Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

Australia heading in wrong direction on emissions targets

The current government in Australia has made no secret of its doubts about the scientific evidence of climate change – but new research confirms that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising fast.

LONDON, 16 December, 2014 − Australia’s emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases are going up and up – and are set to rise by more than 50% over 1990 levels by 2020, according to new research.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT), an independent science-based programme that analyses the emission commitments and actions of countries around the world, says Australia’s present emission levels are about 31% higher than in 1990 and continue to rise.

“In terms of emission effort, Australia will be going in the opposite direction to China and the US, who are putting effort into reducing emissions,” says the CAT analysis.

Emissions calculations

The research says Australia has exerted considerable efforts over the years in order to alter the way its emissions are calculated under the terms of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Australia has insisted on including reductions in emissions from land use and forestry in its emissions calculations. As a consequence, it has sought more allowances for emissions from its industrial − mainly mining − sector.

“This is just the most recent example of Australia lobbying for rules that undermine
the integrity of the emissions accounting system”

According to CAT, the data supplied by the Australian government on supposed land and forestry emission reductions lacks transparency. And lobbying for such calculation methods – which continued during the recent global climate negotiations in Lima, Peru − goes against the terms of the Kyoto Protocol.

“This is just the most recent example,” CAT says, “of Australia lobbying for rules that undermine the integrity of the emissions accounting system as a whole and the rules that carve out special exceptions to the detriment of all, but to the benefit of a few.”

At the 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change, Australia pledged that it would cut its emissions by 5% below 2000 levels by 2020.

CAT − a project run by a number of international organisations, including the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Ecofys, a sustainable energy consultancy − says its assessment of Australia’s emissions’ performance is a reasonable, independent and scientifically-based estimate based on available data and the application of the Kyoto rules as they are generally understood.

Worst performing

Australia was recently named as the worst performing industrial country on the issue of climate change in a report by the Germanwatch thinktank and the Climate Action Network, a group that links more than 900 non-governmental organisations around the world.

Since coming to power in federal elections late last year, the conservative coalition government led by Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister, has done away with a clean energy bill and championed the country’s iron ore and coal mining sectors.

In recent years, Australia has been hit by a series of severe droughts and record-breaking high temperatures, with 2013 the hottest year since records began more than a century ago.

This year’s spring weather in Australia has also been unusually hot, with temperatures of more than 40˚C being recorded over several days in parts of the country. – Climate News Network

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Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Disaster looms if loss of Amazon rainforest continues

Brazilian climate expert proposes five-point “battle plan” in a war against the Amazon deforestation that is having increasingly dire impacts on the regional and global climate.

SÃO PAULO, 12 December, 2014 − The relentless destruction of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest will endanger the global climate unless it can be stopped and restored, says a new report by a leading climate scientist.

In an eloquent, hard-hitting scientific assessment report entitled The Future Climate of Amazonia, Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, a researcher at Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), traces the climatic potential of the world’s greatest remaining rainforest.

He looks at its critical functions for human society, its destruction through deforestation and fire, and he discusses what needs to be done “to stop the runaway train that the climate has become since human occupation in forest areas”.

The report talks of the Achilles’ heel of Amazonia − the danger that the invincible hero will fall – and warns that its future climate has already arrived. Approximately 20% of Brazil’s Amazon forest has been clear cut, while forest degradation has disturbed the remaining forest to varying degrees − directly affecting an additional 20% or so of the original area.

Forest degradation

Dr Nobre says there are clear indications that a reduction of approximately 40% of the rainforest may trigger a large-scale transition to a savanna landscape over time. “There is no doubt,” he says, “that deforestation, forest degradation and associated impacts have already affected the climate both near and far from the Amazon.”

He spells out the sheer scale of the devastation: the total deforested area is greater than the size of two Germanys or two Japans. It is equal to 184 million football fields – which means that, over the last 40 years, the equivalent of 12,635 football fields have been deforested per day.

Dr Nobre is critical of the Brazilian government’s recent claims that deforestation is falling. He says: “There is no reason whatsoever to celebrate the relatively lower rates of clear-cutting in recent years, especially since − after the adoption of the new Forest Code (2011), with its wide amnesty for those who deforested − a distinct tendency towards further increases in the annual rates has already been observed.”

