Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden sets goal for 50% of new US vehicles to be electric by 2030
- UK: PM’s comments on Thatcher pit closures condemned by Sturgeon and Starmer
- Climate change almost completely destabilises Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, study finds
- UN climate report likely to deliver stark warnings on global warming
- Eight dead as wildfires continue to rage across southern Europe
- COP26 president Alok Sharma flew to 30 countries in seven months
- Extreme weather events rising in China: blue paper
- Africa has been cropped out of the climate change debate
- Plant pathogen infection risk tracks global crop yields under climate change
- Global scenarios of household access to modern energy services under climate mitigation policy
- Observation-based early-warning signals for a collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
US president Joe Biden has set a goal for half of all new US vehicle sales to be electric by 2030, while also tightening pollution standards for cars and trucks, the Guardian reports. Yesterday, Biden signed an executive order aimed at making 50% of all new cars and trucks sold by the end of the decade be powered by electric batteries, the paper explains. In addition to fully electric vehicles, the target “will also include plug-in hybrids, which have gasoline engines to backup their batteries, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, which currently make up a tiny fraction of US sales”, reports Politico. It adds: “The target isn’t binding on consumers or automakers, but sets expectations for action over the coming decade, said the official who conducted the press briefing.” It is “backed up by new proposed rules to strengthen upcoming federal tailpipe requirements through 2026, with even stricter regulations expected for the following years” the outlet adds. The suite of new goals and mandates was “forged after months of talks with car manufacturers, autoworkers and environmental groups”, says the Washington Post. Speaking to the press, Biden said: “The biggest thing that’s happening here is there’s a realisation, on the part of both labour and business now, that this is the future. We can’t sit by,” reports Reuters.
The three biggest US carmakers have welcomed the target, says BBC New: “Responding to the Biden announcement, Ford, General Motors and Stellantis [formerly known as Fiat Chrysler] expressed their “shared aspiration” for 40-50% of sales to be electric vehicles including battery electric, fuel cell and plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2030. One of America’s largest unions, United Auto Workers (UAW), supports the initiative, while European and Japanese carmakers BMW, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo have applauded it.“ A Wall Street Journal editorial describes this as a “political advertisement that automakers staged with President Biden…endorsing the administration’s stricter fuel-economy rules and climate agenda. Behold Big Business colluding with Big Government to grab subsidies and raise consumer prices”. The updated tailpipe regulations would reverse “Trump-era loosening of vehicle emissions rules with a new plan to boost efficiency 10% in the 2023 model year and aiming for a fleet average of 52 miles per gallon by 2026”, Reuters says. The White House estimates that this would cut 2bn tonnes of CO2 – about one-third of the total annual CO2 emissions in the US, reports the New York Times, and prevent the burning of about 200bn gallons of gasoline. The order “doesn’t function as a mandate, but it does create the conditions for us to meet that goal,” Treasury secretary Pete Buttigieg tells CNBC, adding: “We have got to act, the transportation sector is the biggest part of our economy emitting greenhouse gases, and cars and trucks are one of the biggest parts of that.” The New York Times has another article under the headline: “How Biden’s EV plan could help Tesla and squeeze Toyota.” Bloomberg, Inside Climate News, the Hill and Wall Street Journal all have the story, while the Washington Post has a piece on “where we are on the road to electric vehicles”.
