Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Biden’s $2tn infrastructure plan aims to ‘finally address climate crisis as a nation'
- India calls out rich nations for setting net-zero goals over robust short-term targets
- UK: COP26 climate change summit may have to be postponed again – or radically changed – due to COVID
- World Bank revises climate policy but stops short of halting fossil fuel funding
- China: Launch of carbon market is imminent, interim regulations on carbon trading seeks opinions
- Government must raise its game or risk failure at COP26
- Biden green infrastructure push about jobs as much as environment
- Two-timescale response of a large Antarctic ice shelf to climate change
There is continuing coverage of US president Joe Biden’s $2tn plan for developing the nation’s infrastructure that he said, according to the Guardian, will allow “transformational progress in our ability to tackle climate change” by supporting clean energy, electric vehicles and homes resilient to climate threats. The package, known as the “American Jobs Plan”, is the “first indication of the scale of spending that will be required to reshape day-to-day life in order to avert disastrous climate change”, the newspaper reports. Announcing the plan with a speech in Pittsburgh that emphasised a focus on creating jobs, Biden said it would be “a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago”, Associated Press reports. The infrastructure plan comes shortly after Biden’s $1.9tn coronavirus relief package. Biden hopes to pass it by summer, “which could mean relying solely on the slim Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate”, according to the newswire. It adds that the president’s infrastructure projects would be financed by higher corporate taxes, a move which could “thwart attempts to work with Republican lawmakers”. Reuters notes that Congress is “poised for a long battle” over the plan, as Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he would not support tax increases or deficit spending in the bill.
The Washington Post reports that the plan includes plans for the federal government to take on a “vast new role” in funding the nation’s transportation networks, including $85bn for transit and another $80bn for rail. This funding would expand access to bus service and Amtrak, the national train company, “connecting more cities with the aim of reducing road congestion and driving down greenhouse gas emissions”, the newspaper notes. The Hill says that the strategy also includes $174bn to “win the [electric vehicle] market”, as well as incentives to drive the rollout of 500,000 electric vehicle chargers by the end of the decade, electrify at least 20% of the nation’s school bus fleet and replacing 50,000 diesel transit vehicles with electric models. Bloomberg notes the plan would also give a 10-year extension to tax credits “that have been a boon to wind, solar and other renewable energy projects”. It adds that the stimulus spending “could buttress a carbon-cutting pledge the administration is preparing to unveil in April, as part of the US return to the Paris climate agreement”. Inside Climate News lays out nine ways the stimulus package will tackle climate change, including $100bn for power grid modernisation, $35bn investment in clean technology research and development and $16bn employing union oil and gas workers to cap abandoned wells and clean up mines. Reuters reports that the Biden administration wants to transform the US into the “world’s leading producer of energy from offshore wind after years of lagging behind Europe” and Politico has a piece looking at how governors in northeastern states are relying on Washington to boost their offshore wind industries. The Wall Street Journal has graphics showing how the proposed funding would be allocated to different industries in Biden’s plan.
BuzzFeed News reports that while the stimulus proposal has some of “the core tenets of the Green New Deal”, such as job creation, progressive politicians and climate groups have said Biden’s plan “falls far short” of the deal, which proposes the US hit net-zero emissions by 2030. Politico also has a piece featuring comments from activists and politicians like the Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling for Biden to “go bigger” on funding. Bloomberg says “the dissonance with the climate left is just one sign of the challenges Biden will face getting his bill passed”. An analysis piece in the New York Times states that while from “a climate perspective, the plan makes sense…From a job-creation perspective, it’s more complicated”. It notes that Biden is “betting big” on the transition to a cleaner economy bringing well-paid jobs, but the piece outlines some of the issues that may face a switch away from fossil fuels. Another New York Times article says that when it comes to protecting against climate change, the proposal “sidesteps one of the most immediate and wrenching dilemmas”, namely deciding where to hold back spending and “who will be forced to move because of rising water”.
Finally, Bloomberg reports that the Biden administration is “purging” members of two Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory committees in “a move designed to shrink the influence of industry on the panels”.