“We must regenerate, as widely as possible,
all that has been changed and destroyed”

So concerned is Dr Nobre about what is happening that he believes only a virtual war effort can save the rainforest. His battle plan – with ignorance the first enemy to overcome − has five steps:

1.Popularising forest science: On the basis that knowledge is power, scientific facts about the role of the forest in creating a friendly climate, and the effect of deforestation in leading to an inhospitable climate, must become common knowledge.

2. Zero deforestation: The harm deforestation does to human beings and the economic losses it causes should be compared with that of tobacco, Dr Nobre argues. When Brazil introduced a new Forest code that scaled back protection, the consequences of changed land use on the climate were never discussed by the politicians. While economic growth and market demand create pressures that leads to deforestation, planning weaknesses foster the invasion and occupation of forested areas − and all these loopholes must be sealed urgently.

3. An end to fires, smoke and soot: Using fire as a tool for clearing land is a deeply ingrained habit that must be stopped. The fewer sources there are of smoke and soot, the less damage will be done to the formation of clouds and rain, resulting in less damage to the green-ocean rainforest.

4. Recover and regenerate forest: Stopping deforestation is not enough to reverse threatening climate trends. “We must regenerate, as widely as possible, all that has been changed and destroyed,” Dr Nobre says. Reforestation on such a scale implies a reversal of land use in vast areas that are now occupied − difficult in the current scenario − and land zoning technologies will be needed.

5. Governments and society need to wake up: In 2008, when the global financial bubble burst, governments around the world took just 15 days to decide to use trillions of dollars of public funds to save private banks and avoid what threatened to become a collapse of the financial system. The climate crisis has the potential to be immeasurably worse than any financial crash, yet still there is procrastination − despite the abundance of scientific evidence and of viable, creative and appealing solutions.

Unavoidable reality

In a final warning, Dr Nobre’s report predicts that climate chaos “has the potential to be immeasurably more damaging than World War II. What is unthinkable today may become an unavoidable reality sooner than expected.

“China, with all its serious environmental problems, has already understood this and has become the country with the most ongoing reforestation activities.

“Restoring native forests is the best bet we can make against climate chaos, and is the only true insurance policy we can buy.” – Climate News Network

* The Future Climate of Amazonia: Scientific Assessment Report by Dr Antonio Donato Nobre, CCST Earth System Science Centre, Ministry of Science and Technology/National Institute for Space Research.

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New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

New climate plans would cut projected warming levels

Climate change analysts say latest commitments by China, the US and Europe on emissions cuts could mean significant progress towards ensuring that global average temperatures this century will rise less than predicted.

LIMA, 11 December 2014 − This really does appear to be a good news story about climate change − and even the not-so-good qualification that accompanies it still leaves something to celebrate.

Researchers say the post-2020 plans announced recently by China and the US and the European Union mean projected warming during this century is likely to be less than expected. The downside is that, even then, the world will still not be doing enough to limit the increase in average temperatures to below 2˚C.

The research, released at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, comes from the Climate Action Tracker, an independent science-based assessment that tracks countries’ emission commitments and actions. It comes in the form of an assessment by four organisations: Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

International goal

Together, the four groups measured government pledges and actions against what will be needed to limit warming below the agreed international goal of a maximum 2°C increase above pre-industrial temperature levels, and against the goal of bringing warming below 1.5°C by 2100.

China − which recently announced a cap on coal consumption from 2020 − and the US and EU together contribute around 53% of global emissions. If they fully implement their new, post-2020 plans, they would limit global temperature rise to around 3˚C by 2100, which is between 0.2˚C and 0.4˚C lower than it would have been.

Their plans are more ambitious than earlier commitments, and represent what the researchers call “significant progress“. But they won’t limit warming to below 2˚C.

“In the context of increasing momentum towards a global agreement to be adopted in Paris in 2015, this represents a very important first step towards what is needed,” said Bill Hare, executive director of Climate Analytics.

“Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century”

“Tempering this optimism is the large gap that remains between the policies that governments have put in place that will lead to warming of 3.9°C by 2100, compared to the improvements they’ve made in their promises. These new developments indicate an increasing political will to meet the long-term goals.”

Niklas Höhne, founding partner of the NewClimate Institute, said: “We estimate that China will likely achieve its 2020 pledge and the objectives stated for 2030, reaching 20% share of non-fossil fuels in a manner that is consistent with peaking COemissions by 2030. Levelling emissions off after 2030 has a major positive effect on global warming in the 21st century.

“China’s post-2020 emissions levels remain unclear and difficult to quantify. Its peak by 2030 falls somewhat short of a 2°C pathway. However, if emissions peak just five years earlier, this could make a very big difference and move them very close to a 2°C pathway.”

Höhne said that the US, with full implementation of its proposed policies, appears likely to meet its 2020 goal of 17%. But further measures would be needed to meet its newly-proposed 2025 goals.

Ambitious target

The researchers say the EU’s current policies put it on a good trajectory towards meeting its 2020 target. But, with current policies, it is not on track to meet its more ambitious conditional target of a 30% emissions reduction below 1990 levels by 2020, and the 40% reduction target by 2030.

They say that governments in countries such as India could do more. Recent discussions indicate that India could be considering putting forward next month a peak year for emissions between 2035 and 2050, which − depending on the level at which this peak occurred − could be consistent with a 2°C pathway.

“We only have a very limited amount of carbon that can be burned by 2050, and we calculate that current policies would exceed this budget by over 60% by that time,” Hare said. “We clearly have a lot of work to do.” − Climate News Network

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India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

India claims plan for new energy mix is a game-changer

While the political spotlight focused on the  world’s two biggest polluters − China and the US − in the run-up to the Lima climate talks, pressure is mounting on India to set emissions targets to help prevent the planet overheating.

NEW DELHI, 10 December, 2014 − India’s contribution to global carbon emissions was only 7% last year, yet there are fears being expressed in the western world that rapid population growth and development will mean this vast country will soon be a major polluter − like its neighbour, China.

For the world, it is a continued worry that if the country soon to have the largest population in the world develops − as China has − by burning coal, climate change will surely get out of control.

No commitments on climate change have so far been made by India, as it waits to see what the developed countries offer to prove they are serious about aid, technology transfer, and targets to reduce their own emissions.

Carbon tax

But while priority in India has been given to development − particularly providing electricity for the millions who live without it − and tackling poverty, the newly-elected government has made a promising start on recognising the importance of climate change.

It has a new energy policy centred on an ambitious increase in solar power capacity − from the current 20,000 megawatts to 100,000 MW in five years. There is a Rupees 5 billion ($80 million) budget this year alone for “ultra mega” solar projects. And a carbon tax on coal has also been doubled for the purpose of subsidising solar and other renewables.

Prakash Javadekar, India’s Environment, Forests and Climate Change minister, said before heading for the UN climate change conference being held in Lima, Peru: “This game-changer energy mix will give us enhanced energy efficiency and save 50 million tonnes of coal. That’s a huge contribution to the world, and will affect our emissions. We will walk the clean water, clean air, clean power path.”

“Both solar and coal power will increase,
but that is our energy mix”

There have been reports about a possible announcement next month – when US president Barack Obama visits New Delhi − of the year in which India intends its greenhouse gas emissions to peak.

However, Javadekar refused to set a timeline, despite the apparent pressure after the US-China joint declaration that the US will reduce emissions by 2025 and China’s will peak by 2030. All countries are supposed to inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) by March 2015 of their action plans for emission reductions.

Javadekar said India is putting in place several action plans for achieving the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions as part of the 2015 agreement. But he made clear that the “peaking year” will not be the benchmark set at Lima; it will be “India’s contribution” − and will be much more than expected.

India, which is expected to surpass China’s current 1.3 billion population by 2030, has always defended its position, as its emissions are less than 2 tonnes per capita, compared with about 7.2 tonnes in China and 16.4 tonnes in the US.

“Our growth cannot be compromised,” Javadekar said. “We have the right to develop, and our priority is to eliminate poverty and meet the aspirations.”

