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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Droughts, heatwaves and water shortages in France and Germany

A recent report in the Financial Times draws attention to the consequences of three years’ of drought on the economies of these two European countries.

https://www.ft.com/content/6b46014e-cbf6-4152-a8ad-087cddd51706?accessToken=zwAAAXQDjpTwkc9rRgFOy_ZBUtOorQh83dUXBg.MEUCIQDyEMkj2Cj8TMa7qRqDabhw7ocMpq6cQ6xHQC-HP1DjZQIgapz617D_1xuy4LAXIjDrh7a5FE0VKETFx7P7TGAHV4w&sharetype=gift?token=5e8613f3-b74d-412c-9852-f0c2e9f3a627

germany drought

A dried-up river bed in Germany

Parts of continental Europe have been struck by drought for the third year in a row, with desiccated pastures in France’s Loire valley, campsites near Marseille destroyed by a forest fire, hosepipe bans in western Germany and fish farms in Saxony running short of fresh water.

This year’s July was the driest in France since 1959 according to the national weather office, with less than a third of normal rainfall, while the average temperature between January and July was the highest since its records began.

Germany had one of its driest spring seasons in more than a century this year, and rainfall in July was nearly 40 per cent below normal.  There are fears that there will be a repeat of the low water levels on Germany’s major rivers, such as the Rhine, that happened two years ago, disrupting shipping and hitting the country’s economy.

“The heat has been roasting everything,” said Clément Traineau, a cattle farmer near Angers on the Loire. “We had not a drop of water in July.”

A report in Nature demonstrated that the drought over the two previous consecutive summers (2018-19) was unprecedented in the last 250 years.  The long dry summer of 2003 had been devastating for crops but their predictions suggested that drought, caused by climate change, is more likely to feature in the future.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-68872-9

Their data also suggested that there has been an increase in the area affected by drought in recent years (see figures below).

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The Pros and Cons for Electric Cars

I have wanted to change my car for an electric one for a long time but I cannot afford a new car and second-hand electric and hybrid cars are also expensive.  I would have thought that, with the threat of climate change looming over us, the motor car industry would have come up with cheaper models long before now, as well as advice about how to change to using one. The motor industry seems to be more interested in promoting driver-less cars than those that run on clean energy. What support is available to help potential buyers to choose the right electric or hybrid car?  And what do you need to know to adapt from a petrol car to an electric car and operate it successfully?  Very little information in this country – though some Scandinavian countries have embraced the era of electric cars much more readily than the UK.  (Norway, Sweden, Germany, China and the US all offer some kind of financial incentive to encourage the ownership of an electric car).

But now things have changed, thanks to the Financial Times.  An article published on August 31st 2018, by the FT, entitled “Should you buy an electric car?”, goes into all the ins and outs of it.  See:

https://www.ft.com/content/6940cbaa-a7b7-11e8-8ecf-a7ae1beff35b

It describes all the different kinds and their options and lists the disadvantages of them.  However, despite the disadvantages, it would seem that people who have bought an electric vehicle never want to go back to a petrol-driven one again. And, whilst they may be more expensive to buy, they are much cheaper to run – a figure of £3,000 per year savings has been quoted.

Do read the article.  It doesn’t answer all my questions but it’s a start. Well done Financial Times.  And, do catch up British motor industry!

But, before you rush out to buy one, do read the Which report, “How far can electric cars really go on a single charge?”  They tested a number of cars on the market and found that their ranges in almost all cases were not so far as those claimed for them.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2017/10/the-truth-about-electric-car-ranges/ – Which?

electric car charging

 

8th Sep 2018:

And now a new report from The Times, entitled “Around the world in an electric car”It lists the nine governments around the world which are offering incentives to people buying electric cars.  They include Norway, Austria, Ireland, France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Slovenia, USA.  Full details at:

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/money/around-the-world-in-an-electriccar-grhv8b3wb


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Global disaster insurance losses in 2017 double those of 2016

Oliver Ralph, insurance correspondent for the Financial Times reported on this on 20th December 2017.  His main source of information was Swiss Re, a leading wholesale provider of reinsurance, insurance and other insurance-based forms of risk transfer. See: www.swissre.com.

