Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 2020 likely world's second hottest year, UN says
- Climate change: PM aims for world-leading UK emissions cuts
- World is ‘doubling down’ on fossil fuels despite climate crisis – UN report
- Heatwave deaths on the rise as climate increasingly hits health – report
- Aston Martin in row over 'sock puppet PR firm' pushing anti-electric vehicle study
- Carney calls for ‘$100bn a year’ global carbon offset market
- Heatwave a stark reminder of potential dangers for Australia
- New climate science Satellite-based estimates of decline and rebound in China’s CO2 emissions during Covid-19 pandemic
A provisional assessment from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) suggests that 2020 is on track to be the second hottest on record, reports Reuters. In its annual “state of the climate” report, the WMO uses five global temperature datasets to estimate that 2020 is set to average around 1.2C above pre-industrial levels, the outlet explains, “placing it second behind 2016 and marginally ahead of 2019”. It adds: “Hot years have typically been associated with El Niño, a natural event that releases heat from the Pacific Ocean. However, this year coincides with La Niña which has the opposite effect and cools temperatures.” Despite this, the WMO is certain that 2020 will remain one of the warmest three, reports BBC News. Commenting on the assessment, WMO secretary general Prof Petteri Taalas said: “Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016…We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat.” The report declares that 2011-20 will be the hottest decade on record, says the Financial Times. The report also notes that, while the widespread lockdowns in response to Covid-19 had slightly slowed the growth of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, this slowing “will be practically indistinguishable” from normal year-to-year fluctuations, Climate Home News reports, driving the “relentless march” of climate change. According to the WMO report, the most notable warming in 2020 occurred in the Siberian Arctic, says Bloomberg: “Temperatures for the first 10 months of the year there were more than 5C above average, fuelling the most active wildfire season in 18 years on record.” (Carbon Brief has previously reported on quick-fire analysis that shows the Siberian heatwave would have been “almost impossible” without human-caused climate change.) The Independent notes that the difference between the provisional figure for 2020 and the warmest years on record is marginal, and “the rankings could shift once the full picture of 2020 is available”. The paper adds that the WMO will confirm the data in March 2021. (Carbon Brief’s most recent quarterly state of the climate article – published in October – suggested it was more likely than not that 2020 becomes the warmest year on record.)
In a speech at Columbia University in the US, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres warned that the report shows “the state of the planet is broken”, says the Washington Post. The speech – which was trailed yesterday – was made to “mark the report’s release and to build momentum toward new climate action under the Paris Accord”, the paper explains. Guterres put the report’s findings in “unusually stark terms”, notes the paper. The Press Association quotes Guterres saying: “The fallout of the assault on our planet is impeding our efforts to eliminate poverty and imperilling food security. And it is making our work for peace even more difficult, as the disruptions drive instability, displacement and conflict”. However, Guterres also said he “firmly” believes that 2021 “can be a new kind of leap year – the year of a quantum leap towards carbon neutrality”, reports the Associated Press. The outlet adds: “Guterres saw hope in promises by more than 100 countries that by mid-century they will not be adding more heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere than trees and technology can remove, along with shorter term pollution cuts.” Climate Home News describes this as a “global net-zero emissions club”. The Guardian reports that Guterres said that humanity’s survival will be “impossible” without the US rejoining the Paris agreement and achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, as the incoming Biden administration has pledged. The paper adds: “The secretary general said that ‘of course’ he had been in touch with President-elect Biden and looked forward to welcoming the US into a ‘global coalition for net-zero by 2050’ that the UN has organised. The US is the world’s largest cumulative source of heat-trapping emissions and its biggest military and economic power, Guterres noted, so ‘there is no way we can solve the [climate] problem…without strong American leadership’.” Biden and Guterres had spoken on Monday, notes Reuters.
There is continuing coverage of the UK’s forthcoming Paris Agreement pledge to cut emissions. Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to “declare one of the most ambitious targets in the world for tackling climate change”, says BBC News. The outlet “understands Boris Johnson’s goal will be to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 68% or 69% by the end of the decade, based on 1990 levels. This will mean an even faster pace of decarbonisation for industries, transport and homes”. The target, known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC), represents the “commitments by each country – under the Paris pact – to reduce their own national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change”, the outlet explains, adding: “Mr Johnson hopes that the UK’s new targets will set an example to other nations, which will join a virtual climate pledges summit on 12 December.” The new target is expected to be announced tomorrow, the Times notes. The paper focuses on gas boilers, reporting that they are “in firing line”. A “government source” tells the paper: “The big issue is gas boilers…If we really want to make these kinds of inroads we have to do more to decarbonise people’s homes. The prime minister’s ten-point plan will not be enough.” Emily Gosden, the Times’s energy editor, comments (within the same article): “One answer may be ‘hybrid’ systems, which combine a heat pump to meet the bulk of demand with a boiler burning hydrogen or natural gas to help meet peak demand in winter.” (Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A on hydrogen this week.) EurActiv reports that “Scotland and British businesses are piling pressure on the UK government to set an ambitious 2030 climate target”.
