Heat and drought pose threat to US power supplies

Heat and drought pose threat to US power supplies

Global warming will leave people in the western states of the US exposed to increasingly extreme temperatures that could seriously affect electricity generation.

LONDON, 22 May, 2015 – Climate change could mean that things get really tough for people in the US west in the second half of this century, according to new research.

Higher temperatures and increased intensity of droughts could compromise the electricity grid, while the number of people exposed to extremes of heat is likely to multiply at least fourfold, and perhaps more.

Sustainability scientists Matthew Bartos and Mikhail Chester, of Arizona State University, report in Nature Climate Change that changes in precipitation, air and water temperature, air density and humidity could combine to create problems for electricity generating plant in the western US.

They estimate that around 46% of the generating capacity in 14 US states could experience reductions of up to 3% in the next few decades.

Stream flow

That is because there may not be enough stream flow for hydroelectric stations, and coal and nuclear power plant may not be able to get enough water through the cooling systems to keep generating at peak capacity, especially in the summer months.

Gas turbines, wind turbines and solar cells also could be affected by changes in air temperature.

“Drought and heat-related capacity reductions are especially problematic, because they are likely to occur during periods of high demand,” the researchers warn.

“From 2001 to 2008, a series of droughts caused electricity shortages in the American  southeast, the Pacific  northwest, and continental Europe. As concentrations of atmospheric carbon increase, drought events are anticipated to increase in frequency, duration and intensity.”

“Power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts”

Research such as this is intended to help energy utilities plan for problems ahead. Scientists identify a worst-case scenario, outline the probable  difficulties, and prompt the engineers and managers to take steps to avoid future embarrassments.

As global temperatures rise on average in the coming decades – as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increase with the continued use of fossil fuels – so regions such as the American southwest will experience greater extremes of heat and longer periods of drought.

This will mean that available water will have to be pumped further, and there will be greater demand for cooling and air-conditioning systems.

California and the US  southwest have already been in the grip of extended drought.

“Power providers are not taking into account climate change impacts,” Bartos says. “They are likely overestimating their ability to meet future electricity needs.”

Reduced capacity

The scientists calculated that – if a drought lasted for a decade – capacity in vulnerable power generating stations could be reduced by as much as 8.8%.

Meanwhile, Bryan Jones, a demographer at the City University of New York, and colleagues report in the same issue of Nature Climate Change that the number of people who will want to switch on the air conditioning in the second half of the century will increase dramatically.

“We find that US population exposure to extreme heat increases fourfold to sixfold over observed levels in the late 20th century, and that changes in population are as important as changes in climate in driving this outcome,” they report.

And they add a warning: “Extreme heat is responsible for more deaths in the United States than any other weather-related event, and its frequency and intensity is expected to increase over this century.” – Climate News Network

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First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

First head of state backs campaign to save the planet

Hungary’s president boosts an ambitious plan to collect a billion-signature petition aimed at pressuring politicians to agree on radical measures to tackle global warming.

BUDAPEST, 20 May, 2015 – János Áder, the President of Hungary, has become the first head of state to join the Live Earth: Road to Paris campaign that aims to ensure world leaders agree to a binding deal on tackling climate change.

The specific aim is to get a billion signatures from concerned citizens before the UN climate change conference in Paris in December, but organisers are also keen to get as many politicians and celebrities as possible to back the campaign.

The Road to Paris campaign was launched in January at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by former US vice-president Al Gore, songwriter and recording artist Pharrell Williams, and the Emmy award-winning producer and new media entrepreneur, Kevin Wall.

Global voices

Williams, winner of 11 Grammy awards, is Live Earth’s creative director, and music concerts will be staged in Paris, New York, Johannesburg, Sydney, São Paulo and Beijing on June 18, seeking to reach two billion people in 190 countries and unite global voices in demanding environmental accountability from world leaders.

