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The UK’s 2035 net zero electricity target: how could it be achieved?




The UK’s 2035 net zero electricity target: how could it be achieved?

As Boris Johnson confirmed plans to decarbonise the electricity grid by 2035, the UK was sourcing almost 40% of its power from fossil fuels, underscoring the scale of the challenge ahead.

The government’s target, announced on Monday with less than a month until the start of the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow, is a key component of its pledge to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050.

That broader effort will probably involve much more widespread use of electric vehicles, and electric heat pumps in the home, meaning the UK must generate much more power but with far lower emissions. The challenges involved are monumental.

How much electricity do we use?

Demand was just under 35 gigawatts (GW) on Monday but that can rise to about 58GW at peak, on cold winter days. Expressed over the course of a year, the UK used about 330 terawatt hours last year, 5% down on 2019, when the coronavirus pandemic dampened demand. By 2035, demand is projected to reach 460 terawatt hours, an increase of almost 40%.

How green is our electricity now?

Last year, wind and solar produced a record proportion of UK electricity, at 43%, eclipsing fossil fuels, at 40%, for the first time. The rest was largely supplied by nuclear power and imports through subsea interconnector cables. Easter Monday this year was the UK grid’s greenest day ever, with low carbon sources hitting almost 80%, thanks to sunny spells, blustery winds and low holiday demand.

But when conditions are not ideal, it is invariably gas that picks up the slack. Gas emits significantly less carbon than coal, which has been almost eliminated from the UK power mix and should be gone altogether by 2024, but meeting climate pledges means massively reducing gas usage.

What needs to happen?

The Climate Change Committee (CCC), an independent body launched in 2008, estimates that the carbon intensity of electricity generation needs to fall significantly on the road to net zero. The amount of CO2 emitted per kilowatt hour would have to fall from 220g in 2019 to 10g in 2035.

After crunching the numbers, the energy advisory firm Cornwall Insight believes this requires a massive ramp-up of wind and solar to meet up to 86% of electricity demand inside 15 years.

This would require offshore wind capacity more than quadrupling from 10GW to 44GW, while onshore wind rises by 14GW to between 30GW and 44GW. Solar would need to increase significantly, too, from 15GW to between 22GW and 30GW.

Would that do the job?

Not even close. Renewables need reliable backup because of their volatility. Cornwall Insight’s projection adds in 15GW of capacity supplied by interconnectors, 5GW of nuclear power and a further 16GW of gas or biomass plants that use carbon capture and storage technology to reduce CO2 emissions drastically.

The CCC’s projections include gas plants being converted to run on hydrogen and meeting about 5% of demand.

What about storage?

Storage is absolutely key, to ensure surplus renewable energy can be saved up on sunny, windy days for release when conditions are less favourable. The CCC’s plan, the “balanced pathway” to net zero, envisages a wind and solar-dominated grid backed up by 18GW of battery storage capacity by 2035. Battery capacity is at just 1.3GW now, although 20GW of projects are in the works.

Hydrogen storage is another option, using electrolysis to extract “green hydrogen” from water, which can be kept for long periods of time and then burnt to regenerate the electricity or used to replace fossil fuels in applications such as transport.

This is not to be confused with pumped hydro storage using water, which involves pumping water uphill and then using the downhill flow to generate electricity.

One hope is that electric vehicles can be used as batteries to store electricity and release it as needed, when the cars are not in use. But local and national power grids need to be smarter to make that work, while a surge in the number of EVs also creates extra overall power demand.

How much will this cost?

Cornwall Insight estimates that investment of up to £200bn will be required to bring online the wind, solar and battery power needed for a renewable-powered UK. The CCC says investment must reach £50bn a year by 2030.

Still though, no more gas?

Not quite. The conventional wisdom is that some level of gas capacity needs to remain on the system, even if it barely contributes more than a few hours of supply here and there. The idea is that it stands ready to provide quick bursts of power when required, at short notice.

What about nuclear?

A crane moves building materials into the circular reinforced concrete and steel home of a reactor at Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset.

Nuclear power plants cost a lot, take years to build and have many vehement opponents, who say they simply do not count as green energy. However, they are capable of generating a large amount of electricity without carbon emissions.

The big problem is that most nuclear reactors are scheduled for retirement soon. The current fleet offers capacity of about 8.9GW, satisfying about a sixth of UK demand. But more than half of that is due to come offline by the end of 2024 alone, starting with Hunterston B later this year. Assuming there are no further delays, the new Hinkley Point C reactors do not fire up until 2026 and 2027.

The picture has been complicated by reports that the UK government is looking to eject China from nuclear projects. Nuclear enthusiasts hope the 2035 target signals strong backing for EDF’s Sizewell C, in Suffolk, as well as Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey, which has struggled to get going amid investors’ funding concerns. Throw in plans by Rolls-Royce for small modular reactors, colloquially known as mini nukes, and capacity could reach 15GW by 2035.

