China Causing Tensions

This month considers China’s continued expansion plans, being pursued at the expense of any other country: its continual push for power and control of a greater region is manifesting in several different ways. This post highlights the need for other countries to work together to stand up to a country that is continuing to force an agenda and control people regardless of their rights or international laws.

China’s Expansion: At Any Cost?

China has pursued much expansive activity recently whilst other countries are inwardly looking in order to manage the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been an opportunity whilst other countries that have focused internally that have manifested in various ways in numerous geographical locations.

There is an on-going trade war with the USA, with President Trump refusing to engage with China’s President Xi. In the more immediate area around China Hong Kong territory has seen the imposition of Chinese rules on the former UK colony, there has been much activity to take control of the South China sea and disruption on the China-Indian border among others.

Indian Border Skirmish

In June 2020 Chinese troops attacked and killed Indian troops in the remote area of the Galwan Valley in Ladakh, North India. The event caused a rise in tensions between the two most populous countries in the world. The fighting was triggered by a row over two Chinese tents and observation towers that India said had been built on its side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

Residents of India highlight the continued Chinese incursions into Galwan and other disputed areas, such Panong Tso, over the LAC. In Panong Tso, a freshwater lake on the border, there was a similar but non-deadly clash between Indian and Chinese forces in early May 2020. There has been substantial Chinese military structures built here, including a radar tower. They have been built close to a ridge known as Finger Four in June and July 2020, despite agreements to disengage.

Around Panong Tso, known as the eight fingers, are eight ridges. India used to control the whole area. Chinese troops gradually moved in, and in June 2020, they now control four of the eight fingers. China is said to be building a helipad and other infrastructure around Finger Four, as well as bringing more troops into the territory. Further details in this report.

Since the dispute in mid June 2020, when disengagement was discussed between the leaders of India and China, there has been continued building activity on the Chinese side of the border. This Reuters report shows satellite imagery indicating much activity by the Chinese soon after the incident. Road construction on the Chinese side of the border has increased whilst the Indian forward post has retreated. The images show a new Chinese camp suggesting that disengagement is far from the truth.

South China Territorial Claims: At Other’s Expense

China is trying to erode the internationally agreed marine limits. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam challenge China’s claim to about 90% of the South China Sea.

Vietnam is chairing the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Hanoi. Both Vietnam and the Philippines highlight growing regional insecurity as China was advancing its territorial claims under the cover of the Covid-19 pandemic. China increasingly has military drills in the regions and has built fortified islands around the Sea, often outside of its accepted water limits.

China has claims to the Sea based upon a vague, U-shaped “nine-dash line” including much of Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). It also claims the Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands and overlaps the EEZs of Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

In 2016, a tribunal at The Hague, brought by the Philippines, ruled that China has no historic title over the waters. Its line was superseded by the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. In 2019 there was a standoff between Chinese and Vietnamese vessels that were embroiled in a months-long standoff in Vietnam’s EEZ. A Chinese research vessel was conducting a seismic survey of waters overlapping Vietnamese oil blocks. Similar activity occurred in Malaysian waters close to where a drill ship contracted by the Malaysian state oil firm, Petronas, had been working. Indonesia has started to take a harder stance against China: Chinese vessels had entered Indonesia’s EEZ around the northern Natuna islands.

Australia has also become another country to reject the Chinese claims to the South China Sea according to this report. Australia made a declaration to the United Nations to reject the claims. Further details were from this report.

Japan’s Tensions

In Japan, there has been accusations that China is pushing its territorial claims under the cover of Covid-19 whilst “assisting” other nations. China is continuing to try and change the status quo of the East China Sea region. There are continued “relentless” intrusions around a group of islets claimed by both nations in the East China Sea, known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.

Japan’s annual defence review claimed China’s responsibility for “propaganda” and “disinformation” amid “social uncertainties and confusion” caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Hong Kong’s Rights: Gone

China has declared full control over the territory of Hong Kong. A new national security law criminalises subversion, secession and collusion with foreign forces. The law fundamentally change the territory’s legal system. Article 29 states that anyone who conspires with foreigners to provoke “hatred” of the Chinese government, or the authorities in Hong Kong, could have committed a criminal offence.