Objections raised

Asked how India will address objections raised by developed countries to it digging more dirty coal, despite its ambitious solar programme, Javadekar insisted: “We are not going on the ‘business as usual’ path − although we are entitled to it. Both solar and coal power will increase, but that is our energy mix. We are doing our own actions under domestic legislations.”

There is a rift at the Lima talks between the developed and the developing countries on the issue of capitalisation of the Green Climate Fund under the 2015 Paris agreement, and this has already seen the G77 group of nations banding together.

Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment thinktank, referred to this in talking about the “politics of climate change”, and how the global south is being short-changed by the global north.

She said climate change talks are about achieving clean economic growth, but, 25 years after talks began, the world is “still procrastinating and finding excuses not to act”. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a Delhi-based independent journalist who writes on environmental, developmental and climate change issues. Email: nivedita_him@rediffmail.com; Twitter: @nivedita_Him

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Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Debate heats up on risk of frozen fossil fuel assets

Investors are wondering whether putting money into fossil fuels makes sense – and the same question is now being asked by heavy hitters in the banking industry.

LONDON, 9 December, 2014 − In a move that’s likely to cause consternation in some of the world’s most powerful corporate boardrooms, the Bank of England has disclosed that it is launching an inquiry into the risks fossil fuel companies pose to overall financial stability.

Mark Carney, governor of the UK’s central bank, has written to British Members of Parliament telling them that his officials have been discussing whether or not coal, oil and gas reserves held by the fossil fuel industry are, in fact, unburnable.

“In light of these discussions, we will be deepening and widening our inquiry into the topic,” Carney says.

The burning of fossil fuels releases hundreds of thousands of tonnes of climate-changing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Catastrophic change

The idea is that if global warming is to be tackled and catastrophic climate change averted, such energy resources will have to be left where they are − under the ground. They will, in effect, become frozen or stranded financial assets.

Carney’s letter, written at the end of the October this year but only recently made public, is addressed to the British parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.

Carney tells the Committee – which has been carrying out its own investigation into the frozen assets question – that a special unit within the Bank of England responsible for identifying and reducing risks in the financial system, will also be considering the issue “as part of its regular horizon-scanning work on financial stability risks”.

Joan Walley, the head of the Audit Committee, told London’s Financial Times that investors should consider what effect regulatory action on climate change would have on their fossil fuel investments.

“Reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly”

“Policy makers and now central banks are waking up to the fact that much of the world’s oil, coal and gas reserves will have to remain in the ground unless carbon capture and storage technologies can be developed more rapidly,” Walley said.

A growing number of senior figures in the financial community – some of them controlling many millions of dollars worth of investment funds – have been pressing fossil fuel companies to disclose how investments would be affected if energy reserves became frozen or stranded by regulatory moves associated with tackling climate change.

Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit thinktank based in London, has been warning of what it sees as the dangers to investors and to the entire financial system of continued investment in the fossil fuel industry.

Vulnerability of assets

“The Bank of England has set a new standard for all central banks and financial regulators on climate risks by agreeing to examine, for the first time, the vulnerability that fossil fuel assets could pose to the stability of the financial system in a carbon constrained world,” Carbon Tracker says.

The question of stranded or frozen assets has been raised at the latest round of global negotiations on climate change taking place in Lima, Peru.

Christiana Figueres, the head of the UN’s Climate Change Secretariat, told the Reuters news agency that the long-term goal of negotiations must be the elimination of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 – a goal that could not be achieved unless most fossil fuels were left in the ground. “We just can’t afford to burn them,” Figueres said. –Climate News Network

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Outlook is bright for UK’s solar power potential

Outlook is bright for UK’s solar power potential

While critics argue that solar energy has no immediate future in the UK’s famously grey and wet climate, a new report says it could be thriving and commercially competitive there by 2020 without government support.

LONDON, 6 December, 2014 − Solar energy is sometimes dismissed as a fanciful idea with little to offer so far in such a cloudy country as the UK, but a new report says power from the sun could thrive in Britain in barely five years’ time − without the need for any subsidy.

