Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden to place environmental justice at the centre of his climate plan
- Climate change seen as global emergency by 64% of people
- BlackRock pushes companies to adopt 2050 net-zero emissions goal
- Government plans to turn England homes green 'in chaos' with debt and job losses
- ‘Dither and delay’: Six-month wait for environment bill unacceptable, say charities and campaigners
- Covid-19, climate change: Denialism is deadly. Joe Biden knows this
- The Greta Thunberg effect: Familiarity with Greta Thunberg predicts intentions to engage in climate activism in the United States
- Explaining extreme events from a climate perspective
Joe Biden intends to make tackling the US’s “persistent racial and economic disparities” a central component in his plan to combat climate change with a series of actions planned for today, the Washington Post reports. According to sources speaking to the newspaper, the new president will today sign an executive order establishing a White House interagency council on environmental justice, create an office of health and climate equity at the Health and Human Services Department, and form a separate environmental justice office at the Justice Department. The piece notes that this is part of an effort to improve conditions in Black, Latino and Native American communities which are overexposed to environmental threats. More plans for today include the introduction of a moratorium on all new federal oil and gas leasing, a pledge to protect 30% of the nation’s public lands and waters, as well as the direction of federal agencies to factor climate change into a wide range of issues. The Wall Street Journal reports that the oil industry is emerging as a “primary target” of the Biden administration, “setting the stage for a confrontation that could shape the future of the energy sector”. Bloomberg reports on another action that may be announced by Biden, namely ordering the US Postal Service to convert its trucks to electric models. This comes as the Independent notes that an executive order signed earlier in the week by the president will see the federal government replacing hundreds of thousands of vehicles in its fleet with US-made electric models.
News analysis in the New York Times examines the “battle lines” forming in Biden’s push to tackle climate change. It says there are “powerful and surprising forces…arrayed at his back”, including carmakers that are coming to accept much higher future fuel economy standards and shareholders demanding corporations “acknowledge and prepare for a warmer, more volatile future”. The piece adds that “what may well stand in the president’s way is political intransigence from senators from fossil-fuel states in both parties”, noting that the evenly divided Senate means any one senator can wield a lot of power. According to Bloomberg, natural gas pipeline owners have committed to making their own operations emissions-free by 2050 in the “latest industry pivot as Democrats take over the White House and Congress with vows to phase out fossil fuels”. The piece notes the pledge does not cover the emissions of pipeline customers, “which can be vastly larger”. The Financial Times reports on comments from US energy tycoon and shale pioneer Charif Souki, who says his industry has to do more and backs a carbon price and methane curbs.
E&E News reports that Biden also has plans to host a high-level climate summit on Earth Day, 22 April, “challenging his climate policy team to ready ambitious and credible commitments that can stand up to global scrutiny”. The president has previously pledged such a summit “would be aimed at persuading major emitters to strengthen their national commitments”, the piece states. The South China Morning Post reports that Beijing is “believed to be willing to participate” in such a summit, offering the US and China a “chance to cooperate”. The Independent reports on a call from Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer for Biden to declare climate change a national emergency, with the Democrat noting that “Trump used this for a stupid wall”.
The “biggest ever poll” of views on climate change, commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has found that 64% of people around the world think it is a “global emergency”, New Scientist reports. The “Peoples’ Climate Survey”, included 1.4m responses in 50 countries, giving it the highest rate of any climate poll so far, although others have covered more countries, according to the science publication. The piece notes generally higher support in high-income countries than low-income ones, with the US ranking lowest among wealthier nations and small island states more likely than other developing countries to show concern about climate change. BBC News says the poll was conducted by asking questions through adverts in mobile gaming apps between October and December last year, and notes that nearly half the participants were aged between 14 and 18. It also notes that younger people were generally more likely to agree that rising temperatures were an emergency, with nearly 70% in favour, while 58% of people over the age of 60 took this view. Much of the coverage of the survey focuses on the countries that were most concerned about climate change, with BusinessGreen stating the “consensus that climate change is a global emergency is more broad in the UK than any other nation in the world”. It says that in both the UK and Italy, joint-hosts of the COP26 climate summit this year, 81% of respondents agreed that climate change is an emergency. The Guardian states that “even when climate action required significant changes in their own country, majorities still backed the measures”. It points to strong support for renewables in fossil-fuel reliant nations, such as the US and Australia, and support for forest conservation in nations under threat from deforestation, such as Brazil and Indonesia. Bloomberg’s coverage notes that the survey does not include China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. The Guardian article quotes Cassie Flynn, the UNDP’s strategic adviser on climate change, who says: “The voice of the people is clear – they want action on climate change.”
A separate poll covered by BusinessGreen and carried out by YouGov for WWF finds that three-quarters of the British public “do no not want the products they buy to contribute to the destruction of forests overseas”.
