Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden administration approves nation’s first major offshore wind farm
- UK: Climate activists bring legal challenge over UK oil and gas strategy
- UK: Queen’s Speech climate measures ‘missed opportunity to show world leadership’
- One in four cities cannot afford climate crisis protection measures – study
- Japan's SMFG to halt all new financing of coal-fired power plants
- Regulators struggle to keep up with China's growing carbon financing market
- Mineral constraints for transition overstated by IEA
- A wind farm off Massachusetts should be just the start
- 1.5C degrowth scenarios suggest the need for new mitigation pathways
Construction on the first commercial-scale offshore wind farm in the US is expected to begin this summer after the Biden administration gave final approval to the initiative, the New York Times reports. According to the newspaper, the Vineyard Wind project will involve up to 84 turbines being installed off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. It adds that the windfarm could generate about 800 megawatts (MW) of electricity, dwarfing the 42MW produced by the nation’s two existing offshore windfarms off the coasts of Virginia and Rhode Island. The Guardian notes that while the US has “lagged behind other countries in offshore wind”, the aim is that this project will be “the first of many” as the nation sets out to generate 30GW of energy from this source by 2030. Two other offshore proposals in New York are also now under review, it adds. Reuters states that Vineyard Wind and other projects have faced concerns about damage to fishing, tourism, birds, historic sites and property values, and notes that the permitting process for this scheme had previously been cancelled by former president Donald Trump. NPR quotes interior secretary Deb Haaland, who told a press briefing that the expansion of wind energy is critical for Biden’s goal to make the electricity sector carbon-neutral. According to Gizmodo Earther, White House estimates suggest that the Vineyard Wind project will create about 3,600 jobs, adding that its offshore wind plan calls for the creation of 77,000 direct jobs in offshore wind by the end of the decade.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on concerns from automotive trade unions in the US that the shift to electric vehicles brings the prospect of fewer jobs and a non-unionised supply chain. Another piece in the same newspaper focuses on the Canadian mining industry, noting that “on both sides of the US-Canada border, a regional electric vehicle supply chain is being created, with the potential to transform mining in Canada and loosen China’s grip on the minerals used in batteries”.
In other renewables news, Bloomberg reports that one of the world’s largest roofing companies, Standard Industries, is “deepening its bet on solar by building a rare US panel factory in Silicon Valley”. In the UK, City AM reports that energy companies SSE and Equinor have tabled plans to build Scotland’s first-ever gas-power station using carbon capture technology, while the Times says environmentalists have raised their concerns about the project. Bloomberg reports that the Dutch government has plans to store 2.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually at the Port of Rotterdam by storing it in depleted gas fields in the seabed.
The Financial Times reports that three climate change activists are seeking to challenge the UK’s support for continued oil and gas production in the North Sea through the High Court. The campaigners, in bid to end fossil fuel production in British waters, have applied for a judicial review of industry regulator the Oil & Gas Authority’s strategy to “maximise the economic recovery” of the UK’s remaining reserves, according to the newspaper. Backed by environmental groups including Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth Scotland and the UK Student Climate Network, they will argue that this objective is “irrational” in light of the UK’s 2050 net-zero target and “fails to take into account the advantageous tax regime that applies to the North Sea”, which includes reliefs for decommissioning. The story is also covered by the Daily Telegraph and the National.
In more climate activism news from the UK, the Times reports that Extinction Rebellion co-founder Gail Bradbrook has been arrested for conspiracy to cause criminal damage and fraud due to her group’s targeting of banks and other financial institutions. The newspaper notes that as part of a “Money Rebellion” movement, last month activists broke the windows of HSBC and Barclays in Canary Wharf, London, last month and also targeted Lloyd’s. Reuters notes that the fraud allegation results from a campaign to use personal credit card debt to make donations to groups “allegedly damaged by banks” and subsequently refusing to pay off the debt. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the trial of Extinction Rebellion activists accused of blockading major printing presses for national newspapers “suffered a chaotic start after a defendant was arrested for glueing himself to the dock”.
