Sunday, 20 March 2016

The miraculous "surge in renewable energy" stalls greenhouse gas emissions (allegedly)

We can relax now (sic) - renewables are taking over the world and our consumption of coal is declining. Human civilisation is safe - the Guardian and other number of publications spewing out propaganda would have us believe.

The article, Consumption Heads for Biggest Decline in History is reproduced many times repeating the same line.

But other stories suggesting that China is cooking the books to make things look good (imagine that!) or that coal consumption is actually on the increase in different parts of the world, gets less attention.

Meanwhile CO2 levels were mneasured at nearly 405 ppm and warming globally has gone exponential.

Are we to see the Guardian article as an honest mistake, propaganda - or simply so much bullshit?

Surge in renewable energy stalls world greenhouse gas emissions

Falling coal use in China and the US and a shift towards renewable energy globally saw energy emissions level for the second year running, says IEA
Falling coal use in China and the US and a worldwide shift towards renewable energy have kept greenhouse gas emissions level for a second year running, one of the world’s leading energy analysts has said.

Preliminary data for 2015 from the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that carbon dioxide emissions from the energy sector have levelled off at 32.1bn tonnes even as the global economy grew over 3% .

Electricity generated by renewable sources played a critical role, having accounted for around 90% of new electricity generation in 2015. Wind power produced more than half of all new electricity generation, said the IEA.

  • Global coal use fell up to 4.6% this year through September
  • Coal consumption is poised for its biggest decline in history, driven by China’s battle against pollution, economic reforms and its efforts to promote renewable energy.

Global use of the most polluting fuel fell 2.3 percent to 4.6 percent in the first nine months of 2015 from the same period last year, according to a report released Monday by the environmental group Greenpeace. That’s a decline of as much as 180 million tons of standard coal, 40 million tons more than Japan used in the same period.

The report confirms that worldwide efforts to fight global warming are having a significant impact on the coal industry, the biggest source of carbon emissions. It comes a day before the International Energy Agency is scheduled to release its annual forecast detailing the ways the planet generates and uses electricity.

These trends show that the so-called global coal boom in the first decade of the 21st century was a mirage,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, Greenpeace’s coal and energy campaigner.

China Burns Much More Coal Than Reported, Complicating Climate Talks

2 November, 2015

BEIJING — China, the world’s leading emitter of greenhouse gases from coal, has been burning up to 17 percent more coal a year than the government previously disclosed, according to newly released data. The finding could complicate the already difficult efforts to limit global warming.

Even for a country of China’s size, the scale of the correction is immense. The sharp upward revision in official figures means that China has released much more carbon dioxide — almost a billion more tons a year according to initial calculations — than previously estimated.

The increase alone is greater than the whole German economy emits annually from fossil fuels.

Officials from around the world will have to come to grips with the new figures when they gather in Paris this month to negotiate an international framework for curtailing greenhouse-gas pollution. The data also pose a challenge for scientists who are trying to reduce China’s smog, which often bathes whole regions in acrid, unhealthy haze.

The Chinese government has promised to halt the growth of its emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse pollutant from coal and other fossil fuels, by 2030. The new data suggest that the task of meeting that deadline by reducing China’s dependence on coal will be more daunting and urgent than expected, said Yang Fuqiang, a former energy official in China who now advises the Natural Resources Defense Council.

This will have a big impact, because China has been burning so much more coal than we believed,” Mr. Yang said. “It turns out that it was an even bigger emitter than we imagined. This helps to explain why China’s air quality is so poor, and that will make it easier to get national leaders to take this seriously.”

The new data, which appeared recently in an energy statistics yearbook published without fanfare by China’s statistical agency, show that coal consumption has been underestimated since 2000, and particularly in recent years. The revisions were based on a census of the economy in 2013 that exposed gaps in data collection, especially from small companies and factories.

Illustrating the scale of the revision, the new figures add about 600 million tons to China’s coal consumption in 2012 — an amount equivalent to more than 70 percent of the total coal used annually by the United States.

