In the Anthropocene we are responsible for the planet’s future

Professor James (Jai) Syvitski & Brett Cherry


On this planet humans are radically changing the land, air and water. In many cases this is unavoidable. All species have some degree of impact on the environment in which they live, but in the case of humans it is magnitudes greater. We are now the force driving environmental systems which has led to a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene.

During the preceding geological period (the Holocene) the planet’s climate was getting cooler but since human intervention it’s heating up at a faster rate than we have ever experienced before. We are releasing enough greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere that it is intensifying the hydrological cycle, leading to more rainfall in some areas, and making others dryer. But it’s not only the climate we’re changing. Humans are moving around more sediment (silt, sand, gravel etc) than all the rivers, ice sheets and desert winds in the world combined. We are a geological force to be reckoned with. Continue reading

Britain needs infrastructure ready for climate change – before it’s too late

Richard Dawson, Newcastle University

Floods are often presented as human interest stories of stranded grannies and rescued pets, but their impact on hidden infrastructure is just as severe. In late 2015 for instance, a number of power systems and phone exchanges were inundated in Leeds and York which cut off thousands of homes, businesses (who were unable to process card payments), bank machines and even police and hospital services on Tyneside, 100 miles away.

But it’s not just floods and it’s not just phone lines. In fact, a major new peer-reviewed report highlights how, across the UK, the country’s infrastructure – services such as energy, transport and sanitation that are essential for modern society – is already experiencing significant impacts from severe weather related to climate change.

Unchecked, the projected increases in flooding will lead to more disruption of infrastructure. Furthermore, gradual changes in our climate, such as a rise in average temperatures, will reduce capacity and increase running costs.

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Here’s how smart power could help the UK reach 100% renewable energy

Phil Taylor
Siemens Professor of Energy Systems, Newcastle University

This article was originally published on The Conversation

Both Portugal and Germany have recently succeeded in meeting almost all of their power needs using renewable energy. But at the moment, the UK falls far short of this feat. In 2015, less than a quarter of the country’s energy was generated from renewable power sources such as wind, solar, hydro and bio-energy.

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Seven ways to better manage flooding in the UK

Flooding in Corbridge

Flooding in Corbridge. Photo: Steve/Rescue Mission/Flickr

Professor Chris Kilsby comments on how to better prepare for and adapt to flooding in the UK.

There is no panacea for flood events, but there is a portfolio of measures we could either do better or should consider in mitigating or adapting to floods in the UK and countries throughout the world. The recent floods caused by Storm Desmond the first week of December 2015 were devastating on both sides of the Pennines. A record breaking 341mm of rain fell in 24 hours. Not only was the 24 hour rain fall record broken, but so was the 48 hour record at 405mm. The damages were significant with tens of thousands of people evacuating their homes, widespread power loss after two substations were flooded, and transport links lost across the region.

While the magnitude of the storm rainfall was extreme, what made the flood especially severe is that the previous two months were very wet. Extreme weather events like Storm Desmond tend not to occur in isolation and nor are they evenly spaced out. In Cumbria there had already been a cluster of previous storms and this was the big one.

To manage such large floods requires an understanding of the occurrence of sequences of intense rainfall and how they may be changing, but also of course learning to deal with the flood waters in ways that are affordable and sustainable.

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CMA appeal rulings show regulation of electricity market is changing for the better

Professor Phil Taylor, Director of the Newcastle University Institute for Sustainability, considers the impact of the recent ruling by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) on the Northern Powergrid appeal against Ofgem’s 2015-2023 electricity distribution price control. 

A new era of regulation has dawned in the energy market, following the recent CMA ruling on appeals against Ofgem’s recent price controls. The Northern Powergrid appeal is the first time a distribution network operator has appealed a judgement by Ofgem, and the CMA ruling is hugely significant. From now on, network operators and suppliers will feel more able to challenge the regulator to justify its decisions and demonstrate a strong evidence base for the approach it takes.

What is more, the judgement also demonstrates the need for a technically competent regulator. The ground for complaint that was upheld by the CMA, relates to Ofgem’s calculations of the potential savings available to Northern Powergrid and other distribution network operators through the use of smart grids and other technological innovations. At present, this remains something that is not well understood outside academia.

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Similar to the MDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals are at risk of becoming political toys

Darren Shako

The SDGs should require governments to firmly outline their targeted standards, and create policies that will inform potential funding for development. This would be necessary for not only ending world poverty (Goal 1), but ensuring the respective goals are reflected in the improvement services on the ground. This includes securing availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all (Goal 6), which is necessary for good public health (Goal 3).

Part of a blog series from Newcastle University Societal Challenge Theme Institutes giving recommendations for targets and indicators of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

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