The report – published on the website of Thema1, a Berlin-based group that works to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon society − says solar energy is leading changes in the power market as hardware costs have fallen relentlessly over the last decade, recalling the boom in the semiconductor industry.

Last month, the German utility E.ON announced that it was hiving off all its conventional fossil fuel generation to focus on renewables and energy services.

Dr Johannes Teyssen, E.ON’s chief executive, said on 1 December: “More money is invested in renewables than in any other generation technology. Far from diminishing, this trend will actually increase.”

Large-scale projects

The authors of the new report − energy expert Gerard Reid, founder of the corporate finance company Alexa Capital, and Gerard Wynn, of the GWG Energy climate policy and energy consultancy − say it was written in the context of the UK’s plan to force large-scale solar projects to compete with onshore wind for a smaller pot of support, which they say will seriously undermine that market.

Solar power, they predict, would be competitive without subsidies as soon as 2020 in the British commercial rooftop market, which includes schools and offices. The domestic rooftop and large-scale solar markets would be economic within the next 10 years.

“We are firmly convinced that solar will become the bedrock of the global power system going forward,” said Reid, whose company finances low-carbon energy projects in Germany and the UK.

“That said, the road going forward is uncharted and difficult. Our message to the UK Government is to reduce support for solar, but to do so gradually.”

“As battery costs fall, households will be able to deploy solar panels without government support”

Once all support is withdrawn, domestic solar power will critically depend on households increasing the amount that they consume, rather than exporting it to the grid. In this way, they will avoid selling surpluses at very low wholesale power prices, while buying less mains electricity at much higher domestic power prices.

Batteries could be important, allowing households to consume their own stored power for several hours after sunset − a critical factor in the British domestic market, where peak demand is in the early evening.

“As battery costs continue to fall, households will be able to deploy solar panels without government support,” Wynn predicts.

The report says batteries could reduce payback periods for homeowners to little more than a decade by 2020.

But it adds that these are not the only people who can look forward to a windfall: the three markets in solar power – large-scale “solar farms”, and commercial and residential rooftop users – will become economic in the UK without subsidy within the next decade.

Consistent supply

Critics of solar power say it cannot provide the consistent supply of power modern society needs − a charge that has proved mistaken − and that it can do nothing at this stage of its development for a famously grey and wet country like the UK.

The  UK Government’s former Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, who lost his job last July, told a London audience in October: “Solar power may one day be a real contributor to global energy in low latitudes and at high altitudes, and in certain niches. But it is a non-starter as a significant supplier to the UK grid today and will remain so for as long as our skies are cloudy and our winter nights long.”

He added: “It’s an expensive red herring for this country, and today’s solar farms are a futile eye-sore, and a waste of land that could be better used for other activities.”

Germany’s experience, and the prospects for the UK, may give him cause to think again. − Climate News Network

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Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

Scientists hammer out warning on climate change risks

A group of international experts says time is rapidly running out to take serious steps to avert the impacts of global warming by prioritising a switch to clean energy systems.

LONDON, 4 December, 2014 − The all-too-familiar story of ice loss in the world’s polar regions, repeated over and over by researchers in the last two years, is being told yet again – this time for the benefit of delegates at the UN climate change conference currently being held in Lima, Peru.

A report in Earth’s Future journal by distinguished scientists from an international group called Earth League aims to remind the delegates that time is running out to avert the serious impacts of climate change.

Each summer, most of the surface of Greenland now starts to melt – and to darken, which means it absorbs more light, and becomes increasingly more likely to go on melting.

The same thing is happening in the Arctic Ocean, where open sea is now absorbing radiation that would once have been reflected by sea ice.

Irreversible melting

In West Antarctica, a warming ocean has begun to advance, and the glacial ice to retreat, which means more loss of ice, and more warming, and more retreat. With this retreat comes the first sign of irreversible melting in some parts of the ice sheet.

The snows of the Greenland ice sheet alone hold enough water to raise sea levels by seven metres or more. But the retreat of the ice in the Arctic quite literally opens up new territory for another feedback: as permafrost thaws it will release tens of thousands of years of stored carbon, to stoke up greenhouse gas levels and trigger yet more warming.

