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Daily Briefing

21.04.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Biden to pledge to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030
Biden to pledge to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030

News.

Biden to pledge to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2030
The Washington Post Read Article

Ahead of Joe Biden’s Earth Day summit tomorrow, several publications are already reporting on the new climate target the US president is planning to announce at the event. The Washington Post says Biden will pledge to slash US greenhouse gas emissions “at least in half” by the end of the decade, citing “two people briefed on the plan” while noting that a White House official said a final decision had not been made. It notes that the move would represent a “near-doubling” of the nation’s current Paris Agreement target, which is to cut emissions by 26-28% compared with 2005 levels. The newspaper notes that officials are considering a target range which “could go above 50% at the higher end” and says that the administration is “likely to first offer broad strokes rather than a detailed breakdown of how it will meet the more ambitious target”. Associated Press also has the story, quoting its own anonymous sources, and says that Biden administration has tried to ensure that the new climate target is “aggressive enough to have a tangible impact on climate change efforts – not only in the US but throughout the world – while also being achievable under a closely divided Congress”. The New York Times also reports the story separately, noting that as tomorrow’s summit gathers 40 world leaders virtually, the US hopes its pledge will encourage other nations to step up their own targets by the time of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year. The newspaper notes that the credibility of Biden’s climate pledge rests on his ability to enact “aggressive new domestic policies” to curb emissions, adding that other nations are sceptical about the durability of such rules following the Trump administration. A separate piece in the New York Times profiles Gina McCarthy, Barack Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief and now Biden’s senior climate change adviser. It says after watching her work to cut US emissions “shredded” under the Trump administration, this time “she is determined to make it stick”. Bloomberg also reports on the new US climate pledge.

The Guardian reports that Biden’s desire to re-establish his country’s leadership on climate change “will face a severe test this week”, with much hinging on cooperation between China and the US, the world’s two biggest emitters. A separate Guardian story confirms that China’s president Xi Jinping will attend the summit in the first meeting between the two leaders since the new US administration. Chinese state media CCTV has the original statement from Xi saying he will deliver an “important speech” at the meeting and citing Hua Chunying, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An article in Politico says the two-day Climate Leaders Summit marks “the return of the US to the climate diplomacy it abandoned under president Donald Trump”. And a separate piece in the same publication is titled: “Nine things to watch ahead of Joe Biden’s climate-palooza.”

The Guardian reports that Biden’s desire to re-establish his country’s leadership on climate change “will face a severe test this week”, with much hinging on cooperation between China and the US, the world’s two biggest emitters. A separate Guardian story confirms that China’s president Xi Jinping will attend the summit in the first meeting between the two leaders since the new US administration. Chinese state media CCTV has the original statement from Xi saying he will deliver an “important speech” at the meeting and citing Hua Chunying, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. An article in Politico says the two-day Climate Leaders Summit marks “the return of the US to the climate diplomacy it abandoned under president Donald Trump”. And a separate piece in the same publication is titled: “Nine things to watch ahead of Joe Biden’s climate-palooza.”

A piece in the Financial Times is titled: “Brazil tries to reset relations ahead of Joe Biden’s climate summit”. It says top foreign policy officials say the Brazilian government has embarked on a new approach to the environment, pointing to its recent commitment to eliminate illegal deforestation by 2030, but the piece notes these claims are being “greeted cautiously by the nation’s western interlocutors”.

UK confirms it will set a tougher climate pledge for 2035
The Independent Read Article

After widespread reports in the UK press yesterday, the government has confirmed it will cut emissions by 78% by 2035, when compared to levels in 1990, the Independent reports. The news website notes that this is in line with the reductions that the the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the government’s independent climate advisers, say will be needed to reach the nation’s legal goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. (See Carbon Brief’s updated piece on the CCC’s guidance on the UK’s “sixth carbon budget”.) The Independent notes that while the target will for the first time include emissions from international aviation and shipping, the “government said it would not follow all of the CCC’s specific policy recommendations”, with the accompanying press release stating the government wanted to maintain “people’s freedom of choice, including on their diet”. BusinessGreen has a piece looking at the green economy’s response to the government announcement. Politico also has the story.