According to Ralph’s figures, natural and man made disasters caused $136 billion of insured losses in 2017, more than double the 2016 figure and well above the 19-year average of $58 billion.

Most of the losses have been as a result of hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes in the Caribbean, southern US and Mexico.

Insurers and reinsurers are currently negotiating premiums and many predict widespread increases. However, there are signs that prices are not rising as swiftly as many predicted, apparently because insurance companies are awash with capital. Investors believe that insurance companies will give a higher return than elsewhere.

Image from the Mexico earthquake in 2017


Lloyd’s of London will look to cut costs after a year of expensive natural catastrophes plunged the insurance market into a £2 billion loss, its first in six years.

Lloyd’s reported a pre-tax loss of £2 billion for the year to December 31 (2017), compared with a profit of £2.1 billion in 2016, after it paid out £4.5 billion in compensation to victims of a spate of natural disasters.

During one of the most expensive hurricance seasons on record last year, Hurricane Harvey ripped into Texas in late August, followed swiftly by Irma, which hit the Florida peninsula, and then Maria, which left devastation in its wake in Puerto Rico. There were also devastating wildfires in California, an earthquake in Mexico, monsoon flooding in Bangladesh and a mudslide in Colombia.

Lloyd’s of London is the world’s oldest insurance market, whose history dates back to coffee houses in the City in 1688. It is based in the renowned Lloyd’s building in the heart of the City. It acts as the umbrella organisation for the insurers and brokers who provide commercial cover in areas ranging from shipping and airlines to oil rigs and trains, often choosing to pool the risks they take on by forming syndicates of underwriters.

During the course of its existence, it has survived several near-death experiences, including the impact of a wave of asbestos-related claims during the 1990s and the seizure of the airline market after the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2001. It also fought, and won, a damaging battle with wealthy insurance investors, known as Names, who claimed they were misled over risky deals they bought into in the early 1990s.

As well as the London market, Lloyd’s operates in overseas markets from the US and China to emerging markets such as Africa. It has also got involved in new areas of insurance, including providing cover against cyberattacks.

The world’s insurers are estimated to face a collective bill for last year’s disasters of about $140 billion, according to experts at JLT Re, a unit of Jardine Lloyd Thompson. Lloyd’s paid out £18.3 billion in claims last year, including £4.5 billion in connection with natural disasters, more than double the previous year. The catastrophe-related losses wiped out the effect of a 12.4 per cent increase in gross written premiums to £33.6 billion during the year and a 38 per cent jump in the return that Lloyd’s generated from investing the premiums received, from £1.3 billion to £1.8 billion.

Inga Beale, who took charge of the Lloyd’s market four years ago, described 2017 as an “exceptionally difficult year” for the insurance market and the organisation wil now focus on a cost-cutting and efficiency drive. All of Lloyd’s members had been ordered to process 30 per cent of their insurance quotes and risk-related documentation electronically by the end of September to bring down their expenses.


 


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Paris Agreement is leading to changes in investment strategies

According to John Plender, writing for the Financial Times on December 15th 2017, there are rapid changes underway to support greener economies, triggered by the Paris Agreement.  Details of this can be found in his article, “Rapid Changes in the climate for carbon-heavy investments”:

https://www.ft.com/content/c4a6f996-e003-11e7-a8a4-0a1e63a52f9c?accessToken=zwAAAWBuKbfgkdPEpvmW4AMR59OopAoeY6UvnA.MEYCIQDtLsT_sdkXbW-Q5_nxhSF07nxX_8QZZMFRbs4c5hSMmwIhAKpQ8GLevHy1q_NZ5P6CgpgOQqoNSgBhxE6AeupwMejP&sharetype=gift

According to Plender, this is even affecting the notorious ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil and gas group, which is bowing to investor pressure to increase disclosure on climate risks to its business.  At it’s May AGM, there was a 62% vote against the board on a shareholders’ proposal calling for a yearly assessment of the long-term portfolio impact of climate change policies.  The company has now agreed to demonstrate how it would be affected by the Paris Agreement, as well as explaining its positioning on a lower carbon future.  This is a considerable climb down from previous resistance to similar proposals in earlier years.