There is still a chance that humanity can take steps and limit global average temperature rise to 2°C, but the current rates of greenhouse gas emissions could push temperatures to an average of 4°C or more above the averages at the start of the Industrial Revolution by the end of the century.

“Our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age”

“If this occurs,” the Earth League scientists warn, “our climate would be as different from pre-industrial conditions as it was when the Earth began to emerge from the last ice age some 18,000 to 20,000 years ago.”

They add:  “Considerable risks, with potentially serious impacts, are already expected at 1°C to 2°C warming, which will require large investments in adaptation.”

If the temperatures rise beyond the 2°C target, societies will experience increasing risks from extreme events, along with other changes that could make several parts of the world “susceptible to extremely high social and economic costs.

This includes risks to global food production, freshwater supply and quality, significant sea level rise, changes in disease patterns and possibly higher risk of pandemics.”

All this, too, has been said before. But the fact that a group of scholars, economists, geographers and meteorologists from distinguished universities, institutes, academies and laboratories in Europe, the US, Mexico, Brazil and India felt the need to say it once more, with feeling, is an indicator of the urgency of the problem.

Greater risk

As things stand, they say, there is a 30% probability that global average temperatures will exceed 2°C by the end of the century. This is a risk “much greater than we normally accept for other potentially dangerous societal risks, such as nuclear power generation, terrorism, and human health epidemics”.

The report’s authors point out that change is possible, and that a global energy revolution has already begun. Energy demand is many developed countries is falling, and renewable energy use increasing.

“The world may be approaching a point,” they say, “where the technological feasibility and economic benefits clearly tip in favour of a large-scale transition to an economy powered by clean and efficient energy.”

However, they warn that these changes can only happen “by prioritising access to cheap modern energy systems and higher mitigation requirements on richer nations who have caused the bulk of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels so far”. – Climate News Network

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Hi-tech mirror is cool new answer to air con problem

Hi-tech mirror is cool new answer to air con problem

As extremes of heat increasingly threaten to become the norm, scientists have invented a new way to reflect sunlight and beam heat away from buildings straight back into space.

LONDON, 1 December, 2014 − A new material – and a new science called nanophotonics – could offer a revolutionary way to cool down the baking cities of tomorrow.

Climate scientists have repeatedly warned that greater extremes of heat will become the norm, and also that as temperatures rise to potentially dangerous levels, the energy costs of new air conditioning investment will significantly feed back into yet more global warming.

But Aaswath Raman, research associate in the Ginzton Laboratory at Stanford University, California, reports with colleagues in Nature journal that seven layers of hafnium oxide and silicon dioxide on a roof could do something very surprising.

Release warmth

They could directly reflect 97% of the sunlight away from the building, and at the same time release warmth in exactly the right infrared frequency to pass through the Earth’s atmosphere as if it wasn’t there.

In outdoor daytime tests that lasted for five hours, the temperatures in the structure below the new material fell to 4.9°C below the temperatures outside. And this effect was achieved without any use of electricity.

This new technique, which the scientists call photonic radiative cooling, could offer new ways of preserving food, chilling vaccines and saving lives in impoverished tropical regions far from any electrical supply.

“What we’ve done is create a way that should allow us to use the coldness of the universe as a heat sink during the day”

Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases absorb infrared light, and thus store heat from fossil fuels − but not at the wavelengths of between 8 and 13 micrometres.

Since this “transparency window” in the atmosphere can be exploited to radiate the heat directly into space, the authors say: “The cold darkness of the universe can be used as a renewable thermodynamic resource, even during the hottest hours of the day.”

The relatively new science of new materials – and the unexpected properties of old materials when made in layers only a few atoms thick – continues to surprise.

The science has already delivered photovoltaic cells that turn light directly into current, smart metals that can detect their own fractures, and also water-repelling fabrics that stay permanently clean.

The Stanford researchers started with layers of hafnium oxide – an inert material already used in semiconductors and optical coatings – and silicon dioxide, a compound also known as silica or quartz, and widely used both in microelectronics and as a food additive.

