Tag Archives: USA

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache

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

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

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

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

Tree rings and weather data warn of megadrought

Farmers in the US West know they have a drought, but may not yet realise these arid years could become a megadrought.

LONDON, 17 April, 2020 – Climate change could be pushing the US west and northern Mexico towards the most severe and most extended period of drought observed in a thousand years of US history, a full-blown megadrought.

Natural atmospheric forces have always triggered prolonged spells with little rain. But warming driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could now be making a bad situation much worse.

The warning of what climate scientists call a megadrought – outlined in the journal Science – is based not on computer simulations but on direct testimony from more than a century of weather records and the much longer story told by 1200 consecutive years of evidence preserved in the annual growth rings of trees that provide a record of changing levels of soil moisture.

“Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future. We are no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in the US.

“We now have enough observations of current drought and tree ring records of past drought to say we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”

Repeating the past

Previous research has already linked catastrophic drought to turmoil among pre-Columbian civilisations in the American Southwest.

Studies by other groups have also warned that what happened in the past could happen again, as carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion enrich the atmosphere, raise temperatures and parch the soils of the US West.

Global heating has been repeatedly linked to the last devastating drought in California, and to the possible return of Dust Bowl conditions in the Midwestern grain belt.

The latest study delivers a long-term analysis of conditions across nine US states, from Oregon and Montana in the north down to California, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico.

With the evidence preserved in old tree trunks, the scientists identified dozens of droughts in the region from 800 AD. They found four megadroughts – periods in which the conditions became extreme – between 800 and 1600. Since then there have been no droughts that could be matched with these – so far.

And then the researchers matched the megadrought tree ring evidence with soil moisture records collected in the first 19 years of this century, and compared this with any 19-year period in the prehistoric droughts.

“We’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought”

They found that the current prolonged dry spell is already more pronounced than the three earliest records of megadrought. The fourth megadrought – it ran from 1575 to 1603 – may still have been the worst of all, but the match with the present years is so close that nobody can be sure.

But the team behind the Science study is sure of one thing. This drought right now is affecting wider stretches of landscape more consistently than any of the earlier megadroughts, and this, they say, is a signature of global heating. All the ancient megadroughts lasted longer, and sometimes much longer, than 19 years, but all began in a way very similar to the present.

The snowpack in the western high mountains has fallen dramatically, the flow of the rivers has dwindled, lake levels have fallen, farmers have been  hit and the wildfires have become more prolonged and more intense.

Drought and even the chance of megadrought may be a fact of life in the US West. During occasional natural atmospheric cycles, the tropical Pacific cools and storm tracks shift further north, taking rainfall away from the US drylands.

But since 2000, average air temperatures in the western states have risen by more than 1.2°C above the normal over earlier centuries. So soils already starved of rain began to lose their stored moisture at an ever-increasing rate.

Worsened by heating

Without the additional global heating, this drought might have happened anyway, and perhaps even been the 11th worst ever recorded, rather than almost the worst ever in human experience.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said Benjamin Cook, a co-author, from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “What matters is that it has been made much worse than it could have been because of climate change.”

The researchers also found that the 20th century was the wettest century in the entire 1200 year record, and this relatively plentiful supply of water must have helped enrich the US West and make California, for instance, become the Golden State, the most populous in the US.

“Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded towards longer and more severe droughts,” Professor Williams said. “We may get lucky, and natural variability will bring more precipitation for a while.

“But going forward, we’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought.” – Climate News Network

Farmers in the US West know they have a drought, but may not yet realise these arid years could become a megadrought.

LONDON, 17 April, 2020 – Climate change could be pushing the US west and northern Mexico towards the most severe and most extended period of drought observed in a thousand years of US history, a full-blown megadrought.

Natural atmospheric forces have always triggered prolonged spells with little rain. But warming driven by profligate human use of fossil fuels could now be making a bad situation much worse.

The warning of what climate scientists call a megadrought – outlined in the journal Science – is based not on computer simulations but on direct testimony from more than a century of weather records and the much longer story told by 1200 consecutive years of evidence preserved in the annual growth rings of trees that provide a record of changing levels of soil moisture.

“Earlier studies were largely model projections of the future. We are no longer looking at projections, but at where we are now,” said Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in the US.

“We now have enough observations of current drought and tree ring records of past drought to say we’re on the same trajectory as the worst prehistoric droughts.”

Repeating the past

Previous research has already linked catastrophic drought to turmoil among pre-Columbian civilisations in the American Southwest.

Studies by other groups have also warned that what happened in the past could happen again, as carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion enrich the atmosphere, raise temperatures and parch the soils of the US West.

Global heating has been repeatedly linked to the last devastating drought in California, and to the possible return of Dust Bowl conditions in the Midwestern grain belt.

The latest study delivers a long-term analysis of conditions across nine US states, from Oregon and Montana in the north down to California, New Mexico and part of northern Mexico.

With the evidence preserved in old tree trunks, the scientists identified dozens of droughts in the region from 800 AD. They found four megadroughts – periods in which the conditions became extreme – between 800 and 1600. Since then there have been no droughts that could be matched with these – so far.

And then the researchers matched the megadrought tree ring evidence with soil moisture records collected in the first 19 years of this century, and compared this with any 19-year period in the prehistoric droughts.

“We’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought”

They found that the current prolonged dry spell is already more pronounced than the three earliest records of megadrought. The fourth megadrought – it ran from 1575 to 1603 – may still have been the worst of all, but the match with the present years is so close that nobody can be sure.

