Tag Archives: UK

Wind power bids to save the North Sea oil industry

Can the world’s largest floating offshore wind farms help the North Sea oil industry to cut carbon emissions? Should they?

LONDON, 12 July, 2021 – In one sense it is a renewable energy scheme that ticks all the wrong boxes. The idea is to help the North Sea oil industry survive longer by saving oil rigs money.

In another way the development is a great leap forward. Altogether 200 turbines are planned in two offshore wind farms that, without any public subsidy, will produce as much power as three large nuclear power stations.

The floating farms will be able to provide the forest of oil platforms in the North Sea with all the electricity they need, and also to produce surplus energy to supply large amounts of green hydrogen for sale.

The developer, Cerulean Winds, believes the key to the scheme’s success lies in the oil industry’s current need to use expensive gas piped to its platforms to generate the electricity needed to light and power its operations and pump the oil ashore. By selling the industry cheaper wind energy, it judges that it can make a profit without government subsidy, thereby avoiding months of negotiation and red tape.

Hearts and minds

Electricity generated direct from floating turbines near the oil fields would both undercut the current cost of generation and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of the offshore oil industry – something the industry has pledged to do and is desperate to achieve, to avoid not only further public opposition, but also carbon taxes.

The platform operators are committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027, so buying carbon-free electricity would be a significant help.

The project will cost £10 billion (US$13.8bn), and the developers hope to be installing the turbines by 2024-2026, an ambitious timetable for such a huge project compared with the 10-20 years needed to plan and build a nuclear power station.

One farm will be sited in the Central Graben area of the North Sea, almost halfway to Norway, and the second west of Shetland.

“The UK oil and gas industry’s emissions have to be cut significantly to make production greener”

The development will far exceed the UK’s current target of 1GW of floating wind power by 2030. If it is successful it will cut installation costs substantially, paving the way for even bigger projects. Cerulean says it wants to install 14 to 15MW turbines – far larger than anything currently deployed.

One key aspect of the project is its ability to produce more power than the oil platforms will need, with the surplus going to produce green hydrogen (using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen) for which there is a growing market.

Green hydrogen’s problem has been that it is more expensive than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, so-called grey hydrogen, which is carbon-intensive and needs unproven carbon capture and storage technology to make its production acceptable to the environment movement.

The future of what is called the hydrogen economy is still uncertain, but Cerulean predicts it will be able to produce enough green hydrogen to yield export potential worth £1bn.

Race against time

It says speed is essential for the project because its success depends on selling its electricity to the oil industry in time to for that to reach its carbon reduction targets. So it has already submitted proposals to the Scottish Government for seabed leases.

The dubious carrot it is offering the UK and Scottish governments is the prospect that it can help to keep the North Sea oil and gas industry producing fossil fuels for longer. Cerulean believes that if the industry can avoid carbon taxes and penalties for its emissions, it will be able to continue production.

Dan Jackson and Mark Dixon, the founders of the company, are industry veterans. Jackson says the UK has world-leading targets for the energy transition but needs a sense of urgency and “joined-up thinking.”

If oil platforms do not cut their pollution by the mid-2020s, he believes, increased emission penalties through carbon taxes will see many North Sea fields becoming uneconomic and facing shut-down.

Greener production?

“That would seriously compromise the UK oil and gas industry’s role in home-grown energy security,” he says. “It must remain a vital element in the transition journey for decades to come, but emissions have to be cut significantly to make the production greener.”

Cerulean says many of the current 160,000 jobs would be protected by its plan, with potentially 200,000 new roles in the wind and hydrogen industry within five years.

It is, many energy analysts would say, a brave company, perhaps even a foolhardy one. Not only are most climate scientists adamantly opposed to the continued use of fossil fuels. So too, increasingly, is the market. From that perspective, Cerulean’s joined-up thinking may very soon need to stretch a whole lot further. – Climate News Network

Can the world’s largest floating offshore wind farms help the North Sea oil industry to cut carbon emissions? Should they?

LONDON, 12 July, 2021 – In one sense it is a renewable energy scheme that ticks all the wrong boxes. The idea is to help the North Sea oil industry survive longer by saving oil rigs money.

In another way the development is a great leap forward. Altogether 200 turbines are planned in two offshore wind farms that, without any public subsidy, will produce as much power as three large nuclear power stations.

The floating farms will be able to provide the forest of oil platforms in the North Sea with all the electricity they need, and also to produce surplus energy to supply large amounts of green hydrogen for sale.

The developer, Cerulean Winds, believes the key to the scheme’s success lies in the oil industry’s current need to use expensive gas piped to its platforms to generate the electricity needed to light and power its operations and pump the oil ashore. By selling the industry cheaper wind energy, it judges that it can make a profit without government subsidy, thereby avoiding months of negotiation and red tape.

Hearts and minds

Electricity generated direct from floating turbines near the oil fields would both undercut the current cost of generation and substantially reduce the carbon footprint of the offshore oil industry – something the industry has pledged to do and is desperate to achieve, to avoid not only further public opposition, but also carbon taxes.

The platform operators are committed to reducing their carbon emissions by 10% by 2025 and 25% by 2027, so buying carbon-free electricity would be a significant help.

The project will cost £10 billion (US$13.8bn), and the developers hope to be installing the turbines by 2024-2026, an ambitious timetable for such a huge project compared with the 10-20 years needed to plan and build a nuclear power station.

One farm will be sited in the Central Graben area of the North Sea, almost halfway to Norway, and the second west of Shetland.

“The UK oil and gas industry’s emissions have to be cut significantly to make production greener”

The development will far exceed the UK’s current target of 1GW of floating wind power by 2030. If it is successful it will cut installation costs substantially, paving the way for even bigger projects. Cerulean says it wants to install 14 to 15MW turbines – far larger than anything currently deployed.

One key aspect of the project is its ability to produce more power than the oil platforms will need, with the surplus going to produce green hydrogen (using electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen) for which there is a growing market.

Green hydrogen’s problem has been that it is more expensive than hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, so-called grey hydrogen, which is carbon-intensive and needs unproven carbon capture and storage technology to make its production acceptable to the environment movement.

The future of what is called the hydrogen economy is still uncertain, but Cerulean predicts it will be able to produce enough green hydrogen to yield export potential worth £1bn.

Race against time

It says speed is essential for the project because its success depends on selling its electricity to the oil industry in time to for that to reach its carbon reduction targets. So it has already submitted proposals to the Scottish Government for seabed leases.

The dubious carrot it is offering the UK and Scottish governments is the prospect that it can help to keep the North Sea oil and gas industry producing fossil fuels for longer. Cerulean believes that if the industry can avoid carbon taxes and penalties for its emissions, it will be able to continue production.