In a pair of letters sent on Tuesday to BlackRock chief executives and clients, the organisation’s chief executive Larry Fink has indicated the firm will push companies to commit to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050, according to the Financial Times. The newspaper adds that the letters from the world’s largest asset manager also raise the prospect of “dumping companies that fail to do so from its actively managed funds”. They warn that a “tectonic shift” in the investment landscape is happening faster than Fink expected, the piece notes. The Guardian says that Fink has noted the influence of the Covid-19 pandemic on this trend. Its coverage says BlackRock holds “significant influence with companies, investors and governments because of the vast array of shares, bonds and other assets its controls, worth $8.7tn (£6.4tn) at the end of December”. Analysis in the New York Times notes that “when Mr Fink makes what sounds like a request, in truth it is much more than that” given BlackRock’s size and “enormous influence”, which mean he can seek to oust directors of companies ignore his call.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that credit rating agency S&P has warned 13 oil and gas companies, including Chevron, Shell and Exxon Mobil, they could be downgraded within weeks “due to the move away from fossil fuels, poor profitability and volatile prices”. Bloomberg has a piece on a new pledge by Mastercard to join the “net-zero club” with a commitment to reach the equivalent of no greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 for operation such as the data centres in its 180 facilities around the world.
As part of a series called the “smart guide to climate change”, BBC Future has a feature titled “is your money harming the climate?” which looks at how individuals save, invest and give away their money “can make a difference to the climate”.
An “exclusive” story in the Guardian reports that England’s “much-hyped” £2bn green homes grant, announced last year as part of the government’s “green industrial revolution” efforts, is “in chaos”, according to renewable energy installers. The piece says that some of these companies are owed tens of thousands of pounds and struggling to stay in business, while many people expecting new low-carbon heating systems have been “left waiting nearly four months”. It notes that the contract to run the programme was awarded to ICF, a large US consulting corporation based in Virginia, but the businesses involved say the administration of the grants is “chaotic, inefficient, confused and is creating long delays for the public and installers”. A separate piece in the same newspaper reports that ICF has been awarded more than 80 government contracts in the past five years.
Separately, a Reuters story reports on comments from COP26 president Alok Sharma at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where he said shared concern over climate change could help strengthen global cooperation more broadly in the run-up to a UN climate summit.
In other UK news, the Press Association reports that “Hinkley Point C – the nuclear power station being built in Somerset – is set to be delayed and costs are likely to be £500m more than previously thought, according to the energy giant behind it, EDF”. And the Times says that “the Scottish government will end its overseas business support for fossil fuel companies before the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow this year”.
Several publication report on the backlash after the UK government postponed the environment bill. The Independent says the bill, “one of Boris Johnson’s flagship pieces of legislation” has been delayed by at least six months due to the government claiming it has run out of time to pass it in the current parliamentary session. It quotes a Greenpeace spokesperson who says: “With the global biodiversity summit later this year, and the UK hosting the global climate conference, we should be raising our environmental standards and setting an example for others to follow”. BBC News reports that campaigners are angry at the latest delay “to a bill that was first launched back in July 2018”, noting their views that the “hold-up will leave people breathing unfit air for longer”.
Meanwhile, the Yorkshire Post reports that a new partnership of councils, businesses, utilities, unions and environmental groups described as the biggest regional commission of its kind in the UK and dubbed the Yorkshire and Humber Climate Commission is set to launch formally in March.
In an editorial, USA Today states that Biden’s moratorium on new oil and gas leasing, expected later today, “would be a good start in a fact-based, science-based approach”. It compares the importance of science in climate-based decision making to attitudes to coronavirus, noting that the former administration’s response to that latter have been disastrous. “Grim lessons have been learned about the costs of downplaying research-based measures,” the editorial states. On climate, it concludes: “Denying that the crisis even exists — as Trump did with the coronavirus, and many still do with human-caused climate change — kills debate and ensures nothing is accomplished until it’s too late to avert calamity”.
An opinion piece by senior US correspondent Justin Gerdes in Energy Monitor states that, while rejoining the Paris Agreement and nixing the Keystone XL pipeline made headlines, “Biden’s other early moves suggest he really is serious about sweeping action on climate change”. The piece notes that while Biden was not climate voters’ first choice when the 2020 campaign began, since then “he has picked up the climate change mantle”. Meanwhile, a piece in the Wall Street Journal by its columnist Holman W Jenkins Jr, titled “Biden’s age of climate decadence”, takes a negative look at the president’s actions. He writes that “no ideas are present in the climate spasms of the Biden administration, just a doubled helping of patronage handouts to established interest groups”. He continues: “Suppose you actually cared about climate change. You would not throw episodic subsidies at things that can survive only as long as you are subsidising them. You would try to set in motion long-term trends that have the advantage of being in accordance with existing trends”. Central to his suggestions is a carbon tax which would “spread a low-carbon incentive through every transaction in the economy”.
New research in the Journal of Applied Psychology finds that “those who are more familiar with Greta Thunberg have higher intentions of taking collective actions to reduce global warming”. This phenomenon is referred to as the “Greta Thunberg effect”. The researchers survey a “nationally representative” group of more than 1,300 adults in the US, and conclude that whilst the Greta Thunberg effect is present across all age groups and political ideologies, it “may be stronger among those who identify as more liberal”. The findings indicate that “young public figures”, such as Thunberg, may motivate climate action across the US public, but that the effect is stronger among those with a shared political ideology.
The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) has released its latest report on how human-caused climate change has contributed to extreme weather events around the world. This report presents 15 new peer-reviewed analyses of extreme weather across four continents and one sea during 2019. It features the research of 77 scientists from seven countries looking at both historical observations and model simulations to determine whether and by how much climate change may have influenced particular extreme events. (The analyses from previous reports feature in Carbon Brief’s map of attribution studies.)
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