Áder, a former member of the European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, endorsed the campaign at a press briefing in Budapest earlier this month.

Praising Gore’s initiative, Áder talked about the evidence of climate change, available solutions, the positive impacts of green technologies, and the challenges and opportunities of the Paris conference in December.

A spokesperson for Gore told the Climate News Network that the agreement in Paris should involve meaningful emissions reductions commitments at the national level, subject to a system of periodic review, and a long-term goal of net zero-carbon emissions.

Planet-wide shift

A Hungarian website that mirrors the US initiative will seek to encourage widespread local demand for a strong agreement that will dramatically cut emissions and accelerate the planet-wide shift to clean energy, said Zsolt Bauer, of the Hungary-based Regional Environmental Centre (REC).

The REC was instrumental in setting the scene for Áder’s announcement, in partnership with the Climate Reality Project, chaired by  Gore.

Áder has committed to speaking and broadcasting in Hungary to promote the petition, and to raising awareness of the available climate solutions, backed by  the REC nationally and regionally. − Climate News Network

  • Pavel Antonov, a Budapest-based journalist and social researcher, edits Evromegdan.bg, a not-for-profit online magazine for journalism in the public interest, published by BlueLink.net

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Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Pakistan turns desert into a sea of solar panels

Economic links with China help Pakistan tap into enormous solar energy potential that can provide clean power to boost production and reduce poverty.

ISLAMABAD, 19 May, 2015 – One of the world’s largest solar plants has been opened in Pakistan with the aim of supplying clean, reliable energy and helping alleviate the country’s chronic power shortages.

The plant, spread over more than 200 hectares of desert land in the south of Pakistan’s Punjab province, will generate 100 megawatts (MW) in its initial phase and more than 300MW by the end of the year, according to government officials.

More than a third of Pakistan’s population do not have access to electricity, and power shortages are a serious impediment to economic growth.

Inaugurating the plant, Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan’s prime minister, said: “Since I became prime minister, my one goal has been to eliminate darkness in Pakistan and bring lights back to the country.”

Mushahidullah Khan, the Federal Minister for Climate Change, told the Climate News Network that the government is determined to make use of what it sees as the country’s enormous solar energy potential.

Energy crisis

He said: “Tackling our energy crisis is the top priority of the present government as we believe it is vital in order to achieve economic growth, alleviate poverty, boost agricultural and industrial production and – through the provision of clean, solar power – reduce the country’s carbon footprint.”

The plant – called the Quaid-e-Azam Solar Power Park – was constructed in less than a year by China’s Tebian Electric Apparatus Stock Company, at a cost of US$131 million.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult”

China has been forging ever closer economic links with Pakistan as part of a plan to link China’s western Xinjiang region to the Pakistan port of Gwadar on the Arabian Sea. The government in Islamabad says China is likely to invest more than $30 billion in solar and other power projects in Pakistan in the coming years.

At present, more than 60% of Pakistan’s power is generated from oil and gas, and about 30% from hydro power.

Pakistan is considered to be one of the countries in the Asia-Pacific region most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Erratic flow

In particular, the flow of water in the Indus river – upon which millions depend for hydro power and for irrigating crops – has become increasingly erratic due to changing rainfall patterns, glacial melt in the western Himalayas region, and the impact of widespread deforestation.

Government officials say they are determined to push ahead with more solar and wind projects throughout the country.

Asjad Imtiaz Ali, chairman of Pakistan’s Alternative Energy Development Board, said the development of solar and other renewable energies was hampered in the past by inconsistencies in government policy, and by a lack of understanding of clean energies.

“Solar energy is especially suited to remote areas in the country where connectivity to the national grid is difficult, such as Punjab, Baluchistan and Sindh provinces,” he said.

As part of the push for more solar projects, the government recently announced the abolition of duty on the import of solar panels. − Climate News Network

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Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Green city offers clean alternative to tar sands boom

Canada has been dubbed an international disgrace for its climate change policies, but now one of its major cities is aiming to be the greenest in the world by 2020.