Dan Jackson and Mark Dixon, the founders of the company, are industry veterans. Jackson says the UK has world-leading targets for the energy transition but needs a sense of urgency and “joined-up thinking.”

If oil platforms do not cut their pollution by the mid-2020s, he believes, increased emission penalties through carbon taxes will see many North Sea fields becoming uneconomic and facing shut-down.

Greener production?

“That would seriously compromise the UK oil and gas industry’s role in home-grown energy security,” he says. “It must remain a vital element in the transition journey for decades to come, but emissions have to be cut significantly to make the production greener.”

Cerulean says many of the current 160,000 jobs would be protected by its plan, with potentially 200,000 new roles in the wind and hydrogen industry within five years.

It is, many energy analysts would say, a brave company, perhaps even a foolhardy one. Not only are most climate scientists adamantly opposed to the continued use of fossil fuels. So too, increasingly, is the market. From that perspective, Cerulean’s joined-up thinking may very soon need to stretch a whole lot further. – Climate News Network

Nuclear legacy is a costly headache for the future

How do you safely store spent nuclear waste? No-one knows. It’ll be a costly headache for our descendants.

LONDON, 28 June, 2021 − Many states are leaving future generations an unsolved and costly headache: how to deal with highly dangerous nuclear waste.

The decision to start closing down the United Kingdom’s second generation of nuclear power stations earlier than originally planned has highlighted the failure of governments to resolve the increasingly expensive problem of the waste they leave behind them.

Heat-producing radioactive spent fuel needs constant cooling for decades to avoid catastrophic accidents, so future generations in countries that have embraced nuclear power will all be paying billions of dollars a year, every year, for at least the next century or two to deal with this highly dangerous legacy.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its Nuclear Energy Agency looks at 12 member countries facing the problem: Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

The report shows that none of the 12 has yet got to grips with the legacy bequeathed by producing nuclear waste. None has any means yet of disposing of it. It says every country must quickly realise that the money the industry has put aside to deal with the problem is inadequate, leaving successive future generations with the bill for keeping themselves safe.

Failure to progress

Finland is closest to dealing with the internationally preferred route for making spent nuclear fuel safe: building an underground repository in rocks deep underground to store and ultimately seal up the waste in this final burial place.

The Finns have actually started building such a facility and regard it as the complete solution to the problem, even though it is still decades away from completion.

Finland’s progress is a shining example to the rest of the nuclear world. International rules require countries that create nuclear waste to deal with it within their own borders − yet most governments have failed to make progress on doing so. Some have spent decades looking for a suitable site and have failed to find one.

This has often been because local opposition has forced governments to abandon a chosen location, or because scientists judge the site too dangerous to store wastes for the required 100,000 years or so, because of poor geology. They may suspect a risk that the radioactivity could leak into water supplies, or rise to the surface and kill unwary future generations.

The funding shortfall has become much more problematic because of low inflation and the current Covid pandemic. Governments previously put money aside on the assumption that economies would constantly grow and positive interest rates would create massive long-term investments.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for nuclear wastes.

But the current low or negative return on government bonds means investments made in the past and designed to pay huge future bills will no longer be enough to deal with the cost of spent fuel and other high-level wastes.

The report says governments’ assumptions have proved optimistic. It is not directly critical of governments, but points out that “the polluter pays” principle is not being applied. New funding needs to be found, it says, if future generations are not to be saddled with this generation’s expensive and life-threatening legacy.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for past and present nuclear wastes.

As early as 1976, in the Flowers Report on nuclear power and the environment, the UK was warned that it should not build any more nuclear power stations until it had found a way of getting rid of the waste. The government agreed.

Since then, for more than 40 years, successive governments have been looking for a repository to make good on their promise. But none has yet been found, and none is expected until the current target date of 2045.

True cost unknown

Yet the OECD says the original nuclear weapons programme, plus the first generation of nuclear stations, now all closed, are costing today’s taxpayers US$4.58 billion a year (£3.3bn) just to manage the waste and keep the population safe. The cost is around $185bn (£133bn) for 17 sites over 120 years. There could be liabilities of another $200bn (£144bn) to restore the installations to greenfield sites.

The second generation of nuclear stations can call on the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, set up by the UK government when the French company EDF took over the newer British advanced gas cooled reactors (AGRs) in 2009 so that money from electricity sales could be invested to pay for de-fuelling and decommissioning at the end of their lives. The first of these, Dungeness B, on the English Channel coast, started de-fuelling this month.

The cost of dismantling this generation of reactors is estimated at $28.57bn (£20.59bn) by EDF  $10bn more than the Nuclear Liabilities Fund provides for. This shortfall is almost certainly a large under-estimate because the actual cost of closing the stations and storing the waste is unknown, let alone that of restoring the sites to greenfield conditions.

Partly this is because AGRs have never yet been taken out of service before there is a disposal route for the waste. If none is found, taxpayers will have to pay to keep it safe in closely managed stores for many decades.

Despite this, the current UK government is now building a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and wants to build many more. Meanwhile the mounting financial liabilities for future generations who will need to keep the waste safe in a time of climate change are left unresolved. And so the costly headache remains for countless generations to come. − Climate News Network

How do you safely store spent nuclear waste? No-one knows. It’ll be a costly headache for our descendants.

LONDON, 28 June, 2021 − Many states are leaving future generations an unsolved and costly headache: how to deal with highly dangerous nuclear waste.

The decision to start closing down the United Kingdom’s second generation of nuclear power stations earlier than originally planned has highlighted the failure of governments to resolve the increasingly expensive problem of the waste they leave behind them.

Heat-producing radioactive spent fuel needs constant cooling for decades to avoid catastrophic accidents, so future generations in countries that have embraced nuclear power will all be paying billions of dollars a year, every year, for at least the next century or two to deal with this highly dangerous legacy.

A report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and its Nuclear Energy Agency looks at 12 member countries facing the problem: Belgium, Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

The report shows that none of the 12 has yet got to grips with the legacy bequeathed by producing nuclear waste. None has any means yet of disposing of it. It says every country must quickly realise that the money the industry has put aside to deal with the problem is inadequate, leaving successive future generations with the bill for keeping themselves safe.

Failure to progress

Finland is closest to dealing with the internationally preferred route for making spent nuclear fuel safe: building an underground repository in rocks deep underground to store and ultimately seal up the waste in this final burial place.

The Finns have actually started building such a facility and regard it as the complete solution to the problem, even though it is still decades away from completion.

Finland’s progress is a shining example to the rest of the nuclear world. International rules require countries that create nuclear waste to deal with it within their own borders − yet most governments have failed to make progress on doing so. Some have spent decades looking for a suitable site and have failed to find one.

