will be developed.

The Line, built to house a million people, will form part of a much larger US$500bn project called Neom – a combination of the Greek word Neos, meaning new, and the Arabic word mustaqbal, or future.

“Why should we sacrifice nature for the sake of development? Why should seven million people die every year because of pollution?”

Details about Neom are scarce: the project website says it will be home to both a Saudi and an international community, composed of “dreamers and doers.”

Attractions will include beaches with glow-in-the-dark-sand. There will even be a large fake moon to light the sky on cloudy nights.

If all this sounds a trifle fantastical, look no further than the Gulf cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi where, over a relatively short time, small fishing and trading settlements have been turned into international centres of commerce and tourism. Prince Mohammed’s ambitions, though – and his talk of a sustainable, emissions-free future – are open to doubt.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s most profligate users of energy – almost all of it derived from the country’s plentiful reserves of fossil fuels. Renewable energy projects, announced in the past with much fanfare, have often come to nothing.

The Arabian peninsula is among the fastest-warming areas on the planet. For several years scientists have been warning that parts of the region will become uninhabitable if temperatures continue to rise.

Champion desalinator

Saudi Arabia has severely depleted water resources: the Neom project says it will help tackle this problem through extensive cloud seeding. Whether this will work is also open to question: cloud seeding can lead to its own set of environmental problems.

The project and its offshoot The Line will need to process water by using desalination technology. Saudi Arabia is already home to more desalination plants than any other country: the brine discharged in large quantities by such plants is harmful, particularly in such fragile ecological areas as the Red Sea.

Prince Mohammed and the Saudi planners have made little mention of those living in the north-west of the country who will be severely disrupted by Neom. The Huwaitat tribe, native to the area, say they are being forcibly relocated. A spokesman for the tribe was killed recently: reports say he was shot by government security forces.

Whether The Line and Prince Mohammed’s emissions-free Neom zone are built might ultimately depend on finance. Even for the deep-pocketed Saudis, the cost of the scheme represents a considerable challenge.

The project’s backers are wooing international investors: though many foreign companies will be licking their lips at the prospect of being involved in Neom, international banks and other financial institutions might be reluctant to invest funds, particularly in the wake of the brutal killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi dissident, and the ongoing imprisonment of others who voice any opposition to the prince and the kingdom’s hierarchy. − Climate News Network

Overheated Earth can slow plants’ carbon storage

For vast tracts of forest and savannah, the heat could rise too far for plants’ carbon storage abilities to go on working.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 − Climate change could be about to slowly shut down the planet’s most vital life-support ability: the functioning of plants’ carbon storage system, which protects the Earth by absorbing the greenhouse gas before it can enter the atmosphere.

Green things driven by photosynthesis right now soak up around one-third of all the greenhouse gas emitted from vehicle exhausts and power station chimneys. But in the next two or three decades, their capacity to do this could be halved, because rapidly rising atmospheric temperatures will set a limit.

At that limiting point, the ability of forests, grasslands and even crops to capture and hold atmospheric carbon, the nourishment for all life on Earth, will start to diminish.

For one important group of plants − these include rice, soy, pulses, grasses, oaks, pines and so on − photosynthesis happens at a peak rate at 18°C. At higher temperatures, the process becomes less efficient and the plant begins to respire: that is, gulp oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

For a second, smaller group − one that includes maize and sugar cane and just one group of trees − that temperature tipping point is 28°C. And researchers report in the journal Science Advances that, by 2050, temperatures will have risen in ways that will limit the efficiency of photosynthesis by around 45%.

“The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years”

The finding is based not just on computer simulation and theoretical models, but on direct observation. Researchers used directly measured data of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide action from 1991 to 2015 at a network of scientific instruments placed in every major ecosystem around the globe to identify these temperature tipping points.

And they warn that the mean or average temperature for the warmest three months of the year had already passed the thermal maximum for photosynthesis “some time in the last decade.”

Right now, only about a tenth of the forests and grasslands are exposed to temperatures beyond such thresholds, and then only for a short period. But greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and global temperatures continue to soar. In time, half the planet could start to experience such temperatures.

