by Dr Karl Smith, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Every waking hour, I ingest water. Not always in its purest form, but near enough. Energy is important and right now (and rightly so), carbon is capturing headlines. But water is fundamental to our livelihoods.
The UN has designated 22 March World Water Day: “a day to celebrate water”. And why not? Never mind that it’s essential to all life forms. For modern living, it’s a necessity: we need 10 litres of water to make one sheet of paper; 182 litres to make a kilo of plastic.
Mountains are often referred to as ‘water towers’ as they provide fresh water to people and biodiversity. The Himalayan region is one of the few hot spots where several big rivers originate and supply water to hundreds of millions of people across the mountains and further downstream. However, higher up in the mountains especially in trans-Himalayan region, there is very little accessible water for local communities. The region receives very low rainfall and thus water supply is largely dependent on the timely occurrence of snow fall and ice melts in the upper mountains.
By Dr Paul Parham, Honorary Lecturer in Infectious Disease Epidemiology
Many tropical diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease and dengue are transmitted to humans via mosquitoes and other carriers known as vectors. These vector-borne diseases continue to have a major impact on human health in the developing world: each year, more than a billion people become infected and around a million people die. In addition, around one in six cases of illness and disability worldwide arise from these diseases.
Malaria arguably continues to attract the most attention of all the vector-borne diseases by virtue of causing the greatest global disease burden.
It is sometimes claimed that addressing climate change with proper policies is too expensive and could lead to a further decline in the economy. However, the co-benefits of implementation of climate change mitigation strategies for the health sector are usually overlooked. The synergy between policies for climate change mitigation in sectors such as energy use (e.g. for heating), agriculture, food production and transportation may have overall benefits that are much greater than the sum of single interventions (Haines et al, 2009).
The Thames Basin is set to face many challenges in the future: climate change, a growing population and economic requirements all present developmental challenges, as well as major sources of uncertainty. Having previously worked on a voluntary project producing a vision for planning in the Great Lakes Basin over the next hundred years, Skidmore Owings and Merrill (SOM) were interested in applying the same methodology to the Thames Basin to determine how we may best plan for the future in this area.
This blog forms part of a series addressing some of the criticisms often levelled against efforts to mitigate climate change.
It is often claimed that intermittent renewable sources of electricity (mainly wind and solar photovoltaics), are too expensive, inefficient and unreliable and that we shouldn’t subsidise them.
What are the facts?
Last year, governments spent about $550 billion of public money on subsidies for fossil fuels, almost twice as much as in 2009 and about five times as much as they spent subsidising renewables (IEA, World Energy Outlook 2014). This despite a G20 pledge in 2009 to “phase out and rationalize over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies” that “encourage wasteful consumption, reduce our energy security, impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to deal with the threat of climate change”.
On 27th October I convened a meeting at the Royal Society of London to discuss the results of a recent 20-year research horizon scanning exercise for Antarctic Science (Kennicutt et al. 2014). Part of the discussion focused on the research needed to better quantify Antarctica’s likely contribution to sea level rise in the coming decades and beyond, as published in the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report.
The report states that, ‘Global mean sea level rise will continue during the 21st century, very likely at a faster rate than observed from 1971 to 2010, and will likely be in the ranges of 0.26 to 0.55 m [in the lowest emissions scenario] … and … 0.45 to 0.82 m [in the highest emissions scenario – the closest to “business as usual”]’.
The costs associated with reducing emissions in the UK have been discussed recently in the press. In an article in the Mail on Sunday, David Rose made the claim that energy policies shaped by the so-called “Green Blob” – a term coined by Owen Paterson for what he called “the mutually supportive network of environmental pressure groups, renewable energy companies and some public officials” – will cost the UK up to £400 billion by 2030, and that bills will rise by at least a third.
How much will action on climate change actually cost?
Further to previous posts on this blog regarding Owen Paterson’s recent speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, I would like to take this opportunity to correct his dismissive statement about biomass energy as a potential contribution to decarbonized energy production in the UK. This is what the former Environment Secretary said:
“Biomass is not zero carbon.It generates more CO2 per unit of energy even than coal. Even DECC admits that importing wood pellets from North America to turn into hugely expensive electricity here makes no sense if only because a good proportion of those pellets are coming from whole trees.
Owen Paterson’s remarks on the UK response to climate change miss the point. I do not disagree with him that the UK decarbonisation strategy should be improved. In particular, there is a need for a more effective strategy on energy demand. However, my preferred policy and technology mix would be very different to his and include the acceleration and expansion of the CCS commercial demonstration programme in order to reduce the energy penalty and overall costs of CCS. And without CCS, there is no way responsibly to use the shale gas he wants the UK to produce in the coming decades for electricity generation or in industrial processes, or any other fossil fuels.
The United Nations Climate Summit 2014, to be held in New York on 23rd September, comes at an important point in the calendar for discussions on how to address climate change. Next year will see nations submit pledges on their future greenhouse gas emissions levels, as part of the United Nations process culminating in the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris at the end of 2015, the ambition of which is to secure a global agreement to tackle climate change.
There is now a rich body of evidence on the implications of mitigation at the global, regional and national levels.
The author of the paper, Professor Carl Wunsch of MIT, wrote a letter to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph in response to Christopher Booker’s article. As the letter has yet to be published in the Sunday Telegraph, with the permission of Professor Wunsch we have decided to post it here.
In the Sunday Telegraph of 27 July 2014, Christopher Booker pretends to understand a highly technical paper on ocean warming to such a degree that he can explain it to his lay-audience.
The House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee report on the Working Group 1 contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, which is published today, has found the IPCC process to be robust. The committee launched an inquiry into the IPCC WG1 report in October 2013, following criticism by some commentators of the IPCC review process and its conclusions.
The Grantham Institute submitted written evidence to the committee (you can read our evidence here) and our Chair Professor Sir Brian Hoskins was called before the committee to give oral evidence.
The committee found that “the IPCC has responded extremely well to constructive criticism in the last few years and has tightened its review processes to make its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) the most exhaustive and heavily scrutinised Assessment Report to-date.