Shell swims against oil price tide

Shell swims against oil price tide

As the giant Shell oil company begins highly controversial exploration drilling in the Arctic, the price of crude continues to slide.

LONDON, 30 August, 2015 – It’s a gamble – some would say a giant gamble. Before even one litre of oil has been found, the Anglo-Dutch Shell group is believed to have spent more than US$7 billion – just making preparations for its latest Arctic venture.

Shell is betting on finding the oil industry’s Holy Grail: according to 2008 estimates by the US Geological Survey, the Arctic contains more than 20% of the world’s remaining hydrocarbon resources – including at least 90 billion barrels of oil.

If Shell does strike oil in big quantities maybe its gamble will pay off – and its anxious shareholders can look forward to handsome payouts.

But the whole venture is a high-risk business. The decision by the US administration to allow Shell to start drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska, is highly controversial.

Environmentalists and scientists say any further exploitation of fossil fuels must be halted in order to limit the rise in average global temperatures to within 2°C of pre-industrial levels and avert serious climate change.

Possible catastrophe

Drilling conditions in the Arctic can be treacherous: in 2012 a Shell rig which had been drilling for oil in the Beaufort Sea off Alaska ran aground in a storm and had to scrapped. Any oil spill in the ecologically rich waters of the Arctic could be catastrophic.

Hillary Clinton, President Obama’s former secretary of state and now a presidential contender, criticises Washington for allowing Shell to drill.

“The Arctic is a unique treasure”, she says. “Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.”

Shell says its operations meet the highest standards. “We owe it to the Arctic, its inhabitants, and the world to work with great care as we search for oil and gas resources and develop those at the request of governments across the region”, the company says.

The financial rationale of Shell’s move is also being questioned. Drilling in the Arctic is an expensive business and involves complex logistical challenges.

Stubbornly low

Analysts say so-called unconventional oil – crude recovered from difficult environments such as the Arctic – needs to command a price of between US$70 and US$100 a barrel to make its recovery economical.

At present, though oil demand is strong, there are deep uncertainties about future economic growth, particularly in China. Oil is staying stubbornly below US$50 per barrel. The big oil producers such as Saudi Arabia have not, as in the past, lowered output in order to shore up prices.

A tentative agreement between western nations and Iran on nuclear issues is likely to mean new supplies of Iranian crude hitting the international market, putting further downward pressure on prices. Despite continue bombing and communal strife, Iraq is gearing up its oil production.

One of the major factors influencing the downward movement of oil prices over recent years has been the development of the US fracking industry, with vast amounts of oil and gas recovered from shale deposits deep underground.

Perhaps Shell – and big producer countries like Saudi Arabia – foresee an end to the fracking boom.

Fracking slows

As recovery from shale deposits becomes more difficult and prices remain low, fracking is not enjoying the explosive growth it saw a few years ago.

Some drilling sites in the US states of Texas and North Dakota are being abandoned. Several of the smaller fracking companies – which borrowed large amounts during the good times to finance their operations – have gone bust.

But there is still a global glut of oil: the International Energy Agency says there is unlikely to be a rebound in oil prices any time soon.

The drilling season in the Arctic is brief: the days shorten quickly and the ice begins to form. Shell – and its shareholders – will be hoping for quick returns.

International negotiators preparing for the climate summit in Paris later this year are calling for urgent action to head off global warming. There are many who hope Shell’s exploration activities will not succeed – and that the Arctic hydrocarbons stay where they are, thousands of feet below the seabed. – Climate News Network

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Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Emissions are putting species in lethal danger

Scientists warn that lizards, coral reefs and forests are all seriously under threat unless agreement is reached to reduce drastically fossil fuel emissions.

LONDON, 27 August, 2015 – Global warming is going to be very bad for the boreal forests of Siberia and Canada, calamitous for the coral reefs of the tropics and the cold deep waters – and lethal for the lizards of North America.

New research warns that the double assault of warmer and increasingly acidic oceans will affect coral reefs everywhere, growing conditions will move north faster than trees can migrate, and increasing extremes of heat will roast vulnerable reptile embryos to death.