In other transport news, DeSmog reports that a “new report by backbench MPs opposing the UK government’s ban on new petrol and diesel cars from 2030 is funded by the freight and haulage industry”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the White House also announced it is committing more than $3bn in new funding for local governments to increase their resilience to climate change. The move marks “a shift in US disaster policy as climate change gets worse”, says the New York Times: “Rather than smaller, more targeted investments, the government is throwing huge sums of money at disaster preparation as fast as it can.” The Hill also has the story.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been criticised after he said Margaret Thatcher gave the UK a “big early start” in the fight against climate change when she closed coal mines across the UK, the Press Association reports. Speaking to reporters on a visit alongside business minister Kwasi Kwarteng to a giant wind farm off the coast of Scotland, Johnson was pressed on whether he would set a deadline for ending fossil fuel extraction, the newswire says. He responded that “we’ve transitioned away from coal in my lifetime…Thanks to Margaret Thatcher, who closed so many coal mines across the country, we had a big early start and we’re now moving rapidly away from coal altogether”. In response, Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted that “lives and communities in Scotland were utterly devastated by Thatcher’s destruction of the coal industry (which had zero to do with any concern she had for the planet)…To treat that as something to laugh about is crass and deeply insensitive to that reality”, the newswire reports. The Daily Telegraph says that Johnson “chuckled as he made the remark to journalists…and commented: ‘I thought that would get you going.’” Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, demanded the prime minister apologise, reports the Guardian. She said: “These are shameful comments from Boris Johnson and reveal the Conservative party’s utter disregard for the communities still scarred by Thatcher’s closure of the mines and failure to deliver good new jobs in their place.“ One Conservative MP in a former mining area tells the Times that “it’s not really the smartest thing to say is it?…It’s also not right.” BBC News also has the story.
Also while speaking to journalists, Johnson “signalled he will not block the development of a controversial new oilfield in the North Sea”, reports the Independent. Oil giant Shell and private equity-backed Siccar Point Energy are expected to receive final approval to go into production at the Cambo field shortly before the United Nations COP26 conference in Glasgow, the paper explains. But asked whether he would stop exploitation of the field, off the coast of Shetland, Johnson said: “This was a contract that was signed in…2001 and we can’t just tear up contracts. There’s a process to be gone through.” The prime minister added that there was a need to “transition as fast as we reasonably can” away from oil and gas, the paper reports, but that the move to greener forms of power generation should be “smooth and sensible”. The wind farm visited by Johnson – the Moray East offshore wind farm – will be able to provide 40% of Scotland’s energy, notes another Press Association article, but “has been criticised for snubbing UK manufacturers when awarding contracts to build the 100 turbines off the Scottish coast”. At the same time, the Times reports the comments of former Tory environment secretary Dame Caroline Spelman, who has warned that winding down the North Sea oil and gas industry to meet the UK’s climate targets risks leaving the Conservatives “stigmatised for a generation” in communities that rely on it for jobs. In an essay published by the Conservative Environment Network, Spelman called for “robust and actionable policy proposals” to help areas of the north of England and Scotland replace oil and gas jobs by building new green industries. Bloomberg has a piece on how Boris Johnson’s ambition for COP26 has been “hit by Tory infighting”.
In further comments from Johnson, a third Press Association article reports that Johnson said a target of phasing out coal power worldwide by 2040 was “doable”. He said: “What we are saying to the whole world, as we come forward to [COP26] in November, we want the whole world to move away from hydrocarbons…We are setting a deadline for the end of coal, we want everybody to give up coal by 2040, that’s one of the targets we are setting at the COP summit to happen in Glasgow.” However, Labour leader Keir Starmer criticised Johnson, reports the Evening Standard. He said: “We’ve got a UK prime minister who bundles around with a cabaret of soundbites, with targets about climate change but doesn’t put in place the action…We all know that hydrogen and wind are part of the future, we haven’t got an industrial strategy, we haven’t got a hydrogen strategy…Get your head out of the sand, stop the soundbites, let’s have some action.” Finally, the i newspaper reports that “Boris Johnson’s tree-planting pledge has been branded an ‘utterly humiliating’ failure after official figures revealed the number of trees planted fell last year”.
