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Sensemaker: Europe’s climate bill

Sensemaker: Europe’s climate bill

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss entered a six-week face-off to become the UK’s next prime minister after Penny Mordaunt was knocked out of the contest.
  • Russia restarted gas supplies through a critical pipeline to Europe but at a reduced capacity.
  • The world’s top chess player Magnus Carlsen will not defend his championship title in 2023 as he is “not motivated” to play.

Europe’s climate bill

Trains halted in the UK. Rice fields drying up in Italy. Nuclear plants in France cutting output because the river water that cools them is already so hot.

Some of the world’s wealthiest countries are discovering that, no matter what happens now to bring down emissions, extreme weather associated with climate change is already disrupting everyday life.

In numbers:

  • 30 per cent. Farmland watered by the Po River, hit by its worst drought in 70 years, usually accounts for three-tenths of Italy’s agricultural output by value.
  • 70cm. The water levels at Kaub, a bottleneck on the Rhine about 80km west of Frankfurt, has dropped below a metre, unusually low for the time of year. The shrinking river makes it hard for barges to navigate with a full load, hampering the supply of coal to German power stations. 
  • 0. Trains running from London King’s Cross station on Wednesday after a fire melted signalling equipment and damaged a level crossing on the East Coast main line.

Europe’s infrastructure is, in many cases, designed for less extreme conditions. Network Rail says that in the UK rails are pre-stressed to withstand heat of 27C, the average temperature that the steel reaches in Britain’s summers, while other countries choose different temperatures.

But this is more than an unseasonal blip. The persistent and damaging heat may fit a trend, according to a study published this month in Nature Communications.

Europe has seen a cluster of hot and dry summers since the deadly heatwave of 2003, and heatwaves on this continent are projected to become more frequent and intense than in comparable northern regions of the world, such as the US. The trend in Europe is linked to changes in the jet stream, the fast-moving air current that flows from west to east in the upper atmosphere.

“To put the last few days in context, what we have seen might be what we’ll call a normal summer in 2040,” says Florian Gallo, senior climate research lead at FTSE Russell. “And if that is a normal summer, it means the extreme summer will be way higher.”

Every country in Europe will be affected, but there will be regional variations. “For drought and heatwaves the southern part of Europe will be more affected,” Gallo says. “You can expect more flood-related impacts in Germany, Poland, the north of Europe. We can expect to see more wildfires in places where you don’t typically see them at the moment, like central and western France.”

Adapting will be a technological and financial challenge. In Italy a combination of meagre snowfall and a lack of rain has led to the drying out of the Po. Alpine snow acts as a natural store of water and compensating for its absence may require more artificial storage.

“Italy has a sophisticated agricultural system, as modern as any. It is one of the most productive landscapes in Europe, but it happens to be adapted to a climatology that is different to the one we are headed towards,” says Dr Giulio Boccaletti, a research associate at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, at Oxford University.

“Italy is a country built on the assumption that precipitation is reliable. Now you want to tool the country differently.” 

The transition will require significant investment from states that are, in many cases, already heavily indebted. At the end of last year Italy’s public debt was more than 150 per cent of gross domestic product.

“Most countries are not reckoning with the scale of investment required to reproduce the level of security we enjoyed in the 20th Century,” Dr Boccaletti says.


Ukraine’s debt freeze
Ukraine’s international creditors agreed to freeze its debt payments for two years as the country faces an estimated 35 per cent fall in GDP this year following the Russian invasion. The UK, the US, Germany, France, Canada and Japan said they would support Ukraine with a coordinated suspension of debt servicing to the end of 2023 and possibly for another year and they “strongly encourage” private bondholders to do the same. Ukraine says the cost of the war has left it with a budget deficit running at $5 billion a month. Moscow threatens to take more territory – Russia’s foreign minister said that the Kremlin’s military goals in Ukraine now stretch beyond the eastern Donbas region. 


TikTok surveillance
Australian-US cybersecurity firm Internet 2.0 said that the Chinese government has access to highly personal data that TikTok collects through the app, such as contact lists, calendar information, and geolocations. The story is the same in the United States – leaked recordings reviewed by BuzzFeed News contained statements from TikTok employees showing that engineers in China had access to US users’ data. These findings directly conflict with many of TikTok’s public statements about user data protection, including a TikTok executive’s sworn testimony in a 2021 senate hearing that a “world-renowned, US-based security team” decides who gets access to this data. TikTok has said in blog posts and public statements that it physically stores all data about its US users in the US, with backups in Singapore. But as Adam Segal, a cyber expert, told BuzzFeed News: “Physical location does not matter if the data can still be accessed from China.”

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Haemophilia B therapy
The majority of adults with haemophilia could be cured in the next three years thanks to a “transformational” therapy, say British doctors. People with haemophilia B, a rare bleeding disorder which means the body struggles to clot blood, took part in a trial where they were given an engineered virus that instructed the body how to make a crucial factor IX clotting protein. The results, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed nine out of ten patients given the one-off infusion no longer needed regular injections of the protein to prevent a deadly bleed. There are still questions around cost and how early in life the treatment can be given. Pratima Chowdary, from the Royal Free Hospital and University College London, told the BBC there was a “transformational impact” as patients realised they didn’t need to worry about their haemophilia any more. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Australia’s environment catastrophe
Australia’s five-yearly environmental report card makes for grim reading. The country has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent; nineteen ecosystems are on the brink of collapse and there are more non-native plant species in Australia than native ones. Since the last report came out in 2016, there has been an 8 per cent increase in the number of species threatened with extinction. The report – held back by the Morrison government until after the election – blamed climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and mining for the bleak outlook, while the “black summer” bushfires of 2019-2020 were described as an “ecological bomb” by Australia’s environment minister Tanya Plibersek. The new Labor government announced new national parks and protected marine areas and will develop new environmental legislation for 2023. Must do better. 


It’s all just football
The last time England hosted a European Championship, Wembley was violently invaded by ticketless fans and the men’s team lost the final on penalties. The women’s version is cleansing that memory, the England team is through to a semi-final in Sheffield and a euphoric festival feel is attending their matches. England’s comeback 2-1 quarter-final win against Spain in Brighton was deliriously received by nearly 29,000 spectators who sang Football’s Coming Home and Sweet Caroline. The passion inside the stadium encouraged the hope that the men’s and women’s games would attain parity, at least in the public’s affections. Young callers to a Radio 5 Live phone-in talked of it being “all just football” and “all England,” irrespective of gender. The final is on Sunday 31 July. The England Women’s profile is rising fast. And if they do reach Wembley, there will be no marauding hordes smashing their way in. Paul Hayward

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Email: sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Jeevan Vasagar

Additional reporting by Paul Hayward, Sebastian Hervas-Jones, Nina Kuryata and Jessica Winch

Photographs Getty Images

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