This has often been because local opposition has forced governments to abandon a chosen location, or because scientists judge the site too dangerous to store wastes for the required 100,000 years or so, because of poor geology. They may suspect a risk that the radioactivity could leak into water supplies, or rise to the surface and kill unwary future generations.

The funding shortfall has become much more problematic because of low inflation and the current Covid pandemic. Governments previously put money aside on the assumption that economies would constantly grow and positive interest rates would create massive long-term investments.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for nuclear wastes.

But the current low or negative return on government bonds means investments made in the past and designed to pay huge future bills will no longer be enough to deal with the cost of spent fuel and other high-level wastes.

The report says governments’ assumptions have proved optimistic. It is not directly critical of governments, but points out that “the polluter pays” principle is not being applied. New funding needs to be found, it says, if future generations are not to be saddled with this generation’s expensive and life-threatening legacy.

The UK, one of the pioneer nuclear states because of its race to develop a nuclear bomb, is a classic example of leaving the grandchildren to pay for past and present nuclear wastes.

As early as 1976, in the Flowers Report on nuclear power and the environment, the UK was warned that it should not build any more nuclear power stations until it had found a way of getting rid of the waste. The government agreed.

Since then, for more than 40 years, successive governments have been looking for a repository to make good on their promise. But none has yet been found, and none is expected until the current target date of 2045.

True cost unknown

Yet the OECD says the original nuclear weapons programme, plus the first generation of nuclear stations, now all closed, are costing today’s taxpayers US$4.58 billion a year (£3.3bn) just to manage the waste and keep the population safe. The cost is around $185bn (£133bn) for 17 sites over 120 years. There could be liabilities of another $200bn (£144bn) to restore the installations to greenfield sites.

The second generation of nuclear stations can call on the Nuclear Liabilities Fund, set up by the UK government when the French company EDF took over the newer British advanced gas cooled reactors (AGRs) in 2009 so that money from electricity sales could be invested to pay for de-fuelling and decommissioning at the end of their lives. The first of these, Dungeness B, on the English Channel coast, started de-fuelling this month.

The cost of dismantling this generation of reactors is estimated at $28.57bn (£20.59bn) by EDF  $10bn more than the Nuclear Liabilities Fund provides for. This shortfall is almost certainly a large under-estimate because the actual cost of closing the stations and storing the waste is unknown, let alone that of restoring the sites to greenfield conditions.

Partly this is because AGRs have never yet been taken out of service before there is a disposal route for the waste. If none is found, taxpayers will have to pay to keep it safe in closely managed stores for many decades.

Despite this, the current UK government is now building a new nuclear station at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and wants to build many more. Meanwhile the mounting financial liabilities for future generations who will need to keep the waste safe in a time of climate change are left unresolved. And so the costly headache remains for countless generations to come. − Climate News Network

‘People need facts on climate’ from Boris Johnson

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is urged by advisers to step up and tell people the facts on climate.

LONDON, 24 June, 2021 − In an uncompromising message directed at the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, an independent advisory group has told him he must rapidly “level with people” over the facts on climate.

The advisers say Johnson needs to do this within a matter of months, before the UK hosts the UN climate conference, COP-26, in Glasgow in November, because the road it faces will be “tricky”.

The advice comes from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Last week the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said the level of risk posed by climate change had risen in the last five years, and the extent of planning to adapt to it was “really shocking”.

Onus on Johnson

He told the Climate News Network in an interview that the UK had set sound, science-based targets for reaching its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but it needed to do far more on delivering them.

“We need the government to level with people, because some of the decisions ahead will be tricky,” Dr Stark said. “We need Boris Johnson to step up before November.

“Delivering what the UK has promised could be the basis of a better relationship between us and the US, Europe, and possibly even China. Johnson needs to recognise that, to see the political opportunities delivery  offers. The responsibility for what happens in Glasgow rests with him.”

The CCC is resolute in seeing opportunities as well as potential problems ahead if the UK delivers on the climate promises it’s made. It’s warned Britons, for instance, that a drastic change of diet is necessary to help to reduce carbon emissions a cut in meat consumption of 20%.

“Time is running out for realistic climate commitments”

But that will prove “neither difficult nor scary” for Dr Stark. “Diets are changing already”, he says. “We’re moving to healthier eating habits. Younger people are eating less meat than their elders, and there’s an argument for the health benefits that offers.

“Farmers who can’t raise so many animals for meat will have new sources of money, using their land for soil restoration and for absorbing carbon, treating it as a crop.”

That’s a hopeful prospect, but it may prove little more than a glimmer against the background of the progress the world has to make to tackle the climate crisis, and how little time it has to do it. Transparency about the facts on climate will be essential.

Six years ago, at the 2015 UN climate conference, 195 nations affirmed the Paris Agreement, accepting a commitment to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2°C beyond their historic level, and to try to keep the rise to a more modest 1.5°C.

UK leadership in question

Progress to make the Agreement work is slow – so slow that the CCC is among those predicting that by the end of this century the temperature rise may have reached 3.5-4°C, or more. Referring specifically to the UK, it has a stark verdict: “Time is running out for realistic climate commitments.”

Its chairman, Lord Deben, says the UK cannot afford to “continue to be slow and timid.” If November’s climate conference in Glasgow is judged to have failed because the UK, its host, has not delivered on its undertakings, he says, “the whole concept of the UK being a global leader will be undermined.

“If all we do is promise, other people won’t take us seriously. Every decision we take has to be seen through the lens of our net zero target for mid-century.

“Not all parts of the government realise the urgency we need to avoid disruption to people’s lives. This government earns nine out of ten for determination and policy. But on delivery, I don’t think it reaches four out of ten.” − Climate News Network

The UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, is urged by advisers to step up and tell people the facts on climate.

LONDON, 24 June, 2021 − In an uncompromising message directed at the UK prime minister, Boris Johnson, an independent advisory group has told him he must rapidly “level with people” over the facts on climate.

The advisers say Johnson needs to do this within a matter of months, before the UK hosts the UN climate conference, COP-26, in Glasgow in November, because the road it faces will be “tricky”.

The advice comes from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Last week the CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said the level of risk posed by climate change had risen in the last five years, and the extent of planning to adapt to it was “really shocking”.

Onus on Johnson

He told the Climate News Network in an interview that the UK had set sound, science-based targets for reaching its goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century, but it needed to do far more on delivering them.

“We need the government to level with people, because some of the decisions ahead will be tricky,” Dr Stark said. “We need Boris Johnson to step up before November.

“Delivering what the UK has promised could be the basis of a better relationship between us and the US, Europe, and possibly even China. Johnson needs to recognise that, to see the political opportunities delivery  offers. The responsibility for what happens in Glasgow rests with him.”