China’s national security law for Hong Kong has fundamentally changes the territory’s legal system. There will be severe penalties for new crimes that includes up to life in prison. The law opens the way for mainland security personnel to legally operate in Hong Kong with impunity. The wording is highly subjective and malleable. Article 55 allows Chinese mainland security operatives the right to investigate some national security cases that are “complex”, “serious” or “difficult”. China is allowed to set up the “Office for Safeguarding National Security” in Hong Kong. It is a mainland Chinese body to be staffed by mainland Chinese personnel. Article 60 makes it clear: anyone working there does not have to abide by Hong Kong’s laws and shall not be subject to “inspection, search or detention”. This means mainland Chinese personnel are untouchable. Further details can be found on this BBC report and Hong Kong’s Security Law.

The new security law is wide-ranging and includes:

  • It is now illegal to incite hatred of China’s central and Hong Kong’s regional governments.
  • Closed-door trials are now allowed, wire-tapping of suspects and the potential for suspects to be tried in mainland China
  • A wide range of acts, including damaging public transport facilities, can be considered terrorism.
  • Internet providers might have to hand over data if requested by police.

The impact of the changes in Hong Kong will affect its economy with the New York Times moving to Seoul in South Korea. TikTok is looking to relocate its headquarters from the Territory.

Even before 2020 security law change, Beijing has increasingly undermining freedom of speech and the media. In 2018 the Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was barred from entering the city weeks after his work visa had not been renewed without any explanation. He had angered Beijing by hosting a guest speaker at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club who advocated secession.

Human Rights Abuses: The Case of the Uighurs

In the north west of China is Xinjiang province where the Uighurs, a Muslim minority group, mainly live. They have Muslim Turkic ethnicity and are culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations. There are around 11 million Uighurs in Xinjiang (see this report).

There is increasing global political criticism over China’s alleged persecution of this group of people. Reports of forced sterilisation of women and mass “re-education” camps. In the camps the
Uighurs, who have their own Uighur language, are forced to learn Mandarin. Religious freedoms have been eroded and Xinjiang is covered by a pervasive surveillance. This include police checkpoints and facial recognition and number plate cameras. Xinjiang is perhaps the ultimate “Smart City” for total control of a population.

The Communist Party of China is trying to silence anyone abroad supporting the Uighur’s plight for rights. The UK Times reported (25 July 2020) that a Belgium Uighur Rights Activist was contacted by Chinese callers who try to stifle dissent abroad. This tactic is not uncommon and includes threatening calls, emotional blackmail, and recruitment from within Uighur communities living abroad.

Cyber Attack On Australia

A massive cyber attack on Australia was carried out in June 2020, was from a state actor with significant capabilities. The attacks crippled widespread computer networks in both government and private sectors. The attacks are becoming increasingly sophisticated. The attacks, allegedly by China, hit sites including government, industrial, political organisations, education, health, essential service provider sites.

Relations between Australia and China have have worsened in recent years but declined further after Australia echoed the US in calling for an inquiry into the origins of the Covid-19, first detected in China late last year. China imposed tariffs on Australian barley, stopped beef imports and warned its citizens and students about “risks” of travelling to Australia because of racist incidents. Australia has increased its rhetoric. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said he would not give in to “coercion” from Beijing.

Whether it was an attack from China, there are very few countries capable of this sort of cyber attack. Additional information is in this BBC News report.

Conclusion

This article highlights the extent and how far China is willing to go to dominate and get its own way at the expense of anyone or any country. Human rights are being ignored and nations will need to collectively act against a rising state that will impose its own totalitarian laws as it wants to.

Posted in China, Geography, Politics, Japan, Cyber War, Smart Cities | Leave a comment

Magnetic Field Changes & New Energy Options

The Earth’s magnetic field is shifting and it is now possible to monitor that shift from satellites. Renewable power storage is gaining momentum which enables a move away from fossil fuels. New energy options look at ways to store and work with renewable energy production. How to harness the falling cost of this power source will be a key innovation for the acceleration in the decarbonisation of the energy sector. Post Covid19 there may be opportunities to rebuild new jobs in this sector that is likely to grow rapidly.

Earth’s Magnetic Field Shift

The Earth has seen some changes to the magnetic field over recent years. There is an uncertainty as to why it is happening but it will have consequences for satellite and spacecraft for example.

The South Atlantic Magnetic Anomaly
Source: ESA.

The Earth’s magnetic field is weakening between Africa and South America in an area known as the “South Atlantic Anomaly”. This area has grown considerably in recent years. The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Swarm constellation of satellites have provided data showing the area of the anomaly dropped in strength by more than 8 per cent over 50 years from 1970 to 2020. The new eastern minimum of the area has grown in size and continues to develop rapidly.

It is not clear what processes are driving the change in the South Atlantic Anomaly, it could be that the poles are about to reverse. This is something that has happened roughly every 250,000 thousand years, although the last time a “geomagnetic reversal” took place was around 780,000 years ago.

