This week we explore how the recent flooding in central Europe might not be a one-off event, how the new space race by private companies can be bad for pollution, and how a ban on polluting lorries is on the cards for the UK.
Catastrophic Floods Cloud Hit Europe Far More Often, Study Finds:
The level of flooding that struck continental Europe recently could become much more frequent as a result of global heating, researchers say. High-resolution computer models suggest that slow-moving storms could become 14 times more common over land by the end of the century in a worst-case scenario. The slower a storm moves, the more rain it dumps on a small area and the greater the risk of serious flooding.
Researchers already knew that the higher air temperatures caused by the climate crisis mean the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which in turn has led to more extreme downpours. The latest analysis, however, is the first to assess the role of slow-moving storms in causing extreme downpours in Europe. The study showed the biggest increase in slow-moving storms over land was in the summer.
Germany has seen the worst of the recent floods with at least 170 people dead and €200 million in crisis funding to the western region that was hit. German authorities faced pressure to set aside long standing privacy concerns and send mobile phone alerts directly to people in potential disaster zones. Unlike many other countries, Germany has no way of sending text messages en masse to citizens about extreme weather events. Some ministers and senior officials have already called for a change as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government fends off accusations that its preparedness systems were woefully lacking, despite severe weather warnings from meteorologists.
Commercial Space Race Heats Up, But So Does Pollution
In the past week, both Richard Branson from Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos of Amazon’s BLue Origin flew their own rockets to the edge of space. Both wealthy businessmen hope to vastly expand the number of people in space. “We’re here to make space accessible to all,” said Branson, shortly after his flight. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age.” Already people are buying tickets to space. Companies like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Space Adventures want to make space tourism more common.
But this launch of a new private space industry that is cultivating tourism and popular use could come with vast environmental costs, says Eloise Marais, an associate professor of physical geography at University College London. Marais studies the impact of fuels and industries on the atmosphere.
When rockets launch into space, they require a huge amount of propellants to make it out of the Earth’s atmosphere. For SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, it is kerosene, and for Nasa it is liquid hydrogen in their new Space Launch System. Those fuels emit a variety of substances into the atmosphere, including carbon dioxide, water, chlorine and other chemicals. The carbon emissions from rockets are small compared with the aircraft industry, she says. But they are increasing at nearly 5.6% a year, and Marais has been running a simulation for a decade, to figure out at what point will they compete with traditional sources we are familiar with.
Ban on Pollution Lorries Pledged In UK Transport GreenPrint
New diesel and petrol lorries will be banned in Britain by 2040, under a “greenprint” to decarbonise all types of transport by 2050. The British government’s long-awaited transport decarbonisation plan, finally published on 14 July, will include what is being billed as a “world-leading pledge” to end the sale of all new polluting vehicles and move towards net zero domestic aviation emissions by 2040. It will also include commitments to electrify the entire fleet of government cars and vans by 2027, and plans to create a net zero-emissions rail network by 2050.
However, the plan is at odds with hauliers who said plans were unrealistic and could add huge costs to the struggling industry. Rod McKenzie, of the Road Haulage Association, said he supported the goal, but added: “These alternative HGVs don’t yet exist, we don’t know when they will and it’s not clear what any transition will look like. So this is a blue skies aspiration ahead of real life reality. For many haulage companies there are fears around cost of new vehicles and a collapse in resale value of existing lorries.”
The transport sector is the largest emitting sector of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, producing 27% of the UK’s total emissions in 2019 (455 MtCO2e). However, the industry has been targeted to reduce emissions as it is much easier to scale than manufacturing businesses. The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, said it was a “credible pathway” for the transport sector to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and to support highly skilled jobs and cleaner air.
Tune in next week for another round of sustainability news from around the world.