LONDON, 13 May, 2015 − In a country reckoned to have the worst climate policies in the industrialised world, one big city is setting out to defy central government and become 100% carbon neutral.

Vancouver, in British Columbia, Canada, wants to establish itself as “the greenest city in the world by 2020” by demonstrating that economic growth and the welfare of its citizens depends on developing renewables, rapid transit systems, and promoting cycling and walking to curb car use.

It is one of dozens of cities worldwide working towards improving the life of their citizens while reducing fossil fuel use, but it claims to have the most ambitious targets.

Many city administrations in Europe have the support of their governments, but in other countries − particularly Australia and Canada, where governments are actively promoting fossil fuels − cities are having to act alone.

A conference in Vancouver, attended by leaders from 45 countries, opens today to help the local government reach its goals.

Doubling green jobs

Among the “Green Vancouver” targets are doubling the number of green jobs in the city by 2020, from a 2010 baseline of 16,700, and making all new building in the city carbon neutral from 2020, while dramatically cutting emissions from existing buildings.

Progress towards meeting the city’s impressive list of targets includes reductions in air pollution, waste, water use and car journeys. Other aims are to provide a green space within five minutes walk for every citizen, planting thousands of trees, and growing food locally.

The city’s environment credentials go back to the 1970s, when there was a long battle to stop a freeway being built through the city. As a result, it is not possible to drive easily into the centre.

“The people who run Vancouver . . . are
business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people”

Between 1996 and 2011, while the population in the city centre increased by 40%, there was a 25% decrease in the number of vehicle journeys, and a rise in the use of public transport, dedicated cycle routes and walkways.

Many other cities in the world that believe the way forward is to rid themselves of fossil fuels are attending to share experience – both of successes and failures.

That Vancouver is to become a centre of excellence is ironic, considering the fact that the federal government is seen as an international disgrace to the environment movement.

In 2011, it repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction targets, and has vigorously promoted the exploitation of oil from tar sands − the most polluting form of oil extraction, with high carbon dioxide emissions.

Power from renewables

In contrast, Vancouver, which has a population of 600,000, believes that all its power can come from renewables – although getting all heating and cooling and transport without using fossil fuels may take until 2040, depending on whether there is any help from central government.

One of the organisers of the conference, Shauna Sylvester, said: “When I first heard that Vancouver wanted to go 100% renewable, I thought it was a dream, but having looked at the possibilities I am a total convert.

“The people who run Vancouver do not have normal political affiliations. They are a bunch of business-savvy people who can see a vibrant green economy being a magnet for new business and forward-looking people. They are neither Labour nor Conservatives, but new progressives.”

Sylvester works at the Simon Fraser University Centre for Dialogue’s Renewable Cities Initiative, one of a number of organisations that aim to bring cities together to tackle climate change, because many local leaders believe that governments do not have the political will to do so.

Among those supporting the conference is the United Nations Environment Programme, which has its own campaign to green cities. − Climate News Network

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Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

Seas generate rising tide of renewables ideas

The EU says it is time for tides to provide energy for Europe from the Atlantic and end reliance on the burning of polluting fossil fuels.

LONDON, 11 May, 2015 − A race is on worldwide to harness the tides and waves for electrical power, with more than 100 different devices being tested by companies hoping to make a commercial breakthrough.

And a new report from the European Union’s Joint Research Centre expresses confidence that the Atlantic Ocean will soon be an important contributor to the continent’s energy mix.

It adds that many other countries with big tidal ranges and long coasts are also banking on this form of renewable energy to help reduce fossil fuel use.

For years, it has been predicted that the vast quantities of energy available in the oceans would be harnessed by human ingenuity to provide without the need for burning fossil fuels, but progress has been slower than expected.

Different techniques

While it has proved possible to generate  electricity with many different techniques, scaling these up into large-scale power stations to supply the electricity grid has not so far been economic.