India’s power and renewable energy minister has called out rich nations for setting distant net-zero targets without short-time action, Climate Home News reports. Raj Kumar Singh made the comments in a panel discussion with China’s energy minister Zhang Jianhua, US climate envoy John Kerry and the EU’s Frans Timmermans at an International Energy Agency (IEA) summit intended to create momentum for achieving net-zero emissions by the middle of the century, the article notes. The criticism came as India faces “mounting diplomatic pressure” to set its own net-zero goal ahead of the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, the news website reports. BBC News reports that Singh told the conference poorer nations “have the right to develop” and “you can’t stop it”. The Financial Times notes that Singh told the conference that targets set for 2050 or 2060 – as the EU and China, respectively, have announced – were just “a pie in the sky” and that he wants richer countries to adopt “net negative” emissions targets. According to the newspaper, Singh said: “2060 is far away. By that time, if the people continue to emit at the rate at which they are emitting, the world won’t survive”. The piece notes that India does not currently have a target for cutting its absolute emissions, only a goal to cut its emissions intensity – the amount of emissions relative to GDP – by 33% by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. At the same conference, Reuters reports that COP26 president Alok Sharma emphasised that besides long-term net-zero targets emissions will have to be cut drastically this decade, telling attendees: “We cannot afford another decade of deliberation. This needs to be the decade of delivery”. The Independent reports that Sharma also said tackling climate change will be “well-nigh impossible” unless rich countries meet their funding promises to vulnerable nations.
Meanwhile, in a separate ministerial conference hosted by the UK addressing how to help the countries most vulnerable to climate change, the Guardian reports that Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the UN, said the world’s richest G7 group of countries must double the amount of climate finance they are offering to poor countries. With the UK hosting the G7 this summer as well as organising the COP26 event later in the year, Mohammed said the nation has “a unique opportunity…to secure the breakthrough” required on financial help for poor countries, the newspaper reports.
Separately, the Hill reports that Kerry will visit the United Arab Emirates and India this week as part of an effort to strengthen climate commitments from major emitters.
The COP26 climate change summit that is set to take place later this year in Glasgow may have to be postponed or “radically changed” due to the Covid-19 pandemic, two “government sources” tell Sky News. The article states that while UK prime minister Boris Johnson is “battling to ensure the flagship November summit is held face-to-face by ensuring participants are vaccinated and subject to a robust testing regime”, it may still have to be delayed for a second year. It notes that COP26 president Alok Sharma has told MPs the summit must be a physical event, although there will be some online attendees. According to Sky News, last year “a decision about delaying the summit was taken in May, meaning leaders are likely to have to decide the shape and future of the summit within weeks”.
Responding to reports that the event could be pushed back to 2022, BBC News reports that “sources in Downing Street and the Scottish administration were adamant that no decision had been made on a further delay”. However, it adds that a final decision will be taken within the next few weeks, though not before this weekend, and contingencies being considered could include scaling down the event or making it partly virtual. It adds that any major decisions will have to be made with the UN and the Scottish government. The i newspaper also has the story.
In an “exclusive” story, Reuters reports that a draft presentation shows the World Bank is considering a new policy on climate change, which could see it committing to making financing decisions in line with efforts to limit global warming. It notes that the bank, which is the biggest provider of climate finance to developing countries, is finalising a new five-year climate action plan “amid growing political momentum in Britain, the US and other countries for ending public financing of high-emission fossil fuel projects”. The plan, which is not final and must still be approved by the bank’s board, still “stops short of promising to halt funding of fossil fuels”, the news wire notes. However, the plan, which is due to be discussed by the bank’s board on Thursday, commits to “align its financing flows with the objectives of the Paris Agreement” by July 2023. It also says the bank’s sister organisations, the International Finance Corporation and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency, will align 85% of their direct financing with the Paris Agreement by July 2023 and 100% by July 2025, Reuters adds.
China’s “Interim Regulations on the Management of Carbon Emissions Trading” will be the country’s highest regulatory document in carbon market legislation if approved by the State Council, reports financial outlet Caixin. Yesterday, the nation’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) released a revised draft of the rules for month-long public consultation. Caixin says that Lu Xinming, deputy director-general of MEE’s Department of Climate Change, said the ministry was planning to introduce the regulations by the end of this year. But an insider tells the state-owned 21st Century Business Herald that the timeline is still “uncertain” as there would be further discussions and revisions to the draft following the consultation. The release of the revised draft implies that China has accelerated its building of the national Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), according to state-affiliated Jiemian News. State-controlled Shanghai Securities News says the national ETS is “drawing closer and closer” while covering the news.
Meanwhile, the MEE’s chief engineer Zhang Bo said that China’s “dual carbon” goals would bring a “significant impact” on its prevention of water pollution, reports Science and Technology Daily. Zhang is cited saying that pollution treatment processes would experience “revolutionary changes” under the targets at an MEE press briefing.
Both news portal Sina and state news agency Xinhua feature a report which ranks the People’s Bank of China (PBC) as the “greenest” central bank among all G20 countries – followed by Brazil and France. The listing was compiled by UK “not-for-profit organisation” Positive Money, the outlets say. The PBC has “actively promoted green finance” and offered “more favourable support to friendly projects”, the report says according to Xinhua. State-run Can Kao Xiao Xi also picks up the ranking, citing a report from Reuters. Can Kao Xiao Xi says the results might be surprising to some people, but they came from analysis of “all kinds of” data suggesting various central banks’ contribution to the environment.