The CCC is resolute in seeing opportunities as well as potential problems ahead if the UK delivers on the climate promises it’s made. It’s warned Britons, for instance, that a drastic change of diet is necessary to help to reduce carbon emissions a cut in meat consumption of 20%.

“Time is running out for realistic climate commitments”

But that will prove “neither difficult nor scary” for Dr Stark. “Diets are changing already”, he says. “We’re moving to healthier eating habits. Younger people are eating less meat than their elders, and there’s an argument for the health benefits that offers.

“Farmers who can’t raise so many animals for meat will have new sources of money, using their land for soil restoration and for absorbing carbon, treating it as a crop.”

That’s a hopeful prospect, but it may prove little more than a glimmer against the background of the progress the world has to make to tackle the climate crisis, and how little time it has to do it. Transparency about the facts on climate will be essential.

Six years ago, at the 2015 UN climate conference, 195 nations affirmed the Paris Agreement, accepting a commitment to prevent global temperatures rising more than 2°C beyond their historic level, and to try to keep the rise to a more modest 1.5°C.

UK leadership in question

Progress to make the Agreement work is slow – so slow that the CCC is among those predicting that by the end of this century the temperature rise may have reached 3.5-4°C, or more. Referring specifically to the UK, it has a stark verdict: “Time is running out for realistic climate commitments.”

Its chairman, Lord Deben, says the UK cannot afford to “continue to be slow and timid.” If November’s climate conference in Glasgow is judged to have failed because the UK, its host, has not delivered on its undertakings, he says, “the whole concept of the UK being a global leader will be undermined.

“If all we do is promise, other people won’t take us seriously. Every decision we take has to be seen through the lens of our net zero target for mid-century.

“Not all parts of the government realise the urgency we need to avoid disruption to people’s lives. This government earns nine out of ten for determination and policy. But on delivery, I don’t think it reaches four out of ten.” − Climate News Network

Let nature restore itself on its own for best results

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

Don’t meddle: let nature restore itself on its own. Old forest will spread over nearby farmland. It’s cheap, and often best.

LONDON, 22 June, 2021 − British scientists have just confirmed something that might have seemed obvious: to regenerate the natural world, the best way is often to let nature restore itself on its own.

That is: left to its own devices, and with help only from wild birds and mammals, bare agricultural land turned into dense native woodland in little more than half a human lifetime.

Nobody needed to plant trees and shield them with plastic tubing; nobody had to patrol the protected zone or fence it against rabbits and deer, or attempt to choose the ideal species for the terrain. It all happened anyway, with the help of the wind, the wild things and a species of crow called a jay.

The research offers lessons for governments that have committed to restoring natural forest as part of the arsenal against global heating and climate change: it need not cost much.

Fast work

“Biodiversity-rich woodland that is resilient to drought and reduces disease risk can be created without any input from us,” said Richard Broughton, of the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

“Our study provides essential evidence that passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales.”

He and his colleagues tell the story in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One. They simply monitored the progress of two farmland fields over two periods of 24 and 59 years respectively: one had been abandoned in 1996, the other in 1961. Significantly, both fields − of 2.1 hectares and 3.9 hectares, and labelled New Wilderness and Old Wilderness − were close by a patch of ancient woodland.

This was the Monks Wood national nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, a tract of wildwood in eastern England that has been studied in fine detail for many decades and documented since 1279 AD.

“Passive rewilding has the potential to expand native woodland habitat at no cost and within relatively short timescales”

Of the two abandoned neighbouring fields, one had been grazing land, the other laid down to barley. Brambles and thornbushes colonised the neglected fields, to provide cover for seeds, nuts and acorns spread by wild mammals and birds.

After 23 years, 86% of the grassland had turned into shrub and sapling that had reached an average height of 2.9 metres, with a density of 132 trees per hectare: 57% of these were the oak Quercus robur. The Old Wilderness, after 53 years, had 100% cover averaging 13.1 metres in height, with a density of 390 trees per hectare, 52% of them oak.

Climate scientists have been urging the protection and restoration of natural ecosystems for four decades. Conservation scientists, alarmed at the potential rapid rise in rates of species extinction along with the damage to natural habitats, have been urging the same thing for even longer.

Both have made a case for restoring the wilderness: the debate has been about the best ways to make this happen. More trees should mean more carbon absorbed from the atmosphere. But more climate change might make such restoration, through for instance deliberate plantation, increasingly problematic.

Reheating the Arctic

So the next question is: could Nature restore itself? Rewilding is still at the experimental stage: a process backed by in some cases deliberate re-introductions, for instance of beavers and other wild species in Europe. There is even an argument that in the fastest-warming zone of the planet, the Arctic, the reintroduction of large herbivores could help slow climate change and contain global heating driven by ever-higher ratios of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

The clear message of the latest study is that − at least if natural forest rich in wild birds and mammals is close by − then nature can be left to do what nature does best. There were no costs of planting, there was no risk of disease introduction from nursery-grown saplings, and no need for plastic tubes to protect the tender young tree trunks from predators.

Blackthorn and hawthorn helped screen the young trees from hares, rabbits and deer. Seeds were dispersed by helpful wild agents, among them squirrels and wood mice and a bird commonly regarded as a pest, the jay, Garrulus glandarius.

“The huge benefits that jays provide in natural colonisation by dispersing tree seeds, especially acorns, help create more woodland habitat for all wildlife and far outweigh any impact of predation,” Dr Broughton said. − Climate News Network

UK’s ‘really shocking’ climate record is damned

Britain, host of November’s UN talks, COP-26, is pilloried by its own advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

LONDON, 17 June, 2021 − In a searing indictment of its failure to act fast enough to prepare for the onslaught of rising heat, there is condemnation of the British government by its independent advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

The latest science says the world could warm by an average of 4°C over historic levels by 2100, an increase which would prove devastating to human life and the natural world.

The advisers’ assessment says the UK’s plans are inadequate to cope even with a 2°C temperature rise, a risky limit which exceeds the 1.5°C maximum most of the world’s nations agreed to aim for as the maximum tolerable rise in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The report is the work of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored”

The CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said CCC members were so frustrated with the lack of progress on climate-proofing the UK that they deliberately made this report “spiky”. He said: “It’s really troubling how little attention the government has paid to this.

“Overall, the level of risk that we are facing from climate change has increased since five years ago. Our preparations are not keeping pace with the risks that we face. That is a very concerning conclusion.”

Dr Stark told BBC News: “The extent of planning for many of the risks is really shocking. We are not thinking clearly about what lies ahead.”

The CCC’s assessment examines risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK. It concludes that action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a hotter planet and the growing climate risks the UK faces.

