Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Alok Sharma to work full-time on COP26 climate conference preparation
- One Planet Summit: World leaders to hold virtual climate summit
- HSBC targeted by shareholders over fossil fuel financing
- Activating ‘tipping points’ in society could push world towards greater climate action, researchers say
- 22 disasters, 262 dead, $95bn in damages: US saw record year for climate-driven catastrophes
- IEA chief: Net-zero by 2050 plan for energy sector is coming
- The effect of climate change on indicators of fire danger in the UK
- Upward-scaling tipping cascades to meet climate goals: Plausible grounds for hope
Many UK publications cover the news that Boris Johnson has responded to calls to make the role of COP26 president full-time. The Guardian says that Alok Sharma will now work full-time on preparations for the UN climate conference in Glasgow this November, “a change urged by environmental experts given the scale of the role”. The newspaper adds: “For the past 11 months, Sharma has combined being COP26 president with his job as business secretary. He will now undertake the COP role full-time, with Kwasi Kwarteng taking the business brief. Kwarteng is currently the number two minister in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was international development secretary until her department was merged with the Foreign Office in September, takes this job.” The i newspaper quotes Sharma saying that “I am delighted to have been asked by the Prime Minister to dedicate all my energies to this urgent task”. Reuters notes that the UK government says COP26 will be “the largest summit the UK has ever hosted”. Climate Home News adds: “In his role as COP26 president, Sharma will continue to sit as a full member of the Cabinet and report directly to the prime minister. He will also chair the UK’s Climate Action Implementation Committee to coordinate UK efforts towards its 2050 net-zero emissions goal.” The Financial Times says: “The high-profile conference, which is seen as an opportunity for prime minister Boris Johnson to project a post Brexit ‘global Britain’, will attempt to forge agreement on new international targets for carbon emission reductions, building on previous commitments at the Paris meeting in 2016…Critics had argued that Mr Sharma would struggle to fulfil the COP26 role while he was business secretary, not least because it will involve large amounts of international travel in the run-up to the Glasgow event.” The Sunday Times reports the story under the headline: “Sharma ‘shunted to climate change role to woo Biden’.” It continues: “In the first sign of the US president-elect flexing his muscles with the UK, Biden’s climate change pointman John Kerry complained before Christmas that if Britain wanted to be taken seriously it would need to get a grip on preparations for the summit, which Britain is hosting in Glasgow in November…But [Sharma’s] appointment comes after Johnson’s approaches to David Cameron and Theresa May last year were rejected.”
Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Daily Mail reports that the Nuclear Industry Association has urged the new business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to “get his skates on” and make 2021 the year the government finally commits to building nuclear projects. If he does not, says the paper, “the UK faces the threat of blackouts in the early 2030s”. It adds: “Ministers are mulling plans to allow EDF to build the Sizewell C power station in Suffolk, as well as a separate project to create a fleet of mini reactors. And plans to build a huge nuclear plant in north Wales are looking increasingly sketchy after Japanese firm Hitachi, whose subsidiary Horizon Nuclear was lead developer, said it was going to shut the project down. Around 18.5% of Britain’s power is generated by nuclear energy, but most reactors will be shut down in a few years.”
Separately, the Financial Times says that “carbon capture and storage is a costly ‘distraction’ that cannot be relied on to help meet climate targets, according to research published by two prominent environment groups that questions one of the key ‘green’ technologies backed by Boris Johnson”. It adds: “Campaigners at Global Witness and Friends of the Earth Scotland said a reliance on CCS, in particular to decarbonise the energy system, was ‘not a solution’ to global warming. They [have] published a paper from the Tyndall Manchester climate change research centre that they said proves CCS has a ‘history of over-promising and under-delivering’.” The Scottish Herald also covers the story. The Guardian carries the comments of Robin Niblett, the director general of the foreign policy thinktank Chatham House, who says that “Britain will fail if it seeks to reincarnate itself after Brexit as a mini-great power, and should focus instead on being a global broker for solutions to specific challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, global health and human rights, a major report has proposed”. And, finally, BBC News reports that climate campaigner Greta Thunberg “has criticised the government’s decision not to intervene in plans for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years”.
AFP reports that “global leaders will try to reignite international environmental diplomacy [today] with a biodiversity summit that launches a critical year for efforts to stem the devastating effects of global warming and species loss”. The news agency continues: “The One Planet Summit, a largely virtual event hosted by France in partnership with the United Nations and the World Bank, will include French President Emmanuel Macron, UN chief Antonio Guterres, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union head Ursula von der Leyen…France hopes the summit will bring together issues around climate and the protection of ecosystems, a source from the Elysee Palace told AFP news agency, adding along with global warming, preservation of biodiversity is “our collective life insurance”. The Times says that Prince Charles will use the summit to “announce an ambitious charter that he hopes will persuade big business to save the planet, bringing together his half century of campaigning”. The newspaper adds: “Backed by a multibillion-pound fund for green initiatives, he will call for the private sector to sign up to his 10-point Terra Carta – or Earth Charter – that is inspired by Magna Carta. The prince wants the charter to define his legacy. ‘It is the culmination of 50 years’ work,’ a royal source said. ‘It is a pivotal moment.’” Reuters, BBC News, Sky News, BusinessGreen and Bloomberg are among the outlets also covering the launch of Terra Carta.