But the team behind the Science study is sure of one thing. This drought right now is affecting wider stretches of landscape more consistently than any of the earlier megadroughts, and this, they say, is a signature of global heating. All the ancient megadroughts lasted longer, and sometimes much longer, than 19 years, but all began in a way very similar to the present.

The snowpack in the western high mountains has fallen dramatically, the flow of the rivers has dwindled, lake levels have fallen, farmers have been  hit and the wildfires have become more prolonged and more intense.

Drought and even the chance of megadrought may be a fact of life in the US West. During occasional natural atmospheric cycles, the tropical Pacific cools and storm tracks shift further north, taking rainfall away from the US drylands.

But since 2000, average air temperatures in the western states have risen by more than 1.2°C above the normal over earlier centuries. So soils already starved of rain began to lose their stored moisture at an ever-increasing rate.

Worsened by heating

Without the additional global heating, this drought might have happened anyway, and perhaps even been the 11th worst ever recorded, rather than almost the worst ever in human experience.

“It doesn’t matter if this is exactly the worst drought ever,” said Benjamin Cook, a co-author, from Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. “What matters is that it has been made much worse than it could have been because of climate change.”

The researchers also found that the 20th century was the wettest century in the entire 1200 year record, and this relatively plentiful supply of water must have helped enrich the US West and make California, for instance, become the Golden State, the most populous in the US.

“Because the background is getting warmer, the dice are increasingly loaded towards longer and more severe droughts,” Professor Williams said. “We may get lucky, and natural variability will bring more precipitation for a while.

“But going forward, we’ll need more and more good luck to break out of drought, and less and less bad luck to get into drought.” – Climate News Network

Violent weather rises spur more political conflict

Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often. And bloodshed may follow oftener too.

LONDON, 16 April, 2020 – Violent weather is on the rise. Days of exceptionally heavy rain in São Paulo, Brazil, have multiplied fourfold in one lifetime. In California, autumns have become hotter, and drier, and the risk of devastating wildfires is on the increase.

And climate extremes bring with them the risk of ever-greater political conflict. In those countries already politically unstable, one third of all episodes of conflict have started within seven days of a heat wave, landslide, storm or drought.

Climate scientists began warning almost 40 years ago that even a small rise in the average annual temperature of planet Earth would be accompanied by a greater frequency of ever more extreme weather events. And now, repeatedly, rainfall, wind speed and thermometer records have begun to provide supporting evidence.

Seventy years ago, any heavy rain – more than 50 mm in a day – in São Paulo was almost unknown. In February 2020, the floods arrived again when the skies opened and delivered 114 millimetres in 24 hours. This was the second highest measured rainfall in any day since 1943. In the last decade, São Paulo citizens have seen such days between two and five times a year.

“Intense rainstorms lasting a few hours with intense amounts of water, such as 80mm or 100mm, are no longer sporadic events,” said José Antonio Marengo, of Brazil’s Natural Disaster Surveillance and Early Warning Centre. “They’re happening more and more frequently.”

Rainfall increase

He and colleagues report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that the city’s dry season from April to September is now extended to October. The number of consecutive days without any rain has also increased.

But total rainfall has increased over the city, and the state of São Paulo has now recorded a third of all Brazil’s floods. The researchers do not rule out the possibility of natural climate variation, but it may also be related to global warming and to the growth of the city.

Californian scientists however are in no doubt that the risk of longer and more dangerous fire seasons can be linked to climate change driven by global heating, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from profligate use of fossil fuels.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that since the early 1980s the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled in California, and rainfall during autumn has dropped by 30%, while average temperatures have increased by more than 1°C.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts”

The region’s single deadliest wildfire, the two largest wildfires and the two most destructive wildfires all happened during 2017 and 2018. More than 150 people died. Damage costs reached $50bn.

“Many factors influence wildfire risk, but this study shows that long-term warming, coupled with decreasing autumn precipitation, is already increasing the odds of the kinds of extreme fire weather conditions that have proved so destructive in northern and southern California in recent years,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University, one of the researchers.

The bushfires that have devastated eastern Australia since last September are unlikely to spark any civil war, says Tobias Ide of the University of Melbourne. “But when it comes to droughts in Nigeria or storms in Pakistan, where you have large marginalised populations and little state presence, the picture may well change.”

He and colleagues in Germany report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they used a new statistical approach to confirm what other researchers have repeatedly proposed: that climate catastrophe can seemingly heighten the chance of political violence or civil war.

Violence more likely

They counted 176 conflicts in which at least 25 people had died in battle,
and more than 10,000 records of floods, storms, drought, heat wave, landslide and other weather-related phenomena, and found that almost one third of all conflict had been preceded by a climate-related disaster within seven days.

They don’t say the disaster caused the conflict: just that it made violence in already uneasy political conditions more likely.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts,” Dr Ide said.

“Only countries with large populations, the political exclusion of ethnic groups and relatively low levels of economic development, are susceptible to disaster-conflict links.

“Measures to make societies more inclusive and wealthier are, therefore, no-regrets options to increase security in a warming world.” – Climate News Network

Violent weather – seasonal storms, floods, fires and droughts – is growing more extreme, more often. And bloodshed may follow oftener too.

LONDON, 16 April, 2020 – Violent weather is on the rise. Days of exceptionally heavy rain in São Paulo, Brazil, have multiplied fourfold in one lifetime. In California, autumns have become hotter, and drier, and the risk of devastating wildfires is on the increase.

