Tag Archives: Pollution

Salt-free drinkable water comes at a cost

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

Two thirds of the world worries about water for at least a month annually. One successful source of salt-free drinkable water leaves a bitter aftertaste.

LONDON, 15 January, 2019 – Around the arid world, some 16,000 desalination plants are now purifying seawater and brackish aquifers, producing 95 million cubic metres of fresh, salt-free drinkable water daily. This is almost half the daily flow over Niagara Falls.

But there is a potentially-polluting price to pay: for every litre of fresh water, the same desalination plants produce around 1.5 litres of toxic brine. That adds up to enough in the course of a year to cover the whole of the US state of Florida to a depth of more than 30 cms.

A new study urges nations to explore better solutions – and new ways to exploit the minerals in the wastewater and support efforts to advance the declared UN sustainable development goal of reliable, safe water on tap for everybody in the world.

A second study confirms that the sustainable development goal of clean water and sanitation for everybody by 2030 is likely to cost around $1 trillion a year – and up to 8% more if the advances are matched by efforts to contain climate change and limit global warming to the agreed UN target of well below 2°C above historic levels by 2100.

“Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300%”

Four out of ten of the world’s people face severe water scarcity. More than six out of ten experience at least one month a year in conditions of water scarcity. There are now desalination technologies at work in 177 countries: two thirds of them in nations with high incomes.

Researchers from the UN University’s Institute for Water, Environment and Health (UNU-INWEH), and from the Netherlands and Korea, report in the journal Science of the Total Environment that they found that 55% of all the hypersaline brine was produced by just four Middle Eastern nations. China, the USA and Spain produce most of the rest.

Small island nations depend on desalination technology for their survival, and eight countries could meet all their freshwater needs by evaporating sea water.

The waste tended to be directly discharged into the oceans, surface water or sewers, injected into deep wells or left to evaporate in ponds. Untreated, it was a threat to marine ecosystems. On land, it enhanced the increasing hazard of soil salination.

Exploitation possible

But such brines could be used effectively in aquaculture, or to nourish salt-tolerant crops. They were rich in sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, bromine, strontium, lithium, rubidium and even uranium: they could be exploited for industry and in agriculture. There aren’t the technologies yet to extract such elements economically, but the scientists make the case for trying.

“There is a need to translate such research and convert an environmental problem into an economic opportunity. This is particularly important in countries producing large volumes of brine with relatively low efficiencies, such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait and Qatar,” said Manzoor Qadir, of UNU-INWEH, one of the authors.

“Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300% achieved. It has also been successfully used to cultivate the dietary supplement Spirulina, and to irrigate forage shrubs and crops (although this latter use can cause progressive land salinisation).”

Integrated policies

And researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria also believe in a twofold approach to the looming world water crisis: they report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they want to see the provision of water and sanitation – from any source – and action on climate in an integrated approach.

Both are among the 17 goals of sustainable development adopted by UN agencies and 93 nations. The IIASA researchers think, for example, that water pumping and treatment plants could also work with a nation’s electricity grids to make the most efficient use of both.

“The results of our analysis show that combining clean water and climate policies can increase implementation costs, but these increases are relatively small in comparison to the cost for implementing each policy on its own,” said Simon Parkinson, a researcher from IIASA and the University of Victoria, who led the study.

“Finding and improving synergies between decarbonisation and water efficiency is crucial for minimising joint policy implementation costs and uncertainties.” – Climate News Network

VW says climate drives its electric spurt

Reputation and public confidence in your products are vital for global corporations, especially for one of the world’s biggest carmakers – hence VW’s electric spurt.

LONDON, 10 December, 2018 – As part of what it says is its commitment to tackling climate change, VW, the German auto giant, is embarking on an electric spurt, pressing ahead with plans aimed at producing more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In the vanguard of VW’s push into electric vehicles is the company’s plant at Zwickau, in the east of Germany, where an entire factory that once produced petrol and diesel car models is being converted to solely manufacturing electrically powered vehicles.

VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of the ID, its new electric model, will begin at Zwickau; the aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

“With our electric cars we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection”, says Thomas Ulbrich, head of the company’s electric car division.

“The global automotive industry is experiencing a process of fundamental structural change.

Affordable and popular

“Efficient, modern production facilities will be the key. In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive.”

Ulbrich says the aim is to take electric cars out of their niche and produce cars that will be affordable to millions – similar to the way the VW Beetle became popular around the globe.

VW says it’s investing about €1.2 billion in altering production facilities at Zwickau, where more than 7,500 people are employed. The company is also creating electric car plants elsewhere, including two in China – one near Shanghai and the other at Foshan in the south of the country.

Several other major car manufacturers have announced similar plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.

VW, by some measures the world’s biggest carmaker, has been struggling to repair its image after the company was forced in 2015 to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with special devices designed to circumvent emissions regulations and falsify exhaust gas tests.

“In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive”

The gases – nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide – not only contribute to global warming but create pollution as well and can lead to health problems.

VW admitted that its engineers had designed a software system for its cars sold in the US which switched emissions controls on when vehicles were being tested and off during normal driving.

A number of other car producers, including the Japanese/French conglomerate Mitsubishi, have admitted falsifying various data relating to vehicle performance.