As humankind pours more and more carbon dioxide into the planetary atmosphere as a consequence of fossil fuel combustion, these are among the impacts scientists say we should prepare for by 2100 and perhaps even earlier.

About one-third of the planet’s woodlands are strewn across Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Alaska and Canada. These forests are a “sink” for atmospheric carbon, and at the same time they provide shelter for rich ecosystems and a source of income for tens of millions of people around the world.

Climate zone shifting

But the climate is changing. The region of the northern forests is warming at 0.5°C per decade, and by 2100 it could be on average between 6°C and 11°C higher that it is now. The climate zone is shifting at least 10 times faster than trees can migrate, according to a new study in Science journal.

The likelihood is that the species to the south will be at greater risk of wildfire, drought, infection and insect assault, but the species at the northern fringe will not be able to colonise new ground to keep up. The loss of forest could accelerate global warming even further, although researchers cannot yet be sure.

“These forests evolved under cold conditions, and we do not know enough about the impacts of warming on their resilience and buffering capacity,” says one of the report’s co-authors, Anatoly Shvidenko, a senior researcher in the forestry programme at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

The consequences for the coral reefs of the world have been well reported, but geochemists at a global conference in Prague thought it worthwhile spelling out the dangers yet again.

“I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found
anywhere on this planet by mid-century”

Peter Sale, a marine biologist at the University of Windsor, Canada, used the hazard to the coral ecosystems to underscore the urgency of an international agreement at the UN’s forthcoming Paris conference on climate change to take steps to control emissions and limit average temperature increase to 2°C this century. But that may not be enough.

“Even if Paris is wildly successful, and a treaty is struck, ocean warming and ocean acidification are going to continue beyond the end of this century,” Sale says.

“This is now serious. I find it very unlikely that coral reefs as I knew them in the mid-1960s will still be found anywhere on this planet by mid-century. Instead, we will have algal-dominated, rubble-strewn, slowly eroding limestone benches.

“I see little hope for reefs unless we embark on a more aggressive emissions reduction plan.”

Lizards lay their eggs in the ground in spring and summer and leave them to gestate for up to two months. They are cold-blooded creatures that respond to the heat to become more active, and seek shade when it becomes too hot. − but infant lizards have no such freedom.

A team of scientists from Arizona State University (ASU) report in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B that, in experiments, they found that while adult animals might benefit from a warmer world, their embryos could be seriously at risk.

Pessimistic forecasts

They found that the lizard embryos die when subjected to temperatures greater than 43°C (110°F). Right now, only about 3% of the US gets to this temperature in the shade. By 2100, under the more pessimistic climate forecasts, this could have grown to 48%.

This could be bleak news for whole ecosystems, because lizards consume insects, and are in turn prey for snakes and birds and mammals.

“Lizards put all of their eggs in one basket, so a single heat wave can kill an entire group of eggs,” says Ofir Levy, postdoctoral fellow at the ASU School of Life Sciences, who led the study.

“If mothers don’t dig deeper nests to lay their eggs, we expect this species to decline throughout the United States.” – Climate News Network

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Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Hi-tech analysis pinpoints Antarctic ice sheet dangers

Precision mapping of West Antarctica’s melting glaciers could help climate scientists to predict potentially calamitous effects on sea levels.

LONDON, 25 August, 2015 – Scientists have used high-resolution computing techniques to calculate the future of the West Antarctic ice sheet over the next two or three centuries.

The West Antarctic peninsula right now is about the fastest-warming place on Earth. And, in the worst case scenario, glaciers will retreat by hundreds of kilometres, and seas will rise everywhere.

An estimated 80,000 cubic kilometres of ice could flow into the sea by 2100, and by 2200 this could rise to 200,000 cubic kilometres. By the end of this century, sea levels could have risen by 20cms, and 50cms by 2200.

This is an extreme case, but the forecasts for West Antarctica’s glaciers have been consistently alarming. In the last two years, scientists have confirmed that the rates of melt and retreat have accelerated, and that, under the combined effects of warmer air and sea, this melting may be irreversible.

Vulnerable mass

Stephen Cornford, a researcher at the School of Geographical Sciences at the University of Bristol in the UK, and colleagues report in the European Geosciences Union journal The Cryosphere that their chief concern was to help climate science by fixing with greater precision the things that might happen to the most vulnerable mass of ice on the frozen continent.