The two most promising basic ideas are to use the currents and the build-up of water at each tide to drive turbines to make electricity, or to convert the power in wave motions to energy.

In Europe, the countries with Atlantic Ocean coastlines – such as the UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway – are all developing technologies. And in 2014, the EU launched what it called its Blue Energy Action plan to finance and encourage development. The latest report details progress so far.

Most of the technologies are not new ideas, but the trick is turning a demonstration model into a viable power station.

The one exception is tidal energy in the form of a barrage across a river, which has been in use for years.

The best known is the 240 megawatt (MW) La Rance tidal barrage in France, operating successfully since 1966. Another 254 MW tidal plant has opened in Sihwa in South Korea, and other barrages producing at total 2,680 MW are planned worldwide − although  many  have proved controversial because of their  effects on fish and birds.

Tidal lagoons − reservoirs that stand in an estuary or close to the shore, and which fill and then empty with each tidal cycle − have  now won much more favour, and one is  being developed in Swansea Bay in south Wales.

The worldwide potential of this technology is estimated at 80 gigawatts (GW), or the equivalent of 80 large coal-fired power stations.

Already in successful operation at some sites, but yet to be scaled up to full commercial development, are underwater turbines − similar to wind turbines − that use the energy in tidal streams to make electricity.

In Europe, these devices will be viable in countries with high tides and strong tidal streams − particularly France, Ireland, Norway and the UK, but also  in some parts of Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands. These are believed to offer  the highest net potential contribution  to the European energy system, according to the report.

The first large-scale tidal array is being built in the Pentland Firth, off northern Scotland. It will provide power to 175,000 homes.

New connections

Like the deployment of wind farms, potential tidal power arrays are often in remote locations far from cities. The report points out that these technologies will require new grid connections and integration into the European grid to get most value from them.

A new generation of devices not placed on the sea bed, but either floating like kites on a string or operating from platforms, is under development. Their advantage is that they avoid the cost of being built on the sea bed, and can also  exploit the greater strength of the tides nearer the surface of the sea.

Some of the materials being used to build devices to withstand the power of the sea, and the methods that are being used, are being kept secret for commercial reasons, but they have some of the biggest companies in Europe as their backers.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that the tides are predictable years in advance

Another new generation of micro-turbines, owned by coastal communities and anchored offshore to take advantage of tidal flows, is under development. These could give communities isolated from the grid their own power source, like solar panels do in remote parts of Africa and Asia.

There are an estimated 100 companies developing tidal energy devices worldwide, half of them  in the EU, where many are supported by development grants. Four tidal energy stations are already in operation in Europe, and another 31 are expected to be completed by the end of 2016. Many more are in the planning stage.

The commercial advantage of tidal devices is that, unlike some other forms of renewable energy, the tides are predictable years in advance. Wave power, on the other hand, suffers because of its unpredictability and the need to make devices robust enough to stand up to the battering  they receive.

Potential supply

That has not stopped a large number of development projects being built, principally because the potential energy supply is vast –  30 times higher than tidal energy.

Some devices have already been operating successfully for 10 years, producing regular quantities of electricity, but they were built as demonstration models and not on a commercial scale.

Building structures large enough to produce a regular power supply at a cost that could be commercial has proved elusive, but the report describes a number of devices that are close to achieving commercial viability.

There are at least nine different technologies using wave power, and 170 wave energy developers worldwide.

The report also discusses technologies that use the different gradients of salinity in the sea to produce power, and the different water temperatures to generate energy.

However, it argues that both these ideas, while viable in theory, are further away from commercial operation in Europe than tidal stream or wave power. – Climate News Network

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Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

Pope aims to win hearts and minds on climate change

The leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world is calling on religions to take a moral stance on the threat posed by global warming.

