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Government alarmingly postpones action on climate change

Paul Simons adds to many ‘wakeup calls’ – writing about high temperatures, drought and wildfires.

On Thursday Spain broke the record for its highest temperature with 47.3C (117.1F) at Montoro, near Cordoba in the south of the country.

May and June were also phenomenally hot across Portugal, Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey.

Heat and drought have helped to fuel wildfires in Spain and Italy, and wildfires near the seaside resort of Calampiso in Sicily forced the evacuation by boat of about 700 tourists on Wednesday night. In Greece the heatwave led the culture ministry to close archaeological sites around the country, including the Acropolis in Athens.

Together with a long-running drought, the heat has ravaged much of southern Spain, leading to a devastated wheat and barley harvest. If the arid conditions continue, there are also fears for the olive, walnut, almond and grape harvests and the wellbeing of livestock. Rainfall has been desperately low this year, but the country has been suffering from a lack of rain for five years.

Drought threatens to reduce cereal production in Italy and parts of Spain to its lowest level in at least 20 years, and hit other regional crops. Castile and Leon, the largest cereal growing region in Spain, has been particularly badly affected, with crop losses estimated at around 60 to 70%. While the EU is collectively a major wheat exporter, Spain and Italy both rely on imports from countries including France, Britain and Ukraine.

Deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia – yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change

The Guardian adds to the news from Europe: India recorded its hottest ever day in 2016 when the temperature in the city of Phalodi, Rajasthan, hit 51C. Another  study led by Prof Elfatih Eltahir, at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, linked the impact of climate change to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers.

The analysis, published in the journal PNAS, assesses the impact of climate change on the deadly combination of heat and humidity, measured as the “wet bulb temperature” (WBT). Once this reaches 35C, the human body cannot cool itself by sweating and even fit people sitting in the shade will die within six hours.

Prof Chris Huntingford, at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “If given just one word to describe climate change, then ‘unfairness’ would be a good candidate. Raised levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are expected to cause deadly heatwaves for much of South Asia. Yet many of those living there will have contributed little to climate change.”

Guardian journalists comment sarcastically, “But fear not: by 2040, no new diesel or petrol vehicles will be sold in the UK

This, apparently, is the appropriate timetable for responding to what a parliamentary committee calls a “public health emergency”. A child born today will be 23 by the time this policy matures – by then the damage to the development of her lungs and brain will have been done”.

Cold comfort

According to Professor Eltahir’s study, if emissions are reduced roughly in line with the global Paris climate change agreement there would be no 35C WBT heatwaves and the population affected by the 31C WBT events would fall from 75% to 55%. About 15% are exposed today.

A National Geographic article says most people agree that to curb global warming a variety of measures need to be taken. On a personal level, driving and flying less, recycling, and conservation reduces a person’s “carbon footprint”—the amount of carbon dioxide a person is responsible for putting into the atmosphere.

At present, lorries shifting identical goods in opposite directions pass each other on 2,000-mile journeys. Competing parcel companies ply the same routes, in largely empty vans – a theme explored by MP Caroline Lucas and Colin Hines in 2003 – the Great Trade Swap.

It describes airports as deadly too – yet government and opposition alike are ‘apparently hell-bent’ on expanding Heathrow, exploring airport expansion projects elsewhere and seeking post-Brexit trade deals with distant countries.

To reduce the risk of ever more extreme weather, we must reduce the amount of fossil fuel we are burning – and the measures taken will have other desirable consequences as the following cartoon shows:

Parliament must listen to its Committee on Climate Change – chairman John Gummer. As the East Anglian Times reported in June, its annual progress report calls for “urgent” plans to meet legal targets for carbon cuts by 2032 as greenhouse gases from transport and buildings continue to rise.

The committee advocates action to bridge the gap between existing policies and what is needed to achieve required emissions reductions by the mid-2020s – boosting electric vehicles and cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the heating of homes to help to meet UK climate targets.






Will shale gas undermine progress on tackling climate change?


In 2011, mechanical engineer Martin Quick wrote an article reviewing one aspect of the shale gas issue – fugitive gas emissions from fracking. It was published in the SGR journal and its findings are consistent with later studies.

He critically examined the rapidly expanding shale gas industry, in particular its claimed role in helping to reduce carbon emissions, noting that that shale gas has its downside, not least the significant levels of methane leakage that occur during extraction. This could critically undermine the claim that it is a low-carbon fuel.

While the problem of local water pollution has received a lot of attention, Quick focusses on methane leakage into the atmosphere. The nature of the extraction process means that it is difficult to prevent such leakage, so there could be serious implications for climate change:

“Methane has a global warming potential (GWP) of about 25 times that of CO2, assessed on the basis of the cumulative effect on the climate system over a 100-year timeframe.1 CO2 stays in the atmosphere 2 throughout this timescale, but methane has a much shorter ‘life’ – thus its warming effect is much greater in the short term than that of CO2.

“Methane also leaks from conventional gas and coal extraction and there is considerable uncertainly associated with estimates of all methane leakages. Robert Howarth and colleagues at Cornell University2 have compiled ranges for the percentage of gas leaking into the atmosphere through extraction, transport and distribution. These are 3.6%—7.9% for shale gas and 1.7%— 6% for conventional gas.

“Assuming that, in the longer term, best practice measures minimise gas escapes, and taking Howarth’s lower values in assessing climate change implications, methane leakage from shale gas production is about twice that from conventional gas. We can use these figures to compare the total greenhouse gas emissions (adjusting for different GWPs) for shale gas, conventional gas and coal.3 This calculation reveals that the total greenhouse gas emissions of shale gas are about 70% of that of coal, compared with the figure of 50% generally claimed for conventional gas.4 ”

An interesting passage on the role of carbon capture and storage follows – go to the article here:

Implications for future energy policy

“The indications are that huge quantities of shale gas could be available globally. However, analysis suggests that methane leakage from shale gas between extraction and combustion is significant enough almost to negate the claimed advantages of shale gas using Carbon Capture and Storage and could even make the climate change impact of shale gas comparable with that of coal.

“The oil and gas industry is currently lobbying heavily to greatly expand the exploitation of shale gas in many places around the world, including the UK. While using relatively small amounts of gas could assist in (for example) improving energy security, major reliance on shale gas would be counterproductive, especially as it could squeeze out further development of renewable energy technologies”.


1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007). Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Fourth Assessment Report (Working Group I).

2. Howarth R, Santoro R, Ingraffea A (2011). Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change, vol. 106 (4), pp.679-690.

3. Ideally we would take account of the energy used in gas transport operations, but for simplicity we assume a relatively local gas source. For coal, an average of the emissions values for deep and surface mined coal is taken.

4. Derived using figures from Howarth et al (2011) – see note 2.

5. As note 4.

SGR Newsletter • Autumn 2011 • Issue 40