It’s been a confusing situation for a long time,” said Ayaka Jones, a China analyst at the United States Energy Information Administration in Washington. She said the new data vindicated her earlier analysis of China’s preliminary statistics, which flagged significantly increased numbers for coal use and overall energy consumption.

The new data indicated that much of the change came from heavy industry — including plants that produce coal chemicals and cement, as well as those using coking coal, which goes to make steel, Ms. Jones said. The correction for coal use in electric power generation was much smaller.

Officials accepted the need to correct worsening distortions in the old data but have not commented publicly on the changes, according to Lin Boqiang, director of the China Center for Energy Economics Research at Xiamen University in eastern China. Mr. Lin said in a telephone interview that this was partly because the new figures made it more complicated to set and assess the country’s clean-energy goals.

It’s created a lot of bewilderment,” he said. “Our basic data will have to be adjusted, and the international agencies will also have to adjust their databases. This is troublesome because many forecasts and commitments were based on the previous data.”

When President Xi Jinping proposed that China’s emissions stop growing by 2030, he did not say what level they would reach by then. The new numbers may mean that the peak will be higher, but they also raise hopes that emissions will crest many years sooner, Mr. Yang, the climate adviser, said.

I think this implies that we’re closer to a peak, because there’s also been a falloff in coal consumption in the past couple of years,” he said.

Chinese energy and statistics agency officials did not respond to faxed requests for comment on the data revisions.

The press office of the International Energy Agency said by email that the organization would revise its own data to reflect China’s revisions, starting with numbers for 2011 to 2013 that will be released Wednesday. The agency estimated, based on the new figures, that China’s carbon dioxide pollution in 2011 and 2012 was 4 percent to 6 percent greater than previously thought.

But some scientists said the difference could be much larger.

Jan Ivar Korsbakken, a senior researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, said that based on his preliminary analysis, the new data implied that China had released about 900 million metric tons more carbon dioxide from 2011 to 2013.

That would be an 11 percent increase in emissions, he said. For comparison, the International Energy Agency estimated before the revision that China had emitted 8.25 billion tons of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels in 2012. Dr. Korsbakken, a physicist, emphasized that deeper analysis of the new data was needed before firm conclusions could be drawn.

When estimating emissions, scientists prefer to account for coal use by the amount of energy in it rather than by its raw mass, which includes impurities that end up as ash. Measured in energy terms, Dr. Korsbakken said, China consumed 10 percent to 15 percent more coal than the old data had showed from 2005 to 2013, the last year for which the new and old figures can be compared. The revisions for 2001 through 2004 were smaller.

Economists have grown increasingly skeptical about the economic data China publishes, and the revisions open a new episode in the debate over its energy use and greenhouse-gas emissions.

Today’s Headlines: Asia Edition
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China burned or otherwise consumed 4.2 billion metric tons in 2013, according to the new data, and its emissions now far exceed those of any other country, including the United States, the second-largest emitter.

This is not the first time China has underestimated its coal consumption. In the late 1990s, small coal mines were ordered to close, but many of them simply stopped reporting their output to the government. For a time, this created an erroneous impression that China had succeeded in generating economic growth without increasing emissions.

More recently, some scientists concluded that China’s emissions were lower than widely believed because the coal it was using burned less efficiently than researchers had generally assumed. But Mr. Yang said that conclusion had been disputed.

The revised numbers do not alter scientists’ estimates of the total amount of carbon dioxide in the air. That is measured directly, not inferred from fuel consumption statistics the way countries’ emissions are usually estimated.

So if China’s emissions have been much greater than believed, researchers will want to understand where the extra carbon dioxide output ended up — for example, how it might have been absorbed in natural “sinks” like forests or oceans, said Josep G. Canadell, executive director of the Global Carbon Project, which studies the sources and flows of greenhouse-gas pollution.

If the emissions are partially wrong,” Mr. Canadell said, “we’ll be wrong in attributing carbon sources and sinks.”

