Monthly Archives: February 2017

Stark warning on Atlantic cooling

Climatologists say there is an almost 50% chance that the Labrador Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean will cool rapidly within the next decade.

LONDON, 24 February, 2017 – For thousands of years, parts of north-west Europe have enjoyed a climate around 5°C warmer than many other regions on the same latitude. But new scientific analysis suggests that that could change much sooner and much faster than thought possible.

Climatologists who have looked again at the possibility of major climate change in and around the Atlantic Ocean, a persistent puzzle to researchers, now say there is an almost 50% chance that a key area of the North Atlantic could cool suddenly and rapidly, within the space of a decade, before the end of this century.

That is a much starker prospect than even the worst-case scientific scenario proposed so far, which does not see the Atlantic ocean current shutdown happening for several hundred years at least.

Extreme climate change

A scenario even more drastic (but fortunately fictional) was the subject of the 2004 US movie The Day After Tomorrow, which portrayed the disruption of the North Atlantic’s circulation leading to global cooling and a new Ice Age.

To evaluate the risk of extreme climate change, researchers from the Environnements et Paléoenvironnements Océaniques et Continentaux laboratory (CNRS/University of Bordeaux, France), and the University of Southampton, UK, developed an algorithm to analyse the 40 climate models considered by the Fifth Assessment Report.

The findings by the British and French team, published in the Nature Communications journal, in sharp contrast to the IPCC, put the probability of rapid North Atlantic cooling during this century at almost an even chance – nearly 50%.

Current climate models foresee a slowing of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), sometimes known also as the thermohaline circulation, which is the phenomenon behind the more familiar Gulf Stream that carries warmth from Florida to European shores. If it did slow, that could lead to a dramatic, unprecedented disruption of the climate system.

“If the North Atlantic waters do cool rapidly over
the coming years, climate change adaptation policies
for regions bordering the North Atlantic will
have to take account of this phenomenon”

In 2013, drawing on 40 climate change projections, the IPCC judged that this slowdown would occur gradually, over a long period. Its findings suggested that fast cooling of the North Atlantic during this century was unlikely.

But oceanographers from EU emBRACE had also re-examined the 40 projections by focusing on a critical spot in the north-west North Atlantic: the Labrador Sea.

The Labrador Sea is host to a convection system ultimately feeding into the ocean-wide MOC. The temperatures of its surface waters plummet in the winter, increasing their density and causing them to sink. This displaces deep waters, which bring their heat with them as they rise to the surface, preventing the formation of ice caps.

The algorithm developed by the Anglo-French researchers was able to detect quick sea surface temperature variations. With it they found that seven of the 40 climate models they were studying predicted a total shutdown of convection, leading to abrupt cooling of the Labrador Sea by 2°C to 3°C over less than 10 years. This in turn would drastically lower North Atlantic coastal temperatures.

North Atlantic drop

But because only a handful of the models supported this projection, the researchers focused on the critical parameter triggering winter convection: ocean stratification. Five of the models that included stratification predicted a rapid drop in North Atlantic temperatures.

The researchers say these projections can one day be tested against real data from the international OSNAP project, Overturning in the Sub-polar North Atlantic Program, whose teams will be anchoring scientific instruments within the sub-polar gyre (a gyre is any large system of circulating ocean currents).

If the predictions are borne out and the North Atlantic waters do cool rapidly over the coming years, the team says, with considerable understatement, climate change adaptation policies for regions bordering the North Atlantic will have to take account of this phenomenon.

Source: Climate News Network

About the Author:Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

New report on stranded assets

Stranded assets are defined as assets that have suffered from unanticipated or premature write-downs, devaluation or conversion to liabilities. In recent years, the issue of stranded assets caused by environmental factors, such as climate change and society’s attitudes towards it, has become increasingly high profile.

Changes to the physical environment driven by climate change, and society’s response to these changes, could potentially strand entire regions and global industries within a short timeframe, leading to direct and indirect impacts on investment strategies and liabilities.

The report, part of Lloyd’s emerging risk report series, looks at actual and potential examples of how stranded assets caused by societal and technological responses to climate change could affect assets and liabilities in the insurance and reinsurance sector. The study aims to increase the understanding and awareness of these issues in the industry.

To do so, it analyses the following eight asset-stranding scenarios in various business sectors:

  • Upstream energy assets: oil and coal reserves become stranded due to international, top-down carbon budget constraints (i.e. “unburnable carbon”)
  • Upstream energy liabilities: third-party liability claims against companies (and their D&Os) responsible for climate change
  • Downstream energy assets: premature closure of coal power stations due to concerns about climate change and the fossil-fuel divestment campaign
  • Downstream energy liabilities: an increase in political risk events due to government energy policies induced by climate-change concerns
  • Downstream energy assets: residential solar PV and electricity storage (in part connected to electric vehicles) impairs centralised electricity generation market
  • Residential property assets: mandatory energy efficiency improvements reduce the value of the least efficient housing stock and increase the value of the most efficient housing stocks
  • Commercial property liabilities: property industry professionals and governments are sued for negligence for not disclosing, reporting or for being misleading on the climate change impacts for property investors
  • Shipping assets: pressure to reduce carbon emissions increases the value of newer, larger, more efficient ships and reduces the value of older, smaller, less efficient ships

The report sets out a number of key actions that companies including insurers, could take in their role as investors to identify and mitigate stranded asset risks.

