Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Angela Merkel says Germany must do more to fight climate crisis
- Italian presidency says struggling to reach common ground on G20 climate position
- UK: Green energy suppliers oppose bills surcharge for new nuclear plants
- Politicians from across world call for ‘global green deal’ to tackle climate crisis
- China's national carbon market sees active transactions on first day with price averaging at 51.23 yuan
- The Times view on flooding and drought: Action on climate
- The case for taxing European flights
- We must not forget our morals when dealing with the climate crisis
- Changing status of tropical cyclones over the north Indian Ocean
- Increased mortality of tropical tree seedlings during the extreme 2015‐16 El Niño
There is extensive continuing coverage of the extreme flooding that hit parts of west Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands last week and extended into eastern Germany, Bavaria and Austria over the weekend. The Guardian quotes Angela Merkel who has been visiting devastated towns and villages: “We have to up the pace in the fight against climate change.” Politico also quotes the German chancellor during her visit to the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate: “The German language knows hardly any words for this devastation.” BBC News says that at least 188 people are known to have died in Germany and Belgium. It says: “European leaders have blamed climate change for the floods, which have also affected Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands…Finance minister Olaf Scholz said a package of €300m (£257m) in immediate aid would be proposed at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.” Another Politico article carries the views of European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen who visited the Belgian towns of Rochefort and Pepinster: “Europe is with you. We share your grief. We will help you to rebuild.”
Several news outlets consider the implications of the floods on Germany’s upcoming general election. The Times notes that Armin Laschet, who governs North Rhine-Westphalia and is favourite to succeed Angela Merkel as leader of the CDU and, thus, become the next chancellor, “apologised after being caught on camera laughing and joking during a visit to a town devastated by the Rhineland floods”. The newspaper adds that he has “also been criticised for a tin-eared response to the disaster and a failure to take climate change seriously”. The Financial Times says the flooding has driven climate to the “heart” of the election campaign: “The dramatic scenes could benefit the Greens, who even before this week were set to make big gains in September’s poll. Their strongest suit – a focus on climate change and on mobilising resources to prevent it – has acquired new urgency.” Bloomberg says “Germany’s devastating flood damage has shifted the dynamic in the country’s election campaign, potentially redrawing political lines in the contest to succeed chancellor Angela Merkel”. It continues: “Images of battered cars piled up in swollen gullies, floodwater surging through sleepy half-timbered villages have shocked German voters, leaving conservative front-runner Armin Laschet vulnerable and creating an opening for the Green party.” The New York Times says the flooding has “thrust the issue of climate change to the centre of Germany’s politics and its campaign for pivotal elections”. It quotes an editorial comment made by Germany’s ARD public television on the Friday evening news: “The weather is political. For a long time, chatting about the weather was synonymous with triviality. That’s over now. The weather is highly political; there is hardly any nonpolitical weather anymore, especially not during an election campaign.“ Separately, Sky News reported on Friday that the German government had been “accused of hypocrisy” after “complaining of the impacts of climate change brought by this week’s catastrophic flooding while signalling support for a new gas project in the Arctic”.
Meanwhile, there has been widespread media coverage of how the flooding can be linked to climate change. Deutsche Welle says: “Experts say such extreme weather used to happen once in a generation but may happen more frequently in the future – and with more intensity – a sign that climate change is impacting our lives.” Reuters quotes Ralf Toumi, a climate scientist at Imperial College London: “Floods always happen, and they are like random events, like rolling the dice. But we’ve changed the odds on rolling the dice.” The New York Times carries the story on its frontpage: “A complete answer will have to await analyses, almost certain to be undertaken given the magnitude of the disaster, that will seek to learn if climate change made this storm more likely, and if so, by how much. But for many scientists the trend is clear. ‘The answer is yes – all major weather these days is being affected by the changes in climate,’ said Donald J Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois.” Another New York Times article says: “Extreme downpours like the ones that occurred in Germany are one of the most visible signs that the climate is changing as a result of warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have found that they are now happening more frequently for a simple reason: A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, generating more, and more powerful, rainfall.” The Guardian, Politico, Sky News and the i newspaper all carry similar reports quoting climate scientists. BBC News has a related news feature which begins: “Top climate scientists have admitted they failed to predict the intensity of the German floods and the North American heat dome. They’ve correctly warned over decades that a fast-warming climate would bring worse bursts of rain and more damaging heatwaves. But they say their computers are not powerful enough to accurately project the severity of those extremes. They want governments to spend big on a shared climate super-computer.” The New York Times also has a news feature which pans out to include a range of recent extreme weather events: “The extreme weather disasters across Europe and North America have driven home two essential facts of science and history: The world as a whole is neither prepared to slow down climate change, nor live with it. The week’s events have now ravaged some of the world’s wealthiest nations, whose affluence has been enabled by more than a century of burning coal, oil and gas – activities that pumped the greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that are warming the world.” (See Comment below.)
