January 27, 2013, by Alex Kirby
A number of users of the Network have told us they would like to have a summary of the stories published each week. This list contains those we’ve produced since Sunday 20 January. We’d like to hear whether you think this is a useful feature, and whether there are improvements you’d like to see. All the stories are available on the site, with the older ones to be found in the archive. Norwegians say heating may be milder 26 January: Including data from the start of this century in a model has led Norwegian scientists to think that the impact of climate change on global temperatures may be less than many of their peers have predicted. The Copenhagen target of no more than a 2°C average warming for the planet might be achievable after all, according to the new research. A team backed by the Norwegian research council harnessed multiple sources of data to a single climate model, ran it millions of times and found that, even if carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere double by 2050, warming might still be no greater than 1.9°C. Fossil fuels ‘too valuable to burn’ 26 January: German researchers, in an exclusive Climate News Network report, say fossil fuels are too valuable to burn for energy. They should be replaced by renewable energy, the team says. A study by the World Future Council has attempted for the first time to put an economic price on the consumption of oil, gas and hard coal to produce energy when they could be used instead for making useful things. A report – The Monetary Cost of the Non-Use of Renewable Energies – by Dr. Matthias Kroll claims the cost of these important natural resources runs into trillions of dollars a year, but does not appear in economic calculations of the costs of generating energy. Andean glaciers show record melting 25 January: The water which millions of people drink and rely on for crops and energy is at risk, as the warming atmosphere melts the tropical glaciers of the Andes faster than at any time in the last 300 years. The glaciers are losing ice at an accelerating rate and, in the most comprehensive study so far, scientists identify the cause as atmospheric warming. An international team tried to measure the mass of ice at high altitude and compare those measurements with records that date back more than 60 years. They conclude that – although the glaciers have been retreating ever since the coldest point of the Little Ice Age between the 16th and 19th centuries – this retreat has now reached an unprecedented rate. Global energy governance ‘needs urgent reform’ 24 January: The global institutions entrusted with regulating the world’s energy are badly out of date and need urgent revision both to ensure stability of supply and to protect the climate, according to a report which says climate change is largely an energy problem. Existing bodies overseeing the global energy sector are inadequate and have failed to adapt to widespread changes in energy supply and demand, it says. And nothing short of a technology revolution is needed to tackle the twin challenges of rising energy demand and climate change mitigation. The report is The Reform of Global Energy Governance, by Neil Hirst at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College, London and Antony Froggatt of the London-based think tank, Chatham House. Brazil’s paradoxical energy policy 23 January: Insisting that its policy of generating electricity from hydropower is emissions-free, Brazil is facing opposition from river communities threatened by its expansion. Droughts and changing weather patterns are also leaving less water to drive the turbines. But while environmentalists see this as an opportunity to invest more in other renewables, like wind and solar power, the government has preferred to fall back on the increasing use of coal, diesel or gas-fired plants to make up the shortfall. Between October and December 2012 these plants produced 15.3 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, according to a study. This position has drawn criticism from within the government itself. A Ministry of the Environment adviser said that last year the annual total for emissions from these plants was higher than those caused by deforestation. Geo-engineering plan gets thumbs down 22 January: One proposed method of compensating for the effect of greenhouse gas emissions would be hugely expensive, requiring a new industry to match the size of the global coal mining sector, a study says. Marine scientists in Germany have calculated the effectiveness of “fertilising” the oceans with minerals to change their chemistry and absorb more of the atmospheric carbon dioxide they receive and thus reduce the risk of further global warming. The technique would work. But it would also involve the massive additional use of energy on a global scale and in the course of doing so release further quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And in the end, it could make only a small difference to overall emissions. ‘Most fail’ to end poverty while cutting emissions 21 January: World leaders have so far failed to raise people out of poverty by economic development while at the same time avoiding the worst effects of climate change, Swedish researchers say. A study of 134 countries published by TCO, a confederation of 15 Swedish trade unions (based on data from the TCO RioRank database), shows that sustainable development is not yet close to being achieved. The theory is that countries can develop and at the same time reduce carbon dioxide emissions by combining energy efficiency and the greater use of renewable sources of power. About 40 countries have managed to do this, but the vast majority have not – and among those that have failed, the study says, are the fastest-growing economies and the most polluting: China, the US and India. Renewables: The 99.9% solution 20 January: A combination of wind and solar power and sophisticated energy storage systems could keep a power grid fully supplied between 90 and 99.9% of the time, at costs comparable with today’s fossil fuel and nuclear mix, according to a new US study. Computer simulation measured the performance of inland and offshore wind farms and photovoltaic cells, backed up by battery and fuel cell storage, under the lowest cost conditions, for a 72 gigawatt grid system (one gigawatt will typically provide power for about 750,000 to a million US households). Renewable energy, on this model, is the least-cost option, or close to it. “At expected 2030 technology costs, the cost-minimum is 90% of hours met entirely by renewable,” the team report. “And 99.9% of hours, while not the cost-minimum, is lower in cost than today’s total cost of electricity.”
Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.