Sun, May

The Australian state of New South Wales has been declared entirely in a state of drought.

The Federal Government has announced immediate measures to provide thousands of farms with up to A$576m ($430m; £330m) in relief funding.

23 percent of the state is also experiencing “severe drought”, according to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

The emergency conditions have been caused by a period of unusually dry weather with less than 10mm record in some parts of the state.

Southern Australia has experienced near-record levels of dry weather; rainfall has been 57mm below average for the time of year.

The Government has responded with a compensation package to help rural communities, including two lump sum payments worth up to A$12,000 for eligible households.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Agriculture David Littleproud, said: “We will stand with Australia's farming families every step of the way as they cope with this devastating drought: listening, caring, responding and delivering.

“We can't make it rain. But we can ensure that farming families and their communities get all the support they need to get through the drought, recover and get back on their feet.”

An immediate package of $190 million will be used to make it easier to receive loan support, mental health provision, and lower the threshold to access funding.

“This increase will give farming families what they sorely lack during drought—cash income. This additional income will help put food on the table and cover basic expenses such as bills and school fees and will flow through to businesses in country towns doing it tough,” they added.

The drought conditions in Australia have been echoed around the world as a period of extreme weather has caused severe wildfires in California and impacted farmers in Europe.

Read more: Australian state now “100 per cent in drought”

The UK Government’s approval of a third runway at London’s Heathrow Airport is being challenged by environmental campaigners.

Friends of the Earth announced its decision to file legal papers against the decision this week, which will be decided at the High Court.

The global charity takes issue with the Airports National Policy Statement (NPS) released alongside the approval decision in June.

Campaigners argue that the NPS fails to explain how building the runway is compatible with the UK’s legally binding climate change targets, or its commitments under the Paris climate agreement. There is also little mention of the impact from other greenhouse gases, such as nitrogen oxide, which also contribute to dangerous climate change.

Final Government approval on a new runway at Heathrow was a decade in the making and is still subject to meeting air quality plans. The airport is one of the busiest in the world and a major contributor to noise and air pollution in the area.

Friends of the Earth's director of campaigns Liz Hutchins said: “The government’s airports strategy completely ignores its obligations to tackle climate change - this is short-sighted, incredibly reckless and we believe it is unlawful.

“Allowing the aviation industry to pump more pollution into the atmosphere will make it far harder to prevent catastrophic climate change – and leaves future generations to suffer the consequences.

“It’s time to end our reliance on the fossil fuels that are already roasting our planet and threatening peoples’ lives, homes and livelihoods.”

Friends of the Earth is being represented by public law firm Leigh Day, known for tackling high-profile environmental cases.

Solicitor Rowan Smith added: “In no sensible terms can this be described as sustainable development, when the additional costs of carbon-offsetting and the global warming potential of non-CO2 emissions from aviation do not feature in the government’s plans.”

Photo Credit: Phillip Capper/Flickr

Read more: New runway at Heathrow Airport faces legal...

The chief executive of Tesla Motors has announced plans to take the company private again.

Elon Musk revealed the plans on Twitter in which he said shareholders could be bought out at $420 a share, around 20 percent higher than its current value.

In an email to employees, Mr Musk explained the decision as the “best way forward” for the company’s long-term mission, but that a final decision was yet to be made. Any move to delist the company is subject to a full shareholder vote.

“As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction,” he explained.

He also called attention to Tesla’s unenviable position as “the most shorted stock in the history of the stock market”, taking aim at those investors who look to financially profit from the company doing badly.

Some commentators speculated the decision was announced after the Financial Times revealed that Saudi Arabia has amassed a $2.9 billion stake in Tesla.

Musk co-founded the company in 2003 and it first went public in 2010. At the time, shares were sold at $17 apiece.

Since then its stock has soared, albeit with many ups and downs along the way. As a result of the announcement, its share price jumped 11 percent to its highest price for the year, ending the day at $379.57.

Tesla has done more than most to grow and commercialise electric vehicles, and Musk has remained adamant about the company’s mission to fight climate change.

On announcing a deep round of redundancies earlier this year, he wrote to employees that “profit is obviously not what motivates us”.

“What drives us is our mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable, clean energy, but we will never achieve that mission unless we eventually demonstrate that we can be sustainably profitable.”

Photo Credit: OnInnovation/Flickr

Read more: Elon Musk confirms plan to make Tesla a private...

California continues to battle a vast wildfire which by some accounts has become the largest in its history.

The Mendocino Complex Fire in Northern California has nearly doubled in size over the weekend, according to CNN, having combined with a nearby county fire to burn through 283,800 acres.

This is greater than last year’s record of 281,000 acres around Santa Barbara, near Los Angeles.

The wildfires started on 23 July and a total of 17 major fires have been burning across the state, causing widespread damage. Two people have been killed and 11 injured, according to local reports. More than 14,000 firefighters have been working on the blaze, along with colleagues from 17 other US states.

President Donald Trump has now declared the incident a major disaster after a request from California’s Governor Jerry Brown. The announcement allows the state to access federal funding to provide housing assistance, food aid, medical services, and legal help, among others.