There is separate coverage of two other disasters caused by extreme rainfall with the Guardian reporting: “Dozens dead in Mumbai after ‘monstrous’ monsoon rains cause landslide.” Reuters reports: “Two dams in China’s Inner Mongolia collapse after torrential rain.” It adds: “People living downstream were evacuated, with no casualties reported.”
Italy is “struggling” to reach agreement on a joint statement over climate commitments among G20 countries, reports Reuters. Italy is the current president of the G20 group of rich and emerging nations and it is hosting the G20 meeting on the environment, climate and energy in Naples on Thursday. The newswire quotes Italy’s ecological transition minister Roberto Cingolani saying different levels of economic development around the world have made it hard to find common ground on climate commitments. “We currently have all teams at work and I can assure you we are finding it hard to come up with a shared document…and we’re talking about 20 countries, not 160.”
Meanwhile, in other news from Europe, Reuters says the European Commission has published an outline for proposals on “how to improve the health of Europe’s forests and harness their ability to fight climate change, including through legally binding targets to restore degraded ecosystems”. The newswire adds: “The commission on Friday said it would propose legally binding targets to restore damaged forest ecosystems in Europe, and develop a system requiring countries to track data on the health of their forests, gathered from sources including ground-based monitoring.” Separately, the Financial Times says “US oil and gas exporters have been warned that they face a further tightening of European anti-pollution rules despite energy’s exclusion from a swath of climate proposals introduced in Brussels last week”.
The Daily Telegraph says: “New environmental rules imposed by Brussels are set to make air travel more expensive, analysts have warned. Tickets may rise by between 5-8% under carbon pricing rules proposed as part of the European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’ scheme, UBS warned.”
The Financial Times runs an article under the headline: “Macron dithers on nuclear power investment as issue divides France.” It says: “Less than a year before presidential elections, the French leader is leaving the multibillion question of adding new reactors undecided as the issue becomes increasingly divisive. France’s 56 reactors – making the country the second-largest atomic nation by capacity behind the US – produce 70% of its energy and explain why the country boasts a fraction of Germany’s carbon emissions. But an estimated €49bn by 2025 has been earmarked to extend their working lives and Macron has yet to commit to any new reactor, beside the one that state-owned company EDF is building in Flamanville, in the north-west.” EurActiv says that France has expressed “reservations” about the social consequences of extending the carbon market to the building and transport sectors, a proposal put forward last week by the European Commission.
The Financial Times reports that “green energy suppliers are protesting at the prospect of having to add a surcharge to household bills to pay for new nuclear plants in Britain when their customers purposely choose not to support the divisive technology”. The newspaper adds: “UK ministers are aiming to introduce legislation in the autumn that would allow for a large nuclear power plant proposed for Sizewell on England’s east coast to be financed via a “regulated asset base” model. The scheme would see households help fund the construction of the £20bn plant via a surcharge on their energy bills, regardless of their supplier.”
Separately, in other UK news, the Times covers industry warnings that “the government’s target of quadrupling Britain’s offshore wind energy capacity by 2030 will not be met without an urgent overhaul of inefficient planning processes and network connections”. It continues: “The offshore wind industry also needs a more predictable supply of seabed leases and financial support contracts to help secure investment in new factories and jobs, Renewable UK said.” Another Times story says “the government is preparing to issue plans to strip National Grid of its responsibility for running Britain’s electricity system in favour of a new independent body”. The report adds: “It is understood that the government will say that the challenges of meeting goals to tackle climate change have created the need for new technical roles and responsibilities in electricity and gas systems. Those roles include planning and developing future energy networks and increasing competition so that decarbonisation can be delivered at the lowest cost.” The Independent covers warnings by XR Zero Waste, an environment campaign group, which claims that “CO2 emissions from burning plastic and other types of waste for energy could triple in England by 2030 unless the government takes urgent action”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph “reveals” in a story trailed on its frontpage that “green alternatives to gas boilers will cost £11.8bn more than the government has budgeted for over the next four years because ministers have vastly underestimated the scale of home retrofits”, according to analysis from the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group (EEIG), which includes utility provider EON and the Confederation of British Industry. And MailOnline quotes anti-regulation lobbyists, the Taxpayers’s Alliance, in an article which claims that “Boris Johnson’s green and anti-obesity projects could end up costing Britain’s households more than £28,000 each over the coming decade if they are fully implemented”.