The new study tests a range of climate predictions in greater detail than before, over a greater area, and a longer period of time. But the uncertainties remain. Will human-induced greenhouse gas levels continue to rise? How will the oceans respond? What will be the consequences for snowfall south of the Antarctic Circle?

“Other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently”

So the study looks at all the possibilities in more detail, and the pay-off could be more confident predictions of climate change as the circumstances begin to change.

Dr Cornford says: “We expect future change in the West Antarctic ice sheet to be dominated by thinning in the Amundsen Sea Embayment, just as it is today, until at least the 22nd century. But other regions of West Antarctica could thin to a similar extent if the ocean warms sufficiently.”

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154. Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

A computer-generated map of the projected glacial retreat in the Amundsen Sea Embayment by 2154.
Image: S.Cornford et al/The Cryosphere

Serious consequences

The worst-case predictions are disconcerting, and could have serious consequences for the hundreds of millions of people who live in cities and on productive land at or near sea level – for instance on the Nile Delta or in Bangladesh – or even below sea level, protected by sea walls, such as in the Netherlands.

But they remain just that: worst case predictions. The scientists were not concerned with establishing probabilities for any scenario, just with employing complex mathematical techniques to extend climate models.

The chief aim of the study has been to find ways of making sense of all possibilities − from no change to calamitous change − in the factors that govern glacier loss.

Co-author Dan Martin, a computational scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, says: “Much like a higher-resolution digital camera transforms a blur into a flock of birds, higher resolution in a computer model often helps to capture details of the physics involved, which may be crucial to the broad picture.” – Climate News Network

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China’s carbon count is not as high as feared

China’s carbon count is not as high as feared

The use of poor-quality coal in Chinese power plants means that the carbon dioxide emissions of the world’s biggest polluter are 10% less than previously thought.

LONDON, 21 August, 2015 – Calculations on how much carbon dioxide China produces have been wrong for more than 10 years because the official bodies that calculate it have assumed the country’s power stations burn high-quality coal.

In fact, the world’s biggest polluter uses coal with a lower carbon content than power stations in Europe and the US, and so produces less carbon dioxide per tonne − around 14% less according to experts from 18 research institutions.

Getting the total quantities of CO2 emitted by each country correct is crucial if the world is going to reach agreement on tackling dangerous climate change at the UN conference in Paris in December. One of the stumbling blocks to agreements in the past has been politicians’ need to have a fair system of sharing the burden of cuts.

Calculating how much pollution each country produces has been largely based on the quantities of fossil fuels burned in electricity and heat production and in motor vehicles.

This has not taken into account the fact that the amount of carbon in coal and oil varies according to its quality, and so an average figure has been used, which turns out to be unfair in the case of China.

Appalling air quality

One of the ironies of the finding is that while the carbon content of the coal may be less, its impurities means it emits more of other kinds of pollution. This is what has made air quality in Chinese cities so appalling, and has started a big debate in China about whether the country should seek to burn better-quality coal to avoid killing its citizens with bad air.

The revised estimates of China’s carbon emissions, published in the journal Nature, were produced by an international team, led by researchers from Harvard University, the University of East Anglia (UEA), in England, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Tsinghua University, in collaboration with 15 other international research institutions.

The team re-evaluated emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production from 1950 to 2013. They used independently-assessed activity data on the amounts of fuels burned, and new measurements of emissions factors – the amount of carbon oxidised per unit of fuel consumed – for Chinese coal.

Because the amount of coal burned in China is so vast, the size of the error is also huge. It means there are 2.9 fewer gigatonnes of carbon in the atmosphere. That is more than the total amount of carbon stored by China’s forests over roughly the same period.

“Evaluating progress towards countries’ commitments to reduce CO2 emissions depends upon improving the accuracy of annual emissions estimates”

It is particularly important because nearly three-quarters of the growth in global carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and cement production between 2010 and 2012 occurred in China.

The lead UK researcher, Prof. Dabo Guan, of UEA’s School of International Development, said the key contributor to the new estimates was fuel quality, which for the first time was taken into consideration in establishing emission inventories – something the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and most international data sources had not done.