In other UK news, the Times covers a new thinktank report that says North Sea oil and gas should be left in the ground while governments accelerate spending in the transition to a low-carbon economy. It continues: “The report by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggests a cap on what can be extracted from British waters to help to ensure that emissions targets can be hit.” The Guardian adds that the plan “would require the UK and Scottish governments to scrap a controversial policy that calls on North Sea companies to extract as much oil and gas as they can from the ageing basin”. It would also “call on oil company chief executives to take on extra environmental obligations, which would determine their end-of-year bonuses,” the paper notes.
And, finally, BBC News covers a new report from the UK’s Royal Society on the potential CO2 emissions savings from turning off streaming services when not in use and owning and using devices for longer before trading them in.
A new UN report warns that the world’s governments are “doubling down” on fossil fuels despite the urgent need for cuts in carbon emissions, the Guardian reports. The paper continues: “The researchers say production of coal, oil and gas must fall by 6% a year until 2030 to keep global heating under the 1.5C target agreed in the Paris accord and avoid ‘severe climate disruption’. But nations are planning production increases of 2% a year and G20 countries are giving 50% more coronavirus recovery funding to fossil fuels than to clean energy.” The UN’s “production gap” report says that keeping to the 1.5C limit means that “global coal, oil, and gas production would have to fall annually by 11%, 4%, and 3%, respectively”, over the next decade, explains Reuters. “But government plans indicate an average 2% annual increase for each fuel.” The analysis is based on government data from eight major fossil fuel producing countries accounting for 60% of global supply: Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Norway, Russia and the US, says Climate Home News. It adds: “Several countries not counted in the headline figures also signalled an intention to increase oil production: Mexico anticipated 50% growth to 2030, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates each planned for a 70% increase, and Argentina aimed for a 130% rise.” The report warns that, as climate policy has been “near-exclusively” focused on reducing fossil fuel demand, it has created “a deep disconnect” between countries’ climate goals and net-zero commitments, and their plans for energy production, the outlet says. Axios notes that “pandemic-related production declines this year won’t lead to the long-term changes needed to get on track toward those temperature targets”. InsideClimate News, BusinessGreen and EurActiv also cover the report.
In other fossil fuel news, a Financial Times investigation finds that a “Gazprom director profited from a secret scheme linked to the construction of a multibillion-dollar gas pipeline between central Asia and China”. Documents from the Asia Gas Pipeline project and seen by the paper “indicate that staff and consultants working for Timur Kulibayev designed a scheme for the Kazakh billionaire to receive at least tens of millions of dollars from contracts related to the vast project”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that operations have started on the middle portion of the China-Russia East natural gas pipeline, which will take natural gas from the Power of Siberia system in Russia to the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region in northern China. Reuters also reports that oil prices fell this morning as producers including Saudi Arabia and Russia “locked horns over the need to extend record production cuts set in place in the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic”.
A new report warns that deaths from heat among older people have more than doubled in the UK since the early 2000s, as the effects of climate change on health worsen, reports the Press Association. The outlet continues: “The Lancet Countdown’s fifth annual report tracking the links between climate change and health warns that no country, rich or poor, is immune from the impacts of rising temperatures. The assessment of more than 40 global indicators measuring the impact of the changing climate warned that, without urgent action, it will increasingly threaten health, disrupt lives and overwhelm health services.” The Times reports that “owing to an ageing and largely urban population, as well as rates of chronic disease, Britain has one of the highest levels of vulnerability to heat”. It adds: “There were an estimated 8,500 heat-related deaths among the over-65s across the country in 2018, more than double the average for 2000 to 2004.” The Guardian reports the comments of Prof Hugh Montgomery, a Lancet Countdown co-chair and an intensive care doctor based at UCL: “Our report shows that, just as for Covid-19, older people are particularly vulnerable, and those with a range of pre-existing conditions including asthma and diabetes are at even greater risk.” Across the world, “the last two decades have seen a 54% increase in heat-related deaths in older people”, says the Daily Telegraph. The paper reports that heat is also “increasingly affecting people’s ability to work outdoors in developing regions, with ‘significant’ economic implications. Last year saw a continued loss in productivity, with India accounting for 40% of the total 302bn work hours lost”. The New York Times highlights the Lancet’s assessment of the US, which “presents climate change as a public health risk now, rather than a hazard faced by future generations”. The paper adds: “It points to the immediate dangers of extreme heat, wildfires and air pollution, and makes the case for rapidly shifting to a green economy as a way to improve public health.” Dr Ian Hamilton, a researcher at University College London and executive director of the report, told a press briefing that this year’s results are “the most concerning outlook for human health since the report’s inception”, the Independent reports. He added: “Climate change-induced shocks are claiming lives, damaging health and disrupting livelihoods in all parts of the world right now.”