Correction: November 6, 2015
Because of an editing error, an article on Wednesday about the release of new data showing that China burns up to 17 percent more coal per year than the government had previously disclosed misidentified, in some editions, the measurement that the figure of 4.2 billion metric tons applies to. It represents the amount of coal consumed in China in 2013, not the amount of carbon dioxide emitted.

Reuters: Chinese coal data cast doubt on historic stalling of world CO2

India's coal inferno
India's planned power expansion depends overwhelmingly on coal, with over a hundred huge new generation units planned by 2030. Sarah Stirk reports on the nightmare the dash for coal is bringing to once peaceful rural communities.

Sarah Stirk

27 January, 2014

Champa's eyes are surrounded by dark circles and her face is thin and drawn. It began with a fever, pain in her limbs, and she was then diagnosed with tuberculosis.

"I was diagnosed with TB two years ago now. I have been on medication but I am not getting any better. I have difficulty breathing and even talking is hard. It has been like this for five or six years - ever since the plant started, our problems have started too."

Champa is not alone. She is one of millions of people in India whose health and lives are being blighted by the country's surge in coal-based power generation.

170 gigawatts of new coal generation planned by 2022

India ranks third in the world in the production of carbon dioxide and is burning more coal than ever before, with 66% of power generated by coal-fired thermal power plants.

Future plans are for massive expansion, with India's 12th five-year plan ending 2017 adding 76GW of coal-fired power capacity. The 13th five-year plan, ending in 2022, aims to add another 93GW.

This is a colossal programme - equivalent to more than three times the UK's entire peak power demand. It represents a response to an increasing population, a growing middle class hungry for modernity - and an energy policy that holds coal power as integral to the development of the country's economy.

100,000 premature deaths a year

But as India pursues its aggressive path of coal-powered industrialisation, its leaders are showing themselves willing to sacrifice millions of people and huge swathes of the country to a dark and uncertain future.

According to the The Lancet's Global Burden of Diseases Study outdoor air pollution - arising from power stations, other industry, transport, and domestic fuel burning for heat and cooking - is already among the top ten causes of death in India.

And while air quality and other environmental regulations do exist in India, they are rarely enforced. Sarath Guttikunda, chemical engineer and director at Urban Emissions New Delhi, believes them to be far weaker than in other countries:

"In India we do have ambient air quality standards ... But what we have found is that these regulations lag behind the numbers that we have seen in Europe, United States and even in China, and there is a lot of room for improvement."

In the first ever report focussing on the health impacts of the coal industry in India, scientists estimate that in 2011-2012, air pollution from coal-fired power plants alone was responsible for 80,000-115,000 premature deaths.

Diseases caused by the pollution include 20.9 million asthma attacks, bronchitis and other severe respiratory conditions, and cardiovascular disease. These health impacts are estimated to cost India $3.3 billion to $4.6 billion per year in medical expenses and lost work days.

India's 'energy capital' - Singrauli

Singrauli, known as the "energy capital" of the country, is the industrial hub of north-central India. Straddling Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, it produces 10% of the country's coal-fired power.

Singrauli was once covered in forest and rich agricultural land, but the region's coal lies underneath these forests, and they are being cleared at an alarming rate. Endangered species are pushed further towards extinction - and tribal communities are swept aside to make way for the energy juggernaut.

Priya Pillai, Senior Campaigner for Greenpeace India has worked in the area for over three years. "There are nine thermal power plants and eleven operational mines, and this is concentrated in one district. That's the Singrauli region, and it's because of this that you'll find the large number of cases of asthma, of tuberculosis, of skin diseases, of cancer."

Toxic dustbowls

The landscape is one of industrial devastation and critical levels of pollution, recently rated the third most polluted industrial cluster in the country by the comprehensive environmental pollution index. Air, water and soil have all been affected.

The open cast mines that scar the landscape resemble vast craters, streaked black with coal and trimmed green at the edges with what is left of the rapidly dwindling forest. Huge dump trucks and cranes appear miniature in the distance, barely visible through the poisonous haze.