The gamechanger for nuclear could be something called regulated asset base financing, which the government is exploring. That should offer guaranteed returns for investors, attracting much-needed additional backing.

Is the 2035 target doable?

From a technical perspective, yes, but there are significant policy hurdles to overcome. Energy industry lobbyists point to slow planning consent, infrequent windfarm auctions and insufficient grid infrastructure. Many experts believe the energy market needs to be totally redesigned to adapt to changing needs, potentially overseen by a new body.

Helping consumers reduce demand is also important. Energy suppliers have a role to play there but are under increasing pressure because of the surge in gas prices that has resulted in 12 failing this year, with more expected to follow.

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Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds




Global pollution kills 9 million people a year, study finds

A new study blames pollution of all types for 9 million deaths a year globally, with the death toll attributed to dirty air from cars, trucks and industry rising 55% since 2000.

That increase is offset by fewer pollution deaths from primitive indoor stoves and water contaminated with human and animal waste, so overall pollution deaths in 2019 are about the same as 2015.

The United States is the only fully industrialized country in the top 10 nations for total pollution deaths, ranking 7th with 142,883 deaths blamed on pollution in 2019, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Ethiopia, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health. Tuesday’s pre-pandemic study is based on calculations derived from the Global Burden of Disease database and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in Seattle. India and China lead the world in pollution deaths with nearly 2.4 million and almost 2.2 million deaths a year, but the two nations also have the world’s largest populations.

When deaths are put on a per population rate, the United States ranks 31st from the bottom at 43.6 pollution deaths per 100,000. Chad and the Central African Republic rank the highest with rates about 300 pollution deaths per 100,000, more than half of them due to tainted water, while Brunei, Qatar and Iceland have the lowest pollution death rates ranging from 15 to 23. The global average is 117 pollution deaths per 100,000 people.

Pollution kills about the same number of people a year around the world as cigarette smoking and second-hand smoke combined, the study said.

“9 million deaths is a lot of deaths,” said Philip Landrigan, director of the Global Public Health Program and Global Pollution Observatory at Boston College.

“The bad news is that it’s not decreasing,” Landrigan said. “We’re making gains in the easy stuff and we’re seeing the more difficult stuff, which is the ambient (outdoor industrial) air pollution and the chemical pollution, still going up.”

It doesn’t have to be this way, researchers said.

“They are preventable deaths. Each and every one of them is a death that is unnecessary,” said Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the George Washington University School of Public Health, who wasn’t part of the study. She said the calculations made sense and if anything. was so conservative about what it attributed to pollution, that the real death toll is likely higher.

The certificates for these deaths don’t say pollution. They list heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, other lung issues and diabetes that are “tightly correlated” with pollution by numerous epidemiological studies, Landrigan said. To then put these together with actual deaths, researchers look at the number of deaths by cause, exposure to pollution weighted for various factors, and then complicated exposure response calculations derived by large epidemiological studies based on thousands of people over decades of study, he said. It’s the same way scientists can say cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease deaths.

“That cannon of information constitutes causality,” Landrigan said. “That’s how we do it.”

Five outside experts in public health and air pollution, including Goldman, told The Associated Press the study follows mainstream scientific thought. Dr. Renee Salas, an emergency room doctor and Harvard professor who wasn’t part of the study, said “the American Heart Association determined over a decade ago that exposure to (tiny pollution particles) like that generated from the burning of fossil fuels is causal for heart disease and death.”

“While people focus on decreasing their blood pressure and cholesterol, few recognize that the removal of air pollution is an important prescription to improve their heart health,” Salas said.

Three-quarters of the overall pollution deaths came from air pollution and the overwhelming part of that is “a combination of pollution from stationary sources like coal-fired power plants and steel mills on one hand and mobile sources like cars, trucks and buses. And it’s just a big global problem,” said Landrigan, a public health physician. “And it’s getting worse around the world as countries develop and cities grow.”

In New Delhi, India, air pollution peaks in the winter months and last year the city saw just two days when the air wasn’t considered polluted. It was the first time in four years that the city experienced a clean air day during the winter months.

That air pollution remains the leading cause of death in South Asia reconfirms what is already known, but the increase in these deaths means that toxic emissions from vehicles and energy generation is increasing, said Anumita Roychowdhury, a director at the advocacy group Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.

“This data is a reminder of what is going wrong but also that it is an opportunity to fix it,” Roychowdhury said.

Pollution deaths are soaring in the poorest areas, experts said.

“This problem is worst in areas of the world where population is most dense (e.g. Asia) and where financial and government resources to address the pollution problem are limited and stretched thin to address a host of challenges including health care availability and diet as well as pollution,” said Dan Greenbaum, president of the Health Effects Institute, who wasn’t part of the study.

In 2000, industrial air pollution killed about 2.9 million people a year globally. By 2015 it was up to 4.2 million and in 2019 it was 4.5 million, the study said. Toss in household air pollution, mostly from inefficient primitive stoves, and air pollution killed 6.7 million people in 2019, the study found.