In the latest twist in the VW scandal, US prosecutors have alleged that what they describe as an “appalling fraud” was authorised by those at the very top of the company, with a former CEO involved.

To date, it’s estimated VW has paid out approximately US$25 bn in damages in relation to the emissions case. Court actions are ongoing with investors in VW who claim to have lost money over the scandal also suing the company. – Climate News Network

Reputation and public confidence in your products are vital for global corporations, especially for one of the world’s biggest carmakers – hence VW’s electric spurt.

LONDON, 10 December, 2018 – As part of what it says is its commitment to tackling climate change, VW, the German auto giant, is embarking on an electric spurt, pressing ahead with plans aimed at producing more than a million electric cars a year by 2025.

In the vanguard of VW’s push into electric vehicles is the company’s plant at Zwickau, in the east of Germany, where an entire factory that once produced petrol and diesel car models is being converted to solely manufacturing electrically powered vehicles.

VW says that by the end of 2019 mass production of the ID, its new electric model, will begin at Zwickau; the aim is to eventually manufacture up to 330,000 electric models a year at the plant.

“With our electric cars we want to make a substantial contribution to climate protection”, says Thomas Ulbrich, head of the company’s electric car division.

“The global automotive industry is experiencing a process of fundamental structural change.

Affordable and popular

“Efficient, modern production facilities will be the key. In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive.”

Ulbrich says the aim is to take electric cars out of their niche and produce cars that will be affordable to millions – similar to the way the VW Beetle became popular around the globe.

VW says it’s investing about €1.2 billion in altering production facilities at Zwickau, where more than 7,500 people are employed. The company is also creating electric car plants elsewhere, including two in China – one near Shanghai and the other at Foshan in the south of the country.

Several other major car manufacturers have announced similar plans to ramp up electric vehicle production.

VW, by some measures the world’s biggest carmaker, has been struggling to repair its image after the company was forced in 2015 to admit it had sold nearly 600,000 cars in the US which had been fitted with special devices designed to circumvent emissions regulations and falsify exhaust gas tests.

“In one year, this plant will become the starting point for our global electric offensive”

The gases – nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide – not only contribute to global warming but create pollution as well and can lead to health problems.

VW admitted that its engineers had designed a software system for its cars sold in the US which switched emissions controls on when vehicles were being tested and off during normal driving.

A number of other car producers, including the Japanese/French conglomerate Mitsubishi, have admitted falsifying various data relating to vehicle performance.

In the latest twist in the VW scandal, US prosecutors have alleged that what they describe as an “appalling fraud” was authorised by those at the very top of the company, with a former CEO involved.

To date, it’s estimated VW has paid out approximately US$25 bn in damages in relation to the emissions case. Court actions are ongoing with investors in VW who claim to have lost money over the scandal also suing the company. – Climate News Network

Iraq’s climate stresses are set to worsen

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network

China’s action on air quality is saving lives

air quality

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous pollutant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highest priority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dangerous pollutant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highest priority

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

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

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

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

Rethink urged for Lovelock’s Gaia Theory

Time for new thinking? Researchers want an upgrade of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth, in an epoch when humans have power, but not understanding.

LONDON, 2 October, 2018 – Two scientists have proposed a revised version of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth in the light of a new epoch: the Anthropocene.

They want to reapply a sometimes controversial argument – originally introduced as the Gaia hypothesis – to the way humans manage the planet’s climate and resources: this time deliberately and with full awareness of the consequences of human action.

The Gaia Theory, as it is now known, proposes that the sum of life on Earth, over the last three billion years or so, could be thought of as a super-organism that has unconsciously moderated the temperature of the planet and the chemistry of its atmosphere for the greater good: that is, for the long-term survival of living things.

The idea was introduced by the British scientist James Lovelock in 1972, and given the name Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of Mother Earth. The choice of name was a metaphor: researchers have also labelled the reasoning as biogeophysiology, and they teach it as Earth System Science.

In the Gaia Theory, microbes, plants, fungi and animals on the planet collectively manage and recycle air and water, and traffic in rock and soil chemistry, in ways that sustain life’s collective.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark”

Now Tim Lenton, director of the global systems institute at the University of Exeter in the UK, and Bruno Latour, the Parisian philosopher and anthropologist, think it is time for an upgrade: they propose Gaia 2.0, in which one aware, sentient and vulnerable lifeform becomes part of the planet’s self-regulatory system.

They argue, in the journal Science, that Gaia 2.0 could become an effective framework for fostering a sustainable planet.

“If we are to create a better world for the growing human population this century we need to regulate our impacts on our life support system, and deliberately create a more circular economy that relies – like the biosphere – on the recycling of materials powered by sustainable energy,” Professor Lenton said.

The two scientists make the case that, with the onset of the Anthropocene – an era in which humankind increasingly shapes the landscape and the atmosphere – and the hectic exploitation of the planet’s resources, it is time for humans deliberately to follow the unwitting example set by all the other creatures in the biosphere and adjust the conditions for survival.

Waste dumping

“Humans currently extract fossil energy, rock phosphate and other raw materials from the Earth’s crust far faster than they would normally come to the surface, and then dump the waste products on the land, in the atmosphere, and in the ocean. Compared to Gaia, this is a very poorly coupled and unsustainable set of inventions.”

