Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Amazon fires: Bolsonaro says Brazil cannot fight them
- Bernie Sanders’ ‘Green New Deal’: A $16tn climate plan
- China's coal demand to peak around 2025, global usage to follow: report
- Call to abandon coastal towns before sea claims them
- Does climate change really matter for 2020 Democrats?
- Attributing Greenland warming patterns to regional Arctic sea ice loss
- Serious mismatches continue between science and policy in forest bioenergy
International coverage of the record fires raging across the Amazon rainforest continues, and the BBC reports comments from Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro that his government lacks the resources to fight them. According to the news outlet, he also repeated unfounded claims that NGOs had started the fires, while saying his government was investigating them. The Financial Times notes that while fires are common in the Brazilian dry season, environmentalists blame the ongoing blazes on farmers illegally clearing forests for agriculture. Both the FT and the Times trail the story on their front pages. Reuters meanwhile reports on a Facebook Live broadcast by the controversial leader in which he claimed countries contributing money to the Amazon rainforest are doing so to “interfere with our sovereignty”, while also acknowledging for the first time that farmers may have been involved in lighting the fires. Reuters also carries comments from the French president Emmanuel Macron calling the fires “an international crisis”. According to CNN, Macron has called for the issue to feature on the agenda at the G7 summit in Biarritz. In response to this statement, Bolsonaro accused the French president of having a “colonialist mentality”, according to the Daily Telegraph. The Guardian reports that Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles being booed by demonstrators as he took to the stage at the Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week event.
Both the Sun and the Daily Express have pieces warning that the continuous burning of the Amazon threatens to accelerate the pace the climate change. The Express cites a NASA-funded study of wildfires in the Canadian Northwest Territories to support its claim. BuzzFeed News has a photo-based piece looking at the fires that also includes advice about “what you can do”, including joining climate protests and purchasing paper products supported by the Rainforest Alliance. Euronews reports that while most attention has focused on fires in the Brazilian Amazon, Bolivia too is currently battling significant blazes across its rainforests.
Meanwhile, a piece in the Guardian considers the fires that continue to burn in Alaska, weeks after the state’s usual wildfire season has come to an end. Noting that Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, recently saw temperatures pass 32C for the first time, the article calls the wildfires “a glimpse of our climate future”. The San Francisco Chronicle is among outlets reporting on more fires that have been burning in Northern California.
Senator Bernie Sanders has released a $16.3tn blueprint detailing his plans to fight climate change, according to the New York Times. The paper says this “latest and most expensive proposal” has been dubbed a “Green New Deal” and calls for the US to end fossil fuel use by 2050. The Daily Mail notes the strategy capitalises on the notoriety of congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s “climate change framework of the same name”. The news comes after Washington governor Jay Inslee dropped out of the leadership race, leaving the field open for what the NY Times calls a new “climate candidate”. NBC News says the 10-year plan would put the US on the path to 100% renewables for both electricity and transportation by 2030. The Washington Post also has the story, and asks whether the major new plan outlined by Sanders will be “too much for voters”. Vox includes a detailed explainer piece looking at what is in Sanders’ plan, including the claim it will “end unemployment” based on the number of workers it will require. The Guardian compares Sanders’ strategy to those of other Democrat candidates, including Joe Biden’s proposal of $1.7tn to neutralise carbon emissions by 2050, and Elizabeth Warren’s $2tn “green manufacturing plan”. The Associated Press notes the senator released his plan ahead of touring a Californian town that had been hit by wildfire, an event Sanders said should be a “wake-up call for our entire nation”. BuzzFeed News, Time and Politico also have the story.
Meanwhile, according to the Hill, Sanders’ announcement coincided with a committee within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) voting down a proposal for a debate focused on climate change. And Politico reports on a “new tone from some Republicans on climate change”, although notes a desire in the party to pass clean energy and electric vehicle legislation is largely being expressed “behind closed doors”.