Threat to net zero

The UK is already committed to a legally-binding goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century. This  CCC assessment focuses, not on mitigation emissions cuts but on adaptation preparing to live with the inevitable. The government’s failure to act on adaptation is putting its net zero goal in jeopardy, the New Scientist reports.

Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, more than 570,000 new homes have been built in the UK that are not resilient to future high temperatures; since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England alone.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove: under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1500-page report have been given the highest urgency score. Among the priority risk areas identified by the CCC as needing immediate attention, within the next two years at the most, are:

  • Terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought
  • Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees
  • Risks to supplies of food, goods and vital services from climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system
  • Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings
  • Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas

The changing climate will create some opportunities for the UK, the CCC acknowledges, but these are massively outweighed by the risks.

It says the government must deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant government plans and policies. The government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately, and this needs to change, the Committee says.

In response, a government spokesman commented: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP-26 [the UN climate summit to be hosted by the UK] in November.” − Climate News Network

Britain, host of November’s UN talks, COP-26, is pilloried by its own advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

LONDON, 17 June, 2021 − In a searing indictment of its failure to act fast enough to prepare for the onslaught of rising heat, there is condemnation of the British government by its independent advisers for the UK’s “really shocking” climate record.

The latest science says the world could warm by an average of 4°C over historic levels by 2100, an increase which would prove devastating to human life and the natural world.

The advisers’ assessment says the UK’s plans are inadequate to cope even with a 2°C temperature rise, a risky limit which exceeds the 1.5°C maximum most of the world’s nations agreed to aim for as the maximum tolerable rise in the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The report is the work of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent statutory body set up to advise the UK government and the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, on emissions targets, and to report to Parliament on progress made in cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

“Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored”

The CCC’s chief executive, Chris Stark, said CCC members were so frustrated with the lack of progress on climate-proofing the UK that they deliberately made this report “spiky”. He said: “It’s really troubling how little attention the government has paid to this.

“Overall, the level of risk that we are facing from climate change has increased since five years ago. Our preparations are not keeping pace with the risks that we face. That is a very concerning conclusion.”

Dr Stark told BBC News: “The extent of planning for many of the risks is really shocking. We are not thinking clearly about what lies ahead.”

The CCC’s assessment examines risks and opportunities affecting every aspect of life in the UK. It concludes that action to improve the nation’s resilience is failing to keep pace with the impacts of a hotter planet and the growing climate risks the UK faces.

Threat to net zero

The UK is already committed to a legally-binding goal of cutting its greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by the middle of the century. This  CCC assessment focuses, not on mitigation emissions cuts but on adaptation preparing to live with the inevitable. The government’s failure to act on adaptation is putting its net zero goal in jeopardy, the New Scientist reports.

Since the CCC’s last assessment five years ago, more than 570,000 new homes have been built in the UK that are not resilient to future high temperatures; since 2018 over 4,000 heat-related deaths have been recorded in England alone.

Baroness Brown, chair of the CCC’s adaptation committee, said: “Adaptation remains the Cinderella of climate change, still sitting in rags by the stove: under-resourced, underfunded and often ignored. A detailed, effective action plan that prepares the UK for climate change is now essential and needed urgently.”

UK-wide, nearly 60% of the risks and opportunities assessed in the 1500-page report have been given the highest urgency score. Among the priority risk areas identified by the CCC as needing immediate attention, within the next two years at the most, are:

  • Terrestrial and freshwater habitats and species from multiple hazards
  • Risks to soil health from increased flooding and drought
  • Risks to crops, livestock and commercial trees
  • Risks to supplies of food, goods and vital services from climate-related collapse of supply chains and distribution networks
  • Risks to people and the economy from climate-related failure of the power system
  • Risks to human health, wellbeing and productivity from increased exposure to heat in homes and other buildings
  • Multiple risks to the UK from climate change impacts overseas

The changing climate will create some opportunities for the UK, the CCC acknowledges, but these are massively outweighed by the risks.

It says the government must deliver a much better action plan to support good adaptation planning across the UK and integrate this into all relevant government plans and policies. The government has to date not heeded the CCC’s advice on the importance of this plan or on funding it adequately, and this needs to change, the Committee says.

In response, a government spokesman commented: “We welcome this report and will consider its recommendations closely as we continue to demonstrate global leadership on climate change ahead of COP-26 [the UN climate summit to be hosted by the UK] in November.” − Climate News Network

Big Oil’s malign influence is waning at last

It has enriched us, even dictated our politics, but now we know Big Oil’s malign influence we want no more of this black gold.

LONDON, 12 May, 2021 − Despite the hold that oil has had on our lives for the last century through cars, chemicals, plastics, pesticides and almost every facet of daily life, including keeping millions of people in employment, it is something few of us ever think about. Big Oil’s malign influence has left us unaware.

But oil has a remarkable story to tell: its rise, its ascendancy in all our lives, and now, if civilisation is to survive, its fall. These phases are all described in a new book, Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation.

Although the book is specifically about oil’s role in shaping the United Kingdom, it is also concerned with the way oil changes the politics and national economies of the rest of the world.

This is because, more than with any other industry, the scramble to own and distribute oil is a multi-national business controlled by some of the world’s biggest and most powerful companies, which have frequently influenced the destiny of nations.

The authors, James Marriott, a writer who has been studying the industry for 35 years and Terry Macalister, former energy editor of the Guardian, detail just how pervasive oil is in our lives. They visit towns that were once thriving hubs of industry, places of full employment which are now hollowed-out relics.

“ . . . they are hidden and largely closed to scrutiny, except by their own public presentations. They are privately owned, often by individuals tax-domiciled abroad . . . ”

More illuminating though is their series of interviews with former and current oil executives, speculators, politicians and civil servants. Some of them have been all of those things at different times in their lives.

They have managed this because, as the book demonstrates, there has always been a revolving door between governments and the oil industry that allows powerful individuals to shape policy and wield undue influence.

The history of the industry and its effect on our lives is fascinating. We are reminded that it is the reason for the existence of many products we use and benefit from daily. Then there is the downside: the wars fought over oil, the way that the industry has used its influence to protect its position and its profits, undermining democracy and ruining many thousands of lives.

Perhaps, for those involved in the battle over climate change who want to see the back of Big Oil, it is the last part of the book that is most illuminating. It describes how the multi-nationals BP and Shell have striven to brush up and green their image.

This is partly because of pressure from shareholders and environment groups, but also because the companies themselves realise that the game will soon be up for fossil fuels and they will need to invest elsewhere.

An era ends?

Although the book explains that it may be a case of too little, too late for both the planet and the companies, Shell and BP are currently reducing their exploration in sensitive and expensive areas and selling oil assets to hedge funds and shadowy offshore companies. At the same time, they are beginning to invest heavily in renewables.