In addition, in a separate initiative, 225 global institutional investors are putting pressure on 100 of the world’s more carbon intensive companies, to increase their actions to reduce climate change.  These investors control assets worth $26.3 tn.  This initiative is known as Climate Action 100+ and is the biggest shareholder action plan ever launched.

According to Plender, it is Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, who has been influential in outlining the financial risks in continuing to burn fossil fuels, as well as the risks to the future of the planet. Many companies are not properly positioned for a low carbon economy and much capital is currently being misallocated.

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If these changes in investment strategies are happening, then it is a huge step forward.  However, to meet the 2015 Paris commitments, most companies will need to reduce their carbon emissions by up to 80%.

 


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India: new contract for 500 megawatt Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan

The Financial Times has outlined details of this project, which went up for auction in May.  The companies which won the bid have said that they can build the project for 2.44 rupees ($0.04) for every unit of electricity eventually generated. The article was written by Kiran Stacey from New Delhi and published on 1st November 2017.  See:

https://www.ft.com/content/4dca7f72-b31d-11e7-a398-73d59db9e3299?accessToken=zwAAAV-azb9Akc9Nyn9ysx0R59OjmHPVnbnjmQ.MEQCID3mnYDb7NVXzpn9wAPEMb7C6IwZUIHs5MHMvp8lsZK8AiBs5deHUvR6sQJI9vkbwoRdq_62CK-xxB3Zy7cuLTijAQ&sharetype=gift

This detailed and interesting article provides a number of facts about India’s place in the renewable energy field.

  1.  India’s solar power tariffs have reduced from over 8Rs/Kwh to 2.44Rs in the last six years.
  2. Solar power in India has grown at double digit rates over the last six years.
  3. There are plans to increase India’s solar capacity by 76% more in 2017 than in 2016, which will make India the third largest solar market globally. An interesting graph is included in the FT article, which shows that China is by far the leading solar industry around the world.  In second place is the USA, though their additional capacity has dropped in the last year.  The capacity of Japan and Germany is also dropping, which has enabled India to soar into third place.
  4. The price of Chinese-made solar panels has tumbled in recent years, due to over-production.
  5. At present, 60% of India’s energy is coal-powered, so there is still a long way to go, though the reducing price of solar panels makes the solar industry much more competitive.

The FT article mainly focuses on the economical effects of these changes and the risks associated with them.

However, it makes sense for this to happen, in view of the rising temperatures experienced in India in the last few years.

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Map of India showing high temperature areas during recent heat wave

And now, further details of the new solar development in Rajasthan have come to me, as follows:

The winning bid for the third and fourth phase development at Bhadla solar park in Rajasthan – a500-megawatt solar farm – was one of the lowest prices for solar power ever seen anywhere in the world. The companies — Acme Solar, an Indian developer, and SBG Cleantech, a joint venture whose shareholders include SoftBank of Japan — said they would build the project for a guaranteed price of just Rs2.44 ($0.04) for every unit of electricity they eventually sold – substantially cheaper than coal

The Bhadla auction confirmed that the country is undergoing a generational shift from coal-fuelled power to solar and wind and placed India at the centre of a global renewables revolution that is driving down the cost of green energy and which represents one of the biggest threats to fossil fuels.

As India is already the world’s third-biggest carbon emitter and plans to electrify even its most remote villages within two years, a rapid expansion in the country’s renewables sector would prove a huge boost for attempts to keep global temperature rises below 2C — the target set by the 2015 Paris climate accords. 