“China is the largest coal consumer in the world, but it burns much lower quality coal, such as brown coal, which has a lower heat value and carbon content compared to the coal burned in the US and Europe,” Prof. Guan says.

“China is one of the first countries to conduct a comprehensive survey for its coal qualities, and a global effort is required to help other major coal users, such as India and Indonesia, understand their physical coal consumptions as well as the quality of their coal types.

“Our results suggest that Chinese CO2 emissions have been substantially over-estimated in recent years. Evaluating progress towards countries’ commitments to reduce CO2 emissions depends upon improving the accuracy of annual emissions estimates and reducing related uncertainties. These findings represent progress towards improving estimates of annual global carbon emissions.”

Total consumption

The discrepancy would have been even greater if China more accurately counted its coal consumption. According to researchers, total energy consumption was 10% higher between 2000 and 2012 than reported in China’s national statistics. However, even taking that into account, emissions were still less than previously believed because emissions per tonne were on average 40% lower than the levels assumed by the IPCC.

This alters substantially the estimates of the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre (CDIAC) in the US and the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) in the EU, which are the official data sources for the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) – providing scientific evidence for the climate change policy negotiations in Paris later this year.

The figure is also about 10% less than the estimate given for China in the most recent publication of the Global Carbon Project, which annually updates global carbon emissions and their implications for future trends.

Prof. Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at UEA, co-leads the publication of annual updates of emissions for the Global Carbon Project.

She says: “The strong message here is that as we refine our estimates of carbon emissions we get closer to an accurate picture of what is going on, and we can improve our climate projections and better inform policy on climate change.” – Climate News Network

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Islamic climate experts urge 1.5°C limit on warming

Islamic climate experts urge 1.5°C limit on warming

A far-reaching call to avoid runaway climate change and to build a more just and sustainable global society has been launched by Islamic leaders.

LONDON, 19 August, 2015 – An influential group of Islamic leaders has urged world governments to prevent human-caused climate change forcing global average temperatures more than 2°C above the pre-industrial level.

In a radical advance on the position of most developed countries, the group says it would be better to aim for 1.5°C  ̶  the lower limit that many climate scientists say would offer a stronger chance of preventing climate change reaching dangerous levels, but to which few governments have so far agreed.

The group’s call, a long time in preparation, was issued at the end of the International Islamic Climate Change Symposium, held in the Turkish city of Istanbul, and is published as the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change.

It is addressed primarily to the negotiators who will meet in Paris in December at the UN Climate Change Conference, the main aim of which will be to get agreement on a robust and enforceable global treaty to cut emissions of greenhouse gases in time to stay within the 2°C safety limit.

Rapid phase-out

The authors also address people of all nations and their leaders, urging them to commit themselves to 100% renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible as part of a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels.

But they go much further than that. They write: “We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to . . . stay within the 2°C limit, or, preferably, within the 1.5°C limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground”.

This is a clear reference to the warnings that a large part of those reserves cannot safely be exploited, and will prove to be stranded assets.

There is growing pressure for corporate and individual investors to withdraw their support from fossil fuel exploiters, and the declaration’s signatories specifically recognise this.

“To chase after unlimited economic growth
in a planet that is finite
and already overloaded is not viable”

They write: “We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to . . . assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel-driven economy and the scaling-up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.”

The declaration is blunt about what the signatories see as the urgent need for drastically far-reaching change. Wealthy nations and oil-producing states are urged to “lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible, and no later than the middle of the century”.

They are urged to provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve that early phase-out of greenhouse gases, and should “recognise the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources . . .”

Carrying capacity

Elsewhere, the signatories say that “to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable”. This is a rare reference to population and the planet’s “carrying capacity”  ̶  the maximum population size that the environment can sustain indefinitely.

They even go so far as to call for “a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model, which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality”.

These are demands for changes so radical that they are seldom heard. But they are addressed to the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims, to people of other faiths, and to “all groups” to join in “co-operation and friendly competition . . . as we can all be winners in this race”.