This diversification may help some oil majors survive, but according to the authors the new oil barons who buy their assets face none of the pressures that steer the companies to go green. The barons’ sole aim is to squeeze every drop of oil and dollar they can from the industry as it gradually winds down.

This change signifies a new kind of institution in the industry. It has scant need of journalists, unlike the traditional corporations which used the media to build a positive profile as they lobbied ministers, largely behind the scenes.

“Instead they are hidden and largely closed to scrutiny, except by their own public presentations. They are privately owned, often by individuals tax-domiciled abroad,” the authors say.

In a final chapter, entitled rather hopefully Heading for Extinction, the book concludes that the era of oil is over, or at least rapidly fading. It charts the rise of Extinction Rebellion, the school strikes, and the growing awareness of the danger the human race is in. It is an optimistic end to a fascinating and detailed account of how we have all let oil dominate our lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation. Pluto Press, hardback £20.00:  to be published on 20 May, 2021. By James Marriott & Terry Macalister

It has enriched us, even dictated our politics, but now we know Big Oil’s malign influence we want no more of this black gold.

LONDON, 12 May, 2021 − Despite the hold that oil has had on our lives for the last century through cars, chemicals, plastics, pesticides and almost every facet of daily life, including keeping millions of people in employment, it is something few of us ever think about. Big Oil’s malign influence has left us unaware.

But oil has a remarkable story to tell: its rise, its ascendancy in all our lives, and now, if civilisation is to survive, its fall. These phases are all described in a new book, Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation.

Although the book is specifically about oil’s role in shaping the United Kingdom, it is also concerned with the way oil changes the politics and national economies of the rest of the world.

This is because, more than with any other industry, the scramble to own and distribute oil is a multi-national business controlled by some of the world’s biggest and most powerful companies, which have frequently influenced the destiny of nations.

The authors, James Marriott, a writer who has been studying the industry for 35 years and Terry Macalister, former energy editor of the Guardian, detail just how pervasive oil is in our lives. They visit towns that were once thriving hubs of industry, places of full employment which are now hollowed-out relics.

“ . . . they are hidden and largely closed to scrutiny, except by their own public presentations. They are privately owned, often by individuals tax-domiciled abroad . . . ”

More illuminating though is their series of interviews with former and current oil executives, speculators, politicians and civil servants. Some of them have been all of those things at different times in their lives.

They have managed this because, as the book demonstrates, there has always been a revolving door between governments and the oil industry that allows powerful individuals to shape policy and wield undue influence.

The history of the industry and its effect on our lives is fascinating. We are reminded that it is the reason for the existence of many products we use and benefit from daily. Then there is the downside: the wars fought over oil, the way that the industry has used its influence to protect its position and its profits, undermining democracy and ruining many thousands of lives.

Perhaps, for those involved in the battle over climate change who want to see the back of Big Oil, it is the last part of the book that is most illuminating. It describes how the multi-nationals BP and Shell have striven to brush up and green their image.

This is partly because of pressure from shareholders and environment groups, but also because the companies themselves realise that the game will soon be up for fossil fuels and they will need to invest elsewhere.

An era ends?

Although the book explains that it may be a case of too little, too late for both the planet and the companies, Shell and BP are currently reducing their exploration in sensitive and expensive areas and selling oil assets to hedge funds and shadowy offshore companies. At the same time, they are beginning to invest heavily in renewables.

This diversification may help some oil majors survive, but according to the authors the new oil barons who buy their assets face none of the pressures that steer the companies to go green. The barons’ sole aim is to squeeze every drop of oil and dollar they can from the industry as it gradually winds down.

This change signifies a new kind of institution in the industry. It has scant need of journalists, unlike the traditional corporations which used the media to build a positive profile as they lobbied ministers, largely behind the scenes.

“Instead they are hidden and largely closed to scrutiny, except by their own public presentations. They are privately owned, often by individuals tax-domiciled abroad,” the authors say.

In a final chapter, entitled rather hopefully Heading for Extinction, the book concludes that the era of oil is over, or at least rapidly fading. It charts the rise of Extinction Rebellion, the school strikes, and the growing awareness of the danger the human race is in. It is an optimistic end to a fascinating and detailed account of how we have all let oil dominate our lives. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Crude Britannia: How Oil Shaped a Nation. Pluto Press, hardback £20.00:  to be published on 20 May, 2021. By James Marriott & Terry Macalister

Advert ban tries to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels

How do you wean the Dutch off fossil fuels? Well, you could always start by banning advertisements that promote them.

LONDON, 6 May, 2021 − Three days ago Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, “Venice of the North” (and destination of many travellers who appreciate a little something extra with their coffee), took a serious step into the future. It sought to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels by banning many advertisements for the pollutants.

The ban isn’t total − yet. But this prohibition of what are described as “fossil fuel products”, including air travel as well as fossil-fuelled cars, means the adverts will no longer be seen in Amsterdam’s subway stations.

The city says it’s the first in the world determined to keep fossil fuel advertising off its streets. Never before has a city decided to ban advertising solely on the basis of climate change, it insists.

The agreement about advertisements in its metro stations is the municipality’s first step towards making advertising everywhere in Amsterdam fossil-free. The Dutch capital is still investigating a wider ban on advertising, and on marketing festivals by fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell (or, to give it its original name, Royal Dutch Shell).

“We don’t have any time to waste. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption”

Ban Fossil Advertising (Reclame Fossielvrij) is a Dutch citizens’ group working for a nationwide ban on advertising by the fossil fuel industry and on adverts for polluting transport. Its co-ordinator, Femke Sleegers, said: “The decision to ban fossil fuel advertising from subway stations comes at a crucial moment in the fight against climate change.

“We don’t have any time to waste in working towards the Paris climate goals. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption and have no place in a city − or a country − that has complied with Paris.”

The decision by Amsterdam’s city council to start banning fossil fuel adverts followed pressure by Ban Fossil Advertising and 51 other local groups. The city’s public transport company, GVB, had already decided to sharpen up its advertising policy in order to keep greenwashing advertisements (when polluters falsely present themselves as environmentally responsible) out of its vehicles, after a call by Extinction Rebellion Amsterdam.

Ban Fossil Advertising is working for a nationwide law to cover the fossil fuel industry, modelled on the Dutch advertising ban on the tobacco industry, which is regarded by campaigners as an indispensable step in the fight against smoking. It is seen not only as a step which changed social norms, but as one that removed temptation. Today’s campaigners say an identical approach is needed towards fossil fuels.

Global pressure

Three more cities in the Netherlands − The Hague, Utrecht and Nijmegen − say they are open to a ban on fossil fuel ads. Similar moves are under way in a number of other countries in Europe, North America and Australia, some at national level and some in individual cities, with media backing in several cases.