LONDON, 6 May, 2015 − A declaration at the end of a meeting in Rome hosted by the Vatican made a plea to the world’s religions to engage and mobilise on the issue of climate change.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” the declaration said. “In this core moral space, the world’s religions play a very vital role.”

Vatican watchers and climate experts say the meeting, “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development”, shows that Pope Francis is − in marked contrast to his predecessors − keen for the Catholic church to be more involved in the climate change issue, and is also urging other religions to become more actively engaged.

The meeting was organised by various religious and non-religious organisations, including the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the UN-affiliated body, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, also spoke at the one-day conference.

Fundamental principles

In a few weeks’ time, the Pope is due to release an encyclical on climate change – within the Catholic church, a statement of fundamental principles. He has also made several impassioned speeches on the issue.

“If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us,” the Pope told a gathering of thousands in St Peter’s Square, Rome, last month. “Never forget this.”

Groups that insist that climate change is not a threat, and that seek to oppose the findings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific bodies, have been quick to criticise the Pope’s stand.

“Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity”

Members of the Heartland Institute, a US-based organisation funded by billionaire industrialists and others who deny climate change is caused by human activity, travelled to Rome to speak against the meeting.

“The Pope has great moral authority, but he’s not an authority on climate science,” a Heartland employee told the UK newspaper, the Daily Telegraph.

“The Pope would make a grave mistake if he put his moral authority behind scientists saying that climate change is a threat to the world.”

Selling investments

Separately, the Church of England announced that it is selling various investments in fossil fuel industries. The Church said £12 million worth of investments in companies making 10% or more of their revenues from the production of coal or oil from tar sands would be sold.

The Church of England is not selling all its investments in fossil fuel operations, but says it wants to influence companies that contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. The Church recently called on two major oil companies, BP and Shell, to be more transparent about their policies on climate change.

“The Church has a moral responsibility to speak and act on both environmental stewardship and justice for the world’s poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change” says Professor Richard Burridge, of the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group. Climate News Network

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Flood risk to nuclear sites raises meltdown fears

Flood risk to nuclear sites raises meltdown fears

Sea level rise, storm surges and bursting dams all pose an increasing danger to nuclear power stations as the climate changes.

LONDON, 5 May, 2015 – Safety checks following the Fukushima disaster in Japan in March 2011, when a 10 metre-high sea wall was overtopped by a tsunami, have shown that nuclear plants are at greater risk of catastrophic flooding as a result of climate change.

All nuclear plants need large quantities of water for cooling so all must be built close to the sea, large rivers or lakes. This makes them vulnerable to sea level rise, storm surges and to the possible collapse of large dams upstream from poor construction, floodwater or seismic activity.

Since nuclear plants are designed to operate for as long as 60 years and need around a further century to decommission, accelerating sea level rise and more intense rainfall may present serious problems.

There are currently 435 operating nuclear reactors in the world, many of them potentially vulnerable to flooding because of natural disasters. Examples from the UK, Finland and the US show that the extent of the danger is not always being disclosed.

In Britain, after discovering in May 2013 that one of their reactors would be at risk during a storm of inundation by seawater, the owners, EDF Energy, quietly shut it down. The reactor, at Dungeness and built on a shingle beach beside the English Channel, supplies 750,000 homes.

The company informed the Office for Nuclear Regulation that it was being shut down as a precaution. The reactor remained off-line until 15 October that year while a new sea wall was constructed – losing the company around £100 million in revenue.

Serious problem

Although the company did announce the closure at the time, the extent of the problem and the length of the shutdown were not announced. Later EDF admitted that the emergency works had taken place following an assessment of the flooding danger after the Fukushima disaster.

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the university of Greenwich in London,
criticised EDF for its attitude. He was quoted by the UK’s Independent newspaper as saying: “If a plant closes for five months it is not just fiddling about, it is something serious, and EDF can’t pretend it is not…we need to be told the truth.”