The declaration sets the bar high for the Islamic world, for people of all religions and of none, to treat climate change as a serious and present problem that demands fundamental change across global society. – Climate News Network

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Renewables raise challenge to coal in power league

Renewables raise challenge to coal in power league

Wind, solar and other renewable sources of clean energy are now second only to coal in generating the world’s electricity.

LONDON, 18 August, 2015 – It probably surprises nobody to learn that coal produces more of the world’s electricity than any other fuel. But it may provide food for thought to realise that the second most widely-used fuels for power generation are now renewables.

Electricity generation from renewable sources has overtaken natural gas to become the second largest source of electricity worldwide, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has announced.

In Europe, the main renewables used to generate electricity are wind and solar power. Since 1990, global solar photovoltaic power has been increasing at an average growth rate of 44.6% a year, and wind at 27.1%.

The IEA reports that electricity production last year in the 34 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) fell slightly to 10,712 TWh (terawatt hours)  ̶ a decrease of 0.8% (86 TWh) compared with 2013. To put that in context, 1 TWh is 1 billion kilowatt hours, and each KWh takes about 0.36 kilograms of coal to generate.

Partially offset

This decline, the agency says, was driven by lower fossil fuel and hydro production, which were only partially offset by increases in non-hydro renewables. These grew by 8.5%, and nuclear energy by 0.9%.

In 2014, solar photovoltaic power overtook solid biofuels  ̶ used in power plants that burn biomass  ̶ to become the second-largest source of non-hydro renewable electricity in OECD countries of Europe, with a share of 17.3%.

The IEA says overall growth in electricity generation continues to be driven by non-OECD countries. Its latest statistics, which show world electricity generation increasing by 2.9% between 2012 and 2013, reveal two distinct trends.

Electricity generation is levelling off within the OECD, while it is rising strongly in the rest of the world. In 2011, non-OECD countries for the first time produced more electricity than members of the OECD.

By 2040, the world’s energy supply mix is likely to divide into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources

Other milestones were reached in 2013, when global non-hydro renewable electricity exceeded oil-fired generation for the first time, and renewable electricity overtook natural gas to become the world’s second largest source of electricity, producing 22% of the total.

In the same year, electricity generated by coal reached its highest level yet at 9,613 TWh, representing 41.1% of global electricity production. The growth in coal generation was driven by non-OECD countries.

Globally, more renewable energy is consumed in the residential, commercial and public services sectors than elsewhere, but there are two distinct patterns of use.

In non-OECD countries, only 22.3% of renewables are used for electricity and heat production and 60.7% in homes, commercial and public sectors. In OECD countries, more than half of the renewable primary energy supply (58.5%) is used for electricity and heat.

Huge challenge

The IEA’s data will encourage renewable energy’s supporters, but they also show how much the world continues to rely on fossil fuels for its electricity.

In 1971, coal produced about 2 TWh of global electrical power, but that figure is now almost five times higher. Replacing that much generation with clean fuels will be a huge challenge, despite the very rapidly accelerating growth of renewables.

Fatih Birol, the IEA’s director, has said that, without clear direction from the UN climate summit to be held in Paris in December, “the world is set for warming well beyond the 2°C goal”  ̶  the internationally-agreed limit for global temperature rise that is intended to prevent climate change reaching dangerous levels.

The IEA World Energy Outlook 2014 said that, by 2040, the world’s energy supply mix is likely to divide into four almost-equal parts: oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources.

This scenario, it said, “puts the world on a path consistent with a long-term global average temperature increase of 3.6°C”. – Climate News Network

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Obama plan’s boost for Paris climate conference

Obama plan’s boost for Paris climate conference

New targets set by the US for cutting carbon emissions send a clear signal to the rest of the world and raise hopes for a global agreement on tackling climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2015 − President Obama’s determination to reduce US carbon emissions by 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 sends a message to the rest of the world’s leaders that the UN climate talks in Paris could succeed in saving the planet from overheating.

Past talks have foundered on a range of political excuses, but now that the world’s two largest polluters, China and the US, have committed to far-reaching changes in their energy production to keep the world below the dangerous threshold of a 2°C temperature increase, the door is open for all the rest to follow.

The stumbling block to US action so far has been the refusal of die-hard members of the Republican Party to accept that climate change is happening, and the well-funded fossil fuel lobby’s legal and political campaign to block any legislation.