New research warns that human-caused warming has led to an “almost complete loss of stability” in the system that drives Atlantic Ocean currents, reports the Washington Post. This raises “the worrying prospect that this critical aquatic ‘conveyor belt’ could be close to collapse” the paper says. It explains: “In recent years, scientists have warned about a weakening of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which transports warm, salty water from the tropics to northern Europe and then sends colder water back south along the ocean floor. Researchers who study ancient climate change have also uncovered evidence that the AMOC can turn off abruptly, causing wild temperature swings and other dramatic shifts in global weather systems.” Scientists “haven’t directly observed the AMOC slowing down”, the paper says, but the new study uses “more than a century of ocean temperature and salinity data” to show that “the AMOC is running out of steam, making it more susceptible to disruptions that might knock it out of equilibrium”.
Study author Dr Niklas Boers tells Reuters that “the loss of dynamical stability would imply that the AMOC has approached its critical threshold, beyond which a substantial and in practice likely irreversible transition” from a strong, fast state to a slow, weak one could occur. The AMOC is “one of the planet’s main potential tipping points”, says the Guardian, which adds: “Such an event would have catastrophic consequences around the world, severely disrupting the monsoons that billions of people depend on for food in India, South America and West Africa; increasing storms and lowering temperatures in Europe; and pushing up the sea level in the eastern US. It would also further endanger the Amazon rainforest and Antarctic ice sheets.” Dr David Thornalley from University College London – whose work showed the AMOC is at its weakest point in 1,600 years – tells the paper: “These signs of decreasing stability are concerning. But we still don’t know if a collapse will occur, or how close we might be to it.” The New York Times also covers the research. (For more on AMOC, see Carbon Brief’s tipping points explainer and accompanying guest post about the AMOC, specifically.)
There are several preview pieces on the new major report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is due to be published on Monday (and has just been approved by parties at the online plenary). The report – which pulls together the most recent advances in climate science – will “likely deliver even starker warnings about how quickly the planet is warming – and how damaging the impacts might get”, says Reuters. Kelly Levin – chief of science, data and systems change at the Bezos Earth Fund philanthropy – tells the newswire that “the report will cover not only the fact that we are smashing record after record in terms of climate change impacts, but show that the world today is in unchartered territory in terms of sea level rise and ice cover”. And Corinne Le Quéré, a climate scientist at the University of East Anglia who has contributed to previous IPCC assessments, said: “Obviously, it is going to be stronger than what we had in the past because of the growing warming of the planet…That’s going to be one of the main points. It will be discussed very, very carefully, and scrutinised.“ Reuters also has a “factbox” piece on “five key things to watch for” in the report. The IPCC’s report lands as “an unbroken cascade of deadly, unprecedented weather disasters – bulked up by global warming – has swept across three continents since mid-June”, says Agence France-Presse. Diplomats and scientists are “right now meeting by video conference to hammer out” the “summary for policymakers” element of the report, says Bloomberg. This “makes it vulnerable to politics – especially the politics of the world’s biggest oil exporters”, the outlet says, adding that the IPCC “got an object lesson in this risk in 2018, when Saudi Arabia tried at the last minute to defang” their special report on 1.5C of warming. The outlet looks back at what happened “inside the showdown”. Finally, the Guardian has an “exclusive” claiming that the IPCC will say “gas, produced by farming, shale gas and oil extraction, [are] playing [an] ever-greater role in overheating planet”.
Eight people have died and thousands have been evacuated from their homes as extreme wildfires continue to rage in parts of southern Europe, the Guardian reports. It continues: “The deaths occurred in Turkey, where for the past week firefighters have battled blazes in several coastal resort towns. Ten other people have been hospitalised. On Thursday, Turkish coastguards evacuated hundreds of villagers living close to a burning power plant in the Aegean province of Muğla.” In Italy, “the number of large wildfires is estimated to have tripled this summer compared to the yearly average”, the paper adds, “causing millions of euros-worth of damage to the environment and economy in central and southern regions”. The fires in Turkey have left “thousands homeless”, reports Climate Home News. Reuters reports that wildfires north of Athens “leapt back to life” yesterday as “searing conditions persisted and emergency crews battled blazes across Greece for a third day running”. In a special televised address, Turkey’s prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said: “We are dealing with unprecedented conditions as many days of heatwave have turned the whole country into a powder keg,” he said in a special televised address,“ the newswire reports. The New York Times says that “while scientists have not yet had time to evaluate the connection between the current wave of extreme temperatures and global warming, it fits an overall trend that has seen climate change play a role in extreme weather in Europe”. It adds: “Research has shown that for major heat waves across Europe in recent summers, climate change has been a significant worsening factor.” EurActiv says that fire-fighting resources from EU nations are on their way to Greece, Italy, Albania and Northern Macedonia to help fight the blazes. In California, the Hill reports that “thousands of people in northern California have had to evacuate as a wildfire burns through acres of woods”. Reuters reports that the historic gold-rush hamlet of Greenville in the Sierra Nevada has been left “in smouldering ruins”.
