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Daily Briefing

14.05.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Australian islanders to lodge landmark UN complaint on climate change
Australian islanders to lodge landmark UN complaint on climate change

News.

Australian islanders to lodge landmark UN complaint on climate change

A group of indigenous people have filed an “unprecedented legal complaint against Australia”, Reuters reports, “accusing the government of breaching their human rights by falling short on its Paris climate accord pledges”. Eight residents of the low-lying Torres Strait Islands filed the complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee, claiming that rising sea levels were devastating their communities. They say their homes, burial grounds and cultural sites could disappear underwater in their lifetimes, CNN writes. Sophie Marjanac, one of nine lawyers involved in the case, told Reuters: “The science is really stark for these communities about what the future holds – they need serious assistance to adapt and to remain on their islands because…they’re already experiencing regular inundations.” Australia is “one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita because of its reliance on coal-fired power plants”, Reuters explains.

Over in the Guardian , the environmentalist Bill McKibben has written an opinion piece on the upcoming Australian elections: “We’ve run out of elections to waste – this is the last chance to make a difference on climate change.” In other news about Australia, Reuters reports the 13 Greenpeace activists have been arrested after scaling Sydney Harbour Bridge, demanding that prime minister Scott Morrison takes emergency action to address climate change.

Reuters Read Article
Falling renewables investment stalls Paris climate goals

The world “is moving in the opposite direction of the Paris climate pact goals, with investment in renewable energy falling for the second consecutive year”, according to new figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA) picked up by the Financial Times. Spending on renewable power fell 1% to $304bn in 2018 – the lowest level since 2014. The new report from the world’s energy watchdog also warns that spending on fossil fuel extraction is rising, with expenditure in oil and gas extraction seeing a 3.7% increase to $477bn. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, told the paper: “Compared to 2015 when the Paris climate agreement was signed, the appetite to push low carbon investments and policies is slowly fading.” He added: “If there was a bigger political will, we would have seen the numbers go the other way.” In a separate comment piece, Ed Crooks examines this “deeply worrying” slowdown in renewables, drawing lessons from nuclear power generation in its “golden age”: “There may be no reason to think that the brakes are about to be slammed on renewable energy the way they were for nuclear power, but the history is a reminder that simply project past growth trends forward is rarely a reliable guide to the future.” Reuters and Axios also carry the story.

Financial Times Read Article
Trump buildings face millions in climate fines under new New York rules

The Trump Organisation is on course to be hit with fines of $2.1m every year from 2030, unless its buildings cut their greenhouse gas emissions, the Guardian reveals. Eight Trump-owned properties including Trump Tower “do not comply with new regulations” in New York City, which are designed to reduce emissions. New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio commented: “President Trump, you’re on notice. Your polluting buildings are part of the problem. Cut your emissions or pay the price.” City officials estimate that these eight buildings are responsible for around 27,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases every ear, the equivalent of 5,800 cars. In order to comply with the regulations, the Guardian writes that the Trump properties must: “improve insulation, upgrade window glass, replace boilers and better automate electricity use”. The Hill and the New York Times also cover the story.

The Guardian Read Article
Cement giant Heidelberg pledges carbon neutral concrete by 2050

In “a first for the sector”, the world’s fourth largest cement company has said it will cut its emissions in line with Paris climate goals, Climate Home News reports. HeidelbergCement has pledged to slash direct emissions by 15% per tonne of its products by 2030 from 2016 levels. Jennifer Gerholdt, corporate engagement director at We Mean Business, commented: “The commitment, which is part of the company’s wider vision to realise CO2-neutral concrete by 2050 at the latest, is a powerful signal that the built environment is transitioning towards a zero-carbon future.” The cement sector accounts for around 7% of global CO2 emissions, according to the International Energy Agency. Last year, Carbon Brief published an explainer on why cement emissions matter for climate change.

Climate Home News Read Article
Climate crisis: CO2 levels rise to highest point since evolution of humans

Atmospheric CO2 levels “have reached an alarming new milestone”, the Independent reports. The Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii took a reading of 415.26ppm in the air on 11 May – “thought to be the highest concentration since humans evolved”. Meteorologist Eric Holthaus tweeted: “This is the first time in human history our planet’s atmosphere has had more than 415ppm CO2… We don’t know a planet like this.” The Daily Mail, the Hill and Axios also report on the figure.

The Independent Read Article
Bill Nye warns: 'The planet's on (expletive) fire'

“Bill Nye is done being the nice guy”, says USA Today. During an appearance on US late-night talk show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” to discuss climate change, the science educator “didn’t hold back on the state of the Earth”. “By the end of this century, if emissions keep rising, the average temperature on Earth could go up another four to eight degrees. The planet’s on fucking fire,” Nye said on the programme, while actually setting fire to a globe. Oliver brought on Nye to de-mystify carbon pricing, an “economist-backed method of reducing global warming by charging those who emit carbon dioxide”, USA Today explains. Oliver also referenced a Carbon Brief article on the decline in UK emissions during the same piece. The Guardian, the Hill and the MailOnline also have the story.

USA Today Read Article

Comment.

Climate divides Tories just as much as Brexit

“The Conservative Party is almost as divided about the environment as it is over Brexit”, writes political columnist Rachel Sylvester, in an opinion piece for the Times. “There is a clash between buccaneering free marketeers, who favour low taxes and light-touch regulation, and interventionists who believe in the power of government to make the world a better place”, she claims. Sylvester also notes a “tension within the Tory party about whether and how the government should be tackling climate change, with some arguing that money should be focused on scientific research and others suggesting that the tax system should be used to influence behaviour.” The piece concludes: “For the Conservatives it would be electorally dangerous to end up on the wrong side of this argument… If the Tories want to stay as a credible force in politics they will have to win over at least some of the schoolchildren who joined the climate strike.”

Rachel Sylvester, The Times Read Article
Joe Biden would be a disaster for climate change

US presidential candidate Joe Biden’s “industry friendly” plans are “out of touch…with the scale of the climate challenge”, claims writer Kate Aronoff. “Biden does not have a plan to keep warming below 1.5 or even 2C”, instead, they are “more in line with stabilising at 3-4C of warming”, she says, quoting an estimate from atmosphere scientist Andrew Dessler. Aronoff concludes that Biden “may well believe that the climate crisis poses an existential threat, which is more than can be said of the current administration”, yet if his “climate plan is to get us back to 2016, he’s not any more in touch with reality than they are.” Meanwhile the New York Times reports that Biden “defended his record on climate change” yesterday, and “called for a ‘green revolution’ that is ‘rational’ and affordable.”

Kate Aronoff, The Guardian Read Article

Science.

Evidence that millennial and fast-cycling soil carbon are equally sensitive to warming

Ancient Arctic soils that have stored carbon for thousands of years may be as sensitive to warming as young soils, a new study finds. For the study, the researchers took soil samples from Alaska and used isotope techniques to work out the age of the carbon they stored. The authors then incubated the samples in typical Arctic summer temperatures. The research shows ancient soil carbon – which makes up the majority of soil carbon found in the Arctic – could be as sensitive to permafrost thaw and rising temperatures.

Nature Climate Change Read Article
A multi-model assessment of food security implications of climate change mitigation

A research paper investigates how various proposed policies for limiting global warming could impact global food security. The research finds that “carelessly designed climate mitigation policies could increase the number of people at risk of hunger by 160 million in 2050”. The authors add: “ It should be noted that direct impacts of climate change on yields were not assessed and that the direct benefits from mitigation in terms of avoided yield losses could be substantial, further reducing the above cost.”

Nature Sustainability Read Article

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