Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Australia's bushfires to cost billions as climate risks rise
- US greenhouse gas emissions 2019 fell as coal plans close
- Nearly 900 pensioners died in British heatwaves last year as experts warn houses are too hot
- Pension funds urge Barclays to stop lending to fossil fuel firms
- Bushfires show the good and the not-so-good in modern Australia
- The Guardian view on an ice-sheet collapse: threatening the world’s coasts
- Greater stability of carbon capture in species-rich natural forests compared to species-poor plantations
Climate Homes News reports that Australia’s bushfires are expected to cost billions of dollars in recovery efforts, following prime minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a new National Bushfire Recovery Agency, funded with $2bn AUS ($1.4bn) over a two-year period to help those affected. Commentators quoted in the piece suggest the money “could fall short of the recovery effort”, and the article notes “the nation’s bills for tackling natural disasters risk soaring in coming decades with worsening climate change”. A piece in Reuters says the prime minister has told foreign tourists not to be deterred by the fires, which have claimed dozens of lives, even amidst warnings from fire services that any reprieve resulting from cooler weather is only temporary. The Washington Post reports that “people more than half a world away” in South America are also feeling the effects of the Australian wildfires. Reuters quotes the World Meteorological Organisation saying that the sunset in the Argentinian capital of Buenos Aires had turned red due to smoke from Australia. The Guardian has a story based on social media analysis conducted by an Australian academic suggesting bot and troll accounts are conducting a “disinformation campaign” to exaggerate the role of arson in the disaster. The Sydney Morning Herald also reports that news agency Australian Associated Press “has been overwhelmed by an influx of dubious social media posts relating to the national bushfire crisis”. A dispatch from ITV News correspondent Dan Rivers notes the prevalence of climate denial in Australia, commenting that it is “all too common to hear people saying climate change is rubbish or it’s got no part in this tragedy”. (To get a sense of the role of climate change in the bushfires, and other causes that have been suggested, read Carbon Brief’s media analysis.) The Australian Associated Press reports that army reservists are digging mass graves for more than 100,000 livestock killed in the fires to “stave off a potential biosecurity emergency”, a process also captured in a Guardian feature. Finally, the Daily Mail Australia says a report from 12 years ago “predicted” the current bushfire crisis “with eerie precision”.
US emissions dropped by an estimated 2% last year due to the continuing decline of coal-fired power plants across the country, according to Bloomberg, reporting on analysis produced by independent researchers from the Rhodium Group, a private data research firm. According to Bloomberg, the news “underscores the limitations” of US president Donald Trump’s pro-fossil fuel policies, which have seen environmental regulations rolled back and attempts to keep coal plants open. According to Axios, the fuel’s decline has been driven by the advent of cheaper natural gas and renewable electricity. The Hill notes that coal-fired power generation dropped by 18% to its lowest level since 1975, but adds that emissions from other sectors like buildings and industry also increased. According to the Atlantic, the switch from coal to gas “has not been wholly good for American emissions,” as some critics argue that leaky infrastructure is “as bad for the climate as the coal system that it is replacing” because of climate-warming methane entering the atmosphere. With the US accounting for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the Washington Post concludes that the “modest overall drop in emissions left the US in danger of failing to meet its commitments under international agreements”. It quotes Trevor Houser, head of Rhodium Group’s energy and climate team, who says “emissions are not falling fast enough to meet Copenhagen or Paris agreement targets without a significant change in public policy.” Reuters says Trump administration policies such as the freeze on Obama-era standards for vehicle efficiency “put future cuts in doubt”. InsideClimate News has a piece looking at why emissions dropped in 2019 “in six charts”.
Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post reports on a new study by the Chinese government-backed Energy Research Institute which suggests phasing out coal and meeting its climate goals by 2050 is “totally doable” for China, by rapidly phasing out “low-hanging fruit” power plants and gradually reducing the operating hours of others. In its own switch away from coal by 2025, Israel is planning on building two natural gas power units, according to Reuters.
Reuters also reports the chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute has warned that Americans risk choosing the “wrong path” in the upcoming presidential election if they vote for a candidate that wants to ban drilling to tackle climate change. A report by the Environmental Integrity Project covered by the Hill showed that oil and gas companies could release about 30% more greenhouse gases by 2025 than they did in 2018.
Around 900 pensioners died due to the three heatwaves that struck Britain last year, according to widely reported official figures from Public Health England. The Daily Telegraph suggests many of the deaths could have been avoided if buildings were designed to stay cool instead of trapping heat. The Independent reports that the number of “excess deaths” (those that occurred in addition to those expected at baseline mortality) spiked on the hottest day of the summer, 25 July. The Guardian notes that over the past four years more than 3,400 people have died prematurely during periods of extreme temperature in England, and that “global heating is increasing the frequency of heatwaves”. MailOnline, Sky News and the Daily Mirror are among the other publications covering the story.