And, they argue, it can be done. “The input of solar energy has the capacity to far outstrip current fossil energy consumption, and renewables are currently becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy for electricity generation,” they write. Fossil fuel use has already increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels last seen 3 or even 5 million years ago.

“A central goal for this century is surely to achieve a flourishing future for all life on this planet, including a projected 9 to 11 billion people. Human flourishing is not possible without a biodiverse, life-sustaining system.”

The catch is that humans still do not have the data, the understanding or the will to change course. But the challenge for science would be to deliver the knowhow to make a success of Gaia 2.0. Human technology could add another more “self-aware” layer to the management of the planet, they say.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark.” – Climate News Network

Time for new thinking? Researchers want an upgrade of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth, in an epoch when humans have power, but not understanding.

LONDON, 2 October, 2018 – Two scientists have proposed a revised version of the Gaia Theory of life on Earth in the light of a new epoch: the Anthropocene.

They want to reapply a sometimes controversial argument – originally introduced as the Gaia hypothesis – to the way humans manage the planet’s climate and resources: this time deliberately and with full awareness of the consequences of human action.

The Gaia Theory, as it is now known, proposes that the sum of life on Earth, over the last three billion years or so, could be thought of as a super-organism that has unconsciously moderated the temperature of the planet and the chemistry of its atmosphere for the greater good: that is, for the long-term survival of living things.

The idea was introduced by the British scientist James Lovelock in 1972, and given the name Gaia, after the ancient Greek goddess of Mother Earth. The choice of name was a metaphor: researchers have also labelled the reasoning as biogeophysiology, and they teach it as Earth System Science.

In the Gaia Theory, microbes, plants, fungi and animals on the planet collectively manage and recycle air and water, and traffic in rock and soil chemistry, in ways that sustain life’s collective.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark”

Now Tim Lenton, director of the global systems institute at the University of Exeter in the UK, and Bruno Latour, the Parisian philosopher and anthropologist, think it is time for an upgrade: they propose Gaia 2.0, in which one aware, sentient and vulnerable lifeform becomes part of the planet’s self-regulatory system.

They argue, in the journal Science, that Gaia 2.0 could become an effective framework for fostering a sustainable planet.

“If we are to create a better world for the growing human population this century we need to regulate our impacts on our life support system, and deliberately create a more circular economy that relies – like the biosphere – on the recycling of materials powered by sustainable energy,” Professor Lenton said.

The two scientists make the case that, with the onset of the Anthropocene – an era in which humankind increasingly shapes the landscape and the atmosphere – and the hectic exploitation of the planet’s resources, it is time for humans deliberately to follow the unwitting example set by all the other creatures in the biosphere and adjust the conditions for survival.

Waste dumping

“Humans currently extract fossil energy, rock phosphate and other raw materials from the Earth’s crust far faster than they would normally come to the surface, and then dump the waste products on the land, in the atmosphere, and in the ocean. Compared to Gaia, this is a very poorly coupled and unsustainable set of inventions.”

And, they argue, it can be done. “The input of solar energy has the capacity to far outstrip current fossil energy consumption, and renewables are currently becoming cost-competitive with fossil fuel energy for electricity generation,” they write. Fossil fuel use has already increased atmospheric carbon dioxide to levels last seen 3 or even 5 million years ago.

“A central goal for this century is surely to achieve a flourishing future for all life on this planet, including a projected 9 to 11 billion people. Human flourishing is not possible without a biodiverse, life-sustaining system.”

The catch is that humans still do not have the data, the understanding or the will to change course. But the challenge for science would be to deliver the knowhow to make a success of Gaia 2.0. Human technology could add another more “self-aware” layer to the management of the planet, they say.

“If in politics the blind lead the blind, then hope rests on finding the best way to activate the white cane to fumble in the dark.” – Climate News Network

Hotter planet faces more killer heat

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network

The Earth can expect more killer heat, from lethal heat waves and more intense temperatures claiming more lives. Wildfires, too, will become more polluting.

LONDON, 25 September, 2018 – Once again, researchers have confirmed that limiting global warming will save lives by reducing the impact of killer heat.

An international team has checked predictions for heat-related deaths against some of the global average temperatures likely later this century, to issue this warning: it will be a safer world if temperatures creep up by only 1.5°C over historic levels. Fewer people will die in the ever more intense heat extremes that will go with average global temperature rises.

And a second, separate study of the impact of forest, bush and wildfires on human health has warned that – in the US alone – deaths linked to smoke could more than double, to perhaps 40,000 a year.

The world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century: the limit of “well below 2°C” set by 195 nations when they met in Paris in 2015 looks increasingly close.

Scientists from Britain, Europe, Australia, the US, Brazil, Chile and China report in the journal Climatic Change that they looked at records for temperature-related deaths from 451 places in 23 countries and then projected likely deaths as global average temperatures rose by 1.5°C, and then up to 3°C and 4°C.

“Large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths”

They found that at the higher forecasts, hazards rose steeply: in the worst instances, by almost 9%.

Alarm about the impact of heat waves on human health is not new: in the last few years researchers have warned that by 2100, around 75% of humanity will be at some risk of death by heat extremes. Another group has measured suicide statistics and seen a rise with temperature extremes.