The same fears were raised in the US by the Union of Concerned Scientists after a report was leaked about the danger to nuclear reactors from dams bursting. According to a report by the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRC), which had been withheld, more than 30 nuclear installations were in danger from flooding. The Commission was later accused of using security concerns to mask embarrassing information.

Higher odds

Among many revelations in the report was the fact that the authorities had known for a decade or more that the failure of a dam upstream from the Oconee nuclear plant in South Carolina would cause floodwater to overwhelm its three reactors, possibly causing a catastrophic meltdown. The odds of the dam bursting were far higher than the chances of the accident that devastated Fukushima.

Oconee is one of the largest nuclear plants in America and has been operating since 1983. Its owner, Duke Energy, remains confident that it could shut the plant down safely in an hour, before floodwaters from upstream could reach the reactors. The NRC has decided that this is sufficient safeguard.

Dave Lochbaum, director of the Nuclear Safety Project at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said: “The NRC knows – and has known for many years – that flooding from dam failures can disable the emergency equipment needed to prevent reactor core meltdown.

“The risk of a serious nuclear accident remains always above zero as a result of unexpected phenomena taking place”

“The agency must require plants to address known flooding hazards and thoroughly investigate other plants that may be at risk and require them to resolve any potential hazards.

“If such a flooding accident occurred, the NRC would quickly determine which other plants were vulnerable and require them to strengthen their protection against similar events. Wouldn’t it be smarter for the agency to do that before an accident occurs?”

More open about its problems is Finland’s Loviisa nuclear power plant on the Baltic Sea, which was flooded by a 1.73-metre storm surge in 2005. Since then four cooling towers have been built 10 metres above sea level to avoid inundation in a new storm surge, and new floodgates and waterproof doors have been installed to protect the reactor. A new road has been built above flood level so that emergency services can reach the plant to pump away floodwater.

Even so, the Rain Project, a consortium of experts on safety and climate change, thinks more can be done to protect against potential disaster. Christer Pursianen is professor of societal safety and environment at the Arctic University of Norway.

He says that although Finland is in the forefront of nuclear safety, more needs to be done to train staff in emergencies and to develop  links with neighbouring countries so as to gain experience in disaster prevention: “The risk of a serious nuclear accident remains always above zero as a result of unexpected phenomena taking place.” – Climate News Network

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England set for big increase in record warm years

England set for big increase in record warm years

Research using records dating back to 1659 indicates at least a 13-fold rise in the likelihood of human-influenced climate change pushing up temperatures in central England.

LONDON, 1 May, 2015 − If you live in England, prepare for a future where distinctly warmer years are the new normal. An international team of researchers says the likelihood of record-breaking warm years is going to increase substantially because of human influence on the climate.

Their study shows that the chance of England experiencing a record-breaking warm year, on a par with 2014, is at least 13 times higher. And there are signs that it could be even higher.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters, is based on climate model simulations and detailed analyses of the Central England Temperature (CET) record − the world’s longest instrumental temperature record, dating back to 1659.

The results show that human activities have a large influence on extreme warm years in England − which is remarkable, the researchers say, because England is such a small region of the world.

Monthly recordings

The CET does not cover the whole of England, let alone Scotland or Wales or the rest of the British Isles. It has monthly recordings of average temperatures dating back to 1659, and recordings of average daily temperatures back to 1772.

It is designed to represent the climate of the English Midlands, a roughly triangular area bounded by Lancashire in the north, Bristol in the south-west and London in the south-east. The researchers say the CET has undergone thorough and extensive quality control, which makes it an ideal resource for studying long-term temperature trends across the region.

The lead author of the study is Dr Andrew King, a researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of Melbourne, Australia.

“It is remarkable that we get such a clear anthropogenic influence on temperatures in a relatively small area across central England”

He says: “When you look at average annual temperatures over larger regions of the world, such as the whole of Europe, there is a lower variability in temperatures from year to year, compared with smaller areas.