A Canadian group, for example, the Citizens’ Initiative for a fossil fuel advertisement-free Canada,  urges Parliament “to demand accountability from the fossil industry and legislate a ‘tobacco law’ for oil, gas and petrochemical companies; a ‘fossil law’”.

This would ban adverts for Big Oil, air travel and cars with fossil fuel engines, with fossil fuel money used for marketing redirected into “an unbranded fund that helps the transition.” A similar initiative is under way in France.

In the US, the city of New York is suing three major oil companies and the top industry trade group, arguing that the companies are misrepresenting themselves by selling fuels as “cleaner” and advertising themselves as leaders in fighting climate change.

In the UK the Badvertising campaign is seeking to stop adverts from fuelling the climate emergency, and the environmental lawyers ClientEarth are urging policymakers to ban all fossil fuel company ads unless they come with tobacco-style health warnings about the risks of global heating to people and the planet. − Climate News Network

How do you wean the Dutch off fossil fuels? Well, you could always start by banning advertisements that promote them.

LONDON, 6 May, 2021 − Three days ago Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, “Venice of the North” (and destination of many travellers who appreciate a little something extra with their coffee), took a serious step into the future. It sought to wean the Dutch off fossil fuels by banning many advertisements for the pollutants.

The ban isn’t total − yet. But this prohibition of what are described as “fossil fuel products”, including air travel as well as fossil-fuelled cars, means the adverts will no longer be seen in Amsterdam’s subway stations.

The city says it’s the first in the world determined to keep fossil fuel advertising off its streets. Never before has a city decided to ban advertising solely on the basis of climate change, it insists.

The agreement about advertisements in its metro stations is the municipality’s first step towards making advertising everywhere in Amsterdam fossil-free. The Dutch capital is still investigating a wider ban on advertising, and on marketing festivals by fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil and Shell (or, to give it its original name, Royal Dutch Shell).

“We don’t have any time to waste. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption”

Ban Fossil Advertising (Reclame Fossielvrij) is a Dutch citizens’ group working for a nationwide ban on advertising by the fossil fuel industry and on adverts for polluting transport. Its co-ordinator, Femke Sleegers, said: “The decision to ban fossil fuel advertising from subway stations comes at a crucial moment in the fight against climate change.

“We don’t have any time to waste in working towards the Paris climate goals. Adverts that portray fossil fuels as normal worsen climate disruption and have no place in a city − or a country − that has complied with Paris.”

The decision by Amsterdam’s city council to start banning fossil fuel adverts followed pressure by Ban Fossil Advertising and 51 other local groups. The city’s public transport company, GVB, had already decided to sharpen up its advertising policy in order to keep greenwashing advertisements (when polluters falsely present themselves as environmentally responsible) out of its vehicles, after a call by Extinction Rebellion Amsterdam.

Ban Fossil Advertising is working for a nationwide law to cover the fossil fuel industry, modelled on the Dutch advertising ban on the tobacco industry, which is regarded by campaigners as an indispensable step in the fight against smoking. It is seen not only as a step which changed social norms, but as one that removed temptation. Today’s campaigners say an identical approach is needed towards fossil fuels.

Global pressure

Three more cities in the Netherlands − The Hague, Utrecht and Nijmegen − say they are open to a ban on fossil fuel ads. Similar moves are under way in a number of other countries in Europe, North America and Australia, some at national level and some in individual cities, with media backing in several cases.

A Canadian group, for example, the Citizens’ Initiative for a fossil fuel advertisement-free Canada,  urges Parliament “to demand accountability from the fossil industry and legislate a ‘tobacco law’ for oil, gas and petrochemical companies; a ‘fossil law’”.

This would ban adverts for Big Oil, air travel and cars with fossil fuel engines, with fossil fuel money used for marketing redirected into “an unbranded fund that helps the transition.” A similar initiative is under way in France.

In the US, the city of New York is suing three major oil companies and the top industry trade group, arguing that the companies are misrepresenting themselves by selling fuels as “cleaner” and advertising themselves as leaders in fighting climate change.

In the UK the Badvertising campaign is seeking to stop adverts from fuelling the climate emergency, and the environmental lawyers ClientEarth are urging policymakers to ban all fossil fuel company ads unless they come with tobacco-style health warnings about the risks of global heating to people and the planet. − Climate News Network

UK nuclear plants will exact heavy fish toll

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network

Environmental groups are alarmed at the heavy fish toll which two new British nuclear plants will inflict on stocks.

LONDON, 4 May, 2021 − The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” − Climate News Network

Nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it survive

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

The nuclear industry’s unfounded claims let it rely on “dark arts”, ignoring much better ways to cut carbon emissions.

LONDON, 28 April, 2021 – It is the global nuclear industry’s unfounded claims – not least that it is part of the solution to climate change because it is a low-carbon source of electricity – that allow it to survive, says a devastating demolition job by one of the world’s leading environmental experts, Jonathan Porritt.

In a report, Net Zero Without Nuclear, he says the industry is in fact hindering the fight against climate change. Its claim that new types of reactor are part of the solution is, he says, like its previous promises, over-hyped and illusionary.

Porritt, a former director of Friends of the Earth UK, who was appointed chairman of the UK government’s Sustainable Development Commission after years of campaigning on green issues, has written the report in a personal capacity, but it is endorsed by an impressive group of academics and environmental campaigners.

His analysis is timely, because the nuclear industry is currently sinking billions of dollars into supporting environmental think tanks and energy “experts” who bombard politicians and news outlets with pro-nuclear propaganda.

Porritt provides a figure of 46 front groups in 18 countries practising these “dark arts”, and says it is only this “army of lobbyists and PR specialists” that is keeping the industry alive.

First he discusses the so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a measure of the average net present cost of electricity generation for a generating plant over its lifetime.

“The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before”

In 2020, the LCOE of producing one megawatt of electricity in the UK showed huge variations:

  • large scale solar came out cheapest at £27 (US$38)
  • onshore wind was £30
  • the cheapest gas: £44
  • offshore wind: £63
  • coal was £83
  • nuclear – a massive £121 ($168).

Porritt argues that even if you dispute some of the methods of reaching these figures, it is important to look at trends. Over time wind and solar are constantly getting cheaper, while nuclear costs on the other hand are rising – by 26% in ten years.

His second issue is the time it takes to build a nuclear station. He concludes that the pace of building them is so slow that if western countries started building new ones now, the amount of carbon dioxide produced in manufacturing the concrete and steel needed to complete them would far outweigh any contribution the stations might make by 2050 to low carbon electricity production. New build nuclear power stations would in fact make existing net zero targets harder to reach.

