Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden plan would tighten mileage for new cars over the next four years
- India ditches key climate meeting after disrupting G20
- UK gas users could face hydrogen levy on household bills
- Scientists who declared climate emergency say Earth’s vital signs have worsened
- China avoids coal projects in Belt and Road for first time
- UK: MPs join calls for zero emission vehicle mandate to push carmakers to 'up their game'
- Extreme weather raises stakes at COP26
- Assessment of the economic impact of heat-related labour productivity loss: a systematic review
- World scientists’ warning of a climate emergency 2021
The Biden administration has drafted emissions rules for new cars that would reverse a rollback in regulations brought in under Donald Trump, the Washington Post reports. It notes that the measures are set to resemble a 2019 pact between the state of California and five car makers that mandates a 3.7% annual increase in fuel economy through to 2026. The story was first reported by the Associated Press (AP) as an “exclusive”, with the news outlet reporting that the current administration is aiming to return to “aggressive Obama-era vehicle mileage standards over five years” before bringing in “even tougher anti-pollution rules after that to forcefully reduce greenhouse gas emissions and nudge 40% of US drivers into electric vehicles by decade’s end”. The proposed rules, which AP states could be released as early as next week, would increase the efficiency of cars and light trucks in line with the California deal for the 2023 and 2024. They would then ramp up in 2025 to Obama-era levels of a 5% annual increase in efficiency and a similar cut in emissions, before going higher – “perhaps in the range of 6% or 7%” – for 2026, it adds. By contrast, under Trump the annual efficiency improvement requirement was rolled back to 1.5%, AP notes.
According to Reuters, the rules being finalised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are already being criticised by environmental groups, who argue the proposals do not go car enough to cut car emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund has stated that the US needs to “eliminate the tailpipe pollution from new passenger vehicles by 2035 if we hope to curb climate change”, the news wire reports. Bloomberg notes that activists had previously pressed Biden for emissions curbs that at least matched the 5% reduction he helped broker as Obama’s vice president, rather than adopting the “more modest” Californian target in the short term. The Hill says that the EPA is expected to say in a “non-binding statement” that the requirements will begin increasing faster in 2027 “with hopes that the pressure will nudge the vehicle industry into increasing their electric vehicle output”.
Another Hill story reports that 26 senators and 113 House members have written two separate letters urging the EPA to reverse the Trump administration’s move to revoke California’s ability to set its own emissions standards.
Separately, in other US news, Bloomberg reports that six weeks after a federal judge ordered the Biden administration to resume selling oil and gas leases on federal land, it still has not done so. It notes that interior secretary Deb Haaland faced “withering” criticism over this inaction from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as she told them the administration is “evaluating [its] options”.
India, the world’s third-biggest emitter, has failed to attend a key diplomatic gathering in London ahead of the COP26 climate summit taking place in the UK at the end of the year, according to Bloomberg. The news website notes that India was the only one of 51 invited countries that did not attend the two-day ministerial hosted by the COP26 presidency as a means of ironing out key sticking points ahead of the summit. Bloomberg notes that this “was perceived as a snub by the COP presidency”, although an Indian government spokesperson said the government had decided against attending in person after making its views known at the G20 summit in Naples – and that technical issues had prevented it from taking part virtually. The piece also notes that India had been a “key holdout” on achieving a more ambitious agreement on climate at the G20.
Climate Home News reports that the same ministerial meting saw South Africa proposing a global goal on adaptation of increasing the climate resilience of the global population by 50% by 2030 and by at least 90% by 2050. It notes that under the Paris Agreement countries agreed to establish such a goal, but “stopped short of setting out what the goal should look like”. The news website notes that adaptation was one of the five key points being discussed at the meeting.
The Guardian reports that diplomatic efforts are ramping up ahead of COP26, with European, UK and US diplomats meeting up to three times in Australia over recent months to discuss how to encourage the nation to consider stronger emissions cuts. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Indonesia, which recently submitted an updated climate plan to the UN, is “optimistic of reaching a net-zero emissions target by 2060 or sooner”, according to a senior minister.
Finally, the Independent reports on “anger” after UK COP26 spokeswoman Allegra Stratton suggested in a Daily Telegraph article that British people should help tackle the climate crisis through “micro-steps”, such as not rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher or by putting bread in the freezer to ensure it lasts longer.
The government is considering adding a new levy to household gas bills as a subsidy to hydrogen producers in a bid to boost the fledgeling industry in the UK, according to the Financial Times. It states that the government is set to publish its long-awaited “hydrogen strategy” next week, which will set out ways to increase the use of the gas as a part of the UK’s plan to reach its 2050 net-zero target. Part of the plan will be a consultation on a new mechanism, similar to “contracts for difference” used in the energy sector, to ensure that hydrogen companies can receive a predictable price for future sales, the newspaper notes.
Separately, the Times continues the reporting from previous days (see yesterday’s Daily Briefing) that the government is “facing fresh calls” to review the involvement of China’s state nuclear group in Hinkley Point C nuclear plant. The newspaper notes that this comes after it emerged the government was looking for ways to remove the group from future projects.
Meanwhile, a comment piece in the Daily Telegraph by Fraser Myer, assistant editor at Spiked (a site with a long history of promoting climate sceptics and attacking environmentalism), reflects on the “anguish” the government is currently experiencing over banning gas boilers and says the government should accept that net-zero is “dead in the water”.