Milky white stagnant ash ponds hold the by-product of the industry, fly ash. Black spiky stalks of dead foliage poke out of the sludge, testament to its toxicity.

Experts warn of acute health problems related to coal and the ash that it produces, conaining toxic heavy metals including mercury, arsenic, lead, nickel, barium and even radioactive substances such as uranium or thorium.

Man-made mountains of mining wastes, excavated and dumped, gradually bury entire villages. Coal-filled train bunkers and conveyor belts, some as long as 25km, snake from the mines to thermal power plants.

The towering stacks dominate the skyline, looming over settlements and pumping out smoke which can spread its pollution as far as 400 km away, choking communities below. The air is permanently clouded, limiting visibility. The smell and taste of coal dominate the senses.

Towering infernos

Chilika Dand, in the Sonebhadra district of Singrauli, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the most critically affected communities. The village of around 12,000 people is surrounded by multiple power plant stacks emitting putrid smoke, and overlooked by a fully operational open-cast mine just 50 meters away.

There is a constant industrial hum of engines revving and the scrape of metal on stone. Twice daily explosive blasts, and the subsequent patter and thud of debris, are more reminiscent of the sounds of war than of development. Few of the concrete rehabilitation blocks escape cracked walls due to tremors from the blasts.

A railway line and road are both dedicated to carrying coal. Villagers claim that at night, filters are removed from the stacks, and ash falls and settles on rooftops like toxic snow. Many of them have been moved, often forcibly, numerous times to make way for the industry that has destroyed their lives.

Manonit G Ravi, an activist and resident of Chilika Dand shouts over the noise of engines to make himself heard: "The entire village vibrates with the blasts. Sometimes they are so big and loud, people run out of their houses thinking there might be an earthquake."

Sanitation is desperate, as the allocated plots leave little room for toilets. In summer, asphyxiating dust fills the air, and in winter and rainy seasons, there is a constant septic sludge underfoot. The smell, a mix of human and animal excrement, combined with acrid industrial pollution makes the air gritty, stinging eyes and making breathing a struggle.

Disease is rife

Residents of Chilika Dand say that illness and disease is rife in the community, with cancer, kidney failure, diabetes, vitiligo (the blanching of skin through pigment loss), hair loss and psychosis widespread.

These disease are all linked to contaminated water, coal ash, particles in the air, and the abnormally high levels of mercury present in the environment. Coal fired power stations are one of the main ways that mercury is released into the environment.

The World Health Organization states that even minimal exposure to mercury may cause health problems, including neurological damage to unborn fetuses and children. The heavy metal is considered "one of the top ten chemicals or groups of chemicals of major public health concern."

Siraj Un Nissa, a resident of Chilika Dand and mother of eight has Vitiligo. Her hands, arms and mouth are blanched, and her whole body is patchy where pigment has been lost.

"I have been sick for the past eight years ... The dust is making it hard for us to live here. No electricity. We get it for one hour and it's gone. We don't have a proper house to live in, just a makeshift shelter. We don't have anything. No one cares about the poor."

Buried under mine waste

Jharia, in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, has almost disappeared. The remote village is being buried under waste from a nearby mine opened by Reliance in 2006.

A thin sliver of green and around 30% of the population is all that remains of this forest-dwelling community of Harijan people, squashed against a sheer, slowly encroaching, man-made cliff of debris.

Children sit quietly on top of huge boulders, the result of an avalanche, and push bikes loaded up with coal, which they have collected and bagged up for sale, one of the few ways they manage to survive.

Visibility is very limited through the dust-filled air, and the sound of a man chopping wood is intermittently drowned out as dump trucks rumble past, kicking up dust and adding to the mountainous pile of rock, where the village used to be.

It never used to be like this

Bandhu Saket, resident of Jharia explains how their health has been affected by the mine: "My youngest grandson gets so unwell, his teeth start chattering and his eyes enlarge, it feels like he will not get better ...