Unexpected properties

From these, they were able to fashion, on a thin silver base, an ultrathin film that carried with it two unexpected properties: it was a near-perfect reflector of visible light, and an efficient emitter for infrared light. The fabric is just 1.8 microns thick – a micron is a millionth of a metre – and could be sprayed onto structures.

There are problems yet to be solved. The first practical one is how to get the heat from inside the building into its new, super-efficient exterior coating. The second is to find ways to make the stuff in industrial quantities, and then work out how to use it most effectively. But it offers a new way of thinking about energy efficiency.

“Every object that produces heat has to dump that heat into a heat sink,” said Professor Shanhui Fan, Stanford scientist and one of the report’s authors. “What we’ve done is create a way that should allow us to use the coldness of the universe as a heat sink during the day.” – Climate News Network

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Europe’s nuclear giants are close to collapse

Europe's nuclear giants are close to collapse

Doubts that the biggest construction project in Europe will get the final go-ahead from the UK government leave the European nuclear industry facing a struggle for survival.

LONDON, 24 November, 2014 − Plans to build two giant nuclear reactors in south-west England are being reviewed as French energy companies now seek financial backing from China and Saudi Arabia − while the British government considers whether it has offered vast subsidies for a white elephant.

A long-delayed final decision on whether the French electricity utily company EDF will build two 1.6 gigawatt European Pressurised water Reactors at Hinkley Point in Somerset − in what would be the biggest construction project in Europe − was due in the new year, but is likely to drift again.

Construction estimates have already escalated to £25 billion, which is £9 billion more than a year ago, and four times the cost of putting on the London Olympics last year.

Costs escalate

Two prototypes being built in Olikuoto, Finland, and Flamanville, France, were long ago expected to be finished and operational, but are years late and costs continue to escalate. Until at least one of these is shown to work as designed, it would seem a gamble to start building more, but neither of them is expected to produce power until 2017.

With Germany phasing nuclear power out altogether and France reducing its dependence on the technology, all the industry’s European hopes are on Britain’s plans to build 10 new reactors. But British experts, politicians and businessmen have begun to doubt that the new nuclear stations are a viable proposition.

Steve Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, London, said: “The project is at very serious risk of collapse at the moment. Only four of those reactors have ever been ordered. Two of them are in Europe, and both of those are about three times over budget. One is about five or six years late and the other is nine years late. Two more are in China and are doing a bit better, but are also running late.”

Tom Greatrex, the British Labour party opposition’s energy spokesman, called on the National Audit Office to investigate whether the nuclear reactors were value for money for British consumers.

Peter Atherton, of financial experts Liberum Capital, believes the enormous cost and appalling track record in the nuclear industry of doing things on time mean that ministers should scrap the Hinkley plans.

Billionaire businessman Jim Ratcliffe, who wants to invest £640 million in shale gas extraction in the UK, said that the subsidy that the British government would pay for nuclear electricity is “outrageous”.

Leaks from civil servants suggest that the government may be getting cold feet about its guarantees

Finding the vast sums of capital needed to finance the project is proving a problem. Both EDF and its French partner company, Areva, which designed the European Pressurised water Reactor (EPR), have money troubles. Last week, Areva suspended future profit predictions and shares fell by 20%.

Chinese power companies have offered to back the project, but want many of the jobs to go to supply companies back home − something the French are alarmed about because they need to support their own ailing nuclear industry. Saudi Arabia is offering to help too, but this may not go down well in Britain.

On the surface, all is well. Preparation of the site is already under way on the south-west coast of England, with millions being spent on earthworks and new roads. The new reactors would be built next to two existing much smaller nuclear stations − one already closed and the second nearing the end of its life. The new ones would produce 7% of Britain’s electricity.

But leaks from civil servants in Whitehall suggest that the government may be getting cold feet about its open-ended guarantees. The industry has a long history of cost overruns and cancellations of projects when millions have already been spent – including an ill-fated plan to build a new nuclear station on the same site 20 years ago.

The Treasury is having a review because of fears that, once this project begins, so much money will have been invested that the government will have to bail it out with billions more of taxpayers’ money to finish it − or write off huge sums.