“It is very misleading to make out that renewables and nuclear are equivalently low-carbon – and even more misleading to describe nuclear as zero-carbon, as a regrettably significant number of politicians and industry representatives continue to do – many of them in the full knowledge that they are lying”, he writes.

He says that the British government and all the main opposition political parties in England and Wales are pro-nuclear, effectively stifling public debate, and that the government neglects the most important way of reducing carbon emissions: energy efficiency.

Also, with the UK particularly well-endowed with wind, solar and tidal resources, it would be far quicker and cheaper to reach 100% renewable energy without harbouring any new nuclear ambitions.

The report discusses as well issues the industry would rather not examine – the unresolved problem of nuclear waste, and the immense time it takes to decommission nuclear stations. This leads on to the issue of safety, not just the difficult question of potential terrorist and cyber attacks, but also the dangers of sea level rise and other effects of climate change.

Failed expectations

These include the possibility of sea water, particularly in the Middle East, becoming too warm to cool the reactors and so rendering them difficult to operate, and rivers running low during droughts, for example in France and the US, forcing the stations to close when power is most needed.

Porritt insists he has kept an open mind on nuclear power since the 1970s and still does so, but that they have never lived up to their promises. He makes the point that he does not want existing nuclear stations to close early if they are safe, since they are producing low carbon electricity. However, he is baffled by the continuing enthusiasm among politicians for nuclear power: “The case against nuclear power is stronger than it has ever been before.”

But it is not just the politicians and industry chiefs that come in for criticism. Trade unions which advocate new nuclear power because it is a heavily unionised industry when there are far more jobs in the renewable sector are “especially repugnant.”

He also rehearses the fact that without a healthy civil nuclear industry countries would struggle to afford nuclear weapons, as it is electricity consumers that provide support for the weapons programme.

The newest argument employed by nuclear enthusiasts, the idea that green hydrogen could be produced in large quantities, is one he also debunks. It would simply be too expensive and inefficient, he says, except perhaps for the steel and concrete industries.

Porritt’s report is principally directed at the UK’s nuclear programme, where he says the government very much stands alone in Europe in its “unbridled enthusiasm for new nuclear power stations.”

This is despite the fact that the nuclear case has continued to fade for 15 years. Instead, he argues, British governments should go for what the report concentrates on: Net Zero Without Nuclear. – Climate News Network

Climate heating may speed up to unexpected levels

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network

When the ice thaws, ocean levels rise. And four new studies show climate heating can happen fast.

LONDON, 15 April, 2021 − If climate heating continues apace and the planet goes on warming, then up to a third of Antarctica’s ice shelf could tip into the sea.

And tip is the operative word, according to a separate study: at least one Antarctic glacier could be about to tip into rapid and irreversible retreat if temperatures go on rising.

And rise they could: evidence from the past in a third research programme confirms that at the end of the last Ice Age, Greenland’s temperature rose by somewhere between 5°C and 16°C in just decades, in line with a cascade of climate change events.

And ominously a fourth study of climate change 14,600 years ago confirmed that as the ice retreated, sea levels rose at 10 times the current rate, to 3.6 metres in just a century, and up to 18 metres in a 500-year sequence.

Each study is, on its own, an examination of the complexities of the planetary climate machine and the role of the polar ice sheets in climate change. But the message of the four together is a stark one: climate change is happening, could accelerate and could happen at unexpected speeds.

Unstable at 4°C

The Antarctic ice sheet floats on the sea: were it all to melt, sea levels globally would remain much the same. But the ice sheet plays an important role in stabilising the massive reserves of ice on the continental surface.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from flowing freely into the ocean and contributing to sea level rise,” warned Ella Gilbert, a meteorologist at the University of Reading in the UK. “When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water from glaciers to pour into the sea.”

She and colleagues report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters that their detailed study of the vulnerable platforms of floating ice around the continent revealed that half a million square kilometres of shelf − 34% in total, including two-thirds of all the ice off the Antarctic Peninsula − would become unstable if global temperatures rose by 4°C, under the business-as-usual scenario in which nations went on burning ever-greater quantities of fossil fuel.

If however the world kept to the limit it agreed in Paris in 2015, that would halve the area at risk and perhaps avoid significant sea level rise. But already, just two Antarctic glaciers are responsible for around 10% of sea level rise at the current rate, and researchers have been warning for years that the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers in West Antarctica could be at risk.

Now researchers in the UK report in the journal The Cryosphere that their computer simulation had identified a series of tipping points for the Pine Island flow.

“Ice shelves are important buffers preventing glaciers on land from contributing to sea level rise. When they collapse, it’s like a giant cork being removed from a bottle, allowing unimaginable amounts of water to pour into the sea”

The third of these, triggered by ocean temperatures that had warmed just 1.2°C, would lead to irretrievable retreat of the entire glacier. Hilmar Gudmundsson, a glaciologist at the UK’s Northumbria University and one of the authors, called the research a “major step forward” in the understanding of the dynamics of the region.

“But the findings of this study also concern me”, he said. “Should the glacier enter unstable irreversible retreat, the impact on sea level could be measured in metres, and as this study shows, once the retreat starts it might be impossible to halt it.”

Rapid polar melt is part of the pattern of climate history. Danish researchers report in Nature Communications that, on the evidence preserved in Greenland ice cores, they identified a series of 30 abrupt climate changes at the close of the Last Ice Age, affecting North Atlantic ocean currents, wind and rainfall patterns and the spread of sea ice: a set of physical processes that changed together, like a row of cascading dominoes.

The precise order of events was difficult to ascertain, but during that sequence the temperature of Greenland soared by 5°C to 16°C in decades to centuries. The question remains open: could such things happen today?

“The results emphasise the importance of trying to limit climate change by, for example, cutting anthropogenic emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, both to reduce the predictable, gradual climate change and to reduce the risk of future abrupt climate change,” said Sune Olander Rasmussen, at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, one of the authors.

Greenland’s future role

“If you do not want the dominoes to topple over, you are better off not to push the table they stand on too much.”

And another study in the same journal by British scientists reports on a close study of geological evidence to decipher the pattern of events during the largest and most rapid pulse of sea level rise at the close of the last Ice Age.

Their study suggested that although the sea levels rose 18 metres in about 500 years − a rate of about 3.6 metres a century − it all happened with relatively little help from a melting Antarctica. As the great glaciers retreated from North America, Europe and Asia, so the oceans rose.

“The next big question is to work out what triggered the ice melt, and what impact the massive influx of meltwater had on ocean currents in the North Atlantic,” said Pippa Whitehouse of the University of Durham, one of the researchers.

“This is very much on our minds today − any disruption to the Gulf Stream, for example due to melting of the Greenland Ice Sheet, will have significant consequences for the UK climate.” − Climate News Network