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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #27A

Posted on 1 July 2015 by John Hartz

Barack Obama turns tables in David Attenborough climate change interview

Barack Obama was the one asking the questions in an interview with British naturalist David Attenborough that aired on Sunday in which they agreed that combating climate change would require a global effort.

Saying he had long been a “huge admirer” of Attenborough’s TV documentaries about the environment, Obama turned the tables on Attenborough in an interview taped on 8 May at the White House, which aired on the BBC and other international broadcasters. 

Barack Obama turns tables in David Attenborough climate change interview Reuters/Guardian, June 28, 2015

California's state pension funds move closer to divesting from coal

A key vote in the campaign to get California’s state pension funds to divest from thermal coal was passed this week.

The California Public Employee Retirement System (Calpers) and the CaliforniaState Teachers Retirement System (CalSTRS) are the US’s largest pension funds, holding $299bn (£190bn) and $193bn in respective assets. Calpers currently holds at least $100m in at least 20 thermal coal mining companies.

“Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels, now being outcompeted by renewables and natural gas. It’s incredibly harmful to our children’s lungs and our atmosphere,” said Senator Kevin de León.

California's state pension funds move closer to divesting from coal by Emma Howard, Guardian, June 26, 205

How far along is Germany's nuclear phase-out?

Several months after the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Germany's coalition government agreed June 30, 2011, to accelerate its phase-out from nuclear power.

Immediately after Fukushima, eight of 17 functioning nuclear plants were shut down, and the June decision established a timeline of taking the remaining plants offline by 2022.

This past weekend, at midnight on Saturday (25.06.2015), the next shutdown took place: The Grafenrheinfeld power plant in Bavaria has been removed from the power grid, nearly exactly on schedule.

So is Germany is on track in its nuclear phase-out? 

How far along is Germany's nuclear phase-out? by Gero Rueter, Deutsche Welle. June 29, 2015

Melting Arctic sea ice could be disrupting the oceans’ circulation—with major consequences

We already know that melting sea ice in the Arctic is bad news. Less ice means less habitat for animals like polar bears, and it also means there are fewer reflective surfaces in the North to bounce sunlight back into space, allowing the planet to absorb more heat. And as global warming continues to warm up the Earth, we’re only going to lose more ice.

A study released Monday in Nature Climate Change is drawing attention to yet another ice-related problem — one that could cause some large-scale consequences. According to the study, retreating sea ice could disrupt a major ocean circulation pattern and even affect climate patterns in Europe.

As it turns out, sea ice in the Greenland and Iceland seas is an important player in the workings of a powerful ocean current known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. This current acts as a kind of conveyor belt, carrying warm water from the equator to the poles, and then shuttling cold water back to the tropics where the cycle starts all over again.

Melting Arctic sea ice could be disrupting the oceans’ circulation—with major consequences by Chelsea Harvey, Energy & Environment, Washington Post, June 29, 2015

Oil companies played hardball in bid to defeat climate outsiders

Petty legal filings. Diversionary ballot measures. Counting abstentions as no votes. These are just some of the tactics U.S. oil companies used this spring to quash efforts by investors to win the right to nominate climate experts for board seats.

Led by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and proposed at 75 U.S. companies in various industries this year, the so-called proxy access measure would give investor groups who own 3 percent of a company for more than three years the right to nominate directors. At the 19 oil and gas companies targeted, the aim was to demand more accountability on global warming.

While the non-binding measure passed at two-thirds of all the companies targeted, and at 15 of the 19 energy companies, some took unusual steps to block it. Oilfield services provider Nabors Industries Ltd, for example, counted non-votes from brokers as votes against the proposal. Still, the measure passed at Nabors, which didn’t respond to requests for comment

Oil companies played hardball in bid to defeat climate outsiders by Anna Driver, Reuters, June 29, 2015

Rich countries' $100bn promise to fight climate change 'not delivered'

Rich countries are very, very far from raising the billions they promised to help poor countries fight climate change, jeopardising the prospects of reaching a global warming deal at Paris, the world’s rising economies warned.

As a key United Nations meeting got underway, Brazil, China, India and South Africa said they were disappointed in rich countries’ failure to make good on a promise six years ago to mobilise $100bn a year by 2020 for climate finance.

The funds, intended to help developing countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for sea-level rises, extreme weather and other consequences of climate change, are seen as a crucial element to reaching a global warming agreement at the end of the year.

Rich countries' $100bn promise to fight climate change 'not delivered' by Suazanne Godenberg, Guardian, June 29, 2015

Soil erosion a major threat to Britain's food supply, says Government advisory group

Large areas of farmland in the east of England could become unprofitable within a generation as soil erosion and degradation make it less productive, according to the Government’s official climate change advisory group.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) report says the UK will be in danger of producing less food in the coming decades, when it should be producing more.

The degradation is the result of increasingly intense farming practices, with deep ploughing, rapid crop-rotation and ever-larger fields free of trees allowing the wind and rain to carry away the top layer of soil, according to the report. Farmland around the East Anglian Fens could become less productive and less profitable, forcing the country to increase food imports at a time of growing global demand and rising prices, it says.

Soil erosion a major threat to Britain's food supply, says Government advisory group by Tom Bawden, Independent, June 30, 2015

The UK must be at the centre of the fight to limit climate change

In November, representatives from 196 countries will meet in Paris to try to agree a deal to prevent dangerous increases in global temperatures.

Efforts to date aim to begin the “peaceful divorce” between greenhouse gas emissions and economic growth: no longer do the two need to go together. Last year was the first year where the world economy grew but greenhouse gas emissions did not. We wait to see if this is an indication of a broader trend or a blip.