Such an event could have immense impacts. The Earth’s magnetic field protects the planet from solar winds and harmful cosmic radiation. There could be implications for the telecommunication and satellite systems too. They rely on the magnetic field to operate. Computers, power grids and mobile phones could be affected by magnetic changes. The area of the South Atlantic Anomaly can cause technical issues for low-orbit satellites and space craft.

A 2018 article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that despite the weakening field, the “Earth’s magnetic field is probably not reversing”. The process is not instantaneous and could take tens of thousands of years. The article notes that the geomagnetic field has been decaying at a rate of ∼5% per century from at least 1840. Indirect observations have indicated a decay since 1600 or even earlier.

Magnetic field observations from Swarm are providing new information into the processes of Earth’s interior. The above web link shows animated South Atlantic Anomaly impact radiation over the last two years.

New Energy Options: Hydrogen, Battery Expansion and Liquid Air Batteries

There are several developments in ways of storing and provisioning energy needs. All offer a greatly reduced climate impact to existing fossil fuel based systems.

IEA Hydrogen Report

The International Energy Agency or IEA published a June 2019 technology report on the future role of hydrogen in the energy mix. Hydrogen and energy have a long shared history for over 200 years. Hydrogen is light, easily stored, energy-dense, and importantly produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. In order for hydrogen to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it needs to be adopted more widely. This includes sectors where it is almost absent: for example transport, buildings and power generation. That is gradually being addressed as the examples below demonstrate. There is a risk that without government foresight, planning and support that hydrogen electrolysis momentum does not grow as much as it should. See this IEA article: The impact of the Covid-19 crisis on clean energy progress.

There is potential to extract “green” hydrogen from water with electrolysis, an energy-intensive but carbon-free process, if powered by renewable electricity. It requires much renewable electricity to produce and the renewable prices have fallen sharply in recent years.

Japan’s Pilot Hydrogen Supply Chain And Power Plant

In Japan there is a pilot hydrogen plant run by Advanced Hydrogen Energy Chain Association For Technology Development (AHEAD). The project will continue through November this year. The Kawasaki plant can generate 80 megawatts of electricity using Hydrogen that, when burnt, will produce only water vapour.

The plant has been using imported hydrogen in the form of methylcyclohexane (MCH) from Brunei Darussalam. The project has highlighted a viable hydrogen supply chain between Brunei Darussalam and Japan. MCH is produced in Brunei Darussalam, transported using maritime MCH transport and there is then a dehydrogenation of MCH process upon arrival in Japan. This commencement of global hydrogen supply chain operation is a notable step towards the realisation of a carbon dioxide free “Hydrogen Society”.

Ultimately it aims to transport 350,000 tonnes of hydrogen a year to power a 1 gigawatt hydrogen-fired power plant in 2030. In the future hydrogen should be extracted from renewable energy and a strong supply chain established. AHEAD are able to transport hydrogen at a normal temperature and pressure, and to use existing facilities used for oil. It is described as the “Organic Chemical Hydride Method”.

The AHEAD project hopes to confirm how effective the international hydrogen supply chain transport is. It aims to establish a commercial hydrogen supply chain business in future. It is also researching various aspects of the practical application of the process. Further details are on this Popular Mechanics article which highlights the current role of the hydrocarbon industry.

Green Hydrogen From Electrolysis

Hydrogen extracted from fossil fuels typically costs between $1-$1.8/kg according to this report. Hydrogen, extracted using renewable energy known as “green hydrogen”, costs around $6/kg today. It is significantly more expensive than the fossil fuel derived alternatives. Increased demand could for green hydrogen could reduce the cost of electrolysis process where hydrogen is extracted from water. With falling renewable energy costs, green hydrogen could fall to $1.7/kg by 2050 and possibly sub-$1/kg. This price makes it competitive with natural gas. If there were higher carbon prices that would encourage the shift to hydrogen.

There would need to be some large-scale infrastructure changes to support the “hydrogen society”. Large-scale use, for example by industry or the transport sectors, would need major infrastructure investments. Power from offshore wind farms would need to be connected to an electrolyser to produce the green hydrogen. There would have to be transport to end consumers and more vehicles that use hydrogen. New fuel stations serving this hydrogen would be needed too.

World’s Biggest Liquid Air Battery

A new development that aims to store power, like a conventional battery, for renewable energy power storage. A company in the UK, Highview Power, has developed a “CRYOBattery” which delivers, clean, reliable, and cost-efficient long-duration energy storage. This will be a way to facilitate a 100% renewable energy future. It uses cryogenic energy storage technology and releases zero emissions in the process. These plants can be located anywhere so there is not a geographical constraint to this technology.