The Queen’s Speech – in which the monarch reopens the UK parliament and sets out the government’s priorities for the year – was a “missed opportunity” for taking stronger action on climate change, according to commentators quoted by the Independent. It notes that in a speech at the House of Lords, the Queen “made a brief mention” of the UK addressing climate and ecological issues and its role as host of the major COP26 climate summit. However, it adds that Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the proposals outlined fell “far short”, and quotes academics and campaigners who point out the gap between current government policies and its net-zero emissions target. The Independent also has an opinion piece by Lucas titled: “Let’s make the Queen’s Speech an event to remember – by finally taking action to tackle the climate crisis.” BusinessGreen takes a more positive tone in its coverage, with a piece by editor James Murray stating that while it “may have been limited to just two lines…the UK’s net zero transition was once again right at the heart of the Queen’s Speech”. Specific details from the speech included mentions of “new green industries to create jobs, while protecting the environment”, a pledge to “oversee the fastest ever increase in public funding for research and development” and confirmation that the Environment Bill would return to Parliament, with “binding environmental targets”. MailOnline coverage states that the speech showed prime minister Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda covers topics “close to the heart of fiancee Carrie Symonds”, including “tough climate targets”.
Separately, a piece in Open Democracy reports that Johnson’s new investment council includes RWE Renewables, a subsidiary of a German energy company that is suing the Netherlands for €1.4bn for phasing out coal. It notes that the council was launched last month to attract foreign investment to the UK and has emphasised “sustainable” investment and “green industries”. Other members include banks with billions invested in fossil fuels, a weapons manufacturer and a Conservative party donor, the piece adds.
Various publications have covered a new study carried out by the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) looking at preparations by cities around the world for climate change. The Guardian reports that one in four of the 800 cities surveyed “lack the money to protect themselves against the ravages of climate breakdown, even though more than 90% are facing serious risks”. It notes that cities face flooding, overheating, water shortages and damage to infrastructure from extreme weather. Bloomberg adds that only 17% of cities are “implementing actions across the four areas CDP says have the highest impact when it comes to slashing emissions”, namely buildings, transport, electricity grids and waste management.
Meanwhile, in the UK, BusinessGreen reports that the Environment Agency has released its flooding plan for England, including support for community groups, insurance, property risk training and climate resilient infrastructure.
A separate report published by the British Ecological Society concludes that regenerating native woodland, restoring grassland and rewetting peatland must be priorities for tackling both climate change and biodiversity loss in the UK, according to the Guardian.
Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group plans to halt new financing for all coal-fired power plants, making it “the first major Japanese lender to make such a pledge amid increasing pressure on banks to cut coal-based funding”, Reuters reports. It notes that the move comes after prime minister Yoshihide Suga announced that the country aims to nearly double its target for cutting emissions. The piece notes that while the company “had not previously ruled out funding projects considered to be more environmentally friendly, such as so-called ultra-supercritical (USC) power plants that burn coal more efficiently than older designs, it removed the exception from its updated lending policy”.
China’s regulators have lagged behind developments in the nation’s carbon financing market, according to the Strait Times. The Singaporean broadsheet has syndicated an in-depth report from Caixin Global, a Chinese financial outlet. The article calls for the Chinese “regulatory regime” to set “clarify standards and fine-tune regulations” to manage its fast-growing carbon market, described as a “crucial tool” for the nation’s “green” transition. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a report explaining the boom of electric vehicles (EVs) in China. Major Chinese brands, such as Baidu and Xiaomi, have announced their plans to invest billions of dollars into the development of EVs, the report says. The article describes the public’s enthusiasm for “new energy” and other futurist cars at the recent Shanghai Auto Show. It says: “Visitors queued for hours to access the pavilions of Huawei and Baidu, thronging their displays and snapping pictures of sensor systems, high-tech dashboards and model vehicles.”