What is clear, though, is that the UK must play a key role on the international stage to help global efforts to tackle climate change.

The UK must be at the centre of the fight to limit climate change by Lord Deben and Lord Krebs, Guardian, June 30, 2015

Think today’s refugee crisis is bad? Climate change will make it a lot worse

Last year was the worst year on record for refugees. The number of people fleeing war and persecution jumped to nearly 60 million, the highest figure since the United Nations’ refugee agency began keeping records 50 years ago, and that doesn’t even include people driven from their homes by poverty, gang violence or natural disasters.

Smugglers are preying on refugees, social services in poor Middle Eastern and African countries have been stretched to the limit, and Europe and Australia are turning back exiles at their borders. António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, acknowledged that relief agencies are overwhelmed. “We don’t have the capacity and we don’t have the resources to support all the victims of conflict around the world to provide them with the very minimal level of protection and assistance,” he told reporters at a mid-June press conference.

By all accounts, it’s a mess. But it’s likely only a harbinger of things to come if industrialized nations don’t dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Drought and desertification already ruin thousands of square miles of productive land annually in China and a number of African countries, while rising sea levels triggered by warmer global temperatures could eventually force tens if not hundreds of millions of people from their coastal homes.

“One of the drivers of displacement and potential conflict over the next 10 to 20 years will be climate [change]-resource scarcity,” David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee and a former UK foreign minister, said recently. “Climate change is going to compound the cocktail that’s driving war and displacement.”

Think today’s refugee crisis is bad? Climate change will make it a lot worse by Elliott Negin, EcoWatch, June 30, 2015

Thousands of people killed by extreme weather in 2015 as El Nino arrives to bring more chaos

Thousands of people have been killed by extreme weather so far this year and now scientists fear a weather event will cause droughts, wildfires, flooding, landslides and food shortages.

Australian scientists have warned of a “substantial” El Nino effect that started in May.

The phenomenon,which only happens every few years, is still in its early stages but has the potential to cause extreme weather around the world, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.

Thousands of people killed by extreme weather in 2015 as El Nino arrives to bring more chaos by Lizzie Dearden, Independent, June 26, 2015

Trade makes up bulk of urban carbon footprint

How green is your city? If you and your neighbours tend to cycle everywhere, keep the thermostat low and source local food you may expect your metropolis to be greener than most. But new research shows that individual actions often pale into insignificance next to the carbon emissions associated with trading. The resources and goods that flow into and out of our cities are responsible for the lion's share of their urban carbon footprint.

Trade makes up bulk of urban carbon footprint by Kate Ravilious, Environmental Research Web, June 29, 2015

UK weather: travel disruptions and health fears as temperatures soar to highest in a decade this week

Commuters will face travel delays and Britons have been warned to take health precautions as temperatures top 35C this week - the hottest in nearly a decade.

Vulnerable groups have been advised to try and stay cool amid fears that lives could be at risk, while trains will run slower to guard against tracks buckling in the broiling temperatures.

With Wednesday forecast to be the hottest day of the year so far - and possibly since 2006 - the elderly, young children and people with breathing difficulties have been told to keep out of the sun and stay hydrated by Public Health England. 

UK weather: travel disruptions and health fears as temperatures soar to highest in a decade this week by Tom Brooks-Pollock, Independent, June 30, 2015

UN climate talks moving at snail's pace, says Ban Ki-moon

Negotiations for a deal to fight climate change were moving at a “snail’s pace”, the United Nations chief, Ban Ki-Moon, told a high-level meeting on Monday.

A promise from China – the world’s biggest carbon polluter – for ambitious cuts to greenhouse gas emissions “very soon” could inject some much-needed optimism into the talks.

But the UN and other leaders warned that time was running out to reach a strong climate change deal in Paris at the end of the year.

The gloomy assessment from Ban contrasts with sense of building momentum following the G7 commitment to phase out fossil fuels, the Pope’s call for radical climate action, and a flurry of recent climate announcements from Barack Obama.

UN climate talks moving at snail's pace, says Ban Ki-moon by suzanne Goldenberg, Guardian, June 29, 2015

US Supreme Court backs coal profits over public health

Placing the interests of Big Coal over public health, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday refused to back the Environmental Protection Agency's new power plant emissions standards.

In a 5-4 ruling (pdf), the court argued that the Obama administration "unreasonably" interpreted its authority under the Clean Air Act by failing to account for the cost of compliance for polluting coal-fired power plants to meet the new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were finalized in 2012.

According to the opinion, penned by Justice Antonin Scalia and backed by Chief Justice John Roberts, as well as Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, "The Agency may regulate power plants under this program only if it concludes that 'regulation is appropriate and necessary' after studying hazards to public health posed by power-plant emissions."

While the court did not deny that such emissions pose grave public health risks, the opinion argues that the financial impact to the coal industry must be considered.

US Supreme Court Backs Coal Profits Over Public Health by Laura McCauley, Common Dreams, June 29, 2015

Why the French are losing enthusiasm for nuclear

The host nation for this year's climate talks is pumping the brakes on one of its most successful ways of controlling carbon.

France, one of the world's leaders in low-emissions nuclear energy production, may soon diverge from the path that brought it there.

The French get more than three-quarters of their electricity from nuclear power, the largest share of any country in the world. This atomic largesse from its 58 reactors — second only to the United States' 100 reactors — has made France the largest net electricity exporter on Earth and provided cheap electricity to its residents.

Why the French are losing enthusiasm for nuclear by Umair Irfan, ClimateWire, June 29, 2015

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