In escalating coverage of a controversial report that disputes the green benefits of electric vehicles (EVs), the Guardian carries a frontpage story on the involvement of Aston Martin in a “sock puppet PR firm” who promoted the analysis. The paper explains: “Aston Martin is at the centre of a climate lobbying controversy after a study co-commissioned by the company that cast doubt on the green credentials of electric vehicles was found to have been attributed to a PR company registered to the wife of a director at the luxury carmaker.” The study, which has been “widely debunked by experts”, was presented as “groundbreaking” third-party research, the paper says, and “appeared to show that electric cars would have to travel as far as 50,000 miles before matching the carbon footprint of a petrol model”. However, the Guardian says “it can be revealed that the same companies that were credited with commissioning the study collaborated to write the report themselves, and the communications firm is a company registered under the name of Rebecca Stephens, who is the wife of Aston Martin’s government affairs director, James Stephens. The company was set up in February and registered to the address of a property jointly owned by the married couple”. The Guardian speaks to Rebecca Stephens, who says the report attributed to Clarendon was “compiled” by the same companies that commissioned the study. And Aston Martin confirmed that it “contributed” to the report before the government’s decision on fossil fuel vehicles “to emphasise how best to achieve the government’s stated aim”. CleanTechnica also covers the story.
In other EV news, the Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s competition watchdog has started a probe into the market for EV charging points amid concerns that “range anxiety” over electric cars will hold back Britain’s climate ambitions. The paper continues: “The Competition and Markets Authority said it would be taking a ‘close look’ at the industry, which it said was ‘crucial to the roll-out of electric vehicles’. A surge in electric vehicle use is expected with new petrol cars banned by the end of the decade.” The CMA said research shows that range anxiety – the fear of not being able to top up an electric car battery on a journey before it goes flat – is a “key concern for many consumers”, reports the Press Association, and people are more likely to make the switch to electric vehicles if they “see that the service will work for them”. The CMA says it will work on how to develop a competitive sector while encouraging private investment, notes the Guardian, adding: “It also said it would work out how to increase consumer confidence in chargers, comparing it with the ease of use of petrol stations. It hopes to carry out its study rapidly and expects responses from the market by 5 January.” The Times also has the story.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan may ban sales of new petrol-engine cars by the mid-2030s in favour of hybrid or electric vehicles. A second Reuters piece reports that “BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total all say they are betting on higher profits from sales of groceries and snacks at their retail networks, which will still be an essential port of call for motorists in an electric era. And a third says that “the cost of battery cells used for electric vehicles has fallen to an average of $110 per kilowatt hour (kWh), making such cars competitive with those using internal combustion engines”. And, finally, the Financial Times reports that “surging sales in electric cars have encouraged investors to bet on a rebound in the lithium market”.
Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney has thrown his weight behind efforts to create a global carbon offset market, reports the Financial Times, calling it an “imperative” to help reduce emissions. The paper adds: “A new pilot market for voluntary carbon offsets would be up and running within a year, Mr Carney said, and London was a likely location to host the new contract. Mr Carney, along with Standard Chartered chief executive Bill Winters, recently co-founded the Task Force on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets, a private sector initiative backed by more than 40 companies and organisations, which is working on a blueprint for the new market.” Speaking at the FT’s Energy Transition Strategies Summit, Carney said: “This is a necessary market in the transition to net-zero…This is an imperative, which is why we are putting so many resources into it…This needs to be a $50-100bn per annum market.” Carney – who is the UN special envoy for climate finance – is also giving the Reith Lectures, an annual series of lectures commissioned by the BBC and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Carney’s lectures “chart how we have come to esteem financial value over human value and how we have gone from market economies to market societies”, says the programme notes: “He argues that this has contributed to a trio of crises: of credit, Covid and climate. And the former Bank of England governor will outline how we can turn this around.”
“The enormous economic and health crisis brought on by the pandemic may have overshadowed the tragedy of last season’s bushfires but the recent spate of hot weather is a stark reminder of the potential dangers Australia faces once again this summer,” says an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. “Spring was a scorcher,” the paper says, and “what also stands out is that these records were broken at a time when a La Nina weather event is under way in the Pacific, which usually brings cooler and wetter weather”. With bushfires already underway, the paper says it hopes “this is not an early sign of things to come, but that would be an optimistic view”. It adds: “There was some hope that the catastrophic fires of last season – which killed 33 people, affected the health of many thousands, destroyed more than 3,000 homes and caused $10bn in damages – would finally trigger more substantial action on climate change from the Coalition government but that now appears wishful thinking. There is still much work to do.” (See Carbon Brief’s coverage for more on the 2019-20 fires.)
This study estimates changes in CO2 emissions in China during the Covid-19 pandemic, using a combination of satellites and bottom-up data. The paper finds that “between January and April 2020, China’s CO2 emissions fell by 11.5% compared to the same period in 2019”. However, since then emissions have ”rebounded to pre-pandemic levels” due to the rapid recovery of the economy in provinces with high levels of industrial activity. Carbon Brief has just published analysis of China’s CO2 emissions finding that the ramping up of steel production has played a key role in the rebound.