Finally, Bloomberg reports that China is considering a number of tax changes for its steel industry that would encourage imports and reduce exports, in an effort to cut steel production and cut emissions from the sector.
A comment piece for the Times by shadow climate change minister Matthew Pennycook criticises the government’s approach to the COP26 climate summit, which he says shows “a notable lack of strategic intent”, noting that “given the enormity of what is at stake, the absence of any coherent vision on the part of this Conservative government is inexcusable”. He identifies “four core priorities” that must be addressed to “keep alive the hope of limiting global heating to 1.5C” under the Paris Agreement. These include mitigation – namely encouraging large emitters to come forward with stronger, short-term climate targets – climate justice, which Pennycook says has been undermined by the decision to slash the overseas aid budget, and “financial flows”, which he says should include compelling finance institutions to stop financing fossil-fuel projects overseas. Finally, he says “we must not forget the ecological crisis – action on which is also an essential response to the climate emergency”.
Meanwhile, an article in Prospect Magazine by the shadow business and energy secretary Ed Milliband is headlined “why the government’s policies are nowhere near sufficient to address the climate emergency”. He criticises the limited resources the UK government has allocated for green industries compared to the US, Germany and France: “Why the contrast between the big rhetoric and the much smaller reality? It’s down to an aversion to the scale of government intervention required, and a false belief that the market can do it mostly on its own”. Spectator writer Katy Balls writes in the i newspaper that enthusiasm for prime minister Boris Johnson’s green agenda “begins to wane” among the public when the issue of who will pay for it comes up. “Johnson is known for having an approach to politics that can be described as cakeism – he wants to have his cake and eat it…In selling the green agenda, Johnson likes to suggest that it is all upside,” she writes. “Johnson should remember that when Thatcher talked about climate change, she did warn that changes and sacrifices would have to be made to deal with it. It’s time Johnson did the same.”
Meanwhile, a blog post by Joss Garman, UK director at the European Climate Foundation (which funds Carbon Brief), outlines promising progress in decarbonising the power, transport and heating sectors in the UK, citing Carbon Brief’s recent analysis that suggested the nation was halfway to meeting its net-zero target. “Big progress is often easier to deliver than we’re led to believe – either by those who get lost in the weeds over this technology or that policy, or by those who have a cynical vested interest in acting as a bulwark against change,” he writes. While there are “good reasons to view what we’ve already achieved as ‘the easy stuff’…Many people worked damn hard to make it look and feel that way with hindsight”. He asks “how long before [electric cars and heat pumps] are looked back on as ‘the easy stuff’, I wonder?”
Finally, an editorial in Nature considers net-zero pledges being made by major economies and concludes that such commitments “must be meaningful to avert climate disaster”. It concludes: “It is not hard to make pledges towards net zero — especially when the nations and organisations involved can themselves set the parameters for that pledge. But a pledge that doesn’t include meaningful reductions — as opposed to more offsets — increases the risk that catastrophic climate change will become unavoidable.”
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reflects on the poor recent history of building an maintaining its infrastructure, and what the Biden administration’s plan means in this context. “The ambition… isn’t in the size of the plan, as big as it is. It’s in the plan’s breadth, its sharp break with our fossil-fuel-powered past, its efforts to repair the damage that transportation policies have caused to communities, and its vision for the role Washington should play in the US economy,” it states. The editorial notes that in California people are “painfully aware of the toll that climate change is already taking” and it rejects the notion that more private involvement is what is required. “This country is long past due for a major increase in what we’re investing as a society, not just in our crumbling roads and water pipes, but in many neglected sectors of our economy – the infrastructure that undergirds our human as well as our physical resources. Biden is the first president to advance that kind of far-reaching view, seeking to boost basic research, technological development, clean energy, climate resilience, workforce development and environmental justice in one package.”
A new study investigates a “potentially irreversible threshold” in the stability of Antarctica’s Filchner–Ronne ice shelf that would be crossed if the ocean cavity beneath it were to become flooded with warm water from the deep ocean. Using a coupled ice sheet-ocean model, the researchers find that any increase in ice shelf melting is “likely to be preceded by an extended period of reduced melting” due to changes in circulation beneath the shelf. Warm water begins to intrude into the cavity when global average temperatures “rise by approximately 7C above pre-industrial”, the researchers say. While this is “unlikely to occur this century”, this “should not be considered evidence that the region is unconditionally stable”, the authors conclude: “Unless global temperatures plateau, increased melting will eventually prevail.”
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