But Barack Obama’s use of an existing law − the Clean Air Act of 1970 − has allowed him to bypass Republican opposition simply by issuing new regulations.

Dangerous pollutant

The law says that the US Environmental Protection Agency must regulate any pollutant that is deemed a danger to human health and wellbeing. And the Supreme Court upheld the agency’s finding that carbon dioxide in large amounts did qualify as a dangerous pollutant.

The fact that Obama’s regulations are backed by a number of power companies that see the regulations as an opportunity to invest in renewables, and by corporate giants such as Coca-Cola, Walmart and Google, shows there is increasing support for him across America.

Of course, the Republicans will continue to challenge the new regulations in the courts, and they will be an issue in the next presidential elections. Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has already endorsed the Obama proposals.

The Republican opponents who say it will cost jobs in the coal industry will also have to explain whether they are in favour of the asthma, the premature deaths and the danger to the planet that coal plants cause.

The US political battle will come to a head long after the Paris talks have succeeded or failed. At the moment, the policy of both the US and China is far more forward-thinking and their actions more far-reaching than even the optimistic could have hoped for two years ago.

China has been under huge pressure from its increasing middle class to take action on air pollution, and so phasing out dirty coal power plants has become a national priority.

This will take a long time because the plants are so numerous and China needs more power, but a start has already been made and the country has a massive renewable energy programme, where it is already the world leader.

In the World Resources Institute list of the top 10 polluter countries, the EU’s 28 member states – ranked third behind China and the US − are classed together, since the EU has a joint reduction target.

The policy of both the US and China is far more forward-thinking than even the optimistic
could have hoped for two years ago

However, this masks massive differences in government approaches. For example, Germany is going for renewables in a big way and is phasing out nuclear power, while the UK is intent on building nuclear and is no longer encouraging on-shore wind and solar energy.

Further down the list are India in fourth place, Russia fifth, Japan sixth, and then Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico and Iran.

India is still trying to provide its vast population with access to regular electricity supplies, or in some cases any electricity at all, so its priority is still development, rather than curbing pollution.

That said, the Indian government, like China’s, is under heavy pressure because of the killer smogs that regularly envelop its major cities. The government is currently investing heavily in solar power, along with coal plants. It remains to be seen whether its targets to make a contribution to reducing emissions will improve in Paris.

Unknown quantity

The remainder of the top 10 are more difficult to assess. Russia remains an unknown quantity, Japan is still struggling with the closure of its nuclear power plants following the Fukushima accident in 2011, and the others are, like India, dominated by concerns for development over environment.

The Obama intervention, four months before the Paris talks, does demonstrate to every world leader that, in the world’s largest economy, the future is renewables and that no new coal-powered plants will be built. If this is the way forward for the richest nation, then the rest of the world should at least take note.

Canada and Australia, at 11 and 13 in the table of top carbon polluters, will come under pressure to at least accept some targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Both at the moment have ditched reduction targets in favour of exploiting fossil fuel resources.

Australia seems intent on denying climate change and providing the world with coal, but it may now find its exports suffering.

Obama’s announcement certainly tilts the balance towards a good outcome in Paris. – Climate News Network

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Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Good practice makes perfect sense for GHG cuts

Reducing climate-warming gases enough to prevent global temperatures from exceeding a 2°C rise is simple – if all countries do as well as the best. 

LONDON, 31 July, 2015 – European researchers investigating ways to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the internationally-agreed safety level have arrived at the good news that we can just about achieve it – provided all nations show the political will to do so.

They conclude that applying globally the climate policies that are already working in some countries could substantially reduce emissions, close to where they need to be to prevent global average temperatures rising more than 2°C above their pre-industrial level.

The researchers − from the NewClimate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis − detail their findings in a report that examines the impact of “good practice” emission reduction policies in nine different areas globally and across six countries: China, Brazil, India, the US, Russia and Japan.

Energy efficiency

The areas examined include: renewable energy; a variety of energy efficiency standards for buildings, car fuel efficiency, appliances and lighting, and industry); hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs); emissions from fossil fuel production; electric cars; and forestry.

