Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US: Biden sets US target for offshore wind power in effort to jump-start sector
- US: Biden officials to investigate Trump-era attacks on science
- UK urged to take lead in helping poor countries fund climate action
- UK: Greener TV – ITV and Sky announce raft of climate initiatives
- Constructing a new low-carbon power system: The coal-fired power approval boom in 2020 cannot be repeated during the "14th Five-Year Plan" period
- Consumption habits of person in rich country drives loss of ‘almost four trees each year’
- Scotland is at the heart of creating a greener UK
- Yes, we can power LA 100% without fossil fuel energy
- Despite problems in the past, Biden to try again with 'green' stimulus
- Present and Future of Rainfall in Antarctica
- Compound extremes drive the western Oregon wildfires of September 2020
- Implications of size-dependent tree mortality for tropical forest carbon dynamics
The Biden administration has announced plans, reports the Financial Times, to “kickstart the US offshore wind industry”, by deploying 30 gigawatts (GW) of generation capacity in coastal waters by 2030. This would provide enough power to run 10m homes for a year, the outlet adds, and would drive more than $12bn per year in capital investment to the sector. According to the New York Times, the offshore wind turbines will be built off the Atlantic coast and would reduce CO2 emissions by 78m metric tonnes per year. The administration has promised to accelerate the process of permitting the wind projects, the newspaper adds, and will offer them £3bn in federal loans. The Guardian says the likely approval of the Atlantic coast projects “marks a sharp turnaround from the Trump administration, which stymied wind power onshore and in the ocean”. According to the Washington Post, national climate adviser Gina McCarthy “framed the effort as being as much about jobs as about clean energy”, and Bloomberg quotes McCarthy saying: “Nowhere is the scale of that opportunity clearer than for offshore wind.” According to Reuters, the offshore wind industry will employ 44,000 workers directly by 2030 and support a further 33,000 jobs in the supply chain. The Wall Street Journal, Politico and the Hill also cover the story.
In other news on wind power, Reuters reports that – according to a new report by consultancy Wood Mackenzie – 1,000GW of new global wind power capacity could be built between now and 2030. The newswire notes that China’s target of 1,200GW of new capacity from wind and solar by 2030 could result in 408GW of new wind by 2030 – almost half of the global total. It adds that the rest of the Asia Pacific region could build 126GW and Europe another 248GW. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the HyWind floating offshore wind park in the North Sea has broken world records for maximum output and is a “roaring success”. In other news, Reuters reports that Norway “will press ahead with North Sea wind power this year” having awarded its first development licences.
In a letter to all federal agencies, the White House announced yesterday that it will form a task force to investigate “Trump-era political interference in science across the government”, the New York Times reports. The task force will review the effectiveness of policies that were “supposed to protect the science that informs policy decisions from inappropriate political influence”, the newspaper notes, adding that this is “the first step in what White House officials described as a sweeping effort to rebuild a demoralised federal work force and prevent future abuses”. In an interview with the newspaper, Jane Lubchenco, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s deputy director for climate and the environment, is quoted saying: “We know that there were blatant attempts to distort, to cherry pick and disregard science – we saw that across multiple agencies.” The Hill also uses this quote in its coverage of the story.
In other US news, a separate piece in the Hill reports that the White House yesterday named members of its new Environmental Justice Advisory Council, which will “work with other panels in the administration on efforts to reduce environmental inequalities”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the “slow downfall” of coal in the US is “gaining momentum”, but that lawmakers in mining states are using “a series of roadblocks” to prolong the lifespan of the industry.
The UN’s development chief has said that Boris Johnson’s government “must take the lead in giving poor countries access to the finance they need to tackle the climate crisis” in order to make COP26 a success, the Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that ministers from around the world will attend a UK-hosted virtual conference this week to discuss the need for developing countries to cut their emissions. The UK will need the support of developing countries to make COP26 a success, but “relationships with poor nations have been hit by the government’s decision to slash overseas aid by billions of pounds”, the paper says. In other COP26 news, the Scotsman reports that Scottish bus operator McGill’s expects to have a fleet of 70 electric buses running by the time of COP26. Meanwhile City AM runs an opinion piece by Michael Hayman under the headline “COP26: Good fortune and lofty statements won’t tackle climate change, but business can.”
In other UK news, a separate piece in the Herald reports that the Scottish Green party “have accused the SNP of ‘sticking with their discredited climate plan’ amid a warning time is running out for action”. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that a third of the firms in the FTSE 100 – the index of the UK’s largest listed companies – have pledged to cut their emissions to net-zero by 2050 or before. It adds that the pledge is part of the UN’s “Race to Zero” campaign. The Financial Times notes that the UK government is planning to “intensify its push” to persuade British businesses to commit to the net-zero by 2050 target.
