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2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #41B

Posted on 11 October 2014 by John Hartz

40% drop in solar PV cost is brightest spot of global epergy picture

In a world wrestling with climate change and the need to phase out fossil fuels, nothing is more critical than making sure there are reliable and cost-effective clean energy technologies ready to fill the void.

Keeping track of the pitfalls and possibilities is the Paris-basedInternational Energy Agency, an autonomous organization that has been analyzing energy for 40 years. In 2006, the influential agency began publishing Energy Technology Perspectives, a report that examines energy technologies and their potential for transforming the way the world uses power.

Because the agency is viewed as being above the fray of climate change politics, the ETP's detailed technology reports have become a must-read for policymakers and anyone else seeking guidance on what's possible and what's not in clean energy. The reports influence the UN climate treaty negotiations—talks meant to produce a climate accord in Paris late next year.

40% Drop in Solar PV Cost is Brightest Spot of Global Energy Picture by Elizabeth Douglass, InsideClimate News, Oct 10, 2014

Climate change alters the ecological impacts of seasons

If more of the world's climate becomes like that in tropical zones, it could potentially affect crops, insects, malaria transmission, and even confuse migration patterns of birds and mammals worldwide. George Wang, a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, is part of a research tandem that has found that the daily and nightly differences in temperatures worldwide are fast approaching yearly differences between summer and winter temperatures.

Only recently, the UN Climate Summit came together in New York to further address the necessary measures to protect the Earth from a dramatic climate change. It has long been recognised that an increase of the average temperature will cause rising oceans and thus flooded landscapes. Particularly, regions close to the coasts are endangered. While it is well known that climate change has increased average temperatures, it is less clear how temperature variability has altered with climate change.

Postdoctoral fellow George Wang, from Detlef Weigel's Department for Molecular Biology at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, has now examined this issue in more depth.

Climate change alters the ecological impacts of seasons,, Oct 10, 2014

Global CO2 pricing scheme surfaces ahead of 2015 climate summit

A team of scholars at Paris Dauphine University has proposed an international carbon trading system, whereby countries with the highest average CO2 emissions pay the most. A simple, yet ambitious scheme that hinges upon cooperation from the world's largest emitter, China. EurActiv France reports

With the Paris climate conference just over a year away, there is broad agreement on the need for a credible, ambitious climate agreement, but big questions remain over what such an agreement should entail.

With this in mind, the Climate Economics Chair (CEC) of Paris Dauphine University, has put aconcrete proposal on the table: an international bonus-malus carbon pricing mechanism.

The simple idea behind the scheme is that countries with higher than average CO2 emissions should be charged for every ton of CO2 they produce above the global average.

Worldwide, the annual quantity of CO2 emitted per person is 6.3 tons, but the data varies enormously from country to country: 0.8 tons per inhabitant in Bangladesh compared with 21 tons in the USA.

Global CO2 pricing scheme surfaces ahead of 2015 climate summit by Aline Robert (translated from French by Samuel White), EurActiv, Oct 10, 2014

Great Barrier Reef: 'a massive chemistry experiment gone wrong'

It has long been known that pollution is having a devastating impact on the Great Barrier Reef but now scientists are warning that it may also be dramatically increasing the rate of ocean acidification in inshore areas of the region.

Dr Sven Uthicke, a senior research scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has with colleagues this week published a paper in the journal PLOS one, on ocean acidification in the reef. The study compares the reef’s inshore and offshore waters, and information on present-day water quality with 30-year-old data.

He said there was a complex interplay between chemistry and biology in the ocean, and the team suspected that the increased pollution in inshore areas decreases the light available for organisms to photosynthesise and thus “absorb” excess CO2.

“Because it’s darker there might be less productivity and the carbon dioxide levels go up,” he said.

Great Barrier Reef: 'a massive chemistry experiment gone wrong' by James Woodford, The Guardian, Oct 9, 2014

How family planning could be part of the answer to climate change

You’ve changed your lightbulbs, you recycle, you’ve retrofitted your house, cycle when you can, and drive an electric car when you can’t. You’re doing your bit to reduce your carbon emissions and prevent dangerous climate change.

But if you have two children, your legacy of carbon emissions could be 40-times higher than those you saved through lifestyle changes.

In fact, under dangerous climate change scenarios in 2050, nearly a third of carbon emissions can be avoided by slowing population growth.

The United Nations recently estimated (with qualifications) that the world’s population may reach almost 11 billion by 2100. This estimate represents an increase of almost 1 billion from the UN’s 2011 projection. One reason for the increase is that birth rates in many developing countries remain high.

If families, on average, have half a child more than the UN projects, population will reach16 billion by 2100.