There is extensive coverage of what the new target will mean for the government and for British people. The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Telegraph and the i newspaper all carry stories on this topic, with common themes including changes to diets and cutting back on flights. A separate “exclusive” story in the Sun reports that “a quarter more Brits have gone veggie or vegan – and the number of people using green energy has doubled in just 18 months”. The Press Association also tackles this subject, focusing on the millions of rented, owned and council flats and houses [that] will need to be made more energy efficient”. The Times reports that “airline passengers face higher prices for flights under government plans to include emissions from international aviation in the UK’s climate target for the first time”.

An analysis piece by the Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne is titled: “Boris Johnson must recognise ‘hard work begins now’ with new 2035 climate pledge.” The Daily Telegraph and Reuters both have pieces looking at the UK’s climate targets which cite Carbon Brief analysis. Reuters states that, as it stands, “without drastic course correction” the UK is on track for more than 400m tonnes (Mt) of greenhouse gases by 2030 rather than the 316Mt required.

The Guardian reports on calls for the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to radically overhaul the Treasury’s response to the climate crisis as it prepares for a “long-awaited review of the government’s net zero strategy”. Finally, the Guardian also reports that former press secretary Allegra Stratton has been moved to become Boris Johnson’s spokeswoman on the climate change summit COP26. (See Comment below.)

US: Ocasio-Cortez, Markey reintroduce green new deal resolution
The Hill Read Article

US Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, both Democratics, have reintroduced a resolution in support of a “green new deal” ahead of president Joe Biden’s leaders climate summit later this week, the Hill reports. The piece notes that the resolution, first introduced in 2019, has “become a political lightning rod” which was embraced by progressives but opposed by Republicans. Reuters notes that it is unclear whether proposed climate goals in the green new deal, which go further than Biden’s, “would receive a significantly warmer reception from [his] administration than it did from the administration of former president Donald Trump”. It adds that it was also unclear how likely the plans for significant economy-wide emissions cuts and a safety net for those impacted by climate change would be to pass in either US congressional chamber.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US Senate Republicans could produce their own “conceptual” counterproposal to Biden’s $2.3tn infrastructure plan this week, which centred climate action and clean energy. The newswire adds that their version could be less than a third of the size of the current administration’s. (Carbon Brief has details of Biden’s proposals for climate-related spending in its “green recovery” tracker.) Separately, the Hill reports that Republican senator Susan Collins plans to back Democrat efforts to overturn a Trump administration rollback of methane regulations. E&E News via Scientific American covers the first major economic address by vice president Kamala Harris, which outlined a “vision of the future” but, it notes, excluded talk of climate change.

Finally, a New York Times piece looks at the record of China’s solar power industry on human rights, which it says may clash with Biden’s desire to expand US renewable use “while challenging Beijing on human rights and unfair trade practices”.

EU reaches provisional deal on 55% greenhouse gas cut by 2030
Reuters Read Article

After talks into the early hours of this morning, the EU has reached a provisional agreement to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, Reuters reports. It says the new target, which goes further than the previous 40% target, but not as far “as environmental campaigners demand”, was decided by negotiators from the European Parliament and the European Council, representing the 27 EU governments. Euronews also has the story, noting that the European climate law “now needs to be rubber-stamped by the Parliament and Council to come into force”. Bloomberg has details of the legislative package, as described by EU climate lead Frans Timmermans. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the price of EU carbon permits for trading in the EU emissions trading system (ETS) has risen to a record high of 45 euros a tonne, increasing costs for polluters. It notes that prices have been “rising sharply” since the EU agreed last year to strengthen its climate targets, which will ultimately increase demand for permits to emit.

Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that the EU is proposing higher taxes on high-polluting energy products as it seeks to become carbon neutral by 2050. It quotes EU economic affairs commissioner Paolo Gentiloni who says the existing Energy Taxation Directive is “woefully out of sync with today’s policy goals”. Separately, Reuters has a story about EU nations being divided over whether to delay the bloc’s “sustainable finance taxonomy” rules a day before it is due to publish them.

An editorial in the Financial Times about the taxonomy is titled: “EU green finance rules must be politically sustainable.” It says: “The European Commission has spent more than three years working on this classification system, prompting heated controversy throughout…If it ends up with a system that allows the greenwashing it is supposed to prevent, the consequences will be felt well beyond the bloc itself.”