The Washington Post reports that Joe Biden has selected Jane Hartley as the new ambassador to the UK: “Biden cited Hartley’s work in Paris, specifically planning for the COP21 climate conference.” And BusinessGreen reports that former UK prime minister Theresa May is “set to take become chair at influential sustainable business group Aldersgate Group, succeeding former Labour MP Joan Walley.”
Finally, the Press Association, via the Guardian, reports that Ballywatticock in County Down recorded Northern Ireland’s hottest temperature ever recorded on Saturday when the thermometer reached 31.2C beating the previous highest temperature of 30.8C, reached on 12 July 1983 and 30 June 1976.
The Global Alliance for a Green New Deal – a new group of politicians from the UK, Europe and developing countries – is inviting politicians from legislatures in all countries to work together on policies that would deliver a just transition to a green economy ahead of COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow this November, reports the Guardian. The newspaper adds: “The alliance includes Caroline Lucas, the Green party’s only MP, and Labour’s Clive Lewis, as well as MEPs, representatives in Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, Malaysia and the US among other countries…The alliance wants governments to put measures in place that would boost the green economy as well as collaborating on global vaccine access for Covid and debt restructuring for the world’s poorest nations. They will seek to share knowledge around the world of successful initiatives, such as the decarbonisation plan recently put forward in Costa Rica.” BusinessGreen quotes Lucas: “This is our moonshot moment, but this time it’s about making a better life here on earth and the only way we can do that is by working together as never before.”
China’s carbon market saw “active” transactions on Friday, its first trading day, with an average price of 51.23 yuan (£5.73) per tonne, reports Xinhua. The state news agency says that the market also closed at 51.23 yuan per tonne after more than 4.1mn tonnes of CO2 quotas worth more than 210mn yuan (£23.5mn) had exchanged hands. “Many” enterprises, including China National Petroleum Corporation and China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation, took part in the trading, the newswire says. People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, reports that experts have described China’s carbon market as “entering a new developmental stage in its transaction volume and activeness” after being rolled out nationally. China Energy News, which is affiliated with People’s Daily, notes that the national carbon market had “a good start”. Writing for the South China Morning Post, David Dodwell says “China’s emissions trading scheme [is] a small but important step in climate change fight”.
Meanwhile, China National Radio reports that the country has built a coal reserve system that can enable the government to dispatch 100m tonnes of backup coal at any given time to tackle shortages of the fuel. The state radio station cites the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state macroeconomic planner. On the same topic, the China Economic Net – a website run by the State Council – reports that China aims to gain the capability of putting 600m tonnes of coal in reserve. The amount is about 15% of China’s national coal consumption annually. At least a third of the reserve, or 200m tonnes, should be available for government dispatch, with the rest stored by various enterprises, the website says.
Elsewhere, Yicai – a financial website affiliated with state-run Shanghai Media Group – reports that China and Japan could establish their collaboration to fight climate change by focusing on developing “green hydrogen”. One expert told the publication that the two countries could seek cooperation in aspects including law-making and technology development. Finally, an expert told Fortune that China must “invite all [global] investors, not only Chinese investors”, to its green finance market to help it get $21tn of debt financing over the next 40 years to hit its 2030/2060 climate goals.
An editorial in the Times reacts to the extreme flooding in northern Europe, as well as the North American heatwaves, saying: “ These extreme events are now becoming far more frequent than the scientists’ own forecasts. That should worry us all…These extreme weather events are a warning to governments they need to step up their efforts to adapt to climate change that is already happening, regardless of what they are doing to curb future emissions…Only a global effort can limit greenhouse gases, which is why this year’s COP26 climate summit is crucial. Yet the prospects for success look slim…So far there is little sign that rich countries are prepared to do either. Is it too much to hope that recent events might focus minds?” An editorial in the Independent says: “The weather events of the past week add humility to western calls for action – let’s hope for global urgency in the task ahead.” An editorial in the Evening Standard also reacts to the flooding: “Despite progress on shifting away from fossil fuels, we remain on track to comfortably surpass two degrees of warming by 2100. COP26 in Glasgow is the greatest – and perhaps the final – opportunity for nations to come together and put the policies and funding mechanisms in place to prevent such a scenario.”
In Germany, a comment piece in Deutsche Welle by David Ehl says: “At 32, I’m closer to [Greta] Thunberg than [Armin] Laschet, age-wise. The floods and heat waves we are witnessing today are frightening. Are they merely a taste of what’s to come once I reach Laschet’s age? And what will coming generations be up against? What we need, therefore, are mitigating measures against climate change, alongside steps to adapt to a warming planet.” The Sydney Morning Herald carries an editorial about the “Northern hemisphere’s awful summer” adding that it “demands climate action”. Anne McElvoy writing in the i newspaper says the flooding in Germany could impact the nation’s politics: “A Green surge will probably not impede Armin Laschet, whose regional power base is in the affected areas, from succeeding Merkel and giving the centre-right CDU another term in its long-stay period at the helm. But it would substantially boost the Greens’ potential to demand more key positions in a coalition.” Finally, Ban Ki-moon, the former secretary-general of the United Nations, and Patrick Verkooijen, chief executive of the Global Center on Adaptation, write for CNN about the “wet bulb warming” these extreme events are providing.