In other extreme weather news, Reuters reports that “southeastern China was whipped by gales and torrential rains on Friday after the arrival of Typhoon Lupit, prompting the evacuation of tens of thousands”. The newswire also reports that “more than 1,100 homes in North Korea were damaged, thousands of people evacuated, and farms and roads washed away after days of heavy rains brought flooding”. And the Financial Times reports that the recent floods in Germany have “shattered” the winemaking industry.
The government minister responsible for this year’s UN climate change summit in Glasgow has been criticised after flying to 30 countries in the past seven months, the Guardian reports, picking up on a story in the Daily Mail. Alok Sharma, who was appointed as president of COP26 in January, has visited countries including India, Brazil, Indonesia, Qatar, Jamaica and Kenya since February, the Guardian says, adding: “Most of his journeys were during the winter and spring months at the start of the year when international travel from Britain was largely banned…Sharma did not have to isolate after any of the journeys, despite six being on the government’s ‘red list’ for travel as he was exempt as a ‘crown servant’.” The Mail, which puts the story on the frontpage with the headline, “The height of hypocrisy” – says “air travel is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, raising questions over whether Mr Sharma should have held more ‘virtual’ meetings’”. Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb tells the paper: “I do understand it’s very good to meet people in person, but this is excessive…When you’re in charge of COP26, to take this many flights is hypocritical.” In an accompanying comment piece, Daily Mail home affairs and politics reporter Martin Beckford writes: “We were supposed to be all in this crisis together. Increasingly, however, it feels like one rule for those in power and another for the rest of us.” An editorial in the Mail (not online) says: “For someone who’s about to head up a landmark climate-change conference, Alok Sharma has an astonishingly deep carbon footprint.” In response, a government source tells BBC News that face-to-face meetings were “vital” ahead of the summit. The Daily Telegraph also picks up on the story.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Sharma has announced a £5m research programme to help better prepare for risks posed by climate change such as heatwaves and floods. In a statement, he said: “From flooding to wildfires – the extreme weather events we’ve recently witnessed show how crucial it is for communities to build resilience and protect their futures.”
In other COP26 news, BBC News has an explainer on the summit and why it is “so important”. A Daily Express editorial says: “Boris Johnson wants the upcoming COP26 climate talks in Glasgow to deliver a deal that would be a landmark of his premiership. We hope that action will be secured to prevent catastrophic climate change and the extreme weather, desertification and mass refugee movements which would follow. Today’s leaders have a shot at preventing disasters which could define the lives of our grandchildren. They must not duck this challenge.” And, finally, the Daily Telegraph has a comment piece by Ross Clark – a climate sceptic who also writes for the Spectator and the Daily Mail – arguing that that COP26 should be largely an online event. He writes: “To go ahead and invite 25,000 politicians, bureaucrats and activists to Britain at a time when there are still serious barriers to travel to and from Britain for ordinary people will merely confirm what many are beginning to suspect: that we are entering a new era in which a global elite is allowed to enjoy travel privileges that are denied to the masses.”