And climate extremes bring with them the risk of ever-greater political conflict. In those countries already politically unstable, one third of all episodes of conflict have started within seven days of a heat wave, landslide, storm or drought.

Climate scientists began warning almost 40 years ago that even a small rise in the average annual temperature of planet Earth would be accompanied by a greater frequency of ever more extreme weather events. And now, repeatedly, rainfall, wind speed and thermometer records have begun to provide supporting evidence.

Seventy years ago, any heavy rain – more than 50 mm in a day – in São Paulo was almost unknown. In February 2020, the floods arrived again when the skies opened and delivered 114 millimetres in 24 hours. This was the second highest measured rainfall in any day since 1943. In the last decade, São Paulo citizens have seen such days between two and five times a year.

“Intense rainstorms lasting a few hours with intense amounts of water, such as 80mm or 100mm, are no longer sporadic events,” said José Antonio Marengo, of Brazil’s Natural Disaster Surveillance and Early Warning Centre. “They’re happening more and more frequently.”

Rainfall increase

He and colleagues report in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences that the city’s dry season from April to September is now extended to October. The number of consecutive days without any rain has also increased.

But total rainfall has increased over the city, and the state of São Paulo has now recorded a third of all Brazil’s floods. The researchers do not rule out the possibility of natural climate variation, but it may also be related to global warming and to the growth of the city.

Californian scientists however are in no doubt that the risk of longer and more dangerous fire seasons can be linked to climate change driven by global heating, fuelled in turn by greenhouse gas emissions from profligate use of fossil fuels.

They report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that since the early 1980s the frequency of autumn days with extreme fire weather conditions has more than doubled in California, and rainfall during autumn has dropped by 30%, while average temperatures have increased by more than 1°C.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts”

The region’s single deadliest wildfire, the two largest wildfires and the two most destructive wildfires all happened during 2017 and 2018. More than 150 people died. Damage costs reached $50bn.

“Many factors influence wildfire risk, but this study shows that long-term warming, coupled with decreasing autumn precipitation, is already increasing the odds of the kinds of extreme fire weather conditions that have proved so destructive in northern and southern California in recent years,” said Noah Diffenbaugh of Stanford University, one of the researchers.

The bushfires that have devastated eastern Australia since last September are unlikely to spark any civil war, says Tobias Ide of the University of Melbourne. “But when it comes to droughts in Nigeria or storms in Pakistan, where you have large marginalised populations and little state presence, the picture may well change.”

He and colleagues in Germany report in the journal Global Environmental Change that they used a new statistical approach to confirm what other researchers have repeatedly proposed: that climate catastrophe can seemingly heighten the chance of political violence or civil war.

Violence more likely

They counted 176 conflicts in which at least 25 people had died in battle,
and more than 10,000 records of floods, storms, drought, heat wave, landslide and other weather-related phenomena, and found that almost one third of all conflict had been preceded by a climate-related disaster within seven days.

They don’t say the disaster caused the conflict: just that it made violence in already uneasy political conditions more likely.

“Climate change makes tense social and political situations even worse, so climate-related disasters may act like a threat multiplier for violent conflicts,” Dr Ide said.

“Only countries with large populations, the political exclusion of ethnic groups and relatively low levels of economic development, are susceptible to disaster-conflict links.

“Measures to make societies more inclusive and wealthier are, therefore, no-regrets options to increase security in a warming world.” – Climate News Network

US coal economics make little sense

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network

US coal economics? They’re odd. The dirtiest fossil fuel generates ever less American electricity, yet energy policy is unchanged.

LONDON, 13 April, 2020 – If you want a simple and satisfying job, you’d probably better avoid one which involves working in US coal economics. They’ve become fairly mystifying.

It was one of the key images in the run-up to the US 2016 election – Donald Trump in a hard hat telling miners that the coal industry would make a comeback under his leadership.

“We’re gonna put the miners back to work”, said Trump. “We’re gonna get those mines open.”

In practice, the opposite has happened.

Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel and the source of a large proportion of climate-changing greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Since Trump came to office in January 2017, US coal plants have been closing at a near-record pace.

Steep fall

Last year alone, coal-fired power plants in the US generating a total of more than 15,000 MWs of power – enough to feed the energy demand of 15 million American homes – were either closed or converted to burn other, less polluting power sources.

At the end of 2019 several of the US’s biggest coal plants – including the giant Navajo generating station in Arizona, the Bruce Mansfield plant in Pennsylvania and the Paradise facility in Kentucky – shut up shop.

In mid-March 2020, the last operating coal-fired power plant in New York state closed.

As a result, coal-fired electricity output in the US dropped 18% in 2019: according to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal now generates 23% of the country’s electricity supply – its lowest level in the country’s total energy mix since the mid-1970s.

Coal’s US decline does not reflect any change of policy by the Trump administration. Since coming to office Trump – who at one time described climate change as a hoax – has sought to obstruct the battle against global warming.

His administration has rolled back several regulations aimed at improving the environment and cutting emissions. Internationally, Trump is in the process of withdrawing the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Renewables gain

Coal’s decline in the US is about economics: the rise of the fracking industry means that prices for home-produced gas have been falling. The price of renewables – mainly wind and solar – has also been dropping significantly in recent years.

According to EIA figures, gas now accounts for 38% of electricity generation while the figure for renewables, near zero only 20 years ago, is 17.5%.

But the significant reduction in the use of coal has not been matched by an equivalent fall in US GHG emissions, which dropped last year by only a little over 2%. That’s because overall energy demand in the US has been growing rapidly, in line with a spurt in economic activity.