"It never used to be like this. Ever since the companies have come, since the vehicles have been driving back and forth, since the blasting has started, illness and disease have been spreading.

"They dump things in all directions and when it is summertime, with all the dust, one cannot see anything so how can you expect anything else but to get sick!"

Bandhu explains that they used to have a well that provided drinking water to the village, but the company filled it in, and they are now forced to drink what they can. "Whatever we find in the drains or rainwater collected, that is what we drink."

Manbasia, also from Jharia, is a mother of three. Supporting herself against a huge rock from the mine, she struggles to control the emotion in her voice, and speaks shakily of illness and disease in what is left of her community.

"I can't see very well, my chest hurts, my feet don't allow me to sit down or stand up ... We have no one here to help or support us. If someone is dying, there is no one to look after them or save them. Who are we meant to turn to?"

Huge increases in mortality

Dr R. B. Singh has worked in the area for over 20 years, treating the local population in their homes, both in the small private practice that adjoins his home, and the Singrauli District Hospital next door.

A constant stream of patients waits outside his practice, all needing attention and treatment.

There has been a huge increase in death, sickness and disease "since the time the new industries have come here and the coal mine belt has progressed", he insists.

"The patients we see in our new Out Patients Department present themselves with skin diseases and lung diseases, bronchitis, asthma and silicosis", he explains. "And because of the contaminated drinking water, amebiasis and other abdominal ailments have increased."

"I have come across bone cancer, mouth cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer", he adds. "All these are common here." The bone cancers mostly occur in children, mouth cancers in adults."

It's a hospital - but where's the medical equipment?

The District Hospital next door is in desperate need of facilities. A dilapidated shell with dark corridors, the maternity ward is splattered with blood and rainwater drips through cracks in the ceiling. A solitary brand new unit for premature babies looks oddly out of place.

There is no other medical equipment to be seen and a general sense of confusion and bewilderment prevails. Lights flicker on and off as the electricity supply fades in and out.

Wards are crowded but quiet, with beds full, people lying on the floor and an unmistakable shortage of staff. "We have a problem with a lack of doctors as most of them qualify and go abroad. They do not want to work in these small places", says Dr Singh.

Hearts and lungs

Sarath Guttikunda, Director at Urban Emissions, New Delhi is a chemical engineer and air pollution expert. "When you are focusing on outdoor air pollution two things are really important - one is your lungs, and other is your heart."

"Among the respiratory problems, the main one is asthma. People who are already suffering from asthma are obviously going to get affected even more, and children and older generation people - they are the ones that we see are getting affected the most."

Ranjeet Singh, a primary school teacher in the area, says that sickness is rife in his pupils, with coughing and sneezing a constant sound in the classroom. Absenteeism is common due to ill health, and parents are deeply worried about their children.

"When I go to teach, there are 216 children. Out of those, if only 100 or 150 of them turn up, it makes us wonder why the children haven't turned up.

"When we enquire, the child's guardian tells us that their child has been unwell or that because we had to go to the hospital, they didn't make it to school, or that for the past 15 days she's been sick and lying in bed ... These kind of problems come up a lot."

A People betrayed

All over Singrauli, locals speak of sickness, their land and livelihoods being taken away, and promises of re-housing, education, employment and healthcare from the industry that haven't materialized.

Rangeet Gupta is a local activist and youth worker living and working in the area. He says that after "persistent reminding", the industry has not delivered the services that it promised.

The resultis that proper healthcare, among other things, is only available to people who can afford it, or those who work for the industry.

"In this area of ours, there isn't even a decent hospital ... for the displaced community. They have nothing at all, no schools, no doctors, no hospital, no roads, not even an arrangement for hygiene and sanitation. They have just been abandoned."

Champa, like so many others, has experienced this first-hand, buying her own medicine when she has the money to do so, and going without treatment when she can't afford it.