Download the report: Stranded Assets: the transition to a low carbon economy: Overview for the insurance industry here

Cranking Up The Intensity: Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events

Climate change is now influencing all extreme weather events – with some of the most severe climate impacts occurring in 2016, our latest report has found.

Cranking Up The Intensity: Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events finds that while the links between climate change and some extreme weather events such as bushfires and heatwaves are well-established, the evidence linking climate change to storms and heavy rainfall is also growing.

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KEY FINDINGS

1. Climate change is influencing all extreme weather events in Australia.

  • All extreme weather events are now occurring in an atmosphere that is warmer and wetter than it was in the 1950s.
  • Heatwaves are becoming hotter, lasting longer and occurring more often.
  • Marine heatwaves that cause severe coral bleaching and mortality are becoming more intense and occurring more often.
  • Extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season is increasing, leading to an increase in bushfire risk.
  • Sea level has already risen and continues to rise, driving more devastating coastal flooding during storm surges.

2. Some of the most severe climate impacts the world has experienced have occurred in 2016.

  • Arctic sea ice reached its lowest annual extent on record while record sea surface temperatures drove the worst coral bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef’s history.
  • Tropical Cyclone Winston was the most intense cyclone to hit Fiji on record, while Hurricane Otto was the southernmost hurricane to hit Central America on record.
  • Canada experienced its costliest wildfire in history in Fort McMurray, forcing the evacuation of almost 90,000 people.
  • The US state of Louisiana experienced 1-in-500 year rains that brought severe flooding leading to 30,000 rescues and 13 deaths.

3. Across Australia, extreme weather events are projected to worsen as the climate warms further.

  • Extreme heat is projected to increase across the entire continent, with significant increases in the length, intensity and frequency of heatwaves in many regions.
  • The time spent in drought is projected to increase across Australia, especially in southern Australia. Extreme drought is expected to increase in both frequency and duration.
  • Southern and eastern Australia are projected to experience harsher fire weather.
  • The intensity of extreme rainfall events is projected to increase across most of Australia.
  • The increase in coastal flooding from high sea level events will become more frequent and more severe as sea levels continue to rise.

4. The impacts of extreme weather events will likely become much worse unless global greenhouse gas emissions are reduced rapidly and deeply.

  • Burning of coal, oil and gas is causing temperatures to rise at unprecedented rates and is making extreme weather events more intense, damaging and costly.
  • Major emitters including China and the European Union are leading action on climate change, but Australia is lagging well behind and is on track to even miss its very weak target of a 26-28% reduction in emissions by 2030.
  • Australia is expected to do its fair share to meet the global emissions reduction challenge by cutting its emissions rapidly and deeply.
  • Phasing out ageing, polluting coal plants and replacing them with clean, efficient renewable energy sources such as wind and solar is imperative for stabilising the climate and reducing the risk of even worse extreme weather events.

Source: The Climate Council

Shale giant looms over National Trust parkland

By Jon Ungoed-Thomas, February 5 2017: One of the world’s biggest manufacturers of chemical and oil products has threatened the National Trust with legal action to force it to allow exploration for shale gas on its land.

Ineos Shale, part of the Ineos Group, which is headed by the billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, is the country’s leading shale gas company. It has government licences that give it access to about 1m acres of potential shale gas reserves.

These includes National Trust land at Clumber Park, near Worksop in Nottinghamshire.

However, the trust has refused access to the historic country park for seismic surveys, arguing that it has “a presumption against fracking on our land” and will not allow access for exploration.

An investigation by Greenpeace into fracking has established that Ineos Shale has threatened the trust with compulsory access to the land under the Mines (Working Facilities and Support) Act 1966.

Tom Pickering, operations director of Ineos Shale, which is based in London, confirmed last week that the company had warned the trust that it could use the act, but said he hoped negotiations would continue.

He said: “If we cannot achieve access by negotiation, then the provisions under this act are available to us and we would pursue them.”

Ineos would require ministerial approval as well as a court order to gain access to the popular park, which consists of 3,800 acres of scenic woodland heath and pasture and boasts a walled garden and the longest double avenue of lime trees in Europe.

The potential legal battle could prove an important test case for the trust’s position on fracking.

Richard Hebditch, the trust’s external affairs director, said the Ineos request for a seismic survey for shale gas was the first on trust land. He said the trust was standing by its decision to turn down the application. He said: “The trust is opposed to fracking on its land and will reject any fracking requests or inquiries.”

One of the main reasons the trust opposes fracking is the fact that it contributes to carbon emissions. However, Ineos argues that gas releases about half the carbon emissions of coal when burnt and claims it can play a key role in helping Britain move towards a greener energy policy.