The outlook for this year is very different. In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the likelihood of a global recession, there are predictions that US greenhouse gas emissions will fall by 7.5% or more in 2020.

Worldwide, the economic downturn related to the pandemic is causing similar drops in GHG emissions.

China is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of coal. Despite big investments in renewables, the country depends on coal for nearly 60% of its total energy consumption and is still building large numbers of coal-fired power plants.

“There are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again”

As economic activity has declined sharply in recent weeks, pollution levels over China and many other parts of the world have fallen dramatically.

Yet already there are signs that as worries about the pandemic fade in China, coal use is on the rise again.

India and other countries in South Asia also have plans for large-scale coal-fired power projects – at present on hold due to the fall-out from Covid-19.

Countries round the world have to break the coal habit if there is to be any hope of preventing runaway climate change and meeting the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Analysis after analysis has pointed out that coal-burning is not only catastrophic for the future of the planet but also makes no economic sense.

The most recent report by the Carbon Tracker group, an independent financial think tank which monitors energy transitions, says that investments in renewables are now cheaper than coal investments in all major energy markets. – Climate News Network

Covid-19’s viral lessons for climate heating

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic, Covid-19’s viral lessons offer a warning of what may lie ahead.

LONDON, 2 April, 2020 − There are some glimmers of hope discernible in the loss, confusion and misery that’s spreading worldwide, and one is that Covid-19’s viral lessons could help to equip us all to tackle the climate crisis that’s remorselessly building up.

A major side effect of the battle against the spread of the corona virus, for example, has been a significant reduction in the amount of climate-changing greenhouse gas being pumped into the atmosphere.

Power plants and factories in China and elsewhere have been shut down: the use of fossil fuels, particularly oil, has plummeted.

As a result of this reduced pollution, millions of people in cities and regions across the world are breathing fresher, cleaner air.

The epidemic has had other environmental consequences: residents of Venice in northern Italy say they have never seen such clear water in the city’s canals, mainly due to the dramatic drop in tourist numbers.

With several countries in lockdown, car and truck traffic no longer clogs up the roads and motorways.

“Covid 19 is a test of how the world copes with crisis. Climate change will present a much greater challenge”

Starved of passengers, many airlines have grounded planes. One of the big problems facing oil companies now is what to do with vast amounts of unsold jet fuel: some are resorting to storing it in tankers at sea.

Of course, whenever the virus is finally banished, industrial production could be ramped up again and fossil fuel emissions return to former levels.

But maybe, just maybe, some lessons are being learned as a result of the epidemic. One is obvious – that we are all in this together.

Covid-19, like climate change, knows no boundaries, respects no borders. It has become clear that nations cannot retreat to their bunkers and fight the virus alone. As with the battle against climate change, international action and cooperation are vital.

Another lesson is that science – painstaking analysis and the collection of data, both locally and at an international level – is essential if Covid-19 and other associated epidemics that might arise in the future are to be defeated.

Warnings ignored

Epidemiologists have constantly warned of the likelihood of the worldwide spread of a virus, saying it is not a case of if, but when. For the most part, they have been ignored.

In the same way, climate scientists have been warning for decades of the catastrophe threatened by global heating. Covid-19 shows how vital it is to listen to the science. Perhaps the epidemic will prompt a more urgent approach to climate change.

Covid-19 also reinforces the difficult-to-get-hold-of concept that nothing is normal any more. Suddenly the world has been turned into a very uncertain place. Behaviour which many of us have taken for granted, such as international travel, is, for now at least, no longer acceptable, or good for our health.

Scientists say climate change will mean even greater and more sustained adjustments to our lives. Rising seas will result in the displacement of millions of coastal dwellers. Floods and droughts will cause agricultural havoc and severe food shortages. People will have to adjust to a new – and constantly changing – reality.

Leadership and a clarity of policy – again, both at a national and international level – have been shown to be essential in fighting the coronavirus. After initial failings, China and South Korea moved to impose a strict and comprehensive regime to control the epidemic.

Specialists in those and several other countries have shared their experience and data with other nations.

‘Fantasy’ virus

Unfortunately, others − in particular Donald Trump in the US and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil − have not acted in the same way, or shown a willingness to take strong, decisive action.

In the US, President Trump has in the past dismissed global warming as a hoax and withdrawn the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. At the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, the virus was dismissed by the White House in similar terms.

Though Trump has since adjusted his message, valuable time has been lost. As the infection rate and death toll rise, the World Health Organisation is warning that the US is now in danger of becoming the world epicentre of Covid-19.

In Brazil, Bolsonaro – he refuses to believe in climate change − describes Covid-19 as a fantasy, suggesting it’s all a plot by China to weaken the country’s economy. Opposition to Bolsonaro’s lack of action on the pandemic is growing.

Covid 19 is a test of how the world – and its leaders – copes with crisis. Climate change, rapidly galloping down the tracks, will present a much greater challenge. − Climate News Network

A second US Dust Bowl would hit world food stocks

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.

LONDON, 27 March, 2020 – The next time the fertile soils of North America turn to dust, the consequences will hit food stocks worldwide.

Within four years of a climate crisis of the kind that fired John Steinbeck’s 1939 masterpiece The Grapes of Wrath, the US would have consumed almost all its grain reserves.

And the ripple effects would be felt in all those countries to which America normally exports grain. That is because America feeds much of the world: in a good year, the US exports wheat with an energy value of more than 90 trillion kilocalories. The collapse of farmland into wasteland on the scale that inspired John Steinbeck could reduce this over a four-year period to around 50 trillion kcal.