A third group has focused on the double hazard of ever greater heat and humidity, and a fourth has identified at least 27 different ways in which heat waves can claim lives.

So the latest study is separate confirmation, this time by medical scientists who need to know what to expect as the thermometer rises.

Limiting fatalities

“Our projections suggest that large increases in temperature-related deaths could be limited in most regions if warming was kept below 2°C,”explains Ana Maria Vicedo-Cabrera, who led the study.

“Under extreme changes in climate, large parts of the world could experience a dramatic increase in excess mortality due to heat. This would not be balanced by decreases in cold-related deaths. Efforts to limit the increase in global temperature to below 1.5°C could provide additional benefits in tropical or arid regions, including the most populous and often poorest countries.”

With ever higher temperatures there will be ever more prolonged droughts, and inevitably greater risk of wildfire, and particularly in the US.

Right now, wildfires in the US claim an estimated 15,000 lives a year, chiefly through smoke inhalation that can worsen chronic pulmonary conditions, or hasten death in people with heart conditions.

By 2100, scientists report in the American Geophysical Union journal Geohealth, the death count in the contiguous US could reach 40,000 a year.

Particulate menace

The study recognizes that wildfire hazard has a number of causes and that climate change is only part of the story. But in the first six months of 2018, the US government’s own National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recorded 37,718 fires that burned almost 20,000 square kilometres.

In 2017, wildfire fighting cost the US Forest Service a record $2.4bn. And each fire hurled high levels of particulate matter – soot and other detritus – into the atmosphere, and into a nation’s eyes and lungs.

“We know from our own research and many, many other groups that smoke has negative impacts on human health,” said Jeff Pierce, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Colorado, and one of the authors.

“With the knowledge that fires have been increasing in parts of the US, we wanted to look at how bad this might get.” – Climate News Network

Alien seaweed arrives in Antarctica

For more than a century, scientists believed that only humans could cross the hostile oceans to reach Antarctica. Some strands of alien seaweed tell another story.

LONDON, 19 July, 2018 – A foreign invader, a species of alien seaweed, has managed to cross the oceans to reach the frozen Antarctic shores. So scientists may have to give up a cherished belief: that Antarctica is inviolate.

For a century, researchers have assumed that the mix of ocean currents, distance and temperature have kept the Great White Continent shielded from invasion by Pacific or Atlantic flotsam.

But the discovery of strands of kelp on an Antarctic beach – seaweed that may have drifted for considerable periods and a distance of 20,000 kms before becoming stranded far from home – brings an end to that belief. And the discovery suggests that global warming could bring serious changes to Antarctic ecosystems.

“Our findings also indicate that plants and animals living on Antarctica could be more vulnerable to climate change than we suspected”

“This finding shows us that living plants and animals can reach Antarctica across the ocean, with temperate and sub-Antarctic marine species probably bombarding Antarctic coastlines all the time,” said Ceridwen Fraser, of the Australian National University.

“We always thought Antarctic plants and animals were distinct because they were isolated, but this research now suggests these differences are almost entirely due to environmental extremes, not isolation.”

Dr Fraser and her colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that strands of southern bull kelp, Durvillaea antarctica, found by a Chilean scientist, must have floated 20,000 km from the Kerguelen Islands and South Georgia. The kelp was encrusted with barnacles, evidence of a long time adrift.

In fact, researchers believe, it may be evidence of the longest episode of “biological rafting” ever confirmed. The word raft is significant: such floating platforms could provide shelter and transport for other biological invaders.

Plastic next?

Until now, the assumption has been that the pattern of surface currents and westerly winds tends to drive drifting material northwards from Antarctica. The discovery suggests that if kelp can get there, so can floating driftwood, or plastic debris, or any other unwelcome visitor.

The researchers think large waves driven by Southern Ocean storms may have steered the kelp rafts over what had been considered a natural ocean barrier. Global warming has begun to change conditions in Antarctica, and the continent – considered the last great tract of terrain unmarked by human colonisation – could become increasingly vulnerable to change.

“This is an unequivocal demonstration that marine species from the north can reach Antarctica. To get there the kelp had to pass through barriers created by polar winds and currents that were, until now, thought to be impenetrable,” Dr Fraser said.

“Our findings also indicate that plants and animals living on Antarctica could be more vulnerable to climate change than we suspected.” – Climate News Network

For more than a century, scientists believed that only humans could cross the hostile oceans to reach Antarctica. Some strands of alien seaweed tell another story.

LONDON, 19 July, 2018 – A foreign invader, a species of alien seaweed, has managed to cross the oceans to reach the frozen Antarctic shores. So scientists may have to give up a cherished belief: that Antarctica is inviolate.

For a century, researchers have assumed that the mix of ocean currents, distance and temperature have kept the Great White Continent shielded from invasion by Pacific or Atlantic flotsam.

But the discovery of strands of kelp on an Antarctic beach – seaweed that may have drifted for considerable periods and a distance of 20,000 kms before becoming stranded far from home – brings an end to that belief. And the discovery suggests that global warming could bring serious changes to Antarctic ecosystems.

“Our findings also indicate that plants and animals living on Antarctica could be more vulnerable to climate change than we suspected”

“This finding shows us that living plants and animals can reach Antarctica across the ocean, with temperate and sub-Antarctic marine species probably bombarding Antarctic coastlines all the time,” said Ceridwen Fraser, of the Australian National University.

