Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden, emphasising job creation, signs sweeping climate actions
- UK electricity from renewables outpaces gas and coal power
- Carney's carbon offset taskforce ducks environmental integrity questions
- Australia needs to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2030 to meet Paris goals, experts say
- World is at its hottest for at least 12,000 years – study
- Biden is off to a good start fighting climate change, but the nation must do more, faster
- Global and regional drivers of land-use emissions in 1961-2017
- Reducing transatlantic flight emissions by fuel-optimised routing
- Seasonal origin of the thermal maxima at the Holocene and the last interglacial
US president Joe Biden has signed a “sweeping series” of executive actions to address climate change, including a pause to all oil-and gas-drilling on federal land and electrifying the “vast fleet” of government vehicles, the New York Times reports. It adds that the order mandates 30% of federal land and water to be reserved for conservation purposes, as well as a doubling of offshore wind by 2030. The paper reports that, according to Biden, the “technological gains and demands for wind and solar infrastructure” would “more than make up” for job losses. It notes that the text of his executive order mentions the word “jobs” 15 times and that Biden reiterated that he will not ban fracking. Biden also issued a “sweeping presidential memorandum”, instructing agencies to make “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data”. The new administration also announced that it will host a “climate leaders summit” of major emitting countries on Earth Day – 22 April – and will announce a new set of emissions targets on this day.
BusinessGreen reports that the US currently maintains a fleet of 645,000 vehicles, while Axios points out that electrifying this fleet is “easier said than done”, because, at the moment, “not a single model fits the president’s criteria: battery-powered, made in America, by union workers”. The Independent reports that the president has pledged $2tn to tackling climate change,and told reporters: “I don’t think the federal government should give handouts to big oil to the tune of $40bn in fossil fuel subsidies.” The Financial Post also stresses the move away from subsidies of fossil fuels . However, a piece in Bloomberg Green points out that, while Biden froze the sale of leases on oil and gas, he “left out” coal. The Los Angeles Times reports that “Biden also called for the creation of a civilian climate corps that will put Americans to work restoring forests”. The Guardian quotes a warning from Biden that climate change poses an “existential threat” and that “we desperately need unified national response to the climate crisis”, while BBC News quotes Biden’s declaration that “today is climate day at the White House” and that the US “must lead” a global response to climate change. The Times adds that, according to Biden, climate change is a national security issue. The Washington Post calls Biden’s actions “monumental”, but adds that “a fight with the fossil fuel industry has only begun”, pointing out that “GOP lawmakers attacked his executive orders as ‘job killers’”. The Seattle Times and Inside Climate News also stress the potential confrontation. Reuters focusses on job-creation, as does Bloomberg The story is also covered in DeSmog and the Hill, while summaries of Biden’s actions on climate run in the New York Times, Bloomberg, Washington Post, Politico and Independent.
Additionally, there is also coverage of a speech from John Kerry – Biden’s new US climate special envoy. Bloomberg reports that Kerry “said China’s net-zero goal needs fleshing out”, noting that “climate remains one of the few issues on which the US and China could potentially cooperate”. Axios adds that, according to Kerry, existing issues with the US “will never be traded” with China for climate. Reuters also covers this story, while the New York Times runs a story entitled “Biden’s commerce pick vows to combat China and climate change”. The Hill points out that Kerry was “tight-lipped” about the exact emissions targets due to be pledged on 22 April. BBC News adds that, according to Kerry, COP26 this November “is ‘the last best chance’ to avert the worst environmental consequences for the world”. Kerry is “on something of an apology tour” for failings in the Trump administration on climate, the Independent adds.
In other US news, the New York Times reports that Jennifer M Granholm – Biden’s nominee to head the department of energy – faced a confirmation hearing yesterday. Reuters reports that Granholm “defended” the administrations push for a “clean energy transition”. The hearing was “tense”, according to the Hill, as Republicans “expressed skepticism” about replacing oil-and-gas jobs. Meanwhile, outlets including the New York Times, Guardian and EurActiv report that, despite Biden’s actions on climate, the “Doomsday clock” is remaining at 100 seconds to midnight – the same time that it showed last year. Reuters reports that the Pentagon will include the risk of climate change in military simulations – a story also covered by the Hill. Meanwhile, Inside Climate News summarises a new report which shows that “legislature has repeatedly failed to take aggressive action” due to “lobbying from business interests”. The Financial Times runs a piece entitled: “Gas tycoon Charif Souki urges industry to clean up under Biden.”
