Ethical & Environmental News
Russia Closely Watching EU Shift to Green Energy
Moscow is "closely watching" Europe's shift to renewable energy and foresees continued demand for gas to balance fluctuations in green energy output, Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko said on Monday. The 27-country European Union relies heavily on Russian gas supplies to heat and power the homes of its 500 million people, but aims to increase the share of renewable energy to 20 percent over the next decade, putting its overall needs in question.
"We've been closely watching the rigor with which Europe has been supporting renewables," Shmatko told reporters ahead of a meeting with EU officials on Monday.
"Wind and solar will always need a balancing source of energy, and this is a spot where gas generally fits quite well," he added, speaking through an interpreter. "We can increase or decrease load as demand fluctuates."
Moscow is keen to get a picture of future demand in
Europe , its biggest export market, but analysts say that is a tough task amid current economic uncertainty, with Greece and Ireland needing foreign financial assistance and other countries making deep spending cuts to help them cope with Europe's deepest economic crisis in 80 years.
Some analysts say giant pipeline projects to bring gas to Europe, such as South Stream and Nabucco, will not be needed for another decade.
The European Commission estimated this month that dependency on gas imports from countries such as Russia, Norway and Algeria would increase from about 60 percent today to reach 73-79 percent of gas consumption by 2020 and 81-89 percent by 2030.
"We expect an increase in European gas imports until at least 2030," EU Energy Commisioner Guenther Oettinger said at the EU-Russia energy meeting.
Officials from both sides agreed to work together to build a shared vision of future gas markets.
Oettinger said any future import pipelines would have to comply with Europe's demand that gas markets are opened to increasing competition and small suppliers get increased access.
"That means competition and unbundling," Oettinger said. "We are ready to combine different interests ... as was to be seen with the Yamal pipeline (into Poland)."
"South Stream is a project with much importance," Oettinger said, referring to the Gasprom-led project to bring 63 billion cubic meters of gas to central and southern Europe in the future.
"It's not in my interest to block it, but it's in my interest to combine it with European regulations," he added. Shmatko said European demands to liberalise energy markets could cause problems for investors in infrastructure, with some efforts likely to cause damage to investors and slow the development of energy projects throughout Europe, he said in a speech.
Pakistan Floods, Russia Heat Fit Climate Trend
Devastating floods in Pakistan and Russia's heatwave match predictions of extremes caused by global warming even though it is impossible to blame mankind for single severe weather events, scientists say.
This year is on track to be the warmest since reliable temperature records began in the mid-19th century, beating 1998, mainly due to a build-up of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, according to the U.N. World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
"We will always have climate extremes. But it looks like climate change is exacerbating the intensity of the extremes," said Omar Baddour, chief of climate data management applications at WMO headquarters in Geneva.
"It is too early to point to a human fingerprint" behind individual weather events, he said.
Recent extremes include mudslides in China and heat records from Finland to Kuwait -- adding to evidence of a changing climate even as U.N. negotiations on a new global treaty for costly cuts in greenhouse gas emissions have stalled.
Reinsurer Munich Re said a natural catastrophe database it runs "shows that the number of extreme weather events like windstorm and floods has tripled since 1980, and the trend is expected to persist."
The worst floods in Pakistan in 80 years have killed more than 1,600 people and left 2 million homeless.
"Global warming is one reason" for the rare spate of weather extremes, said Friedrich-Wilhelm Gerstengarbe, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.
He pointed to the heatwave and related forest fires in Russia, floods in Pakistan, rains in China and downpours in countries including Germany and Poland. "We have four such extremes in the last few weeks. This is very seldom," he said.
The weather extremes, and the chance of a record-warm 2010, undercut a view of skeptics that the world is merely witnessing natural swings perhaps caused by variations in the sun's output.
Russia's worst drought in decades has led to fires that have almost doubled death rates in Moscow to around 700 per day, an official said. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a grain export ban from August 15 to December 31.
Nearly 1,500 people have died in landslides and flooding caused by months of torrential rains across China, the Ministry of Civil Affairs said.
Baddour said one cause of a shift in monsoon rains in Asia seemed to be a knock-on effect of La Nina, a natural cooling of the Pacific region.
Scientists say it is impossible to pin the blame for individual events from hurricanes to sandstorms solely on human activities led by burning of fossil fuels that release heat-trapping carbon dioxide.
Still, one study concluded that global warming had doubled the chances of heatwaves similar to a scorching 2003 summer in Europe, in which 35,000 people died. Those temperatures could not convincingly be explained by natural variations.
"It may be possible to use climate models to determine whether human influences have changed the likelihood of certain types of extreme events," the U.N. panel of climate scientists said in its latest 2007 report.
That report said it was at least 90 percent likely that most warming in the past 50 years was caused by mankind, a finding questioned by skeptics who have pointed to errors in the report such as an exaggeration of the melt of Himalayan glaciers.
"Warming of the climate is likely to bring more events of this sort," said Henning Rodhe, professor emeritus of chemical meteorology at Stockholm University, of the Russian heatwave.
"But you can't draw the conclusion that this is caused by global warming."
Most countries agreed at a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen last year to limit a rise in average world temperatures to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, a tough goal since temperatures already rose 0.7C in the 20th century.
The latest round of U.N. climate talks in Bonn, from August 2-6, ended with growing doubts that a global climate treaty could still be agreed as hoped by some nations in 2010 despite deep splits about sharing the burden of curbs on emissions.
U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has all but abandoned climate change legislation this year. The United States, the number two greenhouse gas emitter behind China, is the only major industrialized nation with no law to cut emissions.
Ten Key Indicators Show Global Warming "Undeniable"
Melting glaciers, more humid air and eight other key indicators show that global warming is undeniable, scientists said on Wednesday, citing a new comprehensive review of the last decade of climate data.
Without addressing why this is happening, the researchers said there was no doubt that every decade on Earth since the 1980s has been hotter than the previous one, and that the planet has been warming for the last half-century.
This confirms the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which reported in 2007 with 90 percent certainty that climate change is occurring. The IPCC also said that human activities contribute to this phenomenon.
The new report was released after U.S. Senate Democrats delayed any possible legislation to curb climate change until September at the earliest. Prospects for U.S. climate change legislation this year are considered slim.
Released by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as "The 2009 State of the Climate Report," the new report draws on the work of 303 scientists from 48 countries, including data from last year.
The 10 key planet-wide indicators of a warming climate identified by the report are:
-- Higher temperatures over land
-- Higher temperatures over oceans
-- Higher ocean heat content
-- Higher near-surface air temperatures (temperatures in the troposphere, where Earth's weather occurs)
-- Higher humidity
-- Higher sea surface temperatures
-- Higher sea levels
-- Less sea ice
-- Less snow cover
-- Shrinking glaciers
The seven indicators expected to rise in a warming world rose over the last decade, the report said; the three indicators expected to decline did so over that same period.
With an almost daily flood of data on climate change, Peter Thorne of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites in Asheville, North Carolina, saw the need for a comprehensive look at the information to pick the most obvious signs of planetary warming.
"These are indicators from the top of the atmosphere to the bottom of the ocean that we would expect to be changing in a warming world," Thorne said at a telephone briefing for reporters.
"Each indicator is changing as we would expect if the world truly were warming," he said. "Not a single analysis disagrees that the global climate is changing. The bottom line conclusion that the world's been warming is simply undeniable."
The entire report can be seen online here
The report is being published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.