The researchers looked at the most ambitious “good practice” policies around the world that are being implemented now, and calculated the difference they would make if every country applied them. They say that difference is huge.

In the arcane language of the greenhouse gases, the unit the researchers use is known as the GtCO2e − an abbreviation for “gigatonnes of equivalent carbon dioxide”. It is a simplified way to put emissions of various greenhouse gases on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of CO2 that would have the same global warming effect.

“If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would
have a significant impact”

The report says that implementing good practice policies is projected to stabilise GHG emissions at 49-50 GtCO2e by 2020, decreasing to 44-47 GtC02e by 2030 – not too far from the level needed to attain the 2°C emissions range (30-44 GtCO2e) that the world is aiming for by 2030.

Direct replication of good practice policies is expected to halt emissions growth significantly in most regions before 2030. In contrast, current policies are expected to see emissions continue to increase to around 54 GtCO2e by 2020 – and 59-60 GtCO2e by 2030.

“It is clear that governments can learn from each other to find effective policies to reduce emissions,” says Niklas Höhne, a founding partner of NewClimate Institute. “If everybody were to work towards achieving such high standards in key areas, this would have a significant impact.”

The study found that the good practice policy area that could reduce the most emissions was renewable energy (3.7-6.0 GtCO2e), where China, Costa Rica, Germany and Tuvalu’s policies were among the world’s best.

Interesting targets

With F-gases (fluorinated GHGs), where good practice policies could reduce emissions by around 1.1 to 2.2 GtCO2e, the EU, Mexico, China and the US had what the authors call “some interesting policies or targets”

On energy efficiency, the analysis shows that good practice policies can significantly reduce the impact on GHG emissions of economic growth, by decarbonising the energy supply and improving energy efficiency in the demand sectors, which it says is good news for developing countries.

The opportunities were particularly significant for China, whose emissions are projected to increase to approximately 15 GtCO2e by 2030. But under a good practice policy scenario, they would peak around 2020, and in 2030 would be at about 12 GtCO2e or lower.

However, the report says China is already among the leaders in policies in a number of areas.

Hanna Fekete, another founding partner of NewClimate Institute, says climate policy-making in China has picked up speed in recent years, and that  recent developments in reduction of coal consumption, for example, set a promising basis for further action in the future.. – Climate News Network

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Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

Fossil fuel industry still winning the investment war

The campaign to convince investors not to use their money to support the extraction and use of fossil fuels is failing to gain enough converts, experts say.

LONDON, 29 July, 2015 – There’s sobering news for campaigners trying to persuade investors to withdraw their funds from the fossil fuel industry: UK experts say their efforts are unlikely to achieve enough quickly enough.

One expert, using the term often applied to the global energy industry, told a meeting in London: “The incumbency is winning the cold war.”

Senior members of asset management firms and carbon risk specialists were invited this week by a prominent British charitable foundation, Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, to discuss the prospects for disinvestment and the attitudes in the City of London to attempts to match investment policies with avoidance of climate change risks.

They say the continued confidence of the industry in the long-term viability of coal, oil and gas − despite the plunging cost of many renewable fuels − means that the UN climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year will fall short of its aims.

More face time

One participant, Mark Campanale, a former fund manager who founded the UK-based Carbon Tracker Initiative, told Climate News Network: “The key question is face time. The fossil fuel CEOs get far more face time with investors than they do with climate scientists, for example.

“There are some signs of hope, but we’re not seeing the City, as a group, changing its attitudes.

“Do the companies have the right people on their boards? Their approach is to say: ‘There’s doubt about the science. We’re ready to grow.’ And so, by default, they go back to business-as-usual, and Paris will not hit a home run.”

There was praise from many speakers at the meeting for the disinvestment campaigners’ commitment and imagination − and especially for Bill McKibben, co-founder of the 350.org campaign, for “brilliantly unleashing the naive energy of a generation of students”.

“You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands

Others questioned the language of the disinvestment campaign. One said: “The word ‘divest’ is campaigner talk, not a form of language that will advance the argument very far.” Instead, he suggested, it could be better to speak, in unthreatening language, of the need for “portfolio decarbonisation”.

But for many participants it was the basic facts and the simple arithmetic that the campaigners needed to assert.