“As a result of this low variability, it is easier to spot anomalies. This is why larger regions tend to produce stronger attribution statements, so it is remarkable that we get such a clear anthropogenic influence on temperatures in a relatively small area across central England.”

The researchers calculated the probability of warm years caused by human influences by first using climate model simulations to calculate the likelihood of very warm years when there are only natural influences on the climate, and then when there are both natural and human influences.

Warmest years

The researchers then studied the CET and picked out the warmest years from the record since 1900. These were plotted onto a graph, which they used to calculate the likelihood of warm years happening now, and a century ago.

The model-based method suggested (with 90% confidence) at least a 13-fold increase caused by human influences on the climate, while the observation-based approach suggested at least a 22-fold increase in the probability of very warm years in today’s climate compared with a century ago (again with 90% confidence).

“Both of our approaches showed that there is a significant and substantial increase in the likelihood of very warm years occurring in central England,” Dr King says.

According to the CET, 2014 was the warmest year on record in central England. During the last 60 years, rapid warming has been recorded in the CET in line with the human influence on the climate, with the highest average annual temperature of 10.93°C recorded in 2014.

Dr King says he would expect that other areas near the UK would produce similar results. “We performed a similar attribution study for Europe as a whole and found a 35-fold increase in the likelihood of extremely warm years using model simulations.” − Climate News Network

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Global warming slowdown offers only fleeting relief

Global warming slowdown offers only fleeting relief

Scientists show that long-term temperature rise is the inevitable consequence of increasing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 April, 2015 − The so-called hiatus in global warming will probably make no difference to the world in the long run, according to Australian scientists.

Using computer models to take the planetary temperature in 2100, they found that one set of models incorporated the slowdown, but others did not. In the end, the difference was barely significant: less than 0.1°C.

The hiatus is a measurable slowdown in the rate of increase in average global temperatures since the turn of the century.

But since, under the notorious business-as-usual scenario, average planetary temperatures in 2100 will be a predicted 5°C higher than at the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago, the conclusion is that the slowdown is fleeting.

Drastic steps

In the end, and unless the planet’s governments take concerted and drastic steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, the outcome will be the same.

The study, the authors say in the journal Nature Climate Change, shows that the slowdown merely reflects short-term variability.

“Our research shows that while there may be short-term fluctuations in global average temperatures, long-term warming of the planet is an inevitable consequence of increasing greenhouse gas concentrations,” says Matthew England, chief investigator at the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at the University of New South Wales. “This much-hyped global warming slowdown is just a distraction from the matter in hand.”

It may be a distraction, but Professor England is one of an increasingly large set of researchers puzzling over the mechanisms that may be at work.

“This much-hyped global warming slowdown is just a distraction from the matter in hand”

There is – and climate scientists have confirmed this repeatedly over the last 100 years – a direct link between the planet’s temperature and the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the last 30 years of the last century, planetary average temperatures rose steadily by the decade.

In the first 15 years of this century, the rise has been much smaller, even though the emissions have been greater.

Thirteen of the 14 hottest years ever recorded have fallen in this century, and 2014 was the hottest of them all, but that hasn’t stopped climate scientists from trying to account for the apparent slowdown − perhaps with an aspect of the climate machinery they have so far overlooked.

One group recently suggested that a natural cycle of cooling  in the Antarctic – a cycle much longer and slower than the sketchy data from the southern continent can confirm – has simply masked a continued rise in global temperatures.

Another has pointed to a relatively recent increase in volcanic eruptions that might have delivered enough sulphur aerosols into the atmosphere to block sunlight and to imperceptibly counter the warming trend.

Temporary storage

Braddock Linsley, research professor at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, New York, and colleagues proposed that the “missing” heat might be in temporary storage in the deep oceans.

And Professor England and colleagues proposed a link between the Pacific trade winds and a natural pattern of ocean circulation − a slow movement sometimes called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) − that might be at work, overturning the ocean waters, cooling the surface and burying the warmth.