Worldwide, global wheat reserves would fall by 31% in the first year, and four years on somewhere between 36 and 52 countries would have consumed three-fourths of their own reserves. Food prices would rise around the planet.

“In today’s system of global food trade, disruptions are not bound by borders. Shocks to production are expected to affect trade partners who depend on imports for their domestic food supply,” said Alison Heslin, a climate scientist at Columbia University in the US.

“Accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages, but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages”

“Our results remind us that mitigating climate risks requires accounting not only for the direct effects of climate change, like local extreme weather events, but also the climate impacts which travel through our interconnected system of global trade.”

By some time in the mid-century, most of the US will be between 1.5°C to 2°C warmer. Researchers have already warned that the border between the arid western states and the more fertile mid-western plains has shifted to the east.

There have been repeated warnings that as global average temperatures rise, in response to ever greater use of fossil fuels, the US will become increasingly vulnerable to climate extremes, including megadroughts. Drought is already becoming the “new normal” for Californians, and the fertility of the Great Plains is in any case vulnerable to human changes to a natural landscape.

A succession of droughts of the kind that turned the farmland of Kansas and Oklahoma into a devastated landscape, and turned thousands of Americans into climate refugees, would not necessarily now mean the onset of regional famine.

Dr Heslin and her colleagues report in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems that they contemplated the likelihood of a four-year drought of the kind that created the notorious 1930s Dust Bowl, and then examined the possible impact on world trade systems.

Yields and nutrition affected

Just one such climate event could hit hard those nations that rely on food imports, but even the other great grain-producing countries – among them China, India, Iran, Canada, Russia, Morocco, Australia and Egypt – would see their reserves fall.

The climate crisis is in any case a threat to the world’s supper tables. There has been repeated evidence that food output will inevitably be at risk in a warming world. With higher temperatures, yields will be reduced and with higher atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide that warm the planet, nutrition levels of many staples are expected to fall.

The researchers factored in none of these things. They supposed that a climate catastrophe that paralleled the Dust Bowl era would occur only in the US, and found that, despite strain, the world’s markets could probably cope.

But other studies have repeatedly found that the potential for climate catastrophe and massive crop failure to strike in more than one region at any one time are increasing, with ominous consequences for world food security.

“In the context of food security, we show that accessing food reserves can, for a time, buffer populations from trade-induced supply shortages,” said Dr Heslin, “but as reserves deplete, people are at risk of food shortages.” – Climate News Network

US state plans fossil fuel tax to fund schooling

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

The US state of Maryland is proposing a fossil fuel tax to pay for pre-school education and to promote electric cars.

LONDON, 27 February, 2020 − Maryland, an eastern US state badly hit by climate change, wants to introduce a fossil fuel tax on polluting industries and gas-guzzling cars in order to fund improvements to its education system worth $350 million (£271m) a year.

The Climate Crisis and Education Bill is currently being considered by the Maryland General Assembly’s 2020 session. With a strong Democrat majority in both upper and lower houses of the state’s legislature, it could soon become law – even though the ideas behind it are extremely radical by US standards.

The bill would establish a Climate Crisis Council to develop an energy policy that reduces statewide greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030, and 100% by 2040 – and trusts in achieving net negative emissions after that, using 2006 as a baseline.

There has been widespread concern in Maryland about falling education standards compared with other states, and an inquiry, the Kirwan Commission, has called for $350m a year to be invested in improvements.

These include extra funding for teacher salaries, additional counselling and career preparation, stronger health programmes, and money for pre-school activities.

“We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does”

The bill would introduce a gradually escalating fossil fuel fee, starting at $15 a ton for non-transport sources and $10 a ton for vehicles.

There would also be a graduated registration fee on new cars and light trucks that are gas guzzlers, revenues from which would be used to provide rebates to electric vehicle (EV) purchasers and to pay for the installation of statewide EV charging points.

Maryland has suffered more than most of the US from climate change and is severely threatened by sea level rise on the shores of Chesapeake Bay. Some small towns are already losing the battle against the sea.

The frequency of street flooding in the state capital, Annapolis, and larger cities like Baltimore has increased about ten-fold since the early 1960s.

Salt feeds concerns

Salinisation of farmland on the Eastern Shore is also a concern, as the salt water has begun intruding into the water table. Across the state the frequency of extreme weather events continues to increase, including events like flash flooding, heavy thunderstorms, extreme heat and droughts.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, the leading General Assembly supporter of the bill, said the state’s taxpayers had already been paying for damage caused by the climate crisis: “In the 2019 session, we passed an emergency appropriation in the General Assembly for one million dollars to mitigate flooding in Annapolis.

“That’s just one city in the entire state − one million dollars. Why should the taxpayers pay for that when fossil fuel companies make $400 million a day in profits?”

Emphasising the urgency of the situation and the need for immediate action, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Senator Benjamin F. Kramer, said: “We have a climate crisis. It’s not a concern, it’s a crisis, and we must begin to address it, and that’s exactly what this legislation does.

“And the legislation is a win, win, win. It’s a win for our health, it’s a win for the environment, and it’s a win for education.”

Support detected

Both men are conscious that despite the concern of Democrats about the climate crisis, and the fact that the party has a large overall majority, their bill is radical and may meet some resistance. However, recent polling suggests that the public supports action on the crisis.

The bill is also up against legislators who favour other ways of paying for the education reforms, including taxes on gambling, alcohol and digital commerce.

