Retailers face higher costs without HFC phase-out, says Environmental Investigation Agency

European retailers face severe financial repercussions if they do not transition to hydrofluorocarbon (HFC)-free cooling technology, the Environmental Investigation Agency warned today.

The EU F-Gas Regulation, brought into law in 2015, legislates for the rapid, stepped phasing out of the use HFCs, which are potent greenhouse gases.

From 2018 HFC supplies will be slashed by 48 per cent. This will make HFC technology far less attractive from a cost point of view and suppliers will be forced to increases prices sharply.

Prices already increased 62 per cent in the first quarter of 2017. The EIA is urging supermarkets and other retailers to speed up the transition.

Clare Perry, head of the EIA’s Climate Campaign, also warned that HFC shortages could drive illegal trade in HFCs in the EU. This black market trade is also a concern in the US.

In their latest Chilling Facts report, the EIA outlined the current retailers that are leading the transition, with Aldi Süd and Tesco topping the list.

Ms Perry said that while European retailers stand out as global leaders in the adoption of HFC-free commercial refrigeration “the uptake across Europe is much short of the pace needed”.

The report highlights that all new Aldi stores in Ireland will use HFC-free refrigeration. Tesco currently has 11 stores in Ireland that use CO2 instead of HFC as a coolant, the report states.

However, Musgraves – a leading grocery and wholesale supplier in Ireland – is lagging far behind and according to the EIA report relies heavily on HFC technology.

HFC use has soared since first introduced as a replacement for banned chlorofluorcarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs).

These chlorinated organic compounds were largely responsible for the global atmospheric ozone depletion and were banned as part of the Montreal Protocol in 1987.

Montreal was a landmark agreement and put the ozone layer on a path to complete recovery by the middle of this century. This recovery will prevent harmful cancer-causing UV radiation from reaching the Earth’s surface.

While HFCs are far less damaging to ozone and have a much lower global warming potential (GWP) than CFCs, they still have a GWP thousands of times greater than CO2. In recognition of the dangers of HFCs, a global agreement was reached last year to amend the Montreal Protocol to include the phasing out of HFCs.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on June 15th, 2017.

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Trump’s climate decision dangerous for the US and the world

President Trump tweeted late on Wednesday evening that be will be announcing his decision on whether or not the US will withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement today at 8PM Irish time.

Unfortunately, and as expected, he announced his decision to withdraw the US from the Agreement which aims to limit global average temperature to within 2°C above pre-industrial levels and combat the unavoidable impacts on people and the Earth.

Under Obama, the US had committed to reducing carbon emissions by 26-28 per cent by 2025.  Now, the US will join only 2 other countries – Nicaragua and Syria – as non-participants in the global deal.

So from a procedural point of view how will the US’s withdrawal proceed? And more importantly, what are the most likely consequences for the US and the world?

Two withdrawal options

Article 28 of the Agreement allows countries to withdraw from the third year after the Agreement entered into force, which would be November 2019 for the US. The withdrawal would also not take effect for another year. So the earliest the US withdrawal would be effective is November 2020.

The other scenario is that the US withdraws from the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which necessarily means withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. This could be effective in one year.

Consequences of US withdrawal

One of the worse possible consequences of the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement is that it could discourage other nations from taking further steps to limit their own emissions, thereby hindering efforts to reduce global emissions. The US withdrawal could also cause diplomatic strain and damage relationships with other countries.

Todd Stern, former US special envoy on climate change under Obama, puts it bluntly in a recent article in the Atlantic stating that “the President’s exit from Paris would be read as a kind of ‘drop dead’ to the rest of the world”.

Withdrawal could also result in the US being left behind in the low-carbon energy transformation. This transition is already underway and China and Europe would likely take primary roles.

China currently accounts for almost 50% of the world’s new solar energy capacity and the US risks falling behind and losing valuable US jobs in the wind and solar energy sectors. The economic importance of committing to the Paris Agreement is recognised by many US industries and companies.

Sixty-nine of 500 US Fortune 500 companies, including Walmart, ExxonMobil, and Chevron, have stated their support for the Paris Agreement. Over 1000 US companies have signed the Business Backs Low-Carbon USA statement urging the US to stay in the Agreement.  Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has said he will withdraw for White House advisory councils if President Trumps withdraws.

In an interview in Business Insider UK John Sterman, professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and senior advisor at Climate Interactive said that it is “not far-fetched to imagine a scenario where China…implements a carbon tax on all goods exported from the US”.

Further down the road, the US government could also leave itself open to expensive lawsuits taken by victims of climate change, on the basis that the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement causes damage and requires compensation.

Carry on Regardless

Many US States and the some of the largest US cities will continue to tackle climate change and transform their energy portfolio regardless of what President Trump decides.

In December 2016, I attended the American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco – the largest meeting on Earth and space sciences in the world. The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, gave a keynote speech and in it he responded to Trumps threat to stop satellite collection of climate data by saying “California will launch its own damn satellites”.

Many US states have invested heavily in clean energy technologies and are proceeding with their energy transformation. Wind and solar energy made up two-thirds of new electric energy capacity in the US last year.

Twelve US cities, representing 25 per cent of the US population, are part of the global C40 Climate Leadership Group.

Will the pressure change Trump’s mind?

With pressure piling from global leaders, environmental charities, scientists, Big Business, Democrats, Republicans and even family members, will Trump rethink his decision to enact one of his pre-election promises?

Ultimately, whether the US are in or out of the Paris Agreement, the new US administration will likely continue making damaging changes to US science, environmental and natural heritage policy.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on June 1st 2017.

Scientists warn increasing ocean temperatures could destroy world’s coral reefs within decades

New research published in the journal PeerJ, reports that strict conservation and protection measures has failed to halt the destruction of coral reefs in the Hawaiin Islands, with 90% of Hawaiian coral reefs suffering bleaching in 2014 and 2015.

Widespread bleaching of coral reefs, whereby corals expel crucial algae living symbiotically within their tissues, is a stress response to increasing ocean temperatures resulting from global climate change.

Coral reefs are the most diverse marine ecosystems on Earth and provide ecosystem services for millions of people.

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is also reported to be in “terminal condition” as back-to-back coral bleaching along its 2250-kilometre length in 2016 and 2017 has impacted 70% of the Reef.

Many corals need years to recover and increasing ocean temperatures and back-to-back bleaching events could spell the end for coral reefs within decades. The International Society for Reef Studies predicts that 90% of coral reefs will be at risk of destruction by 2050.

In a recent interview with the Guardian Dr Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, said: “the idea that we will sustain reefs in the US 100 years from now is pure imagination. At the current rate, it will be 20 or 30 years, it’s just a question of time”.

This view is mirrored in an article published today in the journal Nature in which Professor Terry Hughes, of the James Cook University in Australia, states that “returning reefs to past configurations is no longer an option”.

The article highlights the need for maintaining and preserving what we have through “radical changes in the science, management and governance of coral reefs”.

A version of this article appeared in the Green News on 2nd June 2017.

How biogeochemical cycles regulate global climate – Prof Richard Pancost

Professor Richard Pancosts inaugural lecture as Director of the Cabot Institute in Bristol. An excellent insight into how biogeochemical cycles effect and regulate global climate, both present and in the past. He provides an excellent description of how we can use information, particularly through analysing organic biomarkers, garnered from the past geological record (millions of years) to extend our knowledge of climate conditions and change over Earth’s history. This helps us to verify and improve climate models for predicting the effects of future climate change. It also enhances our understanding of how we as humans are changing our environment and how we can mitigate these deleterious changes for our sustainable development.