Overpopulation is often argued to be the driver behind many of the problems the world faces — from climate change to food insecurity — driven by choices at the level of individuals and families.

One way to reduce the impact of population could be to include family planning in carbon markets. Here’s how it could work. 

How family planning could be part of the answer to climate change by David Hodgkinson and Rebecca Johnston, The Conversation AU, Oct 9, 2014

India evacuates 150,000 as cyclone Hudhud intensifies

About 150,000 people were evacuated on India's eastern seaboard on Saturday as cyclone Hudhud bore down and grew in sheer force, threatening to devastate farmland and fishing villages when it hits the coast on Sunday morning.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) rated Hudhud as a very severe cyclonic storm that could pack gusts of 195 km/h (over 120 mph) and dump more than 24.5 cm (10 inches) of rain when it makes landfall.

The Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System (GDACS), run by the United Nations and the European Commission, forecast even higher peak wind speeds of 212 km/h. That would make Hudhud a Category 4 storm capable of inflicting "catastrophic" damage.

India evacuates 150,000 as cyclone Hudhud intensifies, Reuters, Oct 11, 2014

New ‘slurry’ could make carbon capture more efficient

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS, is costly and complex, but technology is being developed that could make it happen on a broad scale, scientists say.

A team of scientists from California, Switzerland and China think they have developed a technology using a special “slurry” that will make CCS more efficient and cost-effective, they wrote in a study published Thursday in Nature Communications and led by Berend Smit, director of the Energy Center at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Capturing carbon usually happens in one of two ways. Most often, liquids are used to absorb the carbon dioxide, but the process is expensive and extremely energy intensive because the liquid has to be boiled as part of the process.

A less expensive process uses a solid powder that will bond to carbon dioxide at a power plant. That powder has to be transported to a site to be stored, which can be an engineering challenge, the study says.

A more effective solution is a mixture of a solid and a liquid using chemicals that could more easily absorb the CO2 than the solid powder and liquids used most commonly today, the study says.

New ‘Slurry’ Could Make Carbon Capture More Efficient by Bobby Magill, Climate Central, Oct 10, 2014

Powerful typhoon churns toward Okinawa with strong winds

A large powerful typhoon moved slowly towards Japan's Okinawa island chain on Saturday, packing heavy winds that disrupted flights and knocked out power.

Typhoon Vongfong, Japan's strongest storm this year, at 0500 GMT Saturday was about 150 km (94 miles) southeast of Naha City, the biggest city in Okinawa, and moving north at 15 kph (9 mph), Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) said.

Its winds gusted up to 234 kph (146 mph). Fourteen people in Okinawa and Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu were injured due to strong winds, the Mainichi newspaper reported.

Powerful typhoon churns toward Okinawa with strong winds by Osamu Tsukimori, Reuters, Oct 11, 2014 

Republicans flail about looking for alternative to climate denialism

As I have said before, the GOP position on climate is unstable, both intellectually and politically. You can’t credibly deny the science at this point, but if you accept it, “do nothing about it” is an incoherent response. They’ve only gotten away with it for this long because the media and the public don’t care enough to press them on it.

Climate hawks are always predicting that now, finally, is the time when that position will start to crumble. I’ve predicted it myself, and been wrong, or at least premature.

Nonetheless, it really does feel like something is starting to happen. The GOP’s incoherent climate shuck-and-jive is under pressure and the cracks are starting to show.

Republicans flail about looking for alternative to climate denialism by David Roberts, Grist, 0ct 10, 2014

Satellite data shows surprising methane hotspot in US southwest

A surprising hotspot of the potent global warming gas methane hovers over part of the southwestern US, according to satellite data  and is likely to be leakage from pumping methane out of coal mines.

The result hints that the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other agencies considerably underestimate leaks of methane, which is also called natural gas.

The higher level of methane is not a local safety or a health issue for residents, but is a factor in overall global warming. While methane isn’t the most plentiful heat-trapping gas, scientists worry about its increasing amounts and have had difficulties tracking emissions.

A satellite image shows the hotspot of atmospheric methane concentrations as a bright red blip over the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah in continental US. The image used data from 2003 to 2009. 

Satellite data shows surprising methane hotspot in US southwest, AP/The Guardian, Oct 10, 2014

Shift to low-carbon economy could free up $1.8 trillion

A pair of new studies are part of a growing international effort to assess the costs and benefits of moving on from burning fossil fuels to clean energy.

Shift to Low-Carbon Economy Could Free Up $1.8 Trillion, Study Says by John H Cushman, Jr., InsideClimate News, Oct 9, 2014

The $9.7 trillion problem: Cyclones and climate change

You can do a lot with $9.7 trillion: buy all the real estate in Manhattan 12 times over, purchase 22 carbon copies of Apple, or an absurd quantity of apples.