In order to allay fears about new taxes on fossil fuels the provisions of the bill insist that the carbon taxes protect low- and moderate-income households, as well as “energy-intensive, trade-exposed businesses”, and help fossil fuel workers who may lose their jobs to find new ones in the clean economy.

There are also clauses that specifically prevent the fossil fuel companies from passing the cost of carbon taxes on to Maryland consumers. − Climate News Network

Rising tides will leave no choice for US millions

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

Time and tide wait for no-one. As sea levels rise, the rising tides will become more impatient. Millions of Americans will have to migrate.

LONDON, 26 February, 2020 – The Texan city of Houston is about to grow in unexpected ways, thanks to the rising tides. So will Dallas. Real estate agents in Atlanta, Georgia; Denver, Colorado; and Las Vegas, Nevada could expect to do roaring business.

The inland counties around Los Angeles, and close to New Orleans in Louisiana, will suddenly get a little more crowded. And from Boston in the north-east to the tip of Florida, Americans will be on the move.

That is because an estimated 13 million US citizens could some time in this century become climate refugees, driven from their seaside homes by sea level rise of possibly 1.8 metres, according to new research.

And they will have to move home in a poorer economic climate: worldwide. If governments and city authorities do not take the right steps, sea level rise could erode 4% of the global annual economy, says a separate study. That is, coast-dwellers could witness not just their towns and even cities washed away: they could see their prosperity go under as well.

Californian scientists report in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One that they used machine learning techniques – in effect, artificial intelligence systems – to calculate what is most likely to happen as US citizens desert Delaware Bay, slip away from the cities of North and South Carolina, and flee Florida in the face of rising sea levels, coastal flooding and increasingly catastrophic windstorms.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States … everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not”

In the year 2000, a third of all the planet’s urban land was in a zone vulnerable to flood. By 2040, this could rise to 40%. In 2010, in the US, more than 120m citizens – that is nearly 40% of the entire population – lived in coastal counties. By 2020, this proportion could already be higher.

And by 2100, at least 13.1m people could be living on land likely to be inundated if sea levels rise by 1.8 metres. Except that they won’t: they will have already seen the future and moved away from it, to some settlement well away from the rising tides.

Those who might otherwise have purchased their abandoned seaside houses will be looking for somewhere safer and adding to the pressure on the housing market.

“Sea level rise will affect every county in the United States,” said Bistra Dilkina of the University of Southern California at Irvine, a computer scientist who worked with engineers to model the human response to the future.

She and her colleagues started from patterns of movement that began with Hurricane Katrina, in 2004, and Hurricane Rita a year later, both in Louisiana. They then let the algorithms take over the challenge of guessing what American families and businesses are most likely to do as the tides begin to flood the high streets.

Action promised

“We hope this research will empower urban planners and local decision-makers to prepare to accept populations displaced by sea level rise. Our findings indicate that everybody should care about sea level rise, whether they live on the coast or not,” she said.

The California team’s worst-case forecasts are based on a premise that the world takes no real action to combat sea level rise, which is driven by global warming powered in turn by fossil fuel emissions into the atmosphere on an ever-increasing scale.

But in Paris in 2015, more than 190 nations did agree to act: to contain global warming to “well below” 2°C by the century’s end. So far, very few have committed to sufficient action, and the President of the US has pronounced climate change a “hoax” and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Researchers in Austria report in the journal Environmental Research Communications that they decided to consider the potential economic cost worldwide of sea level rise alone. Scientists have been trying for years to guess the cost of flood damage to come: the latest study is of the impact of sea level rise and coastal flooding upon national economies worldwide.

The scientists considered two scenarios, including one in which the world kept the promises made in Paris, and one in which it did not, and made no attempt to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

Significant impact

By 2050 losses in each scenario would be significant and much the same. But by 2100, the do-nothing option promised to hit the gross domestic product – an economist’s favourite measure of economic well-being – by 4%.

Europe and Japan would be significantly hit; China , India and Canada hardest of all. If the world’s richest nations actually worked to limit climate change and adapt to the challenges ahead, the impact on the economy could be limited to 1%.

“The findings of this paper demonstrate that we need to think long term while acting swiftly,” said Thomas Schinko of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, who led the study.

“Macroeconomic impacts up to and beyond 2050 as a result of coastal flooding due to sea level rise – not taking into account any other climate-related impacts such as drought – are severe and increasing.

“We, as a global society, need to further co-ordinate mitigation, adaptation and climate-resilient development and consider where we build cities and situate important infrastructure.” – Climate News Network

Cities turn to freewheeling public transport

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

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

Cities worldwide are making their public transport free to use. As passenger numbers rise, car use falls. What’s not to like?

LONDON, 12 February, 2020 − In the United States, once the home of car culture, cities are increasingly experimenting with free public transport. But the idea is not an American preserve: it’s catching on fast across the globe.

In the French capital, Paris, the mayor is removing 72% of city car parking spaces. Birmingham in the UK is encouraging drivers to leave their cars at home and use public transport instead, or to walk or cycle. More public transport use means less toxic urban air, fewer greenhouse gas emissions − and happier citizens better equipped to escape one key aspect of poverty.

Transport is one of the big polluters. Cities in particular want more efficient, cleaner ways of moving people. The good news is that recent innovations suggest an effective answer: if public transport is free, more people are likely to use it, instantly cutting car use and pollution.

That kind of behaviour change can happen surprisingly fast. Around 100 cities worldwide currently run fare-free transit, most of them in Europe. Even in the US, home of the motor car, cities are showing increasing interest.