“HSBC is under fire for financing the fossil fuel industry after a group of investors including Amundi and Man Group filed a climate resolution ahead of the bank’s annual meeting in April”, reports the Financial Times. It continues: “The lender announced in October that it would become a “net zero” carbon emissions bank by 2050, but some of Europe’s biggest investors involved in the resolution said it was failing to take climate change seriously, having made no specific commitments to reduce funding for fossil fuels. The resolution – which was filed by 15 institutional investors with $2.4tn in assets, and 117 individual shareholders – called on HSBC to publish a strategy and targets to reduce its exposure to fossil fuel assets.” The Guardian adds that “the resolution – which has been coordinated by campaign group ShareAction and is also backed by 117 individual shareholders – is the second climate vote filed at a major UK bank, following a similar resolution tabled at Barclays’ AGM last year”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times has published a “big read” on a legal case in the Netherlands against Shell which “puts the spotlight on energy groups’ role in climate change”. The newspaper says: “It is five years since the Netherlands lost a court action forcing it to cut its greenhouse gas emissions. It was the first time a government had been compelled by law to take action on climate change and was upheld by an appeals court in 2019, meaning that Dutch authorities have to reduce emissions by 25% compared with 1990 levels. Now the lawyer behind that 2015 case – Roger Cox – has a new target, Royal Dutch Shell, in a legal fight in the Hague that some believe could force oil and gas companies to accelerate a shift away from fossil fuels and push other corporate polluters to reassess their carbon footprint…The activists [represented by Cox] want Shell – valued at close to £113bn – to cut its total carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030, compared with 2019 levels, and to eliminate them entirely 2050.”
The Independent covers a new commentary published in the journal Climate Policy which says that activating positive “tipping points” in human society could bring about faster action on climate change. The study author Prof Tim Lenton, an expert in climactic tipping points and director of the Global Systems Institute at the University of Exeter, tells the Independent: “What’s in common between tipping points in any complex system is the idea of where a small change leads to a large outcome. There are reinforcing feedbacks that can both propel a climate tipping point but also one of these positive social tipping points.” The news outlet says that the researchers identify two examples of where small policy changes have already led to positive social tipping points being triggered at a national level. The first example is the rapid adoption of electric cars in Norway. The second example is the rapid disappearance of coal from the UK’s electricity generation. “A global tipping point for the world’s electricity could be reached once solar and wind become more profitable than coal-fired power in all countries, according to the research,” says the Independent. The Daily Telegraph and Scotland’s Daily Record also cover the story, but, at the time of writing, neither had published online versions.
There is continued coverage of analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) showing that, explains the Guardian, “22 major disasters, defined as each causing at least $1bn in damage, swept the US last year, six more than the previous record” leading to the deaths of at least 262 people and $95bn in total damages. The newspaper adds: “The year was marked by punishing extremes on both the east and west coasts. It was the most active wildfire year on record in the US west, with California recording five of the six biggest fires in its history, an outbreak that destroyed thousands of homes and caused the sky to turn an apocalyptic orange over the San Francisco Bay Area.” The Hill also covers the story, saying “the previous record for most billion-dollar weather and climate disasters was 16, which occurred in 2011 and 2017”.
Writing in the Financial Times, Fatih Birol, who leads the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA), says that, “today, I’m more optimistic than ever about the world’s ability to reach the goals of the Paris agreement…But long-term targets alone will not put emissions into decline rapidly enough to reach net-zero by mid-century”. Birol reveals that the IEA will in May publish the first comprehensive road map for the entire global energy sector to reach net-zero by 2050. He adds: “This will set out detailed analysis of what needs to happen across the global economy to recover from the Covid-19 crisis and put emissions on a path in line with a rise of 1.5C. The road map to net-zero is vital ahead of the COP26 climate change conference in November when countries will set out their latest plans for cutting emissions.”
Meanwhile, the Independent carries an interview with Chris Stark, who leads the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC). He explains what it will take to get the UK to net-zero by its legally binding deadline of 2050: “The kind of thing you’d need to see if you were to get an earlier than 2050 net-zero date is much more diet change. We would need a 50% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2050. We would have to be reducing our demand for flying by 15% compared to what it was pre-pandemic…We’d need to switch over to electric vehicles by 2030. This is part of the prime minister’s current climate plan but he’s allowing hybrids out until 2035, we wouldn’t be able to have that in that scenario.” (See Carbon Brief’s recent in-depth summary of the CCC’s new net-zero recommendations.) The Sunday Times carries a column by the climate sceptic Dominic Lawson who critiques the UK’s energy policy under the headline: “The energy answer is not blowin’ in the wind.”
New research finds that UK wildfire vulnerability is likely to increase due to climate change under a range of emission scenarios, with the highest danger levels – now and in the future – in the south and east of the UK. Using an operational fire danger model and the UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18) covering a range of future emissions scenarios, the researchers determine present-day and future fire risk across the UK. They find that meeting international climate targets “significantly reduces, but does not eliminate”, the increase in fire danger, which is found to be mainly a result of rising temperatures and decreasing humidity.
“Upward-scaling tipping cascades” in human societies, in which “activating” one positive tipping point increases the likelihood of activating another, could “accelerate progress in tackling climate change”, according to a new study. Researchers focus on light road transport and power, as according to the paper, “tipping points have already been triggered by policy interventions at individual nation scales” in these two sectors. The paper concludes that “positive-sum cooperation, between small coalitions of jurisdictions and their policymakers could lead to global changes in the economy and emissions”.
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