The scientists warn that if humans go on clearing natural forests and burning fossil fuels at the present rates − climate scientists call this the “business-as-usual scenario” − then the capacity of the vegetable world to absorb atmospheric carbon could be almost halved as early as 2040.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change in one way or another was likely to compromise the capacity of some natural ecosystems to go on doing what they have done for the last 10,000 years. But this study is one of the first to consider the green world as a whole.

Capacity halved

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever and, much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” said Katharyn Duffy, of Northern Arizona University, who led the study. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

The US scientists and colleagues from New Zealand give their answer to the conundrum of plants’ carbon storage with a clarity and simplicity rare in scientific papers. “The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years,” they warn.

“Without mitigating warming, we will cross the temperature threshold of the most productive biomes by mid-century, after which the land sink will degrade.”

And if the plant world does not adapt, the capacity of the land to absorb surplus atmospheric carbon will drop to around 50% of its present range. And, the scientists warn, the process may not be a smooth, barely-perceptible decline: disturbance in a lot of landscapes could be rapid and precipitous.

They conclude: “Failure to implement agreements that meet or exceed limits in the Paris Accord could quantitatively alter the large and persistent terrestrial carbon sink, on which we currently depend to mitigate anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and therefore global environmental change.” − Climate News Network

For vast tracts of forest and savannah, the heat could rise too far for plants’ carbon storage abilities to go on working.

LONDON, 15 January, 2020 − Climate change could be about to slowly shut down the planet’s most vital life-support ability: the functioning of plants’ carbon storage system, which protects the Earth by absorbing the greenhouse gas before it can enter the atmosphere.

Green things driven by photosynthesis right now soak up around one-third of all the greenhouse gas emitted from vehicle exhausts and power station chimneys. But in the next two or three decades, their capacity to do this could be halved, because rapidly rising atmospheric temperatures will set a limit.

At that limiting point, the ability of forests, grasslands and even crops to capture and hold atmospheric carbon, the nourishment for all life on Earth, will start to diminish.

For one important group of plants − these include rice, soy, pulses, grasses, oaks, pines and so on − photosynthesis happens at a peak rate at 18°C. At higher temperatures, the process becomes less efficient and the plant begins to respire: that is, gulp oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

For a second, smaller group − one that includes maize and sugar cane and just one group of trees − that temperature tipping point is 28°C. And researchers report in the journal Science Advances that, by 2050, temperatures will have risen in ways that will limit the efficiency of photosynthesis by around 45%.

“The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years”

The finding is based not just on computer simulation and theoretical models, but on direct observation. Researchers used directly measured data of sunlight, water and carbon dioxide action from 1991 to 2015 at a network of scientific instruments placed in every major ecosystem around the globe to identify these temperature tipping points.

And they warn that the mean or average temperature for the warmest three months of the year had already passed the thermal maximum for photosynthesis “some time in the last decade.”

Right now, only about a tenth of the forests and grasslands are exposed to temperatures beyond such thresholds, and then only for a short period. But greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and global temperatures continue to soar. In time, half the planet could start to experience such temperatures.

The scientists warn that if humans go on clearing natural forests and burning fossil fuels at the present rates − climate scientists call this the “business-as-usual scenario” − then the capacity of the vegetable world to absorb atmospheric carbon could be almost halved as early as 2040.

Researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change in one way or another was likely to compromise the capacity of some natural ecosystems to go on doing what they have done for the last 10,000 years. But this study is one of the first to consider the green world as a whole.

Capacity halved

“The Earth has a steadily growing fever and, much like the human body, we know every biological process has a range of temperatures at which it performs optimally, and ones above which function deteriorates,” said Katharyn Duffy, of Northern Arizona University, who led the study. “So, we wanted to ask, how much can plants withstand?”

The US scientists and colleagues from New Zealand give their answer to the conundrum of plants’ carbon storage with a clarity and simplicity rare in scientific papers. “The temperature tipping point of the terrestrial biosphere lies not at the end of the century or beyond, but within the next 20 to 30 years,” they warn.