Sharing costs

Kansas City in Missouri and Olympia in Washington state have both said their buses will become fare-free this year. Worcester, Massachusetts’ second-largest city, has expressed strong support for waiving bus fares – a move that would cost $2-3 million a year in fares foregone.

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

It says: “A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all.”

Fare-free transit can also help to cut poverty. The benefits of maintaining a transit system that drives the economy and helps residents at all income levels to get to their jobs, while keeping commuters off the roads, are so great that some urban leaders say the costs should be shared fairly by taxpayers.

Pollution cut

Birmingham and Paris both aim to increase the space for cyclists and walkers by taking it away from car owners, traditionally privileged by planners. Does cutting road space, far from increasing congestion, actually cut pollution instead? The RTA thinks it can.

The Paris mayor, Anne Hidalgo, is basing her re-election campaign on ensuring that “you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home.” She wants to see the return of the more self-sufficient neighbourhood, and aims to make all roads safe for cyclists by 2024.

Birmingham will introduce incentives for businesses to remove parking spaces through the introduction of an annual workplace parking levy, and the city will build 12,800 new homes on former car parks. Freight deliveries will be restricted to out-of-hours times, and there will be a blanket 20 mile an hour (32 kph) speed limit on the city’s local roads.

Free mass transit offers a practical, fast option for change − and a relatively cheap one. It can boost the local economy. The deputy mayor of Ghent, in Belgium, Filip Watteeuw, has said that since the provision of free city transit there “has been a 17% increase in restaurant and bar startups, and the number of empty shops has been arrested”.

“A rapid change is under way, bringing into question the role of the car and promoting public transport that is available for all”

Ghent’s plan cost just €4m (£3.4m) to implement. By contrast it costs an estimated £20m-£30m to build just one mile of motorway. The city also has significantly cleaner air – nitrogen oxide levels have dropped by 20% since 2017.

Unlike many major infrastructure projects, making public transport free is easy to implement in stages if, for example, planners are unsure how it will affect particular communities. In Salt Lake City public transport was declared free for one day a week as an experiment – Fare Free Friday.

Health and city design are not the only reasons behind moves toward free mass transit. Poverty in inner city areas, with long commutes on older buses, is the norm for many at the bottom of society.

Free transport can make an immediate and disproportionate difference to the money in people’s pockets at a time when many developed societies are seeing the income equality gap grow.

Not car owners

Experiments in the US cities of Denver and Austin were initially viewed as unsuccessful, because there was little evidence that they removed cars from the road; that was because new passengers tended to be poor people who did not own cars, according to a 2012 review by the National Academies Press.

But they were successful in a different sense; they increased passenger use right away, with rises of between 20 and 60% in the first few months.

Car sales are tumbling as people look for alternatives, and as rural populations – who are most dependent on cars – continue to fall. Figures for January to September 2019 showed car sales lower in all major car markets in the world except for Brazil and Japan.

Integrated transport brings impressive reductions in pollution, congestion and accidents and sometimes more. in Colombia’s second city, Medellin, a combination of rethinking public space and public transport has contributed to a reduction in crime.

Finding public transport

The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions suggests that Americans can save more than $9,738 annually by using public transport instead of driving. However, access, a problem for many, is the key to reducing emissions – 45% of Americans have no access to public transport.

Many UK cities, towns and villages are also very poorly served by public services. Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, recently built a new and very expensive tram system, with fares higher than on the city’s bus network. Passengers numbers faltered, dashing hopes that the trams could pay their way.

But Edinburgh is renowned for its summer arts festival, which brings visitors flocking in. There is now talk of fare-free trams, at least from the airport to the city centre, which could help to increase overall festival visitor numbers and boost the city’s economy.

Carrots can often work better than sticks. Perhaps fare-free public transport schemes should offer something along the lines of frequent-flyer rewards? − Climate News Network

* * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

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

Climate crisis offers a green business boom

The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry as countries and companies recognise the green business boom of alternative energy.

LONDON, 27 January, 2020 − While the news about the climate crisis worsens and some national leaders, notably President Trump in the US, continue to champion the fossil fuel industry, there are still reasons to be cheerful, notably the developing green business boom of abandoning fossil fuels.

Fighting climate change has become the world’s single biggest business opportunity. Investment in wind power, solar, green hydrogen, energy storage, biogas, electric cars, tidal and wave power is at an all-time high.

Some countries, for example Portugal, have both business and government working together. They can see that that phasing out coal and replacing it with green hydrogen produced with electricity from sunlight is the road to national prosperity.

But even in countries like the US, where the government champions the polluters, businesses seeking profits are investing in wind and solar simply because they are cheaper than coal.

Just one extraordinary statistic: Texas, the US state most associated with oil, already has 26.9 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power – the equivalent of 26 large coal-fired power stations. That shows how the energy map of the US is changing.

“Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe”

The speed of transition worldwide heralds a new industrial revolution. Three industries growing fast and with enormous potential to make a difference to climate change are green hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric cars.

There is a belief that green hydrogen could become a substitute for oil, both for transport and for heating. A study by energy company Wood Mackenzie estimates that $365 million has already been invested in green hydrogen, but that over $3.6 billion is in the pipeline.

For example, the Portuguese minister of environment and energy transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, has revealed plans to develop 1 GW of solar power capacity to be used for hydrogen production.

He was quoted as saying: “Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe. Hydrogen produced will be supplied to local energy-intensive industries, or could be exported using the deep-sea port of Sines.”