“This is part of a trend – a new normal – that we’ve got to deal with. We’re dealing with it humanly, financially and governmentally,” said Governor Brown during a recent media briefing. “These kinds of horrible situations bring people together, regardless of the lesser kind of ideologies and partisan considerations.”

Major wildfires have been reported around the world, from the Arctic Circle to Greece, in a summer of prolonged dry conditions and unusually high temperatures.

Farmers in Europe have also called for help to address drought conditions which have devastated crop yields.

Only last year, California battled multiple wildfires which killed two and caused $13 billion in damages, the highest ever amount. The 9,000 wildfires were part of a record year of extreme weather events in the US, including three Hurricanes (Irma, Harvey, and Maria), which resulted in over $300 billion of damage.

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Read more: California’s latest wildfire is now ‘largest in...

EDF has submitted a plan to build America’s second offshore wind farm in New Jersey.

The energy giant, better known for running France’s fleet of nuclear plants, has partnered with Fisherman’s Energy on the planning application.

If successful, the Nautilus wind farm will be constructed three miles off the coast of Atlantic City, with a capacity of around 25 megawatts (MW), enough to power around 20,000 households. It is hoped the clean energy project could be operational by 2020.

The small size of the wind farm will be used as a demonstration of how to scale-up the offshore wind industry in the US.

EDF will utilise its “global procurement capabilities” to build the project at low-cost and create jobs for the local community. Its North American arm has built over 4,700 MW of onshore wind capacity over the past 15 years.

“These workers will be the first wave of the nearly 40,000 jobs that are expected to be created in the US, building the 8 GW of offshore wind that’s currently in the project pipeline,” the company said in a statement.

According to local press reports, the wind farm’s impact on energy bills will be minimal; “We are estimating it will cost a small cup of coffee,” Doug Copeland, EDF’s regional development manager, told NJ Spotlight. Two other applications have reportedly been turned down on the basis of high costs.

Earlier this year, New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to implement a goal of building 3,500 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2030. The target exceeds the ambitions of neighbouring New York, which wants to expand its offshore wind industry to 2,400MW by the same year.

So far, the US has only one operational offshore wind farm, a 30MW project located off the coast of Rhode Island.

Image: Block Island wind farm.

Credit: US DOE

Read more: EDF shores up offshore wind farm in New Jersey

The Earth is in danger of reaching a point of no return where global temperatures cannot be contained by humans.

This is one of the conclusions from a new study led by the independent Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Researchers looked at a number of tipping points which will exacerbate the rise in global temperatures. These mean existing stores of carbon will be released into the atmosphere as the Earth gets warmer.

The study is a new articulation of what scientists have long discussed and fretted about; namely, the stage at what climate change becomes irreversible.

The loss of sea ice at both poles, Amazon rainforest dieback, and increased ocean acidification were among 10 processes the researchers analysed which could play an unstable role in the future.

"Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called “feedbacks”, that can drive further warming - even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases," said lead author Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Global temperatures have increased by 1°C since pre-industrial times, meaning that ice sheets, coral reefs, and Arctic summer sea ice are already within risk of change.

The Paris climate agreement commits all nations to reduce global temperatures to well below 2°C, and to aim for 1.5°C. The academics stressed that it remains unknown how close to 2°C the climate can increase before the system is pushed too far.

"These tipping elements can potentially act like a row of dominoes. Once one is pushed over, it pushes Earth towards another. It may be very difficult or impossible to stop the whole row of dominoes from tumbling over. Places on Earth will become uninhabitable if Hothouse Earth becomes the reality," warned co-author Johan Rockström.

The so-called hothouse scenario sees global temperatures stabilise at between 4°C-5°C, representing an increase in sea levels up to 60m higher than today. The academics concluded that avoiding this outcome will require a wholesale change in the way societies operate, transitioning to an emissions-free world as soon as possible.

The article was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

           Global map of tipping points. The arrows represent interactions between processes

Source: Stockholm Resilience Centre

Read more: Runaway climate change could turn Earth into a...

ClientEarth has reported a number of UK insurance firms to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The group of environmental lawyers state that three firms, Admiral, Lancashire Holdings Limited and Phoenix Group Holdings, failed to disclosure their level of exposure to climate risks in their annual reports.

Stephanie Morton, an insurance lawyer for ClientEarth, commented: “Given the myriad of climate change-related risks these companies are exposed to, we were surprised to find that they were not communicating this to investors.

“We think the law is quite clear on this and by omitting financially material climate risks from their annual reports, these companies are not giving the full picture. Without this information, how can investors make a fully-formed investment decision?”

Insurance companies are exposed to a multitude of risks as a result of climate change, not least the rise in claims from extreme weather events. They are also impacted by changes in demand away from carbon intensive sectors and government policy to tackle the rise in global temperatures.

As a result, it is vital that investors are fully aware of how a company’s current holdings are potentially impacted by these changes. However, as a recent report highlighted, the global insurance sector has been slow to adapt to the existential threats posed by climate change.