“We always thought Antarctic plants and animals were distinct because they were isolated, but this research now suggests these differences are almost entirely due to environmental extremes, not isolation.”

Dr Fraser and her colleagues report in the journal Nature Climate Change that strands of southern bull kelp, Durvillaea antarctica, found by a Chilean scientist, must have floated 20,000 km from the Kerguelen Islands and South Georgia. The kelp was encrusted with barnacles, evidence of a long time adrift.

In fact, researchers believe, it may be evidence of the longest episode of “biological rafting” ever confirmed. The word raft is significant: such floating platforms could provide shelter and transport for other biological invaders.

Plastic next?

Until now, the assumption has been that the pattern of surface currents and westerly winds tends to drive drifting material northwards from Antarctica. The discovery suggests that if kelp can get there, so can floating driftwood, or plastic debris, or any other unwelcome visitor.

The researchers think large waves driven by Southern Ocean storms may have steered the kelp rafts over what had been considered a natural ocean barrier. Global warming has begun to change conditions in Antarctica, and the continent – considered the last great tract of terrain unmarked by human colonisation – could become increasingly vulnerable to change.

“This is an unequivocal demonstration that marine species from the north can reach Antarctica. To get there the kelp had to pass through barriers created by polar winds and currents that were, until now, thought to be impenetrable,” Dr Fraser said.

“Our findings also indicate that plants and animals living on Antarctica could be more vulnerable to climate change than we suspected.” – Climate News Network

Confusion reigns over China’s energy policy

China’s energy policy seems perplexing: coal use reductions at home, while abroad it is helping to build coal-fired power plants.

BELGRADE, SERBIA, 7 May, 2018 – It’s quite easy these days to find yourself muddled over China’s energy policy: it does seem often to amount to tackling domestic pollution and climate change, but chasing lucrative contracts abroad, despite the environmental impact.

With the US under Donald Trump indicating it wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, China is increasingly seen as a world leader in the battle to cut carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe.

Beijing is implementing ambitious renewable energy schemes at home and has announced plans to reshape its energy sector and reduce its use of coal – by far the most polluting fossil fuel.

But overseas, China is pursuing a very different policy. Here in Serbia a Chinese enterprise, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), recently started work on a multi-million dollar project to enlarge the coal-fired Kostolac power station on the banks of the Danube river in the east of the country.

Under the terms of the US$715m contract, the Chinese will build an additional 350 MW unit at Kostolac and expand operations at a nearby opencast mine producing lignite – the “dirtiest” coal.

 People living near Kostolac – with houses close to the opencast mine which feeds the power plant – say there is a high rate of respiratory disease in the area

Urgewald, a Berlin-based environmental group, calculates that Chinese companies are at present involved in plans to build about a fifth of new coal-fired energy capacity around the world – in countries including Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam and Malawi.

In some of these countries there is little or no coal-powered generation at present; building coal plants is likely to prevent the development of other, less polluting energy sources and lock in high emission power structures for years to come.

China has used its considerable financial muscle to back up its global coal campaign; Chinese state banks are estimated to have provided more than US$40bn in loans over the past 18 years for building coal-fired power plants overseas. The majority of the funding for Serbia’s Kostolac project is being provided by China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank.

More than 70% of Serbia’s energy comes from coal. Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS), the Serbian state company which has a monopoly on electricity production, says the new plant, to be in operation by 2020, will meet the highest environmental standards and is necessary to satisfy ever-rising domestic energy demand.

Political links

The Centre for Investigative Reporting of Serbia (CINS), a Belgrade-based group which has won international awards for its exposés of corruption within Serbia, has raised a number of concerns about the Kostolac project and how EPS, with what’s considered its opaque financial structure and its strong links to the country’s political elite, negotiated with the Chinese.

It says thorough environmental impact assessments were not carried out on the project and, contrary to international regulations, Romania – whose border is less than 20 kms from the Kostolac plant – was not consulted on the impact of the facility’s expansion.

CINS also questions aspects of the contract between China and Serbia, which it says gives courts in China full power of arbitration in the event of any dispute; there are added concerns about the many hundreds of workers from China building the new plant, with few companies from Serbia itself involved in construction at Kostolac.

Air pollution is a considerable problem in Serbia, much of it due to emissions of CO2, ash, sulphur and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired power plants and mining operations.

EU standards

People living near Kostolac – with houses close to the opencast mine which feeds the power plant – say there is a high rate of respiratory disease in the area; houses have also been damaged by land subsidence.

Serbia is in negotiations to join the European Union; critics of the country’s energy policy say that in future the government in Belgrade could incur fines of millions of dollars levied by Brussels because of emissions from power plants such as Kostolac.

The Serbian government says ageing and highly polluting power plants like Kostolac have to be upgraded or replaced.

Chinese companies are heavily involved in developing coal power projects elsewhere in the Balkans region, most recently advancing millions of dollars in loans for the expansion of coal-fired power in Bosnia. – Climate News Network

China’s energy policy seems perplexing: coal use reductions at home, while abroad it is helping to build coal-fired power plants.

BELGRADE, SERBIA, 7 May, 2018 – It’s quite easy these days to find yourself muddled over China’s energy policy: it does seem often to amount to tackling domestic pollution and climate change, but chasing lucrative contracts abroad, despite the environmental impact.