Further details can be found at:

https://chssachetan.wordpress.com/2017/12/30/indias-development-of-solar-energy-1/


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Why climate change puts the poorest most at risk by Martin Wolf

Recent IMF data shows that low-income nations suffer most from climate change events for which they bear no blame

The full article can be read in the Financial Times of October 17th 2017:

https://www.ft.com/content/f350020e-b206-11e7-a398-73d59db9e399?accessToken=zwAAAV8-6xKQkdPzUAIOsgYR59OjmHPVnbnjmQ.MEUCIH-jAP7oSUrRyqSYscf2nVBKX9rr4YHI_SgvanV_vAs9AiEAnqpSsDiklqkL_JmnUR1VM_5glHn_O7Zrkzq_nc_RZlY&

There is a chapter in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, which concludes that the economic impact of weather shocks is felt most strongly in tropical countries, nearly all of which are low-income countries.  Thus, they are the innocent victims of changes for which they bear no responsibility.

Wolf states in his FT article that, if little or no action is taken on global warming, average temperatures could rise by 4°C or more above pre-industrial levels, by the end of the century. Aware of the lengthy lead times needed if effective action is to be taken, both to mitigate climate change and to adapt to it, he states that rational people would act now.

He then goes on to identify the obstacles to such immediate action: economic interests, especially of those in the fossil fuel industry; free-marketeers, who despise both governments and environmentalists and reject the science behind global warming, because of its policy implications; a resistance to change in living standards and inconvenience, which is necessary for the future and for people in poorer countries.

The article provides graphic evidence for global warming, caused by human activity, as well as a bar chart showing those countries which emit the most carbon dioxide per head.  The top four countries in this list are the US, Russia, Germany and Japan, with the US being way ahead of any other country.  Other graphs demonstrate the increasing frequency of tropical cyclones and heat waves.

Wolf then goes on to outline the serious implications of the IMF’s analysis, most of which involve mitigating the effects of weather shocks and helping poorer countries to adapt to them.

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Not the future but now

Letters to the Editor, Financial Times, 24th October 2017.

In a response to Wolf’s article, Chris Bain, director of CAFOD, states there is only one fault in Wolf’s analysis – that it describes the effects of climate change as being in the future, whereas Bain believes that it is impacting poorer countries right now. It is a present-day reality for countries in East Africa, who are experiencing drought, and others, like Bangladesh, where floods are forcing people from their homes.  He quotes Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, which describes the earth as our common home, the care of which requires a “new and universal solidarity.”

The biggest obstacle to achieving this solidarity is, of course, the hedonistic march of the fossil-fuel industry, and the rich, towards more and more profits at the cost of the planet and the poorest in society.

This theme is also echoed in my book, Three Generations Left, featured on this website, which suggests in chapter 9, the concept of global co-operation, without which global warming will never be reversed.  In Chapter 2, in a section entitled “Who are the worst polluters?”, I cite data, from Damon Matthews from Montreal, which clearly shows that it is the industrialised countries who are emitting the highest carbon emissions. He calculates the carbon debt of each of these countries, relating it to population size. Climate debt (those who pollute more than their fair share per head of population), also puts the US in the lead (highest climate debt), followed by Russia and Japan.  The UK is sixth in this list.

In terms of individuals, the richest people in the world contribute to 85% of total carbon emissions.



 

 

 

 


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Electric Cars and their need for cobalt

An article in the Financial Times by David Pillings last week identified a growing problem associated with the mining of cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

With the increase in the production of electric cars, in an effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles, there is an increasing demand for cobalt, used in their batteries. The greatest availability for cobalt appears to be in the Congo, a country riven with conflict, corruption and extreme poverty.  Whilst an increased demand for cobalt ought to help the country in tackling poverty, this is apparently not happening. Some of the wealth has apparently disappeared and the rest has gone into the pockets of the foreign mining companies.

The Congo is rich in many minerals: gold, diamonds, tin, coltan, copper and cobalt.  Local Congolese may have the benefit of working in these mines but they are paid very little and the work is dangerous.  Many of them are children.

And it is not only electric car batteries that need cobalt.  All kinds of other gadgets make use of it: cell phones, tablets, laptops and other portable electronic gadgets However, very few people know that cobalt, the element needed to produce these batteries, is the product of underpaid adults and children working in sub-human conditions in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The DRC is the source of about half of the world’s production of cobalt.