The production of electricity by renewable sources “outpaced” fossil-fuel generation “for the first time” in 2020, the Guardian reports. A report by thinktank Ember states that renewables “made up 42% of the UK’s electricity last year compared with 41% generated from gas and coal plants together”. This is mainly growth of stable windfarms in the UK, the paper notes, adding that wind production has doubled since 2015. The Times reports that coal accounted for only 2% of electricity generation in 220, down from 40% in 2012. The story is also covered in the Independent and Press Association.
In other renewable energy news, Bloomberg reports that Royal Dutch Shell has agreed to buy a majority stake in wind farm project planned on the Celtic Sea. The “Emerald floating wind farm” will have an initial capacity of 300MW, which could eventually scale up to 1GW, the paper adds. This would be enough to power 800,000 homes, according to BusinessGreen. (See the Carbon Brief Q&A for more on the viability of floating offshore windfarms.) There is also continued coverage of delays to the opening of Hinkley Point C. The six-month delay due to the Covid pandemic could raise the cost of the nuclear reactor by £500m, the Guardian reports. The Financial Times adds that the estimated start-up date for the plant is now in 2026. This means that the plant would not start generating power until September 2027, the Times adds. This story also runs in Reuters and Bloomberg, while BBC News reports that plans for a £20bn nuclear power plant in Anglesey have been dropped. The Times also runs a piece on energy performance ratings for houses, noting that the old rating system “could use an overhaul”. Meanwhile, the Herald reports that the Scottish National Party has pledged to end all overseas trade focussed on fossil fuels ahead of COP26 in November. In a separate piece, the Herald notes that Scottish ministers have pledged to reduce emissions by 75% of 1990 levels by 2030, but that experts have raised concerns over the reliance on negative emissions technologies. Finally, the Financial Times reports that the UK’s pension schemes “face new climate risk reporting rules”.
Environmental groups have raised concerns about plans by UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney to scale up the voluntary carbon market, Climate Home News reports. At the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, Carney presented recommendations from a private sector-led taskforce to respond to an anticipated boom in carbon “offsets”, the outlet says. Demand has risen rapidly in the past two years as businesses look to offset the emissions they cannot cut and for cheaper ways to meet their climate goals, the outlet explains: “Offsets allow companies to compensate their emissions by financing a carbon-cutting projects, often in developing countries, such as tree-planting, ecosystem restoration, energy efficiency or waste management.” Creating a coherent voluntary carbon offset market would help “maximise” the use of the world’s remaining carbon budget to meet its climate goals, Carney said, adding that it would have “catalytic” effect to finance projects in emerging and developing economies and “breakthrough technologies” as well. Carney rejected “categorically” that the use of carbon offsets was “greenwashing”, reports the Financial Times. He argued that bringing companies into a well-governed market would instead put them “on the hook” since they would have to report details of their purchases, the paper adds. However, John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, and Craig Bennett, the chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, wrote to Carney this week to raise concerns that the taskforce’s recommendations would not close loopholes in the market, says the Guardian. Sauven tells the paper that “Carney’s scheme will serve as a giant get-out-of-jail-free card for polluting companies” and “will undermine tighter controls in international agreements”. The paper has “also been told of concerns among members of the taskforce about the way in which its recommendations were drawn up, with members raising objections relating to the transparency and integrity of the market that were ruled outside the scope of the report”. One member of the taskforce – Owen Hewlett, chief technical officer at Gold Standard, which establishes standards for environmental projects – tells Bloomberg that “I don’t feel the report goes far enough in its calls to align properly with the Paris Agreement”. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports on the boom in carbon offsets in the US.