With the US under Donald Trump indicating it wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change, China is increasingly seen as a world leader in the battle to cut carbon emissions and prevent climate catastrophe.

Beijing is implementing ambitious renewable energy schemes at home and has announced plans to reshape its energy sector and reduce its use of coal – by far the most polluting fossil fuel.

But overseas, China is pursuing a very different policy. Here in Serbia a Chinese enterprise, China Machinery Engineering Corporation (CMEC), recently started work on a multi-million dollar project to enlarge the coal-fired Kostolac power station on the banks of the Danube river in the east of the country.

Under the terms of the US$715m contract, the Chinese will build an additional 350 MW unit at Kostolac and expand operations at a nearby opencast mine producing lignite – the “dirtiest” coal.

 People living near Kostolac – with houses close to the opencast mine which feeds the power plant – say there is a high rate of respiratory disease in the area

Urgewald, a Berlin-based environmental group, calculates that Chinese companies are at present involved in plans to build about a fifth of new coal-fired energy capacity around the world – in countries including Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, Vietnam and Malawi.

In some of these countries there is little or no coal-powered generation at present; building coal plants is likely to prevent the development of other, less polluting energy sources and lock in high emission power structures for years to come.

China has used its considerable financial muscle to back up its global coal campaign; Chinese state banks are estimated to have provided more than US$40bn in loans over the past 18 years for building coal-fired power plants overseas. The majority of the funding for Serbia’s Kostolac project is being provided by China’s state-owned Export-Import Bank.

More than 70% of Serbia’s energy comes from coal. Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS), the Serbian state company which has a monopoly on electricity production, says the new plant, to be in operation by 2020, will meet the highest environmental standards and is necessary to satisfy ever-rising domestic energy demand.

Political links

The Centre for Investigative Reporting of Serbia (CINS), a Belgrade-based group which has won international awards for its exposés of corruption within Serbia, has raised a number of concerns about the Kostolac project and how EPS, with what’s considered its opaque financial structure and its strong links to the country’s political elite, negotiated with the Chinese.

It says thorough environmental impact assessments were not carried out on the project and, contrary to international regulations, Romania – whose border is less than 20 kms from the Kostolac plant – was not consulted on the impact of the facility’s expansion.

CINS also questions aspects of the contract between China and Serbia, which it says gives courts in China full power of arbitration in the event of any dispute; there are added concerns about the many hundreds of workers from China building the new plant, with few companies from Serbia itself involved in construction at Kostolac.

Air pollution is a considerable problem in Serbia, much of it due to emissions of CO2, ash, sulphur and nitrogen oxides from coal-fired power plants and mining operations.

EU standards

People living near Kostolac – with houses close to the opencast mine which feeds the power plant – say there is a high rate of respiratory disease in the area; houses have also been damaged by land subsidence.

Serbia is in negotiations to join the European Union; critics of the country’s energy policy say that in future the government in Belgrade could incur fines of millions of dollars levied by Brussels because of emissions from power plants such as Kostolac.

The Serbian government says ageing and highly polluting power plants like Kostolac have to be upgraded or replaced.

Chinese companies are heavily involved in developing coal power projects elsewhere in the Balkans region, most recently advancing millions of dollars in loans for the expansion of coal-fired power in Bosnia. – Climate News Network

North Sea clean-up costs ‘likely to double’

The UK government has under-estimated the country’s North Sea clean-up costs, which may double the expected price of decommissioning oil and gas.

LONDON, 2 May, 2018 – The UK’s North Sea clean-up costs – the price to be paid for decommissioning its oil and gas industry – will probably more than double, a British group says.

The group is the Intergenerational Foundation (IF), an independent, non-party-political charity which works to protect the rights of younger and future generations in British policy-making.

It says British children will face a bill for decommissioning the North Sea fossil fuel industry that is likely to be double the government’s estimate – £80bn, not the official target of £39bn. In arriving at the lower figure, the Foundation says, the UK government ignored evidence from its own industry regulator of typical overspending, leading to a serious underestimate of the real costs.

If the government allows North Sea oil and gas companies to escape their decommissioning obligations and proves IF’s estimate of an £80bn total correct, the Foundation says, this would equal a bill for each child in the UK of nearly £3,000.

“It is extraordinary that there is no proper mechanism in place to protect our children from having to pay the clean-up costs for oil and gas they didn’t use”

A report by the Foundation estimates at least £80bn will be needed to decommission the North Sea’s 3,000 pipelines covering 8,000 kilometres, 5,000 wells, 250 fixed installations and 250 subsea production systems.

Instead of setting aside money to pay for the decommissioning, the report says, the North Sea oil and gas industry and the government are together handing a tax burden on to a younger generation who have not benefitted from the fuel extracted but who will be expected to pick up the bill for previous generations’ profligacy.

The report’s authors identify three main reasons which they think explain why the industry may double its costs.

Risky assumption

The first is that the UK government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) uses something called a P50 figure in its 2017 Cost Estimate Report for North Sea decommissioning. That means, as the OGA puts it, that the basis of its own estimates is “ a decommissioning cost estimate (P50) value of £59.7 billion in 2016 prices.”