Now Dr Linsley and colleagues report in Geophysical Research Letters that the trade winds theory might provide at least part of the explanation.

They have been looking  at sea surface temperatures in the southern Pacific back to 1791, as witnessed by the growth of the coral reefs, and have identified a pattern of cyclic change with a period of perhaps about 25 years.

When the PDO goes into reverse, the so-called warming hiatus could end. If the present cycle began around 1999, then it could end quite soon − as early as 2020.

Dr Linsley told the Climate News Network: “There is already some evidence that the PDO may have started reversing late last year.” – Climate News Network

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Commitment to end flaring is boost for climate talks

Commitment to end flaring is boost for climate talks

New initiative to stop gas being flared off from oil production sites could prevent millions of tonnes of emissions being spewed into the atmosphere.

LONDON, 29 April, 2015 − Companies and governments responsible for 40% of global gas flaring have made a commitment to stop their climate-damaging activities within the next 15 years.

Announcing the “Zero Routine Flaring by 2030” initiative at a meeting in Washington DC, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said its supporters are demonstrating real action in the run-up to the all-important UN conference on climate change in Paris later this year.

“Reducing gas flaring can make a significant contribution towards mitigating climate change,” he said. “I appeal to all oil-producing countries and companies to join this important initiative.”

The World Bank (WB), which launched a Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership in 2002, estimates that each year 140 billion cubic metres of natural gas produced together with oil are burned or flared at thousands of oil fields worldwide − adding 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.

Generate power

If the flared gas was used to generate power, the WB says, it would produce more electricity than is at present consumed throughout the African continent.

Flaring – much of which can even be seen from outer space − takes place when there are no facilities to harness the gas, or when oil producers decide it is uneconomical to process or pipe the gas.

Russia is at present the world’s largest flarer − the other big flaring nations being Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and Venezuela.

Those committed to ending flaring by 2030 − at the latest – include nine countries, 10 oil companies and six development institutions.

Among the oil companies are Royal Dutch Shell, ENI of Italy, and the Norwegian Statoil group. The countries that say they will end flaring by 2030 include the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan, Gabon and Angola.

And the state oil companies involved include SOCAR of Azerbaijan, Petroamazonas of Ecuador, and the Kuwait Oil Company.

A number of financial institutions and development organisations have also joined the scheme, including the Islamic Development Bank, the African Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

“Gas flaring is a visual reminder that we are wastefully sending CO2 into the atmosphere”

Although the WB says many other countries and oil companies are considering joining the no-flaring initiative, such commitments have been made before – and not fulfilled.

The issue of flaring is particularly contentious in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, the country’s main oil-producing region. Shell, Chevron and other companies, including the Nigerian National Petroleum Company, have made repeated announcements about putting an end to flaring, but the practice is still widespread.

Toxic chemicals released in the flaring process can cause serious health problems, and can damage crops and the environment in surrounding areas.

Nigeria has not so far joined in the WB initiative, and neither has the US, which flares gas from thousands of shale oil production sites.

Beyond money

Faith Nwadishi, a representative of various Nigerian civil society groups, says that those involved in the no-flaring initiative had to make a real commitment to end what she called the evil of gas flaring.

“The issue of gas flaring goes beyond the amount of money that can be saved or how much money people can get out of the business,” she told the Nigeria-based Business News.

“We really have to think about the fact that people are not sensitive to the plight of the people who live in active gas flare sites.”

The WB says that by endorsing the no-flaring initiative, governments, oil companies and development institutions are acknowledging that routine gas flaring is unsustainable – both from resource management and environmental perspectives.

“Gas flaring is a visual reminder that we are wastefully sending CO2 into the atmosphere,” says Jim Yong Kim, the WB president.

“We can do something about this. Together we can take concrete action to end flaring and to use this valuable resource to light the darkness for those without electricity.” – Climate News Network

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