Sky News and ITV Studios have both launched “high profile new climate initiatives” in the past week, aiming to cut their own emissions and encourage viewers to do the same, BusinessGreen reports. ITV is partnering with TV certification body Albert to help reach its goal of net-zero by 2030, the outlet notes, adding that all 55 of ITV Studio’s production labels use Albert’s “climate change training and tools”. Meanwhile, Sky News “launched a multi-million-pound fund to support brands that use the power of TV to foster the behavioural shifts and changes that will be required to put the global economy on a sustainable footing”, according to the outlet. It adds that Sky News has also announced their new “Daily Climate Show”, which launches on 7th April. The show will feature a ticking clock on a “giant dashboard”, the i newspaper reports, alongside a “data wall” of numbers – including a running total of global CO2 emissions. The 15-minute programme will be broadcast twice every weekday evening and will be featured on Sky News’s digital platforms, the outlet adds.
Various regional administrations in China approved 46.1 gigawatts (GW) of new coal-fired projects in 2020, according to Reuters and Beijing-based International Energy Net, citing a Greenpeace report. The figure is 3.3 times the country’s total approved coal-fired capacity in 2019, says the Greenpeace report. Caijing Eleven, part of financial magazine Caijing, analyses the surge. Two “insiders” tell the outlet that the approved coal-fired projects “won’t necessarily be built”. China’s Energy Magazine also covers the Greenpeace report. Carbon Brief last week reported on a new plant-by-plant retirement scheme for China’s 1,037 active coal-fired power plants, to help the nation meet its climate goals.
Meanwhile, Chinese financial magazine Caixin Weekly reports that the city of Tangshan is facing a “strictest” manufacturing cap on iron and steel following an unexpected emissions-reduction inspection earlier this month. Tangshan manufactured 144m tonnes of crude steel in 2020, the report adds. Chinese environmental news portal Beijixing Electricity Net reports that China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) has released an official guide, instructing local ecology and environment authorities how to check the greenhouse gas emissions from “key emission units”. Separately, Li Gao, director-general of MEE’s Department of Climate Change, said that China would “gradually expand” its carbon trading market and “enrich the trading varieties and methods” when its national emissions trading system “stabilises”, reports China’s Science and Technology Daily. Elsewhere in Chinese-language media, International Energy Reference focuses on India’s plan to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 – a decade earlier than China’s timeline. The outlet, run by state-controlled China Energy News, says India’s target is “not practical at all”, citing various media reports and experts. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China’s electric vehicle company BYD Co Ltd – which is backed by billionaire Warren Buffett – yesterday reported a 162% increase in 2020 net profit.
In other China news, the South China Morning Post runs an opinion piece from journalist Zhou Xin entitled “‘Carbon neutrality’, ‘emission peak’ becoming buzzwords shows China is taking its 2060 climate change goal seriously.” Xin notes that a decade ago, the “mainstream view” was that China would not accept carbon caps, but that its attitude has undergone “big changes” in the past year. He adds that president Xi Jinping has committed China to net-zero by 2060, and will reduce its emissions per unit of GDP by “at least” 65% from 2005 levels by 2030. A further comment piece in the South China Morning Post – by columnist Alex Lo – says that the EU, US and China can together “save the world from climate change”. Lo says that unless the West and China plan on “launching a full-fledged cold war”, they will “ have to find common ground and make nice at some point”. According to Lo, global decarbonisation is “the most obvious place to start”. Lo says that there is “no better time” for the three groups to come together to work on climate change, noting that together they make up 61% of the worlds GDP and 43% of goods imports. Coordinated carbon border adjustments between the three would be “hard to resist”, Lo says.
Members of G7 countries cause the loss of nearly four trees each year through their consumption of goods such as coffee and cocoa, the Independent reports, picking up the findings of a new study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, which uses forest loss data and patterns of international trade to “map how different countries are contributing to deforestation through their imports and exports”. The paper notes that G7 countries, China and India generally saw a drop in domestic deforestation between 2001 and 2015, but that they also saw a rise in “foreign deforestation linked with their imports and consumption patterns”. In its coverage of the research, the Guardian adds that chocolate consumption in the UK and Germany is a driver of deforestation in the Ivory Coast and Ghana, while beef and soy demand in the US, EU and China drives deforestation in Brazil. BBC News notes that a particular increase in tropical deforestation has been seen, adding that the dependence of rich countries on tropical forests has increased. Carbon Brief also covered this research.
The Herald runs an opinion piece by UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy Kwasi Kwarteng, who writes that Scotland’s oil and gas industry has been “the economic artery” for many communities and acknowledges that people in the industry may be questioning what climate action means for the future of their sector. “I have vowed that Scotland’s oil and gas workers will not be left behind as we work together to transition to a low-carbon future”, Kwarteng says in the piece. He adds that working with industry will support existing communities to “decarbonise in a way that protects jobs”, as well as to “attract new industries to base themselves in Scotland, develop export opportunities and secure new jobs for the long-term”. He also plans to “maximise the benefit” from hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage, offshore wind and decommissioning of oil and gas infrastructure. “Fortunately, we’re not starting from a blank piece of paper”, Kwarteng says. He notes that from next year the global decommissioning sector will have an estimated value of £270bn and adds that the UK’s target of 40GW of offshore wind could “unleash” around £20bn of private investment in renewable energy by 2030, creating 60,000 jobs and generating economic growth in Scotland. “To top it off, the oil and gas sector has committed to ensuring that 50% of the work involved in decommissioning and half of new energy technology projects will be provided by local businesses,” Kwarteng says, adding that these measures will deliver tens of thousands of jobs to Scotland and safeguard 105,000 more. However, he says we must be “realistic”, as oil and gas are still “vital” for the production of many everyday essentials – and are likely to remain so in the coming decades. Kwarteng concludes that the North Sea Transition Deal “sends a message around the world that the UK is a nation of clean energy, setting a clear standard for other countries to follow our lead, while future-proofing our economy, protecting jobs and supporting local communities”.