Morton added: “The FCA has moved swiftly this year in understanding the risks that climate change presents to the economy. This is an opportunity for the FCA to send a strong market signal that climate disclosures are essential for enabling investors to assess climate-related financial risks, and we look forward to a speedy and robust response.”

Under a new ruling from the UK Government, pension funds will soon be required to provide an assessment of how their decisions are based on sustainability concerns. In effect, this gives the green light to the funds to dump their assets in fossil fuels.

Read more: Insurance firms failing to disclose climate...

A fight between the Federal Government and the state of California is continuing apace.

Last week, the Trump Administration announced plans to weaken nationwide fuel standards for new cars and revoke California’s ability to set its own emission standards.

Car models between 2021 to 2025 will only have to meet 2020 emission levels, according to the Trump plan, something the White House believes will save money and lives.

This conclusion has been widely attacked as contrary to reality, with the California Air Resource Board (CARB) calling the justification as “absurd”.

In response, CARB has this week proposed a change to its own regulations stating that any car sold in the state after 2020 will have to meet its standards rather than weaker federal rules.

“Dirty, gas guzzling vehicles are a direct assault on public health, and foreclose our ability to rein in air pollution and greenhouse gases,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols. “California will take all actions to ensure that the smart standards we developed in partnership with the auto industry to cut greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles stay in place.”

California’s 50-year waiver to set its own pollution standards was justified on the basis that the heavily populated state has a serious air quality problem which leads to thousands of premature deaths each year.

Reducing the level of carbon dioxide from tailpipes is also vital to tackling climate change; CARB estimates the new Federal proposal could increase emissions by around 14 million metric tons per year by 2025.

Tougher California standards have been adopted by 12 other states and often drives innovation within the automobile industry. California’s role as a global hub for the electric vehicles industry is down in no small part to its curbs on the internal combustion engine.

 “CARB remains committed to a national program that fulfills our mission to protect public health, welfare and the environment. That program is built on a robust technical foundation and sound economic analysis,” said CARB Executive Officer Richard Corey. “We continue to be open to discuss well documented technical analysis that provides real public health, environmental, and economic benefits including options that consider additional flexibilities.”

Read more: California hits back at Trump plan to reduce...

The French government has given the go ahead to 103 new solar power projects.

The Ministry of Ecology and Solidary Transition announced the news on Monday, which will bring forward an estimated 720 megawatts (MW) of new renewable power capacity.

The latest approved bids are part of a new target set by the ministry to tender 2,450 MW of new solar energy each year. The department expects to tender two further rounds of 850MW each this year.

So far, France has built a total of 8,300 MW in solar power and is looking to reach a total of 20,000 MW by 2023.

A statement from the ministry, reported by the Reuters news agency, said that the latest tender saw average power prices of 58.2 euros, a 5 percent decline on a similar auction last year.

Since taking office in 2017, President Emmanuel Macron has taken significant steps to increase France’s renewable energy capacity. The country has a historic dependence on nuclear power, which provides the vast majority of its electricity needs each year

To address this the administration has made new rulings to double the amount of onshore wind and increase France’s offshore wind capacity.

The appointment of longstanding environmentalist Nicolas Hulot to the ministry has also led to a flurry of climate commitments, including plans to ban new petrol cars and offshore oil & gas exploration.

Some of France’s major energy companies, such as EDF and Total, have seen an opportunity in the new mood music. Late last year EDF announced its Solar Power Plan to develop a huge 35 gigawatts of new solar in France by 2035. In June, the CEO of oil & gas giant Total confirmed on Twitter plans to invest in 10 gigawatts of solar within 10 years.

Read more: France approves 720 megawatts of new solar power

Enel has reached financial close on a fleet of new South African wind farms.

The Italian energy company has sealed the deal with Absa and Nedbank for 950 million euros of project financing to build five new clean energy projects around the country.

Once complete the wind farms will provide South Africa with 700 megawatts of renewable energy capacity, enough to power hundreds of thousands of homes.

Enel is putting up 230 million euros of its own money to build the power plants, which recently secured long-term contracts from the government in a competitive auction.

The scheme for bringing forward new renewable energy capacity, called REIPPPP, is part of a government push to install 7,000 megawatts of clean power by 2020.

The first of the new projects, called Nxuba, is expected to go into construction later this year in the Eastern Cape region. Three of the wind farms will be constructed in the Northern Cape; South Africa’s largest region is a popular destination for renewable projects due to its dry and largely flat landscape. All five wind farms are planned to be operational by 2021, helping to reduce an estimated 2.7 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

Antonio Cammisecra, head of Enel’s global renewable energy department, said the decision was an important milestone which confirmed the company’s “continuing commitment to the country’s renewables sector, within a context of sustainable development.”

“Enel Green Power will be supporting these processes by generating its emission-free energy in partnership with local shareholders and in cooperation with the local communities, according to our long-term vision of shared value creation,” he added.

At the moment, Enel operates 520 megawatts of wind and solar projects across South Africa. The new wind farms will help to more than double this capacity, underlining the company’s view of the country as an attractive destination to do business.

Photo Credit: warrenski/CC

Read more: Enel signs deal to build €1.2 billion wind farms...



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