"We receive no help from the people at the plant at all. Since the health problems started because of the plant, we have not been given so much as a single tablet by them or the government."

The future looks even worse

As the health epidemic gets more critical, scientists, medical professionals and campaigners all predict that if India pushes forward with the planned expansion, and regulations remain unenforced, the consequences to human life will be even more devastating.

According to Sarath Guttikunda, pollution from the power plants operating in the area has caused close to 100,000 premature deaths. "And if we are going to triple the number of power plants and don't do anything about the regulations, we will at least triple this number."

Doctor Singh warns that the atmosphere in Singrauli will be polluted "to such a degree that it will not be viable to live here anymore." Champa, Manbasia and their families, along with hundreds of thousands of other people, face a future of poverty, sickness and death with no means of escape.

"Now, with the dust and smoke bellowing, there are people getting sick", says Manbasia. "And if you don't have the money, like us, what do we do? Kill ourselves?"

Wow! Between coal and tar sands we can really cook the planet!

Coal Is Regaining A Big Lead As America’s Top Source Of Electricity

25 May, 2013

Back in 2011 and 2012, natural gas was rapidly rising as a source of electricity in the U.S., displacing coal.  In April 2012, the two sources were tied, each supply 32% of the America’s energy.

But environmentalists will be disappointed to hear that coal is now back to providing 40% of the nation’s electricity output, more than all other power sources.

According to the EIA, the U.S. tapped 131,000 megawatt hours worth of coal in March, compared with just 84,000 for natgas. 

Here’s the chart:

coal retakes natgas

The reason: natural gas prices have now climbed back to well above $4, after falling to as low as $2 a year ago. EIA:

Heading into the 2013 spring shoulder season (between winter and summer), when demand for electricity typically falls, higher prices for natural gas reduced the fuel’s share of total generation below the record levels of last April.

The good news is that coal still comprises far fewer megawatt hours than it ever has — since 2009 annual coal generation has fallen well below its historical 2 million megawatt hour norm.

The Guardian published an article claiming that renewables are taking over,carbon emissions are down and implies we are (sic) winning the war against global warming.

"The first is that the globe will probably rocket well past peak CO2 levels of 405 parts per million by April and May of this year. This jump has been pushed along by a baseline massive human CO2 emission and assisted by a record ocean warming event (El Nino) in the Equatorial Pacific. Overall, this new yearly record will be more than 55 parts per million higher than peak ‘safe’ levels of 350 parts per million recommended by some of the world’s top climate scientists."

There is no good news in any of this

Record annual increase of carbon dioxide observed at Mauna Loa for 2015

9 March, 2016
Mauna Loa Observatory is a premier atmospheric research facility that has been continuously monitoring and collecting data related to atmospheric change since the 1950's.
9 March, 2016

The annual growth rate of atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii jumped by 3.05 parts per million during 2015, the largest year-to-year increase in 56 years of research.

In another first, 2015 was the fourth consecutive year that CO2 grew more than 2 ppm, said Pieter Tans, lead scientist of NOAA's Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

Carbon dioxide levels are increasing faster than they have in hundreds of thousands of years,” Tans said. “It’s explosive compared to natural processes.”

Levels of the greenhouse gas were independently measured by NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory and by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
In February 2016, the average global atmospheric CO2 level stood at 402.59 ppm. Prior to 1800, atmospheric CO2 averaged about 280 ppm.

The last time the Earth experienced such a sustained CO2 increase was between 17,000 and 11,000 years ago, when CO2 levels increased by 80 ppm. Today’s rate of increase is 200 times faster, said Tans.  

The big jump in CO2 is partially due to the current El Niño weather pattern, as forests, plantlife and other terrestrial systems responded to changes in weather, precipitation and drought. The largest previous increase occurred in 1998, also a strong El Niño year. Continued high emissions from fossil fuel consumption are driving the underlying growth rate over the past several years.

To track CO2 concentrations at Mauna Loa and global CO2 concentrations visit NOAA’s Greenhouse Gas Reference Network.

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