Lead pollution — some from lead additive which has been banned from gasoline in every country in the world and also from old paint, recycling batteries and other manufacturing — kills 900,000 people a year, while water pollution is responsible for 1.4 million deaths a year. Occupational health pollution adds another 870,000 deaths, the study said.

In the United States, about 20,000 people a year die from lead pollution-induced hypertension, heart disease and kidney disease, mostly as occupational hazards, Landrigan said. Lead and asbestos are America’s big chemical occupational hazards, and they kill about 65,000 people a year from pollution, he said. The study said the number of air pollution deaths in the United States in 2019 was 60,229, far more than deaths on American roads, which hit a 16-year peak of nearly 43,000 last year.

Modern types of pollution are rising in most countries, especially developing ones, but fell from 2000 to 2019 in the United States, the European Union and Ethiopia. Ethiopia’s numbers can’t quite be explained and may be a reporting issue, said study co-author Richard Fuller, founder of the Global Alliance on Health and Pollution and president of Pure Earth, a non-profit that works on pollution clean-up programs in about a dozen countries.

The study authors came up with eight recommendations to reduce pollution deaths, highlighting the need for better monitoring, better reporting and stronger government systems regulating industry and cars.

“We absolutely know how to solve each one of those problems,” Fuller said. “What’s missing is political will.”

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Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases




Climate change may increase risk of new infectious diseases

Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spread among animal species by 2070 — and that’s likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for deadly disease spread from humans to animals or vice versa over the last several decades, including the flu, HIV, Ebola and coronavirus.

Researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used a model to examine how over 3,000 mammal species might migrate and and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), which recent research shows is possible.

They found that cross-species virus spread will happen over 4,000 times among mammals alone. Birds and marine animals weren’t included in the study.

Researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or become pandemics the scale of the coronavirus but the number of cross-species viruses increases the risk of spread to humans.

The study highlights two global crises — climate change and infectious disease spread — as the world grapples with what to do about both.

Previous research has looked at how deforestation and extinction and wildlife trade lead to animal-human disease spread, but there’s less research about how climate change could influence this type of disease transmission, the researchers said at a media briefing Wednesday.

“We don’t talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonoses” — diseases that can spread from animals to people, said study co-author Colin Carlson, an assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study … brings together the two most pressing global crises we have.”

Experts on climate change and infectious disease agreed that a warming planet will likely lead to increased risk for the emergence of new viruses.

Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book “The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease,” said the study acknowledges the threat posed by climate change in terms of increasing risk of infectious diseases.

“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate for potential” emerging infectious disease spread caused by climate change, said Brooks.

Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the impact of warming on infectious disease emergence.

“Of particular note is that the study indicates that these encounters may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.

Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that because climate-driven infectious disease emergence is likely already happening, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.

“It is not preventable, even in the best case climate change scenarios,” Albery said.

Carlson, who was also an author on the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said we must cut greenhouse gas and phase out fossil fuels to reduce the risk of infectious disease spread.

Jaron Browne, organizing director of the climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the study highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian nations.

“African and Asian nations face the greatest threat of increased virus exposure, once again illustrating how those on the frontlines of the crisis have very often done the least to create climate change,” Browne said.

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Nigerian govt rules out completion of Ogoni clean-up under Buhari




Nigerian govt rules out completion of Ogoni clean-up under Buhari

The Minister of Environment, Hassan Abdullahi, said on Thursday the Federal Government cannot complete the ongoing Ogoni clean-up project before the expiration of President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure next year.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) had in its 2011 report recommended the clean-up of the heavily polluted Ogoni land.

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo flagged off the project in June 2016.

Abdullahi, who disclosed this to State House correspondents in Abuja, however, noted that 10 sites had been remediated under the project.

The minister said: “There is nothing miraculous about our approach to the clean-up operations. It is going to be a very pragmatic, practicable and quick-win solution. First, as I told you earlier, is to ensure that there is a multi-stakeholder agreement in terms of what we’re supposed to do, and where we’re going.

“Then secondly, we’ve taken very strong steps to address the concerns bordering on procurement, on project management, on fund management and so on, so that all stakeholders will be on board.

“So, I can assure you that if these issues are resolved within the next couple of weeks, we should be focused on immediate procurement processes that will ensure that the projects are implemented as at when due.

“However, they are phased projects, we do not envisage that we can finish the entire project within the lifetime of this government. However, the process that we can do at the moment, the procurement that we can do at the moment, to ensure that there is immediate irrigation, water projects to ensure that there is clean water provided for the people and that other sites, will begin the remediation process.

“This is done in liaison with UNEP and our sister agency, NESDRA. So, we are on course, we’ll do the best we can and I can assure you that we will cover some mileage in the process.

“So, there is no magic or miracle about it, we are focused on what we want to do. Like I told you, Mr President said our eyes must be on the ball and that’s what we’re trying to do.

“I had the opportunity to present to Mr President, in accordance with the key priorities of the ministry, certain key projects that are undergoing some sort of review and seeking direction from Mr. President.”

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