“Without mitigating warming, we will cross the temperature threshold of the most productive biomes by mid-century, after which the land sink will degrade.”

And if the plant world does not adapt, the capacity of the land to absorb surplus atmospheric carbon will drop to around 50% of its present range. And, the scientists warn, the process may not be a smooth, barely-perceptible decline: disturbance in a lot of landscapes could be rapid and precipitous.

They conclude: “Failure to implement agreements that meet or exceed limits in the Paris Accord could quantitatively alter the large and persistent terrestrial carbon sink, on which we currently depend to mitigate anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and therefore global environmental change.” − Climate News Network

Rising heat forces big growth in electricity demand

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

As temperatures increase, rising heat will mean many power stations falter, leaving homes dark, chilly and short of energy.

LONDON, 13 January, 2021 − US scientists have identified a new anxiety for a world of heat extremes. As the thermometer climbs, they warn, the efficiency of thermal power plants will fall, as the rising heat makes it harder to keep the generators cool.

In a world in which billions of urban dwellers could be exposed to temperatures at the moment experienced in the Sahara desert and other  hotspots, and in which heat and humidity could reach potentially lethal  levels, the problems ahead for energy companies may seem of less consequence.

But rising city temperatures will inevitably be matched by ever-greater demand for electrically-driven air conditioning. And as air and water temperatures rise, and demand increases, turbines driven by coal, oil and gas combustion must, to operate efficiently, be cooled by air or water.

But if the air and water are warmer too, efficiency and then capacity could fall, by as much as 10%, causing periods when power suddenly becomes unavailable.

“We are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures”

And on the latest calculations, in the journal Environmental Research Letters, if global average temperatures increase by 2°C, then the number of outages on hot days could double.

In fact, global average temperatures have already climbed by more than 1°C, and could hit 1.5°C as early as 2027. Demand for air conditioning has already begun to affect US energy supplies.

“Our work demonstrates a harmful interaction between human adaptation and infrastructure vulnerability in a warming world,” said Ethan Coffel, a geographer at Syracuse University in New York, who led the research into the likely impacts of rising heat.

“As hot days become more frequent, people will want air conditioners to protect themselves from unpleasant and dangerous heat. But these air conditioners need electricity, which further increases the greenhouse emissions that drive global warming further.”

Big shortfall

And that puts a strain on the grid that distributes power around a nation. It also sets a challenge to those nations that have yet to invest heavily in renewable energy sources such as wind power and photovoltaic cells, and to phase out thermal generators.

“By the middle of the century we find that 100 to 200 additional average-sized global power plants could be required to make up for the electricity generating capacity lost due to heat,” Dr Coffel warned.

“Major progress has been made to reduce the cost of wind and solar power − these zero-carbon sources are now often cheaper than fossil fuels. So making the transition away from coal, oil and gas not only makes climate sense, but also economic sense.

“However, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Governments should be preparing for the large increases in electricity demand that will come with increased temperatures.” − Climate News Network

Climate chaos batters global insurance industry

The climate crisis is exacting a rising price from the worldwide insurance industry, a relief and development agency says.

LONDON, 11 January, 2021 – The economic cost of the climate crisis keeps on rising, as the world’s insurance industry is now acutely aware. As the world digests the news that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, two reports attempt to assess how many billions of dollars are being lost as a result of an ever-warming planet.

Christian Aid, the UK and Ireland-based charity, lists what it considers to be the 15 most serious climate-related disasters in 2020, and seeks to quantify them in financial terms.

“Covid-19 may have dominated the news agenda in 2020, but for many people the ongoing climate crisis compounded that into an even bigger danger to their lives and livelihoods”, says Christian Aid.

Six of the ten most costly disasters happened in Asia, many of them associated with an unusually prolonged and wet monsoon season. The charity estimates that floods in China cost US$32 billion, while extended rains in India cost US$10bn. Cyclone Amphan, which in May hit the Bay of Bengal region – one of the world’s most densely populated areas – caused losses valued at US$13bn.

“Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”

In Africa, unusually heavy rains and changing wind patterns are considered to have been the main factors behind devastating infestations of locusts, which caused an estimated US$8.5bn of damage to crops in Kenya and other East African countries.

In its latest update on locust breeding and movement patterns, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that swarms are likely to continue devastating crops across the Arabian peninsula and in East Africa in the weeks ahead.

Christian Aid says its calculations of financial losses resulting from climate crisis-related events are likely to be an underestimate. “Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses, meaning the true financial costs are likely to be higher”, the report says.

Insurance is a very unequal business: much of the property and economic infrastructure of the developing world is not insured, with the bulk of cover being in the US, Europe and other leading economies.

Australian toll

Swiss Re is one of the world’s biggest insurance groups. Its preliminary estimate of global insurance losses as a result of both what it terms natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2020 amounts to US$83bn, up 40% on the previous year. A large chunk of those losses resulted from claims related to extreme weather events in the US.

“Losses were driven by a record number of severe convective storms (thunderstorms with tornadoes, floods and hail) and wildfires in the US”, says Swiss Re. Wildfires in Australia were another contributing factor.

The group says climate change is likely to exacerbate what it calls secondary peril events, as more humid air and rising temperatures create extreme weather conditions, which in turn will result in more frequent wildfires, storm surges and floods.

“While Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”, says Jerome Jean Haegeli, Swiss Re’s chief economist. – Climate News Network

The climate crisis is exacting a rising price from the worldwide insurance industry, a relief and development agency says.

LONDON, 11 January, 2021 – The economic cost of the climate crisis keeps on rising, as the world’s insurance industry is now acutely aware. As the world digests the news that 2020 was the joint hottest year on record, two reports attempt to assess how many billions of dollars are being lost as a result of an ever-warming planet.

Christian Aid, the UK and Ireland-based charity, lists what it considers to be the 15 most serious climate-related disasters in 2020, and seeks to quantify them in financial terms.

“Covid-19 may have dominated the news agenda in 2020, but for many people the ongoing climate crisis compounded that into an even bigger danger to their lives and livelihoods”, says Christian Aid.

Six of the ten most costly disasters happened in Asia, many of them associated with an unusually prolonged and wet monsoon season. The charity estimates that floods in China cost US$32 billion, while extended rains in India cost US$10bn. Cyclone Amphan, which in May hit the Bay of Bengal region – one of the world’s most densely populated areas – caused losses valued at US$13bn.

“Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”

In Africa, unusually heavy rains and changing wind patterns are considered to have been the main factors behind devastating infestations of locusts, which caused an estimated US$8.5bn of damage to crops in Kenya and other East African countries.

In its latest update on locust breeding and movement patterns, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation warns that swarms are likely to continue devastating crops across the Arabian peninsula and in East Africa in the weeks ahead.

Christian Aid says its calculations of financial losses resulting from climate crisis-related events are likely to be an underestimate. “Most of these estimates are based only on insured losses, meaning the true financial costs are likely to be higher”, the report says.

Insurance is a very unequal business: much of the property and economic infrastructure of the developing world is not insured, with the bulk of cover being in the US, Europe and other leading economies.

Australian toll

Swiss Re is one of the world’s biggest insurance groups. Its preliminary estimate of global insurance losses as a result of both what it terms natural catastrophes and man-made disasters in 2020 amounts to US$83bn, up 40% on the previous year. A large chunk of those losses resulted from claims related to extreme weather events in the US.

“Losses were driven by a record number of severe convective storms (thunderstorms with tornadoes, floods and hail) and wildfires in the US”, says Swiss Re. Wildfires in Australia were another contributing factor.

The group says climate change is likely to exacerbate what it calls secondary peril events, as more humid air and rising temperatures create extreme weather conditions, which in turn will result in more frequent wildfires, storm surges and floods.

“While Covid-19 has an expiry date, climate change does not, and failure to ‘green’ the global economic recovery now will increase costs for society in future”, says Jerome Jean Haegeli, Swiss Re’s chief economist. – Climate News Network

Dangerously hotter cities await 2100’s residents

In the concrete jungle, the most dramatic high-rise could be the mercury. Urban dwellers should expect much hotter cities.