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child workers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Quite clearly, if electric cars are to be the vehicles of the future, urgent investigations into the practice of corporate mining companies need to be made.

 


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Three generations left? Or is it only three years? New evidence from climate experts in Nature magazine

Christiana Figueres, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, Gail Whiteman, Johan Rockstrom, Anthony Hobley and Stefan Rahmstorff – all experts in climate change issues – have written an article in Nature magazine (28th June 2017) to warn that we have only three years to safeguard our climate. Figueres, a former UN climate chief and executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, under whom the Paris agreement was signed, and her colleagues, who also include prominent figures from the UNFCCC, set out a six-point plan for turning the tide by 2020.

See: https://www.nature.com/news/three-years-to-safeguard-our-climate-1.22201

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Christiana Figueres is second from the left in the front row.  Photograph taken after the signing of the Paris agreement in December 2015 (COP21)

After rising for decades, global emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels have levelled in the past three years – a sign that investment in climate mitigations are starting to pay off.  But there is still a long way to go to decarbonize the world economy.

For example, globally, the mean rate of sea level rise increased by 50% in the last two decades. In 2017, temperatures have already reached their highest levels in history in some areas, from California to Vietnam. And the past three years were the hottest on record.  And, two days ago, the highest ever recorded temperature (54˚C) was recorded in the city of Ahvaz, Iran, a city of 1.1 million people.
Due to increases in global temperatures, driven by human activity, ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are already losing mass at an increasing rate. Summer sea ice is disappearing in the Arctic and coral reefs are dying from heat stress — entire ecosystems are starting to collapse. The social impacts of climate change from intensified heatwaves, droughts and sea-level rise are inexorable and affect the poorest and weakest first. An American study recently published in Science and reported in the Financial Times, shows that poorer parts of the US stand to suffer damages of up to 20 per cent of their income if global warming continues unabated and that they will suffer disproportionately more than richer areas. 

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The writers of the Nature article believe that the year 2020 is crucially important because if emissions continue to rise, or even stay level, the temperature goals set in Paris in 2015 will become unattainable and they set out the reasons for this.

The six-point plan includes milestones to be achieved in Energy (to 30% renewables worldwide); Infrastructure (decarbonising buildings); Transport (moving to 15% electric vehicles, fuel efficiences for heavy-duty vehicles and a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the airline industry); Land (reducing deforestation and a shift to reforestation, sustainable agricultural practices and healthy, well-managed soils); Industry (a goal of halving carbon emissions by 2050, especially in carbon-intensive industries, such as iron and steel, cement, chemicals, oil and gas); Finance (to rethink financial investments, the issuing of more green bonds to finance climate-mitigation efforts).

The authors have launched Mission 2020, a collaborative campaign to raise ambition and action across key sectors, so that the carbon emissions will start to go down.  See:

http://www.mission2020.global/

A 29-page report ‘2020: The Climate Turning Point’ can be accessed on the mission2020 website.  It gives the evidential basis for their conclusions that 2020 will be the point of no return, unless carbon emissions have started to drop by then. They suggest actions to bring down the emissions.  These are far-reaching and require a total commitment globally.

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A report on this in the Guardian includes quotes from some of the authors:

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/28/world-has-three-years-left-to-stop-dangerous-climate-change-warn-experts?utm_source=Weekly+climate+roundup&utm_campaign=f65ae632b3-Election+special+-+weekly+roundup&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_81339309ed-f65ae632b3-141770409

Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, commented: “The maths is brutally clear: while the world can’t be healed within the next few years, it may be fatally wounded by negligence [before] 2020.”

Johan Rockström of the Stockholm Resilience Centre said: “We have been blessed by a remarkably resilient planet over the past 100 years, able to absorb most of our climate abuse. Now we have reached the end of this era, and need to bend the global curve of emissions immediately, to avoid unmanageable outcomes for our modern world.”

The authors hope that their 6-point plan will be adopted at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 7-8th July.