Meanwhile, Al Jazeera reports that India has just seen its hottest ever decade, with over 1,5000 people dying as a result of extreme weather last year and the national weather office calling the impact of global warming “unmistakable”.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Morocco intends to spend 115 billion dirhams ($12bn) on its water supply between 2020 and 2027 to meet increasing demand and help secure its farms, which have been impacted by climate change-driven droughts and summer flash floods. And the Guardian has a report on how farmers in Bangladesh are adapting to floods and storms in delta lowlands.
Barclays is being urged by a group of 11 pension and investment funds to stop offering loans to fossil fuel companies “as part of the first ever shareholder climate resolution aimed at a UK bank”, according to the Guardian. The newspaper reports that the resolution calls for the bank to phase out services to energy companies that do not align with Paris Agreement targets. It will be voted on at the annual general meeting in May 2020.
An article in the Financial Times says US municipal bonds investors are “waking up to the financial risks of climate change”. And a piece in the same paper, written by British financier Huw van Steenis, warns that “ignoring climate risk is more costly than grappling with it”, something he says investors and boards have begun to realise. Meanwhile, an “exclusive” interview with outgoing Bank of England governor Mark Carney in the FT also addresses climate change. Carney, who has recently been appointed to a new UN role as special envoy for climate action and finance ahead of COP25 in Glasgow, says the financial sector cannot mitigate global warming without wider policies and action. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal says insurers and banks are being forced to “bow to progressives and divest from fossil fuels”.
In the UK, BusinessGreen reports that Chancellor Sajid Javid has “promised to prioritise the environment in his first Budget”, set to take place on 11 March. The Daily Telegraph previews comments by environment secretary Theresa Villiers, who intends to tell the Oxford Farming Conference that farming subsidies will be replaced by a fund linked to efforts to combat climate change. Finally, a report by WWF, reported by BBC News, claims Scotland’s farmers could “comfortably” cut emissions by 38% over the next 25 years using established technologies.
There is continued commentary on the devastating fires sweeping across Australia. A Sydney Morning Herald editorial reflects on the outpouring of generosity shown by many Australians, as well as the 24 people in New South Wales charged with either deliberate arson or reckless lighting of fires. “Although statistics suggest this is a relatively minor cause of fires, it is incredible that when the nation is facing an inferno some people want to make it worse and others are criminally irresponsible. Australians are just as capable of being stupid as they are heroes.” It continues by noting the that the fires have “exposed how ugly the divisions are in Australia over issues such as climate change”, noting many people around the world were “shocked by Australia’s refusal to accept the science of climate change”. An editorial in the South China Morning Post mentions Australian prime minister Scott Morrison’s climate scepticism in a piece titled: “Turn up the heat on climate change deniers.” It says such doubters “need to change their ways or the disastrous consequences of their poor judgment will be ever-more evident”. An opinion piece in the Guardian, meanwhile, references reports of an online disinformation campaign and calls it a “mad scramble from interests that are vested in ongoing climate denial”. An opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal strikes a far more sceptical tone, calling the “climate-change narrative” around the Australian bushfires “a gross oversimplification”. A piece in the New York Times reflects on what the US might learn from the situation in Australia.
An editorial in the Guardian considers the melting Antarctic ice sheets and particularly Thwaites glacier, where early 100 scientists and support staff recently arrived. It notes a “gigantic hole” discovered at the base of Thwaites, which is likely to drive faster melting. “It is a stark reminder that for all the observations and sophisticated climate models that scientists produce, nature can still serve up unwelcome surprises. The fact is that we are ill-equipped to model precisely a global system as devilishly complex as the climate. If we don’t know every detail – every process, every threshold, and the direction and strength of every feedback loop – we must always expect surprises.” The Guardian says that at a time when science is under threat in both the US and the UK, thanks to pressure from the Trump administration and Brexit, the glacier is a reminder that research is more important than ever. “If Thwaites tells us anything, it is that we need more science, not less, to survive the climate crisis. Without it, we will not understand the full threat we face, nor be well placed to mitigate its most dangerous consequences.”
Diverse natural forests with a mix of tree species are more reliable and stable at absorbing and storing carbon than plantations dominated by just a few tree species, a new study finds. The research was conducted across natural forests and former teak and eucalyptus plantations in India. The results show that, across the study sites, carbon stocks in teak and eucalyptus plantations were 30-50% lower than in natural evergreen forests.