Cheaper off-shore wind

The key to the idea is that solar power is now so cheap that using it to create green hydrogen makes the hydrogen competitive with fossil fuels, as well as emission-free.

Apart from the continued success of on-shore wind energy, now recognised worldwide as the cheapest way to generate electricity, there is enormous interest in off-shore wind, where the improved technology and sheer size of the turbines has brought production costs tumbling.

The depth of the sea is also no longer a problem because floating offshore wind farms have now been successfully deployed in the North Sea and elsewhere in Europe. Electricity production from off-shore wind, with the wind blowing more constantly and at higher speeds, has exceeded predictions.

China is among the big developers, but again it is the US which springs a surprise, because analysts claim that investment in off-shore wind there will exceed that for oil and gas within five years.

Capacity in the US could reach 20 GW (the equivalent of 20 coal-fired power stations) by 2030, with an annual investment of $15 billion by 2025, according to Rystad Energy, a firm of independent analysts.

Coal stumbles

While the renewable sector is booming, the biggest polluter − the coal industry − is flagging. The US Federal Energy Information Administration expects renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geo-thermal and a small quantity of biomass) to reach 21.6 % of US electricity production by 2021, ahead of coal at 20.8% and nuclear at 19.7%. Gas remains in front at 37%.

In 2010 coal accounted for 46% of the market and renewables only 10%, and most of that was hydropower.

There is good news on the investment front too, at least for the climate. The latest figures show that for the second year running shares in the oil and gas sector of the stock market have fared worse than any other group.

Although the dividends the oil companies have paid out continue high to keep shareholders happy, the combination of the disinvestment movement and fears for the long-term future of the fossil fuel industry are keeping the stock price low.

There are dozens of smaller initiatives and investments too numerous to detail which amount to an avalanche of change. It is a lot, and a cheering start to the decade, but sadly still a long way from solving the climate crisis. − Climate News Network

The tide is turning against the fossil fuel industry as countries and companies recognise the green business boom of alternative energy.

LONDON, 27 January, 2020 − While the news about the climate crisis worsens and some national leaders, notably President Trump in the US, continue to champion the fossil fuel industry, there are still reasons to be cheerful, notably the developing green business boom of abandoning fossil fuels.

Fighting climate change has become the world’s single biggest business opportunity. Investment in wind power, solar, green hydrogen, energy storage, biogas, electric cars, tidal and wave power is at an all-time high.

Some countries, for example Portugal, have both business and government working together. They can see that that phasing out coal and replacing it with green hydrogen produced with electricity from sunlight is the road to national prosperity.

But even in countries like the US, where the government champions the polluters, businesses seeking profits are investing in wind and solar simply because they are cheaper than coal.

Just one extraordinary statistic: Texas, the US state most associated with oil, already has 26.9 gigawatts (GW) of installed wind power – the equivalent of 26 large coal-fired power stations. That shows how the energy map of the US is changing.

“Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe”

The speed of transition worldwide heralds a new industrial revolution. Three industries growing fast and with enormous potential to make a difference to climate change are green hydrogen, offshore wind, and electric cars.

There is a belief that green hydrogen could become a substitute for oil, both for transport and for heating. A study by energy company Wood Mackenzie estimates that $365 million has already been invested in green hydrogen, but that over $3.6 billion is in the pipeline.

For example, the Portuguese minister of environment and energy transition, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, has revealed plans to develop 1 GW of solar power capacity to be used for hydrogen production.

He was quoted as saying: “Portugal is in a position to be the largest producer of green hydrogen – which will allow the country to become the biggest producer of green energy in Europe. Hydrogen produced will be supplied to local energy-intensive industries, or could be exported using the deep-sea port of Sines.”

Cheaper off-shore wind

The key to the idea is that solar power is now so cheap that using it to create green hydrogen makes the hydrogen competitive with fossil fuels, as well as emission-free.

Apart from the continued success of on-shore wind energy, now recognised worldwide as the cheapest way to generate electricity, there is enormous interest in off-shore wind, where the improved technology and sheer size of the turbines has brought production costs tumbling.

The depth of the sea is also no longer a problem because floating offshore wind farms have now been successfully deployed in the North Sea and elsewhere in Europe. Electricity production from off-shore wind, with the wind blowing more constantly and at higher speeds, has exceeded predictions.

China is among the big developers, but again it is the US which springs a surprise, because analysts claim that investment in off-shore wind there will exceed that for oil and gas within five years.

Capacity in the US could reach 20 GW (the equivalent of 20 coal-fired power stations) by 2030, with an annual investment of $15 billion by 2025, according to Rystad Energy, a firm of independent analysts.

Coal stumbles

While the renewable sector is booming, the biggest polluter − the coal industry − is flagging. The US Federal Energy Information Administration expects renewables (wind, solar, hydro, geo-thermal and a small quantity of biomass) to reach 21.6 % of US electricity production by 2021, ahead of coal at 20.8% and nuclear at 19.7%. Gas remains in front at 37%.

In 2010 coal accounted for 46% of the market and renewables only 10%, and most of that was hydropower.

There is good news on the investment front too, at least for the climate. The latest figures show that for the second year running shares in the oil and gas sector of the stock market have fared worse than any other group.

Although the dividends the oil companies have paid out continue high to keep shareholders happy, the combination of the disinvestment movement and fears for the long-term future of the fossil fuel industry are keeping the stock price low.

There are dozens of smaller initiatives and investments too numerous to detail which amount to an avalanche of change. It is a lot, and a cheering start to the decade, but sadly still a long way from solving the climate crisis. − Climate News Network