The Los Angeles Times carries an editorial saying that the city can power its homes and businesses with 100% renewable energy by 2035 without “causing blackouts or breaking the bank” – despite a “fresh wave of scepticism about wind and solar power”. This is based on a three-year analysis by the US Department of Energy laboratory, which offers several scenarios for reliably delivering 100% renewable energy, and whose results should “erase any doubt that Los Angeles and the rest of the country can wean the electricity sector off fossil fuels”, the editorial says. It adds that last month’s power outages in Texas was used to “demonise” renewable energy, with some “wrongly” blaming frozen wind turbines for the blackouts. The report from the US Energy Laboratory offers a “less ambitious” scenario to reach 100% renewables by 2045 for $57bn-$69bn, and a more “aggressive” 2035 target for $86bn, according to the piece. “Los Angeles absolutely should aim for the more aggressive 2035 target”, the editorial states, acknowledging that it may not be easy but adding that “this is also a moment of great opportunity”. The editorial also notes Biden’s 100% clean energy by 2035 target. “We now know it’s not only an achievable goal, but also a responsible investment that can deliver reliable power and environmental benefits well into the future”, it concludes.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Mail (not online) entitled “Planting for our Future” says that the National Trust has made the “excellent decision” to plant 20m trees on Trust land by 2030. It adds that this is channeling the Mail’s “Be a Tree Angel” appeal, in which readers donated to various tree-planting causes. The Daily Mail and the Express and Star cover the National Trust’s decision in new stories.
“As vice president, Joe Biden oversaw a ‘green jobs’ stimulus package that produced notable failures”, says a comment piece by New York Times energy and environmental policy reporter Coral Davenport. She notes that during Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan to lift the nation from the Great Recession – in part by creating “green jobs” – Biden announced a £535m loan for a Californian solar power company that then “went bankrupt”. Now, as Biden prepares the details of a “vastly larger” stimulus package, Davenport notes that the “failures” of the Obama stimulus “could haunt the plan as it makes its way through Congress”. According to Davenport, many of Biden’s advisers say that the situation is different this time – partly because electric vehicles cost less, solar is more “economically competitive” and wind power is “entrenched”. However, she notes that other advisers – many of whom also worked under Obama – say the Obama administration “fell short, especially on electric cars”. She adds that “Republicans are already weaponising the losses of the Obama green stimulus in their political attacks against the Biden plan”. Davenport notes that “most economists” say Obama’s stimulus spending lifted the economy and had a “long-lasting impact”, but adds that experts also say “throwing money at climate change” is “not a particularly effective way to lower emissions”. According to the lead author of the National Bureau of Economics study on the green stimulus money, a stimulus alone will not reduce emissions without a policy that forces emissions reductions, although “spending money is politically easier than passing policies to cut emissions”, Davenport says. She adds that “Democrats say that one of the biggest lessons from the Obama stimulus is to go bigger”. She also notes that Biden is expected to call for funding for around half a million electric vehicle charging stations and concludes that he “spoke explicitly of the need to adapt the nation’s roads and bridges to a changing climate”.
Warming over the Antarctic continent will bring “more frequent and more intense rainfall events” by the end of century, a new study says. Using observational data at 10 Antarctic stations, the researchers provide the “first climatological characterisation of rainfall occurrence over Antarctica”. The study warns that rainfall is “expected to impact regions of the continent that currently do not receive rainfall, making them vulnerable to intense events of surface snow melting preceded by liquid precipitation”.
A “compound set of weather‐related factors” facilitated several “very large high‐impact fires” in western Oregon in September 2020, a new study says. The authors explain: “Unusually warm conditions with limited precipitation in the 60‐days leading up to the fires allowed for fuels to become particularly dry and combustible by early September.” In addition, “downslope offshore winds materialised during 7‐9 September 2020 across the Oregon Cascades, bringing exceptionally strong winds and dry air that drove rapid rates of fire spread”, the authors say.
New research investigates the “size-dependent drivers” of tree deaths in tropical forests. Using a new “cohesive and empirically informed framework”, the researchers suggest that “abiotic drivers of tree mortality – particularly drought, wind and lightning – regulate tropical forest carbon cycling via their disproportionate effects on large trees”. As global change is predicted to increase the pressure from these drivers, “the associated deaths of large trees could rapidly and lastingly reduce tropical forest biomass stocks”, the authors warn.
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