Ineos has been accused of using “bullying” tactics to gain access to land for surveys. Documents obtained by Greenpeace under freedom of information legislation reveal that the British Geological Society claimed Ineos was using the society’s name without authorisation to persuade landowners to allow it onto their properties.

Ineos said it had investigated and there was no evidence of any bullying tactics or misleading information being given.

Source: Sun Times * http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/shale-giant-looms-over-national-trust-parkland-3pf6j795g

An Indian chemical plant has figured out how to turn its carbon emissions into baking soda

A chemical plant in India is the first in the world to run a new system for capturing carbon emissions and converting them into baking soda.

The Tuticorin Alkali Chemicals plant, in the industrial port city of Tuticorin, is expecting to convert some 60,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually into baking soda and other chemicals – and the scientists behind the process say the technique could be used to ultimately capture and transform up to 10 percent of global emissions from coal.

While carbon capture technology is not a new thing, what’s remarkable about the Tuticorin installation is that it’s running without subsidies from the government – suggesting the researchers have developed a profitable, practical system that could have the commercial potential to expand to other plants and industries.

“I am a businessman. I never thought about saving the planet,” the managing director of the plant, Ramachadran Gopalan, told the BBC.

“I needed a reliable stream of CO2, and this was the best way of getting it.”

The inventors of the new technique, London-based Carbon Clean Solutions, developed the system in the UK after receiving finance from a British entrepreneur support scheme. Their process uses a patented chemical to filter out CO2 molecules.

In the Tuticorin setup, the plant runs a coal-fired burner to make steam that powers its various chemical-manufacturing processes. A mist containing Carbon Clean’s chemical separates the CO2 emissions in the burner’s chimney, which are then fed into a mixing chamber with salt and ammonia.

The end product can then be used to produce baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or a range of other compounds, for use in things such as glass manufacture, detergents, disinfectants, and sweeteners.

The overall idea of separating CO2 molecules from flue gas may not be new, but the team behind the system say that their filtering chemical is more efficient than the amine compounds that scientists have previously used, and requires less energy to run.

According to CEO Aniruddha Sharma, the company’s approach is to think realistically, partnering with modest, low-risk enterprises as it builds itself up – and he says the same strategy should be implemented by the carbon capture industry as a whole.

“So far the ideas for carbon capture have mostly looked at big projects, and the risk is so high they are very expensive to finance,” Sharma told Roger Harrabin at The Guardian.

“We want to set up small-scale plants that de-risk the technology by making it a completely normal commercial option.”

The other compelling aspect of the system is that it actually does something positive with the carbon – making new chemicals and products – rather than simply storing it somewhere in a useless, dormant state (such as burying it underground).

That distinction is the difference between carbon capture and storage (CCS) and what’s called carbon capture and utilisation (CCU).

And given the expense involved with building carbon capture systems, the ability to on-sell a byproduct could be incredibly important in making this technology financially viable in the bigger picture.

“We have to do everything we can to reduce the harmful effects of burning fossil fuels,” Lord Ronald Oxburgh, the head of the UK government’s carbon capture advisory group, told the BBC, “and it is great news that more ways are being found of turning at least some of the CO2 into useful products.”

Source: http://www.sciencealert.com

Extreme weather linked to climate change is damaging Britain’s favourite places

Lord’s has become the first cricket ground in the country to run on 100% renewable energy, as new figures reveal the increasing disruption to cricket caused by extreme weather patterns linked to climate change.

New statistics released by Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), owners of Lord’s, illustrate that extreme weather in December 2015, which has been linked to climate change, caused more than £3.5 million worth of damage across 57 cricket clubs. Increased rainfall is also causing significant loss of fixtures in recreational cricket and impacting on the professional game.

The announcement launches the annual “Show The Love” campaign from The Climate Coalition and accompanies the publication of a “Weather Warning” report analysed by the Priestley International Centre for Climate. The report highlights how extreme weather conditions are affecting some of Britain’s favourite places, from gardens and pubs to cliffs and woodlands and churches to cricket pitches.

Professor Piers Forster, Director of the Priestley Centre for Climate, said: “UK weather will always bowl us the odd googly but climate change is making them harder to defend against. The science has now developed to the point where we can say whether the likelihood of a particular bout of weather has been increased by climate change. We know that climate change made the record wet weather in December 2015 considerably more likely. The trend towards more intense rainfall is clear and it’s great to see MCC, ECB and The Climate Coalition raising awareness of these challenges that aren’t just affecting people in other countries but are having impacts right here in the UK.’

Two extreme weather events linked to climate change in the past eight years have caused extensive damage to Wordsworth’s childhood home whilst the iconic chalk cliffs at Birling Gap have seen increased rates of erosion due to heavy rainfall, sea-level rise and an increase in the regularity of storm events. The report also found that Slimbridge Wetlands Centre in Gloucestershire, founded by Sir Peter Scott, has recorded changes in bird species at the centre which have been linked to changes in temperature.

Read The Climate Coalition’s press release: ShowTheLoveLordsLaunchPR

Read the Weather Warning report: Weather warning report