LONDON, 8 January 2021 − Tomorrow’s metropolises will feel the heat: by the close of the century, assuming that nations act on vows to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, hotter cities − on average almost 2°C warmer than today − will be home to billions of people.

And if humans go on − as is the case now − tipping ever-greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then Paris and Philadelphia, Shanghai and São Paulo, Lagos and London, Beijing and Baghdad could see an average rise of 4.4°C.

The world’s cities are also likely to become less humid as the thermometer goes up, say US scientists who have harnessed machine-learning to statistical data to find a new way of checking the future of the planet’s cities this century.

Such research is literally vital, and vital to most of humankind. Right now, cities − concentrations of people, asphalt, concrete, brick, glass and steel − cover just 3% of the globe’s terrestrial surface, but shelter more than 50% of the world’s people. By 2050, the present megacities and many new ones will be home to more than 70% of humanity.

And they will become hot properties in every sense, simply because they are cities.

Global picture

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes,” said Lei Zhao, an engineer at the University of Urbana-Champaign in the US.

“Incorporating these types of small-scale variables into climate modelling is crucial for understanding future urban climate. However, finding a way to include them in global-scale models poses major resolution, scale and computational challenges.”

Dr Zhao and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they combined a range of climate simulations with data-driven statistical models to bring a picture − on a global scale − of the overall average impact of climate change on the urban world.

The researchers stress that their results deliver only the big picture, are inevitably subject to uncertainties, and deliver average temperatures rather than extremes.

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes”

But they offer a clear warning that, by 2100, the mid-to-northern US, southern Canada, Europe, the Middle East, northern Central Asia and north-western China will “exhibit the most pronounced urban warming during both daytime and night-time. Inland South America also shows strong night-time warming.”

High-latitude cities in the northern hemisphere will, they find, warm considerably during the winter months: Anchorage in Alaska is already experiencing climate change at twice the rate of cities at mid-latitudes.

They also find a near-universal decrease in relative humidity in cities during the summer months by the end of the century: in some cases, this will inevitably be translated into heat stress, water scarcity and energy uncertainty.

This broad-brush, big-picture forecast for things to come has already been prefigured in earlier research into the potential consequences of heat extremes.

Average increases of 1.9°C or 4.4°C sound alarming enough, but these mean, median or average figures mask a range of extremes likely to impose costs on urban economies, human health and even mortality.

Less stress

Heat extremes are on the way. Heat can kill. High temperatures combined with high humidity could make life without air-conditioning precarious. But air-conditioning heightens energy demand and at the same time makes the streets even hotter.

And researchers have already identified the most dangerous landscapes: the megacities, especially those in parts of China and south Asia. By 2070, as many as three billion people could at some time of the year face heat levels now considered extreme, and for now a challenge to only a few.

The helpful news from the study is that, as humidity levels fall in the cities, this will make surface evaporation more efficient as a cooling mechanism. If so, then what some researchers politely call “green infrastructure” could offer real help: city parks and green spaces could become urban forests. Trees in streets and gardens could help cool the ambient air.

“Our findings highlight the critical need for global projections of local urban climates for climate-sensitive urban areas,” Dr Zhao said. “This could give city planners the support they need to encourage solutions such as green infrastructure intervention to reduce urban heat stress on large scales.” − Climate News Network

In the concrete jungle, the most dramatic high-rise could be the mercury. Urban dwellers should expect much hotter cities.

LONDON, 8 January 2021 − Tomorrow’s metropolises will feel the heat: by the close of the century, assuming that nations act on vows to drastically reduce fossil fuel use, hotter cities − on average almost 2°C warmer than today − will be home to billions of people.

And if humans go on − as is the case now − tipping ever-greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, then Paris and Philadelphia, Shanghai and São Paulo, Lagos and London, Beijing and Baghdad could see an average rise of 4.4°C.

The world’s cities are also likely to become less humid as the thermometer goes up, say US scientists who have harnessed machine-learning to statistical data to find a new way of checking the future of the planet’s cities this century.