It’s also the amount of money that tropical cyclones could cost the global economy over the next century, especially if climate projections of fewer but more intense cyclones are accurate. In comparison to those losses, the cost of action to reduce emissions and beef up coastal preparedness is relatively cheap say researchers.

Humanity and cyclones are no strangers to each other. Roughly 35 percent of the world’s 7 billion people are in the path of cyclones and coastal populations are expected to swell in the coming century. To understand the future damage that cyclones could inflict on ever-growing coastal cities, two researchers looked at 60 years of cyclone and economic data in a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study.

The $9.7 Trillion Problem: Cyclones and Climate Change by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Oct 10, 2014

The oceans are warming, expanding, and becoming dangerously acidic

We already know that climate change is warmingacidifying, and expanding the oceans. We just didn't know how fast, or how drastically. We still don't, exactly, but we know this: Things are looking as grim below the ever-rising waves as they are above.

This week brought an onslaught of bad news for the planet's oceans—no fewer than four major scientific studies and reports were released detailing the deleterious effect humanity's relentless carbon habit is having on the marine world. 

Every time I sat down to write about one of them, it seemed, another one was already making headlines (in the tiny, 'green' corner of the internet where people read about things like the impending collapse of vast ecosystems, anyway). So our oceans haven't exactly turned into hot acid baths—but they're a lot closer to that than they used to be.

The Oceans Are Warming, Expanding, and Becoming Dangerously Acidic by Brian Merchant, Motherboard, Oct 10, 2014

Where is El Nino? And why do we care?

That El Niño we’ve been tracking for months on end — the one that is taking its sweet time to form — still hasn’t emerged, forecasters announced Thursday.

But the reason we still care so much about it, following all of its tiny fluctuations toward becoming a full-blown El Niño, is that it can have important effects on the world’s weather, including in the U.S. It can even boost global temperatures, helping set the planet on the course to be the warmest year on record.

In their monthly update, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center and theInternational Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University said there is still a two-thirds chance that a weak El Niño event emerges and that it will likely do so in the October-to-December timeframe, lasting until spring 2015.

“I think it’s pretty safe to say that we’re essentially taking one step forward, that is one month forward since last month,” CPC forecaster Michelle L’Heureux told Climate Central.

Where Is El Nino? And Why Do We Care? by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Oct 9, 2014

Why is Antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming?

While Arctic sea ice continues to decline, Antarctic levels are confounding the world’s most trusted climate models with record highs for the third year running. Karl Mathiesen investigates.

Why is Antarctic sea ice at record levels despite global warming? by Karl Mathiesen, The Guardian, Oct 9, 2014

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Comments 1 to 7:

  1. It is not necessarly the case that we "need to phase out fossil fuels," as stated in the opening sentence of the first story above. The need is to phase out GHG emissions, especially CO2. What role CCS will play is this is uncertain, but climate activists should be warry of alienating people needlessly. 

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  2. CCS is still an idea in search of money.Even if CCS is deployed widely, it cannot capture CO2 from  fossil fuel dependant things such as cars, trucks, trains, airplanes ships, home heating systems etc. How long are you willing to wait for the role of CCS to be less 'uncertain'?

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  3. GIS L-OTI for September is out: .77C.  The warmest September on record and the 7th warmest month in the record.  2014 is now just a smidgen below 2010 and 2005 for warmest year.  August/September MEI = .500.

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  4. Jimb. The no. one issue for CO2 reduction is eliminating coal power stations. We have enough coal to seriously damage climate - much more so than oil. I dont think there is any CCS promoter that thinks CCS is "the answer". The issues with it are large, but there is also a lot of work going into solving them. There is absolutely no doubt that CCS makes energy generation more expensive. So do carbon taxes and similar schemes. If the problems can be solved, then there may well be situations where coal + CCS is a more economic solution then any other alternative. With appropriate costing of CO2, you can let the market make that decision.

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  5. The CC headline: "The $9.7 tillion problem: Cyclones and climate change" should read 'trillion.'

    Recall that coal does other ecological damage than just CO2 emissions. In any case, CCS remains elusive. We've been hearing about its promise for about 20 years, yet there are only one or two plants in the world doing it seriously so far, iirc.

    Burning coal must be seen as equivalent to atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons--something to be avoided for all concerned.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Typo corrected. Thank you.

  6. Speaking of typoes, "epergy" in the first headline should be corrected to "energy".

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  7. Mike: It isn't so much that people are 'ruling out' effective CCS as that it doesn't exist. Similarly, no one is 'ruling out' cold fusion, cheap fission power, or any other hypothetical future development. However, until these things are actually developed and utilized there isn't any point factoring them in to analyses. There are billions of things that might happen. Most of them won't.

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