In Chinese media, state-run China Daily says that China and the US share a set of similar goals when it comes to climate change. Citing a US report and experts, the publication says that climate cooperation between Beijing and Washington can “inspire others around the world to work together toward curbing greenhouse gas emissions”. Xinhua focuses on the Chinese renewable energy technologies in South America. In a report on its Spanish version, the Chinese state news agency says that four out of the five “wind power parks” built by Chinese companies in the provinces of Chubut and Buenos Aires in Argentina have been in operation since April. A member of the Chinese management team told Xinhua that those projects could bring wind-power-related training to local staff and “inject green energy into the development of Argentina”. Official newspaper Guangming Daily discusses the economic challenges China faces in its efforts to achieve “carbon neutrality”.
Meanwhile, the “people’s procuratorate” of Qingdao in east China’s Shandong Province has ordered the arrest of Liu Baohua, a former senior energy official, for suspected bribe-taking, reports Shine. Liu was formerly a deputy head of the National Energy Administration, the state-run website adds.
Separately, Greta Thunberg’s tweet last week urging China to “drastically” change course to help the world solve the climate crisis continues to get attention from Chinese media. DW News, a news and commentary site mainly read by overseas Chinese, states that Thunberg has “ignored” the fact that China’s per-capita emission is “lower than that of developed countries”. The article reads that “Western politicians, ‘environment-protecting girl’ Thunberg and the public relations team and interest groups behind her would politicise climate and environment-related topics” before the COP26 to “launch a new round of double-standard public opinion and political pressuring against China”.
A blog post by Kingsmill Bond for financial think tank Carbon Tracker reflects on the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) latest reports on minerals, such as lithium and cobalt, which are considered critical to the clean energy transition. He concludes that the IEA “gives a rather pessimistic spin to what was some very positive data”, noting that while the agency acknowledged there were significant reserves of these minerals waiting to be accessed “their take then turns gloomier as we are warned about how hard this is going to be”. Bonds says the IEA is “very selective” in its presentation of the data comparing the minerals required for clean energy systems to fossil fuel technologies. “They look only at the stocks (the assets you need to build the generator or car) not the flows (the energy you need to run them). But the flows of energy are 2-3 orders of magnitude larger than the stocks, and this means that many of their conclusions are more useful for fossil fuel advocates than for policymakers,” he writes. Owing largely to the volume and weight of fossil fuels being extracted and shipped around the world, he concludes that in a clean technology-dominated future “we will need a lot less material and that means a much smaller environmental impact”. By Bond’s calculation “under the IEA’s 1.5C scenario…the fossil system requires over 300 times more material than the renewable system”. Meanwhile, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Mark P Mills from the Manhattan Institute, a free-market, conservative thinktank in the US, uses the IEA report in an attempt to tarnish US president Joe Biden’s clean energy policies. Mills states “the world doesn’t have the capacity to meet such demand” and praises the agency for producing such a report. (As Carbon Brief’s coverage of the report notes, IEA executive director Dr Fatih Birol describes the challenges outlined by Mills as “real, but…surmountable”.)
An opinion piece by Scott Martelle in the Los Angeles Times welcomes the Biden administration’s approval of the first large wind farm in the US off the coast of Massachusetts, noting that “California will need to do its part, too”. “The truth is, the US needs much more wind power, and solar power, if we are to end our reliance on fossil fuels for energy. And that will mean wind farms off the California coast, too, and soon,” he writes. Martelle continues, quoting the Los Angeles Times editorial board from March, which said: “[Climate action] will be expensive, and not all the steps will be popular, but we must proceed with haste along the clearest paths we are presented. And offshore wind power generation, done in ways that mitigate the environmental impact, is one of them.”
Scenarios that include economic “degrowth” should be “thoroughly considered” when exploring potential future pathways that limit warming to 1.5C, new research says. The authors note that Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios of 1.5C warming rely on negative emissions and “unprecedented technological change”, and assume continued growth in GDP. They compare the IPCC pathways with “degrowth scenarios where economic output declines due to stringent climate mitigation”. The study finds that degrowth scenarios “minimise many key risks for feasibility and sustainability compared to technology-driven pathways, such as the reliance on high energy-GDP decoupling, large-scale carbon dioxide removal and large-scale and high-speed renewable energy transformation”.
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