“Taking into account the shared goal of a minimum of 35% cost reduction, this results in a target of less than £39 billion,” the OGA continues. But the IF report says using a P50 target means accepting that there is a 50:50 chance of the costs being higher, not lower, than those quoted.

Secondly, the OGA thinks a 35% saving (to reduce the cost estimate to under £39bn) will be easily attainable. But IF says the OGA’s own review of UK oil and gas projects between 2011 and 2016 found exactly the opposite – an average overspend of 35% against estimates.

The IF report’s third reason for expecting a possible doubling of costs is what it says is a mistaken comparison by the OGA of North Sea decommissioning work with that in the Gulf of Mexico, where conditions are much easier and costs far lower.

Costs shed

Angus Hanton, IF’s co-founder, said: “It is extraordinary that there is no proper mechanism in place to protect our children from having to pay the clean-up costs for oil and gas they didn’t use, while the companies involved can essentially escape responsibility by off-loading their North Sea holdings onto smaller contractors and retain just one quarter of the costs of decommissioning while benefiting from generous tax breaks.” (On 31 January 2017 Shell announced a US$3.8bn sale of assets in which it would retain a set liability of just around one quarter of the costs of decommissioning.)

Andrew Simms, a co-author of the report, said: “The government is allowing these companies to break the principles of the [UK] Energy Act 2004, whereby builders and operators are ‘responsible for ensuring that the installation is decommissioned at the end of its useful life, and should be responsible for meeting the costs of decommissioning.’

“The next generation is expected to prop up an uneconomic industry harmful to their future that is trying to shirk responsibility for clearing up its own mess.” – Climate News Network

The UK government has under-estimated the country’s North Sea clean-up costs, which may double the expected price of decommissioning oil and gas.

LONDON, 2 May, 2018 – The UK’s North Sea clean-up costs – the price to be paid for decommissioning its oil and gas industry – will probably more than double, a British group says.

The group is the Intergenerational Foundation (IF), an independent, non-party-political charity which works to protect the rights of younger and future generations in British policy-making.

It says British children will face a bill for decommissioning the North Sea fossil fuel industry that is likely to be double the government’s estimate – £80bn, not the official target of £39bn. In arriving at the lower figure, the Foundation says, the UK government ignored evidence from its own industry regulator of typical overspending, leading to a serious underestimate of the real costs.

If the government allows North Sea oil and gas companies to escape their decommissioning obligations and proves IF’s estimate of an £80bn total correct, the Foundation says, this would equal a bill for each child in the UK of nearly £3,000.

“It is extraordinary that there is no proper mechanism in place to protect our children from having to pay the clean-up costs for oil and gas they didn’t use”

A report by the Foundation estimates at least £80bn will be needed to decommission the North Sea’s 3,000 pipelines covering 8,000 kilometres, 5,000 wells, 250 fixed installations and 250 subsea production systems.

Instead of setting aside money to pay for the decommissioning, the report says, the North Sea oil and gas industry and the government are together handing a tax burden on to a younger generation who have not benefitted from the fuel extracted but who will be expected to pick up the bill for previous generations’ profligacy.

The report’s authors identify three main reasons which they think explain why the industry may double its costs.

Risky assumption

The first is that the UK government’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) uses something called a P50 figure in its 2017 Cost Estimate Report for North Sea decommissioning. That means, as the OGA puts it, that the basis of its own estimates is “ a decommissioning cost estimate (P50) value of £59.7 billion in 2016 prices.”

“Taking into account the shared goal of a minimum of 35% cost reduction, this results in a target of less than £39 billion,” the OGA continues. But the IF report says using a P50 target means accepting that there is a 50:50 chance of the costs being higher, not lower, than those quoted.

Secondly, the OGA thinks a 35% saving (to reduce the cost estimate to under £39bn) will be easily attainable. But IF says the OGA’s own review of UK oil and gas projects between 2011 and 2016 found exactly the opposite – an average overspend of 35% against estimates.

The IF report’s third reason for expecting a possible doubling of costs is what it says is a mistaken comparison by the OGA of North Sea decommissioning work with that in the Gulf of Mexico, where conditions are much easier and costs far lower.

Costs shed

Angus Hanton, IF’s co-founder, said: “It is extraordinary that there is no proper mechanism in place to protect our children from having to pay the clean-up costs for oil and gas they didn’t use, while the companies involved can essentially escape responsibility by off-loading their North Sea holdings onto smaller contractors and retain just one quarter of the costs of decommissioning while benefiting from generous tax breaks.” (On 31 January 2017 Shell announced a US$3.8bn sale of assets in which it would retain a set liability of just around one quarter of the costs of decommissioning.)

Andrew Simms, a co-author of the report, said: “The government is allowing these companies to break the principles of the [UK] Energy Act 2004, whereby builders and operators are ‘responsible for ensuring that the installation is decommissioned at the end of its useful life, and should be responsible for meeting the costs of decommissioning.’

“The next generation is expected to prop up an uneconomic industry harmful to their future that is trying to shirk responsibility for clearing up its own mess.” – Climate News Network

Plastic particles now infest the Arctic

Tiny plastic particles have been found in every sample collected of Arctic sea ice. But the ice can only hold these indestructible pollutants for so long.