One said: “The industry argues that the problem is cyclical, and that we’re now at the bottom of the cycle. But we need to know why, with crude oil now at US$55-60 a barrel, Shell is investing in projects that won’t break even until the price has gone back up to about $90 a barrel.”

Cleaner fuels

Another pointed to the rapid decline in the cost of cleaner fuels: “The economics of renewables are already much better than we’re often led to believe. You’re better off investing $100 billion in solar photovoltaics than in Canadian tar sands.”

The foundation that hosted the meeting supports Europeans for DivestInvest, part of a global movement that seeks to encourage charitable foundations and high net worth individuals to divest from fossil fuels and invest 5% or more of their portfolio in climate solutions − including renewable energy, clean technology, and energy efficiency.

In September 2014, more than 360 investors managing over $24 trillion in assets urged world leaders to agree to a strong global climate deal. – Climate News Network

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Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Norway pumps up ‘green battery’ plan for Europe

Hydraulic engineers in Norway aim to use surplus power from wind and sun to cut the need for fossil fuel plants to boost European electricity supplies.

LONDON, 26 July, 2015 − Norway is hoping to become the “green battery of Europe” by using its hydropower plants to provide instant extra electricity if production from wind and solar power sources in other countries fade.

Without building any new power stations, engineers believe they could use the existing network to instantly boost European supplies and avoid other countries having to switch on fossil fuel plants to make up shortfalls.

Norway has 937 hydropower plants, which provide 96% of its electricity, making it the sixth largest hydropower producer in the world − despite having a population of only five million.

Europe already has 400 million people in 24 countries connected to a single grid, with power surpluses from one country being exported to neighbours or imported as national needs change.

Supply and demand

As more and more renewables are installed across the continent, the problem of balancing supply and demand gets more difficult.

Because supply from wind and sun sources fluctuates, the grid needs back-up plants to keep the power constant. At present, this means that many countries have to keep gas and coal plants on standby to make up any shortage.

However, the Hydraulic Laboratory at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim believes it can engineer the country’s vast power plants so that they can themselves be a giant standby battery that can be turned on and off.

When there is surplus wind or solar power in Europe, the electricity it generates can be imported to pump water uphill to keep re-filling the Norwegian reservoirs. This is, in effect, electricity that is stored, because when energy is needed again the generators can be turned back on to produce hydropower.

“Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The problem at the moment is that even hydropower is not instant. This is because water takes time to flow through the vast network of pipes and the turbines to reach the correct speed to provide stable power to the grid at the correct frequency of alternating current.

Norway currently has more kilometres of pipes carrying water to its hydroelectricity plants than it has miles of road, so controlling the flow is the key.

But Kaspar Vereide, a doctoral student in the department of hydraulic and environmental engineering at NTNU, has designed a model solution, with funding from the Centre for Environmental Design of Renewable Energy.

By creating a sealed surge chamber in rock close to the turbines, engineers can feed electricity, at the right frequency, into the grid immediately. The empty chamber contains air that is compressed as the space is filled with water. So, when the valves are open, the water can instantly turn turbines at the correct speed.

Vereide says: “Norwegian mountains are full of water tunnels. It’s like an anthill.”

The length of the waterway, he says, can be many kilometres, though this will require the engineers to accelerate the water to reach the turbines.

His solution involves blowing out a cavern inside the water tunnel near the turbine where the electricity is to be generated, creating a surge chamber where water at the correct velocity can reach the turbines immediately.

Fluctuations in power

He admits that his design is still at the early stages of development. The surge chambers have to be designed to avoid fluctuations in power needs, which can cause uncontrolled blowouts of air into the power plants, risking damage.

“We have to be able to control these load fluctuations that occur,” he says. “Among other things, it’s important to determine how big surge chambers need to be to function best. My task is to figure out the optimal design for the chambers.”

Vereide says that plants have traditionally been run very smoothly and quietly, with few stops and starts to create these fluctuations. But to become the green battery of Europe, the power plants would need to be started and stopped much more often − and then the problem of load fluctuations would increase significantly.

“We’ll benefit a lot from developing these new technologies, both in order to keep electrical frequency stable and to run power plants more aggressively to serve a large market,” he says. – Climate News Network

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