Such research is literally vital, and vital to most of humankind. Right now, cities − concentrations of people, asphalt, concrete, brick, glass and steel − cover just 3% of the globe’s terrestrial surface, but shelter more than 50% of the world’s people. By 2050, the present megacities and many new ones will be home to more than 70% of humanity.

And they will become hot properties in every sense, simply because they are cities.

Global picture

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes,” said Lei Zhao, an engineer at the University of Urbana-Champaign in the US.

“Incorporating these types of small-scale variables into climate modelling is crucial for understanding future urban climate. However, finding a way to include them in global-scale models poses major resolution, scale and computational challenges.”

Dr Zhao and his colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they combined a range of climate simulations with data-driven statistical models to bring a picture − on a global scale − of the overall average impact of climate change on the urban world.

The researchers stress that their results deliver only the big picture, are inevitably subject to uncertainties, and deliver average temperatures rather than extremes.

“Cities are full of surfaces made from concrete and asphalt and retain more heat than natural surfaces and perturb other local-scale biophysical processes”

But they offer a clear warning that, by 2100, the mid-to-northern US, southern Canada, Europe, the Middle East, northern Central Asia and north-western China will “exhibit the most pronounced urban warming during both daytime and night-time. Inland South America also shows strong night-time warming.”

High-latitude cities in the northern hemisphere will, they find, warm considerably during the winter months: Anchorage in Alaska is already experiencing climate change at twice the rate of cities at mid-latitudes.

They also find a near-universal decrease in relative humidity in cities during the summer months by the end of the century: in some cases, this will inevitably be translated into heat stress, water scarcity and energy uncertainty.

This broad-brush, big-picture forecast for things to come has already been prefigured in earlier research into the potential consequences of heat extremes.

Average increases of 1.9°C or 4.4°C sound alarming enough, but these mean, median or average figures mask a range of extremes likely to impose costs on urban economies, human health and even mortality.

Less stress

Heat extremes are on the way. Heat can kill. High temperatures combined with high humidity could make life without air-conditioning precarious. But air-conditioning heightens energy demand and at the same time makes the streets even hotter.

And researchers have already identified the most dangerous landscapes: the megacities, especially those in parts of China and south Asia. By 2070, as many as three billion people could at some time of the year face heat levels now considered extreme, and for now a challenge to only a few.

The helpful news from the study is that, as humidity levels fall in the cities, this will make surface evaporation more efficient as a cooling mechanism. If so, then what some researchers politely call “green infrastructure” could offer real help: city parks and green spaces could become urban forests. Trees in streets and gardens could help cool the ambient air.

“Our findings highlight the critical need for global projections of local urban climates for climate-sensitive urban areas,” Dr Zhao said. “This could give city planners the support they need to encourage solutions such as green infrastructure intervention to reduce urban heat stress on large scales.” − Climate News Network

World still warms in 2020 as greenhouse gases fall

Greenhouse gases have fallen during 2020. But that’s no reason for congratulations, in a year of climate drama.

LONDON, 11 December, 2020 − The year of the coronavirus − the year of global lockdown − meant a record fall in emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming: by December there had been 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion worldwide, a fall of 7% compared with 2019, according to a new study.

If governments followed the economic shutdown with what the UN calls a “green pandemic recovery”, then by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions could fall by up to 25%. That remains a “big if.” Right now the planet is heading towards an end-of-century average temperature rise of a calamitous 3°C, according to a second report.

And a third summary of the last 12 months finds the pandemic changed almost nothing, says the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The year looks to be one of the three warmest on record, in the warmest decade on record. The warmest six years ever recorded have all happened since 2015.

The news in the journal Earth System Science Data, that humankind managed not to add 2.4 bn tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere because car journeys fell by half and airline flights dwindled at the peak of the lockdowns from Covid-19, should be encouraging.

“There is at least a one in five chance of [the world] temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. 2020 has been yet another extraordinary year for our climate”

To be on track to meet the promises made under the Paris Agreement of 2015, humankind has to reduce emissions by around 1 to 2 billion tonnes a year for the next ten years. Nobody can yet say whether the decline will continue, or whether emissions will rebound.