Australia: Morrison government flags $540m for hydrogen and carbon capture ahead of Biden summit
The Guardian Read Article

The Australian government has pledged to increase investment in regional hydrogen hubs and carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects ahead of the global climate summit that US president Joe Biden has convened for later this week, the Guardian reports. The money, which will form part of the nation’s May budget, is set to include an additional $539.2m (£299m) for hydrogen and CCS, building on investments promised during last year’s budget of $70m (£39m) over five years for hydrogen and $50m (£28m) for CCS, the newspaper continues. However, it adds that while prime minister Scott Morrison “continues to signal a favourable disposition towards Australia adopting a net-zero target by 2050”, there will be no new long- or short-term emissions targets announced at the summit. ABC News also has the story. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that 30 current and former Australian defence personnel and security sector staff have joined the Security Leaders Climate Group, which wants the Australian government to undertake a “whole-of-nation assessment of the security risks posed by climate change”. One of the members tells the newspaper that Biden’s summit marks an opportunity for world governments to voice their support for immediate action.

In more Australian news, the Guardian reports that Stanwell Corporation, Australia’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter, plans to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, including curtailing the output of its coal-fired power plants. According to the newspaper, chief executive officer Richard Van Breda said the speed of Australia’s energy transition means they “must” now shift focus towards renewables. Separately, the Sydney Morning Herald has a story about farmers in part of New South Wales demanding a ban on coal and gas mining in the region as the state government announces a $100m (£55m) payout for a Chinese company to exit its coal mine lease.

An opinion piece in the Australian by the climate sceptic environmental editor Graham Lloyd outlines the efforts made by the US to drum up support for the climate summit while emphasising China and India’s continued coal use. “The danger for Australia is that it will again become a lightning rod for disappointment at the slow progress of the Biden talks,” he writes.

More than 2,000 electricity enterprises register for accounts on China’s national emissions trading scheme
China Energy News Read Article

More than 2,000 electricity enterprises under China’s national emissions trading scheme are in the process of opening their accounts through the system’s registration platform, reports China Energy News. These companies are the first batch of businesses covered by the scheme, which is due to start operating by the end of June, says the state-run outlet. Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, said last week that China would need to invest 2.2tn yuan (£243bn) every year in carbon emission reduction before 2030, reports China National Radio. The state broadcaster says that “relevant” authorities are “seeking opinions” on the draft management regulations of the carbon-trading scheme.

Zhu Min, chairman of the National Institute of Financial Research at Tsinghua University, has told financial news outlet yicai.com that China faces “immense challenges” to achieve carbon neutrality. Zhu added that the target would “fundamentally restructure” China’s economy. Meanwhile, various experts have also highlighted the “multiple challenges” in China’s pathway towards net-zero emissions to China Business. They suggest that the nation’s energy structure should be dominated by “new energy” and “renewable energy” to hit its climate goal, the report says. Separately, a spokesperson from the National Development and Reform Commission has announced that China saw a 30.9% year-on-year increase in its wind power generation in the first quarter this year, says International Energy Net. The growth of the country’s solar power generation between January and March was 14.1% compared to the same period last year, the official adds.

Elsewhere, China has introduced its first “large-scale promotion and implementation exemplary project” for hydrogen energy in the eastern province of Shandong, according to 21st Century Business Herald. The programme, called “Hydrogen into 10,000 families”, aims to send the new energy form into industrial parks, residential and office buildings, ports, highways in four cities in Shandong, a government notice says. Finally, state news agency Xinhua reports that China’s State Grid launched its “new energy cloud” on Tuesday to help it build a new electricity system anchored by non-fossil energy. The online platform will support the state-run company to plan, construct, produce “new energy”, the report says.

Comment.

The Guardian view on new climate goals: a destination is not enough
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

