ICYMI – eco news round up, 19 July 2019

‘Just a matter of when’: the $20bn plan to power Singapore with Australian solar

A group of Australian developers are hoping to build the world’s largest solar farm, known as Sun Cable, in the desert outside Tennant Creek. The panels will be spread across 15,000 hectares, backed by battery storage, and be ablt to transmit Singapore’s future electricity supply.

The idea has been embraced by the NT government and attracted the attention of the software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, who is considering involvement through his Grok Ventures private investment firm. Developments are still in the early stage of planning and the team says it will be four years before they lock in finance, with production scheduled to start mid-to-late next decade.

Ross Garnaut, former advisor to Labor governments who is now professor of economics at the University of Melbourne and chairman of the Australian-German Energy Transition Hub, makes the case that there is another way ahead, but it is a long way off. He believes that Australia, with the best renewable energy resource in the developed world, could expand its energy production and become the centre of low-cost energy in a future zero-carbon world. Garnaut believes exporting electricity through high-voltage cable and green hydrogen will be a part of this clean energy future, though they would mostly be expected to come later. However, Sun Cable’s chief executive, David Griffin, is bullish about the possibility of his company helping power Singapore from the outback in less than a decade.

Australia’s Orwellian anti-refugee system hints at what’s to come for climate refugees

Catastrophic weather currently forces some twenty four million people from their homes each year, and the number is only going to increase as more sudden floods, storms and other disasters of that kind send people seeking shelter. By 2050, the World Bank expects the displacement of 143 million people from sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

Crucially, the Refugee Convention offers no succour to those displaced by climate. It defines a refugee as “any person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country”. Therefore, climate refugees do not exist from the perspective of the current legal apparatus.

Australian refugee policy already provides a good example of the exclusion of desperate people seeking assistance. A 2016 report by UNICEF Australia and Save the Children put the total cost of boat turnbacks, offshore and onshore detention between 2013 and 2016 as a staggering $9.6 billion. This is the budget allocated to repel asylum seekers, even though Australia is obliged to protect displaced people from refoulment under the 1951 Refugee Convention. Thus, it’s easy to draw conclusions as to the likely treatment of those to whom Australia has no legal obligations at all.

Manmade Antarctic snowstorm ‘could save coastal cities from rising seas’

According to a new study, spraying trillions of tons of snow over west Antarctica could halt the ice sheet’s collapse and prevent sea level rise in coastal cities across the world.

The loss of ice from west Antarctica is driven by warmer ocean water melting the underside of the ice sheet at the coast. Pumping snow on to the sheet would replace the lost ice, making it thicker again. This would push the sheet back down on to the ground and stabilises it. However, the colossal geoengineering project would need energy from at least 12,000 wind turbines to power giant seawater pumps and snow cannons, covering an area the size of Scotland. It would also destroy a unique natural reserve.

“As scientists we feel it is our duty to inform society about every potential option to counter the problems ahead,” said Prof Anders Levermann, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany, who led the research. “As unbelievable as [the proposal] might seem, in order to prevent an unprecedented risk, humankind might have to make an unprecedented effort.” The scientists are not advocating for such a project right now, but said its apparent “absurdity” reflects the extraordinary scale of threat from rising sea level.

Lake discovered 11,000 ft high in the Alps, in ‘truly alarming’ sign of climate change

A mountaineer has captured the formation of an “alarming” lake high in the French Alps after glacial snow melted in the intense heatwave that gripped central Europe in late June. Bryan Mestre was shocked to discover the large pool of water at an altitude of 11,100ft (3,400m) in the Mount Blanc mountain range. He said it is now time to sound the alarm. “Only 10 days of extreme heat were enough to collapse, melt and form a lake at the base of the Dent du Géant and the Aiguilles Marbrées.”

He added “This is truly alarming … glaciers all over the world are melting at an exponential speed.”

The French rock climber labelled his discovery a real surprise. “I have been up there a fair amount of times, in June, July and even August, and I have never seen liquid water up there”.

According to the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), last month was the hottest June ever recorded on earth. Data released by the satellite agency showed Europe’s average temperatures were more than 2C above normal, and temperatures were between 6C and 10C above normal over most of France, Germany and northern Spain during the final days of the month.

IUCN red list reveals wildlife destruction from treetop to ocean floor

Humanity’s destruction of wildlife now threatens a third of all assessed species, from monkeys to rhinos, according to the latest red list, produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). 9,000 new species have been added to the most recent list, bringing the total to 105,732, and not a single species was recorded as having improved in status.

The red list highlights the plight of wedgefishes and giant guitarfishes, known as rhino rays because of their elongated snouts. Intensified and unregulated fishing is to blame, with the rays usually snared as bycatch. Humanity’s thirst for fresh water, particularly for farming, is also having a big impact on river and lake wildlife.

“Nature is declining at rates unprecedented in human history,” said Jane Smart, director of the IUCN biodiversity conservation group. She said decisive action was needed to halt the decline, with next year’s UN biodiversity convention summit in China seen as crucial.

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