“All the elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emissions, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels”, warned Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK. “Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

Here is the message of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report. Examining the gap between what nations promised to do in Paris, and what is actually happening, it warns that a 7% drop in emissions during 2020 translates to a reduction in global warming by 2050 of no more than 0.01°C.

If nations stepped into economic recovery with plans to advance renewable energy and save fossil fuel use, a 25% emissions cut could indeed create a chance of meeting the 2°C limit promised in the Paris Agreement. But it wouldn’t get the world to the real goal of a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Roasting Arctic

Greenhouse gases continue to inflict a relentless burden. Right now the world is already 1.2°C warmer than at any time for almost all of human history, thanks to profligate fossil fuel use over the last century. And, says the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas, “there is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024.”

Ocean heat has reached record levels and 80% of the blue planet experienced at least one marine heatwave in the last year, says a summary of the year based on evidence from January to October. In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were 5°C above normal. The Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest since records began 42 years ago. In California’s Death Valley in August, the thermometer hit 54.4°C, the highest anywhere in the world for at least the last 80 years.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate. We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe,” Professor Taalas said.

“We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South-east Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.” − Climate News Network

Greenhouse gases have fallen during 2020. But that’s no reason for congratulations, in a year of climate drama.

LONDON, 11 December, 2020 − The year of the coronavirus − the year of global lockdown − meant a record fall in emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming: by December there had been 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion worldwide, a fall of 7% compared with 2019, according to a new study.

If governments followed the economic shutdown with what the UN calls a “green pandemic recovery”, then by 2030 greenhouse gas emissions could fall by up to 25%. That remains a “big if.” Right now the planet is heading towards an end-of-century average temperature rise of a calamitous 3°C, according to a second report.

And a third summary of the last 12 months finds the pandemic changed almost nothing, says the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). The year looks to be one of the three warmest on record, in the warmest decade on record. The warmest six years ever recorded have all happened since 2015.

The news in the journal Earth System Science Data, that humankind managed not to add 2.4 bn tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere because car journeys fell by half and airline flights dwindled at the peak of the lockdowns from Covid-19, should be encouraging.

“There is at least a one in five chance of [the world] temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024. 2020 has been yet another extraordinary year for our climate”

To be on track to meet the promises made under the Paris Agreement of 2015, humankind has to reduce emissions by around 1 to 2 billion tonnes a year for the next ten years. Nobody can yet say whether the decline will continue, or whether emissions will rebound.

“All the elements are not yet in place for sustained decreases in global emissions, and emissions are slowly edging back to 2019 levels”, warned Corinne Le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK. “Government actions to stimulate the economy at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic can also help lower emissions and tackle climate change.”

Here is the message of the United Nations Environment Programme’s latest Emissions Gap Report. Examining the gap between what nations promised to do in Paris, and what is actually happening, it warns that a 7% drop in emissions during 2020 translates to a reduction in global warming by 2050 of no more than 0.01°C.

If nations stepped into economic recovery with plans to advance renewable energy and save fossil fuel use, a 25% emissions cut could indeed create a chance of meeting the 2°C limit promised in the Paris Agreement. But it wouldn’t get the world to the real goal of a rise of no more than 1.5°C by 2100.

Roasting Arctic

Greenhouse gases continue to inflict a relentless burden. Right now the world is already 1.2°C warmer than at any time for almost all of human history, thanks to profligate fossil fuel use over the last century. And, says the WMO’s secretary-general Petteri Taalas, “there is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5°C by 2024.”

Ocean heat has reached record levels and 80% of the blue planet experienced at least one marine heatwave in the last year, says a summary of the year based on evidence from January to October. In the Siberian Arctic, temperatures were 5°C above normal. The Arctic summer sea ice was the second-lowest since records began 42 years ago. In California’s Death Valley in August, the thermometer hit 54.4°C, the highest anywhere in the world for at least the last 80 years.

“2020 has, unfortunately, been yet another extraordinary year for our climate. We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe,” Professor Taalas said.

“We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South-east Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.” − Climate News Network