The Financial Times has published an editorial about the role of aviation in EU emission targets, under the subheading: “Making holidays more expensive will inevitably be politically difficult.“ The editorial notes that aviation has accounted for 4% of EU emissions in recent years, but adds that “curbs will be needed to make sure flying does not endanger the bloc’s goal of cutting emissions to net-zero by 2050”. It concludes: “All industries must play their part in the far-reaching changes needed to bring emissions down to safer levels. That includes airlines, too.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times’ Martin Sandbu has penned an opinion piece arguing that “the EU is taking a greater risk with its long-term green industrial policy than the US with its massive short-term macroeconomic stimulus”. He continues: “But if the result is European leadership in green technology, the impact on policy thinking will be much bigger than a revival of old-style industrial policy.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Washington Post is entitled: “The EU is getting serious about climate. Can the US follow suit?” It states that “last week could be remembered as a landmark moment in the fight against climate change – or another time in which US and European leaders, faced with global warming’s undeniable and increasing effects, promised big before under-delivering.” And a New York Times editorial reviews the steps that Joe Biden has taken so far on climate, stating “It is hard to overstate the joy of the environmental community when Joe Biden ascended to the White House”.
Separately, former BBC presenter John Humphrys has written a column in the Daily Mail headlined: “How dare billionaires blast off on space jaunts while Planet Earth faces a countdown to catastrophe.”
In a comment for the Times Red Box, the bishops of Salford and Galloway argue that the UK must use the upcoming COP26 climate summit in Glasgow as a platform for “global leaders[hip]”. They write: “If [prime minister] Boris Johnson wants ‘global Britain’ to be a force for good, then the British government must take urgent action for a fairer, greener and just world. It is simply not enough to face inwards, focusing on Britain’s own emissions…we must become global leaders, and use the COP26 summit as the stage to make bold and brave commitments to tackling the climate crisis.” The pair add: “As a global church we witness the voices from our partner dioceses and parishes in other parts of the world – in Brazil, Bangladesh, Fiji, and South Sudan to name a few – their stories of drought and hunger, extreme flooding, rising sea levels polluting groundwater wells and more frequent cyclones and hurricanes washing away lives, homes and livelihoods, alerting us to how fragile life and survival can be from one moment to the next, for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.” For Politics Home, Conservative MP David Warburton writes in a similar vein: “As hosts of COP26 and a world leader in tackling climate change, we can use this opportunity to set market-driving targets, share best-practice in how to achieve them and help the world transfer fairly to a net-zero economy.” He adds: “The science is clear that we need to act – and we must act now. It is a social and economic imperative. Just last week the OBR [Office for Budget Responsibility] found that a failure to invest in mitigating and adapting to climate change would be more costly in the long-term.”
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times columnist Dominic Lawson writes that net-zero emissions is an “impossible” target and that trying to reach it will be “painful and pointless”. In the Daily Telegraph, fellow climate sceptic columnist Charles Moore rails against the just-published National Food Strategy and its “determination to link all its thoughts about food with climate change”. [Food systems are responsible for around a third of greenhouse gas emissions.] Moore concludes: “The likelihood is that we cannot hit the net-zero target without doing ourselves terrible damage (and we probably cannot hit it at all).”
Between 2001 and 2019, cyclonic storms became 52% more frequent over the Arabian Sea and 8% less frequent over the Bay of Bengal, according to new research. The authors note that tropical cyclones are typically more frequent over the Bay of Bengal than over the Arabian Sea, but find that in “recent years”, the opposite trend has been observed. The study finds that, over the Arabian Sea, there was an 80% increase in cyclonic storm duration over 2001-19. It adds that over this time, “very severe cyclonic storms” were almost three times longer than over 1982-2000. The increase in tropical cyclone duration over the Arabian Sea is driven by an increase in mid-latitude humidity, the authors conclude. Furthermore, an increase in tropical cyclone strength was observed over the Arabian Sea – particularly during May, June and October.
A new study finds that, during the extreme El Niño event of 2015-2016, seedling mortality in central Panama increased by 11%. The authors use long-term data from eight tropical moist forests in Panama, spanning a range of rainfall patterns, to investigate how tropical seedling communities respond to El Niño-related droughts. They conclude: “Our findings suggest that predicted increases in the frequency of extreme El Niño events will alter tropical plant communities through their effects on early life stages.”
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