China has seen “increasing extreme precipitation events” in the past six decades, according to state news agency Xinhua, citing a “blue paper” issued by the China Meteorological Administration (CMA). The paper also states that extreme heat events and the average intensity fluctuation of typhoons landing in China have increased since the 1990s, Xinhua says. Commenting on the paper’s finding, Chao Qingchen, deputy director of CMA, said that China was a “sensitive area” of global climate change and could see “significance influence” by it, state-run People’s Daily reports. The publication says that, according to Chao, China’s temperature warming rate is “significantly higher” than the global average level of the same period.
Separately, the operation bureau of the National Development and Reform Commission “recently” conducted “themed-research” on the supply and pricing of coal, reports Shanghai-based Yicai. The financial outlet says that officials from the authority have gone to Tangshan, China’s largest steel-producing city, and Qinhuangdao, the country’s main coal hub, for field research. It adds that the officials called on “relevant parties” to guarantee thermal coal supply and ensure a “smooth” operation of the coal market.
Meanwhile, the Paper reports that the electricity load in the operation area of the State Grid “continues to rise” due to “high temperatures” in many parts of the country. The Shanghai-based website says that the Southwest China Power Grid and multiple provincial-level regions, such as Hubei, Shaanxi, Sichuan and Chongqing, witnessed “record-breaking” electricity load on Tuesday. Elsewhere, China Daily, a state-run newspaper, has a video explaining the national emission trading scheme (ETS) and how it works.
David Pilling – Africa editor of the Financial Times – writes that “Africa’s 54 countries have contributed almost nothing to climate change”, yet because “most African nations lack the financial clout to deal with the fallout of climate change, Africans will be among the world’s most affected people”. For example, he says, “in west Africa, the southward march of the Sahara is pushing nomads and herders into conflict with farmers in countries from Mali and Burkina Faso to Nigeria. In east Africa, deforestation has radically altered the landscape and countries including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya are prone to more droughts and inundations”. If Africa is to adapt, “the world will have to help pay for it”, Pilling writes. However, “the omens are not good”, he says: “Even when it was in rich countries’ self-interest to ensure Africans were vaccinated against Covid-19, they failed. What hope then of them transferring sufficient funds to countries now paying the price?” The “final piece of the puzzle is what is expected of African countries in terms of moderating their future carbon emissions”, he notes: “Many African governments are crying hypocrisy. Didn’t western countries get rich precisely by going through a dirty industrial phase before cleaning up later as they got richer?…This is an urgent question about which there seems to be little coherent thinking. Yet one thing is clear. If the expectation is that African countries must stay poor for the good of the planet, then quite rightly they will say No.”
Climate change could lead to greater crop yields at high latitudes, but these gains may be offset by an increased risk of crop infection by pathogens, according to a new paper. The authors model the production of maize, wheat, soybean and rice, as well as eight additional temperate and tropical crops, under future warming scenarios over the 21st century. They estimate that yields of most of these crops will increase at high latitudes as the climate warm, but that warming will also lead to a higher infection risk. Meanwhile, the tropics will see “little or no productivity gains”, but the infection risk is likely to decline, the study finds.
A new study warns that global energy inequalities could persist well into this century, even under “optimistic” socioeconomic growth scenarios. The authors analyse total and per person energy demand using a “residential end-use services of energy model” under socioeconomic pathways SSP1, SSP2 and SSP3. They project that although access to energy will improve in high-growth scenarios, more than 10% of people in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia could still “lack access to energy services for thermal comfort, food preparation and conservation, and cleaning in 2050”. They conclude: “Our work suggests that efforts to meet climate mitigation policy goals are not at odds with progress towards universal access to modern energy services in the Global South, however, directed policy will be needed to meet access goals.”
Over the last century, the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) “may have evolved from relatively stable conditions to a point close to a critical transition”, according to new research. Past literature has suggested that AMOC could transition from its current strong mode into a weaker mode if the planet continues to warm. The new study introduces an early-warning indicator for an AMOC transition using “observations and recently suggested fingerprints of AMOC variability”. The author detects “significant early warning signals” of an AMOC transition in eight different indices, based on sea surface temperature and salinity data.
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