The whole project is based on British concern about its ageing nuclear reactors, which produce close on 20% of the country’s electricity. The government wanted a new generation of plants to replace them and eventually produce most of the country’s power.

Guaranteed prices

In order to induce EDF to build them, it offered subsidies of £37 billion in guaranteed electricity prices over the 60-year life of the reactors. This would double the existing cost of electricity in the UK.

The European Commission gave permission for this to happen, despite the distortion to the competitive electricity market. But this decision is set to be challenged in the European Court by the Austrian government and renewable energy companies, which will further delay the project.

Since the decision was made to build nuclear power stations, renewable energy has expanded dramatically across Europe and costs have dropped. Nuclear is now more costly than wind and solar power. In Britain alone, small-scale solar output has increased by 26% in the last year.

In theory, there are a number of other nuclear companies − from the US, China, Japan and Russia − keen to build stations of their own design in Britain, but they would want the same price guarantees as EDF for Hinkley Point.

With a general election in the UK looming in May next year, no decisions will be reached on any of these projects any time soon. And a new government might think renewables are a better bet. – Climate News Network

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Obama pledge gets dollars flowing into climate fund

Obama pledge gets dollars flowing into climate fund 

Many developing countries are already suffering the impacts of climate change, but a special fund to help them adapt to a warming world has been bolstered by promises of billions of dollars from wealthier nations.

LONDON, 20 November, 2014 − It’s been quite a week for those waiting for some action on climate change.

After US President Obama and China’s President Xi Jinping announced radical plans to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions, Obama then called on nations at the G20 summit in Brisbane, Australia, to agree to a new deal on climate.

And when he backed that up by pledging US$3 billion to the Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up in 2010 to promote low emissions and climate-resilient projects in the developing world, other countries quickly reached for their cheque books.

Paying their dues

Japan says it will be giving $1.5 billion to the GCF. Britain indicated it will be pledging a similar amount.  France and Germany have already announced they will be giving the $1 billion each. Sweden is pledging more than $500 million. And other countries in the developed world are lining up to pay their dues.

The GCF, which operates under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is holding a special High-Level Pledging Conference in Berlin today.

“This week’s announcements will be a legacy of US President Obama,” said Hela Cheikhrouhou, GCF’s executive director. “It will be seen by generations to come as the game‐changing moment that started a scaling‐up of global action on climate change.”

Obama said money paid into the GCF would help developing countries leapfrog some of the dirty industries that fuelled growth in the industrialised world, and will allow them to build clean-energy economies.

“Along with the other nations that have pledged support, this gives us the opportunity to help vulnerable communities with an early warning system, with stronger defences against storm surge, climate resilient infrastructure, to help farmers plant more durable crops,” Obama said.

In the past, calls for cash to support the Fund’s activities in the developing world have been largely unsuccessful. Now the mood seems to have changed.

“It will be seen by generations to come as the game‐changing moment that started a scaling‐up of global action on climate change”

In the US, the Republicans – who now control both houses of Congress – are for the most part firmly opposed to Obama’s new-found zeal for action on the climate.

The White House feels that public attitudes on climate change issues are changing, both within the US and around the globe, but a brave new, fossil fuel-free world is still a long way off.

There are big questions about how the emissions reductions announced in the US-China agreement are to be achieved.

And the pledges to the GCF look impressive, but leaders of the wealthier nations have a tendency for making grand monetary gestures at international gatherings –then not following through with the cash.

Despite this, climate change has been put firmly among the top items on the international agenda. Momentum has also been built towards achieving a new global deal at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris late next year.

Clear message

The past week’s events have also sent a clear message to the fossil fuel industry, and to investors in the sector: many of the most powerful countries in the world now agree that greenhouse gas emissions have to be cut.

The message has not gone down well with Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, and host of the G20 summit.

Although Australia is considered by scientists to be one of the countries most vulnerable to global warming, the Abbott government has made known its scepticism on the issue and has rolled back various measures aimed at combating changes in climate.

It has also strongly backed the development of several large-scale coal mining operations on the east coast, adjacent to the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. – Climate News Network

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