LONDON, 27 April, 2018 – Plastic particles have colonised one of the last  once-pristine oceans. German scientists sampled sea ice from five locations within the Arctic Circle and counted up to 12,000 microscopic particles per litre of ice.

They have even been able to identify the sources and piece together the journey to the icy fastness. Some tiny lumps of plastic detritus have made their way north from what has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling assembly of an estimated 80,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean across a stretch of water bigger than France.

Other fragments, that began as paint and nylon, date from the invasion of increasingly ice-free Arctic summer waters by more freight ships, and more fishing vessels, the scientists report in the journal Nature Communications.

“During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, which means they could easily be ingested by Arctic micro-organisms like ciliates, but also by copepods,” said Ilka Peeken, a biologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s oceans.  Nowhere is immune”

“No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

The researchers gathered their samples during three expeditions to the Arctic aboard the icebreaker Polarstern in the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2015, following an ice movement called the Transpolar Drift from Siberia as far as the Fram Strait where warm Atlantic water enters the polar ocean. The Transpolar Drift was first identified by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen aboard the Fram, late in the 19th century.

Microplastic particles are defined as 5mm or smaller, and many are measured in millionths of a metre. These are formed by the deterioration of larger pieces of plastic dumped into landfills in billions of tonnes, or released into the waterways and thus into the ocean.

Man-made synthetic polymers are effectively indestructible, and now represent a major source of marine pollution and a constant hazard to wildlife.

More than two-thirds of the particles measured 50 millionths of a metre or smaller. Some were as small as 11 micrometres – one sixth of the diameter of a human hair.

Multiple sources

The researchers identified 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice: from paints, nylon, polyester, cellulose acetate – used in cigarette filters – and the packaging materials polyethylene and polypropylene.

The guess is that the plastics endure in the sea ice for between two and 11 years before melting from their icy packaging in the Fram Strait, to begin sinking in deeper waters. One study recently found 6,500 bits of microplastic per kilogram sampled from the sea floor.

“This is an important finding because it means that they were always present in the water under the ice as it was growing, and drifting, within the Arctic Ocean,” said Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist with the British Antarctic Survey, commenting on the study.

“Sea ice grows from the freezing of seawater directly onto the bottom of the ice (i.e. it grows vertically downwards), thus it was incorporating microplastic particles as it grew. It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s oceans.  Nowhere is immune.” – Climate News Network

Tiny plastic particles have been found in every sample collected of Arctic sea ice. But the ice can only hold these indestructible pollutants for so long.

LONDON, 27 April, 2018 – Plastic particles have colonised one of the last  once-pristine oceans. German scientists sampled sea ice from five locations within the Arctic Circle and counted up to 12,000 microscopic particles per litre of ice.

They have even been able to identify the sources and piece together the journey to the icy fastness. Some tiny lumps of plastic detritus have made their way north from what has become known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a swirling assembly of an estimated 80,000 tons of plastic floating in the ocean across a stretch of water bigger than France.

Other fragments, that began as paint and nylon, date from the invasion of increasingly ice-free Arctic summer waters by more freight ships, and more fishing vessels, the scientists report in the journal Nature Communications.

“During our work, we realised that more than half of the microplastic particles trapped in the ice were less than a twentieth of a millimetre wide, which means they could easily be ingested by Arctic micro-organisms like ciliates, but also by copepods,” said Ilka Peeken, a biologist with the Alfred Wegener Institute.

“Microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s oceans.  Nowhere is immune”

“No one can say for certain how harmful these tiny plastic particles are for marine life, or ultimately also for human beings.”

The researchers gathered their samples during three expeditions to the Arctic aboard the icebreaker Polarstern in the spring of 2014 and the summer of 2015, following an ice movement called the Transpolar Drift from Siberia as far as the Fram Strait where warm Atlantic water enters the polar ocean. The Transpolar Drift was first identified by the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen aboard the Fram, late in the 19th century.

Microplastic particles are defined as 5mm or smaller, and many are measured in millionths of a metre. These are formed by the deterioration of larger pieces of plastic dumped into landfills in billions of tonnes, or released into the waterways and thus into the ocean.

Man-made synthetic polymers are effectively indestructible, and now represent a major source of marine pollution and a constant hazard to wildlife.

More than two-thirds of the particles measured 50 millionths of a metre or smaller. Some were as small as 11 micrometres – one sixth of the diameter of a human hair.

Multiple sources

The researchers identified 17 different types of plastic in the sea ice: from paints, nylon, polyester, cellulose acetate – used in cigarette filters – and the packaging materials polyethylene and polypropylene.

The guess is that the plastics endure in the sea ice for between two and 11 years before melting from their icy packaging in the Fram Strait, to begin sinking in deeper waters. One study recently found 6,500 bits of microplastic per kilogram sampled from the sea floor.

“This is an important finding because it means that they were always present in the water under the ice as it was growing, and drifting, within the Arctic Ocean,” said Jeremy Wilkinson, a sea ice physicist with the British Antarctic Survey, commenting on the study.

“Sea ice grows from the freezing of seawater directly onto the bottom of the ice (i.e. it grows vertically downwards), thus it was incorporating microplastic particles as it grew. It suggests that microplastics are now ubiquitous within the surface waters of the world’s oceans.  Nowhere is immune.” – Climate News Network