The CRYOBattery can produce 20 MW/80 MWh to more than 200 MW/1.2 GWh of energy which can power up to 200,000 homes for a whole day. It uses air and costs around half of the cost of lithium-ion batteries and releases zero emissions. The cryogenic energy storage technology is based on the principle of air liquefaction. Air is stored as a liquid which provides high-density storage. When required the liquid back is converted to a gas, generating energy that powers turbines and produces electricity.

Solutions such as this provide energy when wind and solar energy is not being produced. They provide “grid-synchronous inertia” balancing electrical demand and supply which helps to avoid blackouts.

World’s Biggest Battery Set To Grow By 50%

In December 2017 this blog reported on the World’s Largest Battery on the Hornsdale wind farm. The battery is set to get bigger and gain 50% more capacity. The Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia, built by Tesla and managed by renewable energy company Neoen, will be expanded. This 129 MWh battery with an output of up to 100 MW became the world’s largest lithium-ion storage battery, a title that it still holds two years later.

The 50MW/ 64.5MWh expansion, supported by Tesla, demonstrates the benefits that grid-scale batteries can provide to the National Electricity Market (NEM) and Australian consumers. It will provide additional power system reliability and continued cost savings to consumers. In the first year of operation consumers benefited by more than 50 million Australian dollars.

The expansion will demonstrate the potential for battery storage to provide the stabilising inertia services. These are critical to the future integration of renewable energy which produce sporadic power production. Inertia services stabilises the grid when electricity supply and demand fluctuates. It automatically and rapidly charges and discharges power thus mimicking the existing (fossil fuel) based grid behaviour.

South Australia will benefit from the continued harvesting of its world class wind and solar resources. It also helps with a target to be net 100% renewable by 2030. It will also see the South Australia State transition to become a net-exporter of cheap and clean renewable energy to the NEM. Benefits include the further drive down in electricity prices for consumers.

Conclusion

There are several innovations highlighted in the renewable energy sector that offer the ability to transform our power supplies such as liquid air batteries. Satellites may provide new insights to the Earth’s magnetic changes and increase our knowledge in this area.

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Sustainability Opportunities: Post Covid-19

Global Re-Structuring Opportunities

The international Covid-19 or coronavirus pandemic could provide society with opportunities to adapt for the better in the long term. Over the last few months there have been improvements in the air quality with fewer fossil fuels being used. As a result, there have been reductions in the carbon dioxide emissions. There is now progress to re-define the future after the lock down restrictions are removed. Movements such as C40 sees many global cities taking bold climate action that will enable a more sustainable future that will benefit many.

Fewer Fossil Fuels Needed

Since the widespread international Covid-19 or coronavirus pandemic lock down of early 2020, many have benefited from improved air quality by the fact many fewer hydrocarbons in the form of fossil fuels were being burnt. Reduced usage has led to a massive drop in emission levels. The virus emergency has shown us what can be done in terms of transforming high pollution levels. It has given many an opportunity to re-think what we do and why are we doing it. We are already experiencing a climate emergency and massive action is needed to reduce global warming. Improved air quality has produced record solar photovoltaic (PV) output too. Solar PV electricity production records have been exceeded partially as skies have cleared. See this National Grid explanation, which is mainly to do with increased UK sunshine in April. The UK has now had a record long time without burning any coal to produce electricity too (over 1000 hours or 41 days at the time of writing this post).

The UK is aiming to have zero carbon emissions in its electricity production systems by 2025 as outlined by the National Grid. Innovative systems, products and services are being developed to ensure that the electricity network is ready to handle 100% zero carbon power by 2025. Integration of new technologies and managing renewable systems together with increased demand management, smart technologies that will manage and control the network in real-time. Barriers to using renewable electricity resources are coming down as the national power network evolves to manage the nature of the power that is now being generated.

Lock Down Improves Air Quality

In China, the lock down improved the heavily polluted skies significantly. Since the lock down has been rolled back the pollution levels are already starting to return. Some emission maps clearly illustrate this change as a direct result of the Covid-19 lock down and subsequent suspension of industrial activity.

This NASA image shows the reduction in airborne nitrogen dioxide across China.
China's Reduction In Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide
China’s Reduction in Airborne Nitrogen Dioxide

Nitrogen dioxide is a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles, power plants and industrial facilities. The reason for the fall was the stop in activity across China due to the lock down. The measurements were taken from the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5 satellite which has a Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument on board. Further details are on the NASA Earth Observatory web site.