Total coal consumption in China is expected to fall 18% from 2018 to 2035, and by 39% from 2018 to 2050, according to a report produced by a state-owned institution and covered by Reuters. The CNPC Economics and Technology Research Institute, run by the state-owned China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), said the world’s biggest coal consumer will see its demand fall as as renewable, nuclear and natural gas capacity all continue to increase rapidly in the coming years. Reuters notes that despite commitments to moving away from coal, China has continued to approve new mines, coal-fired power plants and new projects overseas. Meanwhile, the Guardian carries a report from the Australian office of the chief economist warning that thermal coal exporters face “significant risk” that Indian demand will decline in the coming years. The Economist has a piece noting that Asia digs up and burns three-quarters of the world’s coal.
The Times reports on an article published in Science calling for a “managed retreat” from coasts as sea levels rise due to climate change. “The question is no longer whether some communities will retreat — moving people and assets out of harm’s way — but why, where, when and how they will retreat,” the paper said. The Times cites the case of England, where five million homes are at risk from flooding or coastal erosion according to the Environment Agency, which has said “tough decisions” will have to be made over whether homes should be abandoned. (Carbon Brief has previously published a guest post on the topic of managed retreat.)
Within a 12-hour period, Bernie Sanders announced a major new climate plan, governor Jay Inslee, who had made climate change key to key campaign, dropped out of the Democrat leadership race, and the Democratic National Committee rejected a proposal to hold a climate-centered debate in the primary. “The three events left me wondering: How important is climate change, really, in the Democratic Party?” says Robinson Meyer, staff writer at the Atlantic. He notes that despite the scale of Sanders’ strategy, climate change may not have the top position in the minds of many Democrats. “Inslee’s lack of success does reveal a political problem for climate advocates,” Meyer writes. “For all the plans, climate change does not seem to function in the Democratic Party the way that, say, abortion does within the Republican Party: There isn’t a well-organised contingent of voters waiting to glom onto a climate champion. There is a large, addressable set of voters who care about climate change—but they mostly seem to be activated Democrats, and as activated Democrats they care about a wide range of issues and as such retain a wide range of candidate loyalties.” He points out that strategies like Sanders’ Green New Deal would be very difficult to pass as they require the approval and participation of Congress, while the Democrats only control the House. “If the 2020 Democratic nominee, whoever it is, really wants to tackle climate change as their own plan discusses it – as an issue afflicting the whole economy – then they’ll need to show that someone in their administration can tackle it at the whole-economy level,” Meyer concludes.
Meanwhile, in an opinion piece for the Evening Standard, Robert Fox writes that to make people care about climate change, “we have to put the issues in graphic and graspable terms — not the stuff of Hammer Horror movies”.
Loss of sea ice loss enhances warming in the Arctic, as warmer waters absorb more incoming sunlight. This study investigates to what extent warming on Greenland can be attributed to changes in the sea ice cover in different parts of the Arctic. Using climate model projections, they find that the impact of sea ice loss is largely confined to the coastal parts of Greenland. Overall, warming attributable to sea ice variability is a minor contribution compared to broader warming, the study says, but can be a dominant signal locally in coastal regions.
In recent years, the use of wood pellets to replace coal for electricity generation has been increasing, with over 10m tonnes traded internationally. Critical to this trade is the classification of woody biomass as ‘renewable energy’ and thus eligible for public subsidies. However, much scientific study on the net effect of this trend suggest that it is having the opposite effect to that expected of renewable energy, by increasing atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide for substantial periods of time. This review finds that current policies are failing to recognise that removing forest carbon stocks for bioenergy leads to an initial increase in emissions, and that the periods during which atmospheric CO2 levels are raised before forest regrowth can reabsorb the excess emissions are incompatible with the urgency of reducing emissions to meet Paris Agreement goals. The authors urge reforms that would allow short-term warming impacts of wood pellets to be taken into account.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.