An editorial in the Guardian says the UK government’s new commitment to cut emissions to 78% below 1990 levels by 2035 “has begun the bidding process that will set the scene for the COP26 climate talks”. It says that while countries including the US and Japan are expected to present their own new climate pledges this week, “this is not the time to ease the pressure on [British prime minister Boris] Johnson. Instead, it must be drastically ramped up”. It adds: “If he has any desire to be taken seriously as an actor on the climate stage, Mr Johnson must get a grip. The ambitious goals being set this week have no hope of being met without a colossal effort.” The Times also devotes an editorial to the UK’s new goal, praising Johnson’s “admirable green agenda”, but adding: “The costs of this will be enormous. Mr Johnson must clarify how they are to be met.” A Daily Telegraph editorial says in its headline that the government’s “green ambitions will come at an enormous cost”. It concludes: “When ministers grandstand in order to demonstrate their green credentials they make little mention of the bills to be paid. They need to be more honest with the voters who will be asked to pay for these pledges.” The lead editorial in the Daily Mail runs under the headline: “The benefits and pitfalls of this eco-revolution.” It says: “If achieved, [the UK’s new target] would make Britain a world leader in carbon reduction.” But it adds that meeting the goal “would require the public to tolerate a seismic shift in their way of life”. It concludes: “So this is the tightrope Mr Johnson must walk. Help save the planet, while simultaneously boosting and preserving British businesses, jobs and livelihoods. It is a fine and delicate balancing act.” The Daily Mail hands its lead comment slot to climate sceptic columnist Ross Clark, with a piece under the headline: “Green dreams that will cost us the earth.” He concludes: “So while Boris Johnson may have the world at his feet at the G7 and at COP26 – a Greta Thunberg with mop hair – the hard reality for British consumers of these draconian carbon targets will sink in only when the delegates have flown home, spewing their vapour trails behind them.” For the Independent, chief political commentator John Rentoul says that while the UK has made “remarkable progress in cutting carbon dioxide emissions…decarbonising home heating and much of our industry is going to be more difficult and more expensive”. An analysis piece for the Financial Times examines how the UK can meet its new target.

Australia’s ambition on climate change is held back by a toxic mix of rightwing politics, media and vested interests
Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, The Guardian Read Article

Two former Australian prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, write in the Guardian that the world should “not give up hope on Australia just yet” as leaders prepare for an international climate summit convened by the US. “It was always expected that Joe Biden’s election would be a massive shot in the arm for international climate action, but the scale of that boost has been genuinely surprising,” they write. While other nations such as Japan and Canada are expected to come forward with new targets, they write that their country “continues to bury its head in the sand”. “Thankfully, there is some cause for optimism,” they say, citing Australia’s significant advances in renewables and net-zero commitments from key industries and every state and territorial government. “The main thing holding back Australia’s climate ambition is politics: a toxic coalition of the Murdoch press, the right wing of the Liberal and National parties, and vested interests in the fossil fuel sector,” they continue, concluding that “hopefully, at this week’s summit the prime minister will receive the wake-up call the government needs”.

In another piece looking ahead to the summit, an editorial in the South China Morning Post is titled: “A sign China and US can work together.” It says that an agreement between the two nations at a meeting in Shanghai to cooperate on climate “represents proof that China and the US, despite relations having soured to their worst in decades, are able to set aside differences and work for the common good”.

A comment piece by veteran environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean in the i newspaper says that while there is hope that some nations will come forward with stronger targets at the summit “China, India, Brazil and Australia could frustrate success”.

The Hot List: the world's most influential climate scientists
Reuters Read Article

Reuters has produced a series of features dubbed “the hot list” profiling the world’s “most influential” climate scientists. Its introduction reads: “We wanted to know: Who are the scientists who have dedicated their lives to studying the climate, knowing that their work may go unheeded and do little to avert a climate catastrophe? And how do they deal with it?” At the centre of the project is a list of 1,000 climate academics who have been identified and ranked according to how influential they are. Reuters has combined three different metrics – how many papers they have published, how often they are cited by other scientists and how often they are mentioned in the press – combined them to produce a final score. The article notes that it is “important to note that this isn’t a ranking of the ‘best climate scientists. It’s a measure of influence, which naturally evolves over time, based on information available as of December 2020”. The first in-depth profile in the series, titled “the pioneer”, examines the career of Michael Oppenheimer, who went before US Congress to testify about his research with fellow American climatologist James Hansen more than 30 years ago. “Humankind, they warned, was warming the planet through the burning of fossil fuels. In the years since, thousands upon thousands of scientists continued warning humanity. An unrelenting succession of their predictions proved correct. The early stages of the environmental disruption they foresaw are now felt worldwide.” Reuter’s “hot list” has been widely criticised on Twitter by climate scientists.

Science.

Extreme melt season ice layers reduce firn permeability across Greenland
Nature Communications Read Article

New research into the Greenland ice sheet finds that a single year of extreme melt can drive structural changes to the sheet, reducing its ability to store freshwater in following years. The study quantifies meltwater near the surface of the ice sheet using reanalysis of radar data collected between 2012 and 2017. It finds that an “extensive near surface melt layer” formed on the top of the ice sheet following the “extreme” melt season of 2012, which was still present in 2017 in some regions. The frequency of extreme melt events could be a “key determinant” of multi-year response to surface melt, the authors conclude.

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.