As part of a monthly online feature, Impact investigates the latest news, projects and discoveries in the battle against climate change
A month on from the optimism of CoP 21 sees reality crashing down. What has become clear in the ever more curious race for the white house, is that the winner of the next election could single handedly doom or save the Paris Climate Agreement. The supreme court on a vote of 5-4 chose to temporarily put a halt to President Obama’s ‘Clean Power Plan’ which would require state utilities to shut down coal-burning electricity plants. The court order means the dispute over the plans will run beyond Obama’s presidency.
This plan is necessary for the United States to abide by the Paris Agreement. Along with China, the United States is one of the most important signatories, so any unwillingness on their part to go against the agreement could see it fall apart. However, an economics professor at Queensland University believes it may take until at least 2020 for coal prices to recover, which may in itself mean that even if this were overturned it may not make a substantial difference. At this point most commentators aren’t certain despite this ‘unprecedented’ decision by the courts. If the democrats do win back the White House though, it is likely that the regulations will be changed to stand a better chance of getting through. They will also be able to alter their representation in court in their favour.
Eurostat, the statistical body for the European Commission released details of the progress of the share of renewables in the energy consumption of member states in 2014. The overall total rose to an average 16% with nine countries already reaching above their targets set for 2020. Sweden has made the most progress overall with 53% of its energy needs being met by renewables. Perhaps unsurprisingly the United Kingdom is lagging behind, still less than 50% of the way to achieving their target. This is potentially especially damaging given the government’s cuts in in solar and wind subsidies.
In a government report released in January, all the targets for cutting the environmental impact of state operations in: carbon emissions, domestic flights, waste and water usage have all fallen short. The government maintained that their efforts still saved the tax payer £185 million in the last year. The target was based on consumption from 2009-10 and only eight of 22 government departments were successful in achieving lower consumption.
Research from Potsdam, Harvard and Rutgers has concluded this month that the rise in the planet’s sea levels last century was faster than at any time in the previous twenty-seven. The model was able to predict that it is likely that human-caused climate change altered the sea levels 10cm higher than the predicted levels. Taking readings from twenty-four locations around the world and recording 1,300 changes in sea levels, the findings add further weight to the hypothesis that post-industrial human activities have led to tangible changes in the global climate.
The divestment movement suffered a blow as the government announced it would crackdown on local councils being able to boycott companies it considered ‘unethical’. Whilst predominantly aimed at the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel, wishing to prevent local authorities from taking international relations into their own hands, this proposed legislation is likely to also include those bodies wishing to invest in cleaner energy. Commentators critical of the move have stated this is an attempt to blur the lines between activism and terrorism, choosing ‘security’ over local democracy.
The Heathrow 13 activists who entered the tarmac at the airport to protest a potential new runway have avoided jail sentences. Despite being told to expect a custodial sentence by the judge and being found guilty of aggravated trespass and entering an aerodrome security-restricted area, their sentence has been suspended for 12 months. The group was supported by the Green party’s sole MP Caroline Lucas and the vice-chancellor John McDonnell. In what would have been the first prison sentence for protesting since 1932, the initial concluding comments from the judge at the trial were seen as an attack on peaceful protesting.
Image by Richard Gillin via Flickr
Editor for the Science Section of University of Nottingham’s IMPACT Magazine.