There were other examples where the air quality improved too, mainly across urban areas and the north of Italy was another place that showed a similar change in atmospheric pollution levels.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Fall

The science journal Nature reported reduced carbon dioxide emissions. The effect of the lock down confinement was to decrease daily global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 17% (–11 to –25%) by 7 April 2020, relative to the mean level of emissions in 2019. Currently we emit around a daily total of 100 MtCO2 d−1 so the reduction was in the region of –17 (–11 to –25) MtCO2 d−1. Values varied by country and thus had a geographical pattern where there were larger or smaller declines.

Several global leaders have highlighted the need to change direction and not to return to the old ways of economic growth. The Japanese environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi, warned that the Paris climate accord could face death if steps to fight global warming were ignored in favour of the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

C40 Sustainable Cities

There is a new movement in many world cities known as the C40 cities that are intending to take “bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future”. Under the slogan “Now Is The Time To Act”, the cities are demonstrating that decisions can be made now to deliver of the Paris Climate change agreement.

Deadline 2020 aims to keep temperature increases from climate change below 2 Celsius and to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 Celsius. Cities can deliver up to 40% of savings needed for a 1.5C world. Average per capita emissions across C40 cities need to decrease by around 42% from today’s level. It aims to deliver actions on the ground.

  • It would allow C40 cities, representing 650 million people and 25% of the world’s GDP, to deliver individual emissions trajectories consistent with limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
  • To remain within a 1.5 degree temperature rise, average per capita emissions across C40 cities would need to drop from over 5 tCO2e per capita today to around 2.9 tCO2e per capita by 2030. Doing so would keep cities on a trajectory consistent with either 1.5 or 2 degrees of warming, it is only after 2030 that these trajectories diverge.
  • As C40 cities age and grow they will need to invest in renewing and expanding infrastructure and working to enhance the quality of life of citizens. From 2016 to 2050, over $1 trillion investment is required across all C40 cities to meet the ambition of the Paris Agreement through new climate action.
  • Action taken in the next four years in the cities will determine if the required trajectories are possible for meeting the Paris agreement targets. If sufficient action is not taken over this period, limiting temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees will be impossible. C40 cities collectively delivered nearly 11,000 climate actions between 2005 and 2016.
  • Wealthier, high carbon cities must deliver the largest savings between 2017-2020. As of 2017, cities with GDP over $15,000 per capita must begin to reduce their per capita emissions immediately.
  • Mayors can deliver or influence just over half of the savings needed to put C40 cities on a 1.5 degree trajectory. That includes a total of 525 GtCO2e by 2100, either through direct action or via collaboration with partners such as the private sector.
  • If action involving city governments can deliver just over half of the greenhouse gas (GHG) savings needed, then action to deliver structural changes from outside cities (i.e. electrical grid de-carbonisation), must start to have a significant impact from 2023 at the latest. This will take over as the dominant driver of urban GHG reductions after 2030.
  • Even with all required actions taken as per city trajectories, substantial carbon sequestration will also be required by national governments if cities are to stay on a 1.5 degree trajectory post 2050
  • Action by C40 cities can have huge magnification: If all cities with a population greater than 100,000 adopted the ambition for C40 cities set out in this report, they could save 863 GtCO2e globally by 2050. By 2100, they could have saved the equivalent of 40% of the reductions needed to fulfil the 1.5 Celsius scenario.

Source: C40 Deadline 2020

The statement of principles has so far been signed by mayors representing 33 world cities from Los Angeles to Lisbon, São Paulo to Seoul, Melbourne to Mexico City.

Conclusion

A global recession forecast for this year, as countries were forced into lock down to contain the spread of the coronavirus, have curtailed business activity with a major blow to jobs and incomes. Economic recovery should consider the environment and re-focus on new growth areas such as sustainable jobs that benefit humanity and move us away from current high emission scenarios.

Those unfortunate enough to have lost jobs should be re-skilled or trained into new sustainable work that will bring future growth that does not include pollution and further carbon dioxide being emitted. Ironically, public transport use has declined drastically (for example railway passengers were typically 90%+ down on typical passenger numbers in London, UK). Here is an opportunity not to be missed.

Posted in ACD, Air Quality, China, Cities, Climate Solutions, Energy, Geography, Hydrogen Fuel, Italy, Japan, Net Zero, Pollution, PV, railways, Renewable Energy, Sustainable Development, Sustainable Transport, Technology, Trade, Transition Movement, Transport, Zero | Leave a comment