After 11,000 scientists in 153 countries came together to declare a “climate emergency” almost two years ago, the research team behind the declaration has warned that Earth’s “vital signs” have continued to deteriorate, the Independent reports. The new assessment points to “an unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters since 2019”, including record-breaking heatwaves and wildfires in Australia and the US, as well as hurricanes and cyclones in parts of Asia and Africa. Dr William Ripple, lead author of the assessment and distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, tells the Independent: “It’s surprising to me that climate change impacts are happening so fast around the world. Just in the last two weeks, every day we’ve seen another climate-related disaster – either with fires or floods or drought or heat.” The Guardian also has the story, noting that, overall, the new study found some 16 out of 31 planetary vital signs, including greenhouse gas concentrations, ocean heat content and ice mass, had set “worrying new records”.
China did not finance any coal projects via its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the first half of 2021, reports Bloomberg, citing new analysis. The newswire says that this is “the first time” that BRI – China’s global infrastructure development strategy – has not invested in coal projects since its launch in 2013. The findings were released by the Beijing-based International Institute of Green Finance. Separately, an observer tells South China Morning Post that China’s decisions on coal could have “an important impact” on the two key issues that divided G20 rich nations in talks last week. The expert, a Greenpeace adviser, says that “now is a good time for Beijing to make these commitments, particularly to stop funding overseas plants”, the publication writes.
Meanwhile, state broadcaster CCTV reports that the generating capacity of China’s non-fossil fuel power is projected to surpass that of coal-fired power for the first time by the end of this year. China Electricity Council predicted that the combined installed capacity of non-fossil fuel would reach 1,120 gigawatts (GW), or 47.3% of the installed capacity of all energy forms, by the end of the year, CCTV says. Furthermore, Caixin, a Chinese financial publication, reports that China’s energy planner has steered away from their previous practice of issuing separate five-year plans for different forms of new energy. An official from the National Energy Administration is quoted saying that the authorities are working on a joint and systematic 14th five-year plan for the whole renewable energy sector.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that China will carry out a “pilot programme” for assessing carbon emissions in various provincial-level regions, including Hebei, Jilin, Zhejiang, Shandong and Guangdong. The instruction was issued by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) on Tuesday, the newswire says. According to the document, the scheme aims to evaluate new projects in “key industries” for their carbon emissions levels and emission-reduction “potential” by the end of June next year. Finally, MEE official Xu Bijiu has warned of “very serious” consequences if “dual-high” projects are allowed to “develop blindly”, Beijing Youth Daily reports.
The transport select committee of MPs has joined a “growing chorus of calls” – which already includes thinktanks, former ministers and climate advisers – for the UK government to introduce a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, BusinessGreen reports. MPs on the committee say to boost supply and demand of electric cars there should be regulatory requirements for carmakers to sell a minimum proportion of these vehicles which increases over time, or to purchase credits from from other manufacturers if they cannot reach the targets, the website explains. As it stands, the government’s transport decarbonisation plan, published earlier this month, included plans to hold a consultation over potentially introducing a ZEV mandate. (See Carbon Brief’s analysis of the plan.) However, according to BusinessGreen, Huw Merriman MP, chair of the committee, said a mandate would “not [be] enough on its own”. In its coverage, BBC News reports that the committee said consumers should be protected from the excessive costs of charging electric cars in public, which is currently more expensive than charging them at home. The MPs also emphasised the need to make charging infrastructure accessible and reliable, as well as make sure people in rural areas have equal access, it adds.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the House of Lords’ science and technology committee has called for more incentives to boost lithium mining in Cornwall and agreements with other countries to secure supplies of important elements such as cobalt, to ensure there are enough materials for car battery manufacturing.
The Guardian has an article on a scheme being funded by the UK government to install overhead electric cables to power lorries on a motorway near Scunthorpe, which it notes is part of a series of studies examining how to decarbonise road freight.
An editorial in the Financial Times reflects on the recent flooding in Germany, Belgium and China and the wildfires across the North American west coast, noting that climate scientists have long warned that extreme weather would be more common as the planet warms. “The current bout appears to be partly due to the instability of the jet stream…There will soon be other bouts with different proximate causes but all, ultimately, made more likely by the increase in global temperatures thanks to the greenhouse gases emitted by cars, factories and power plants,” it states. All of this could have increased significance given that there is now less than 100 days until the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, it continues. However, it notes that despite any increased pressure on nations, “the prospect of a suitably ambitious international agreement at COP26 looks remote”. It states: “Among the tests of a successful conference, two stand out: pledges to reduce emissions must be sharply stepped up from those made for the Paris conference six years ago, and there should be an agreement to phase out coal from the world’s energy systems as well as fossil-fuel subsidies generally”. The editorial concludes that the “window is closing to prevent the changing climate from more permanently disrupting how we live our lives”.
Meanwhile, another opinion piece in the Financial Times by Pilita Clark asks: “Have we entered a new phase of climate change?” With “a colossal report on the state of the global climate” set to emerge next week from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Clark says that “scientists are divided about whether a more dangerous phase of non-linear change has begun”.
Finally, London mayor Sadiq Khan has written a comment piece for the Guardian which states that the recent flooding in London shows the city is “now on the frontline of the climate emergency”.
The economic impact of heat stress by the end of the century will range from 0.31% to 2.6% of global GDP under a low (RCP2.6) and extremely high (RCP8.5) emission scenario respectively, according to a new study. The authors conduct a review of published literature on the impact of heat stress on people and select four methods: “the human capital method, the econometric method, the input–output method and the computable general equilibrium model”. They find that large economic losses mainly occur in south and south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Central America.
The scientists who declared a climate emergency in 2019 have warned, in a new “Viewpoint” paper, that the “vital signs” of the planet have worsened since. Two years ago, a group of scientists published a piece outlining the vital signs of the Earth and declared a climate emergency, with more than 11,000 scientist signatories from 153 countries. In an updated analysis, scientists say the vital signs of the planet “largely reflect the consequences of unrelenting business as usual”. The paper finds that, despite a dip in emissions during the Covid pandemic, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have all set new records for atmospheric concentrations in both 2020 and 2021.
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