Australia is “effectively be abandoning the Paris agreement” if it does not cut its emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050, the Guardian reports. A report by the “climate targets panel” found that Morrisons government needs to cut emissions by “between 50% and 74% if Australia was to comply with goals of limiting global heating to 2C and 1.5C respectively”. The Sydney Morning Herald adds that the government has currently only committed to reducing emissions by between 26-28% of 2005 levels by 2030. Al Jazeera links emissions to Australia’s “hotter and drier condition” and increased risk of droughts and fires. A separate piece in the Guardian covers a “once-in-a-decade independent review”, which finds that “the Morrison government must overhaul Australia’s environmental laws”. Meanwhile, an opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by the former Liberal opposition leader, John Hewson, runs under the title: “The verdict on Australia’s emissions targets: catastrophic.”
A new study published in Nature finds that the planet is now the hottest that it has been for at least 12,000 years, the Guardian reports. It adds that the research resolves the “Holocene temperature conundrum” – a contradiction in estimates of historical temperature between climate models and data from shells. MailOnline also covers this story.
A separate study links “rapid” increases in sea level and and sea temperature to a decline in the reproductive success of humpback whales, the Guardian reports. It adds that, according to the study, there has been “a significant decline in the number of calves born to female humpbacks over the past 15 years”. Meanwhile, the BBC reports on a study which concludes that “the number of sharks found in the open oceans has plunged by 71% over half a century”. This is primarily due to overfishing, the outlet adds, but a climate element is also mentioned. This story is covered by outlets including the i newspaper, the Conversation and MailOnline.
Reacting to Joe Biden’s new executive orders focusing on climate change, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times says “good” and urges him to “keep going”. It adds: “The hard reality [is] that we have waited too long and done too little to fix it. The advent of the Biden administration, while not some sudden flick of a switch to a better future, is nevertheless welcome.” Writing in the New York Times, Art Cullen, who is the editor of Iowa’s Storm Lake Times, says that Biden and Tom Vilsack, his agriculture secretary nominee, “may seem an unlikely pair to lead a transformation of agriculture to battle climate change”. But Cullen goes on to explain: “The dynamic duo…may well reverse the dwindling prospects for rural America through conservation agriculture and renewable energy. With swift action on climate change, the new administration can reboot rural regions left to decay over the past half-century…A former small-town mayor, Mr Vilsack knows where rural America’s future lies. His evangelisation of regenerative agriculture — using diverse crop rotations, grass plantings and grazing with dramatically lower fertiliser and herbicide use — is an affront to the seed and chemical conglomerates, and he will need all the Republican help he can get. This type of agriculture sequesters carbon, prevents pollution and increases farm profit.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the New York Times urges Biden to “ease up” on the number of executive orders he’s signing: “Executive actions can signal priorities — for instance, Mr Biden’s push to promote racial equity or tackle climate change…Undoing some of Mr Trump’s excesses is necessary, but Mr Biden’s legacy will depend on his ability to hammer out agreements with Congress.”
A new paper presents comprehensive inventories of global land-use emissions from 1961 to 2017. They find that, despite steady increases in population and per capita agricultural production, decreases in land required per unit of agricultural production helped keep global annual land-use emissions relatively constant at about 11Gt of CO2-equivalent until 2001. However, after 2001, emissions increased by 2.4GtCO2e per decade to 14.6GtCO2e in 2017, the authors note. They add: “The three highest-emitting regions (Latin America, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa) dominate global emissions growth from 1961 to 2017, driven by rapid and extensive growth of agricultural production and related land-use change.”
The length of flights across the Atlantic – and hence their associated CO2 emissions – could be reduced substantially by optimising routes to take advantage of favourable winds, a new study suggests. The combination of satellite observations and reanalysis data “opens up the possibility” of being able to identify “minimum time routes through wind fields”, the authors say. Potential air distance savings “range from 0.7% to 7.8% when flying west and from 0.7% to 16.4% when flying east”, the study finds, depending on airspeed and which of the current daily tracks is used.
New reconstructions using proxy data demonstrates that “modern global temperature has exceeded annual levels over the past 12,000 years and probably approaches the warmth of the last interglacial period (128,000 to 115,000 years ago)”, a new study says. Previous assessments indicate “peak temperatures in the first half of the last and current interglacial periods that arguably exceed modern warmth”, the authors say, but these “reflect the evolution of seasonal, rather than annual, temperatures”. The study solves “a conundrum that has puzzled climate scientists for years”, an accompanying News & Views article says, describing the work as “a major step forward for the field”.
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