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Daily Briefing

15.01.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING BlackRock CEO says the climate crisis is about to trigger ‘a fundamental reshaping of finance’
BlackRock CEO says the climate crisis is about to trigger ‘a fundamental reshaping of finance’

News.

BlackRock CEO says the climate crisis is about to trigger 'a fundamental reshaping of finance'

There is extensive coverage of the annual letter to investors sent by Larry Fink, the chief executive of asset manager BlackRock, in which he says that climate change will lead to a “fundamental reshaping of finance”. According to CNBC, the firm is the world’s largest asset manager, with $7tn under management. The outlet notes Fink’s warning that a significant reallocation of capital will take place “sooner than most anticipate”. Sky News reports that BlackRock will make climate change central to its own investment decisions backed by “immediate actions”. It adds: “The shift by BlackRock comes after criticism that the company has failed to use its platform to help curb climate change.” The Guardian reports that the move “has been welcomed by environmentalists as a significant moment in the battle to reshape the relationship between money and the climate crisis”. It quotes veteran climate activist Bill McKibben telling the paper that the move by BlackRock is a “remarkable breakthrough”. Another Guardian article picks out BlackRock’s plan to divest from thermal coal, with S&P Global explaining that the firm will “remov[e] the public debt and equity securities of companies that generate more than 25% of their revenues from thermal coal production from BlackRock’s discretionary active investment portfolios”. The Washington Post says that as well as exiting thermal coal investments, the firm will “launch new investment products that screen for fossil fuels”. According to the Financial Times, BlackRock will also aim to “increase its sustainable assets 10-fold from $90bn today to $1tn within a decade”. Another piece in the Financial Times says Fink’s “annual finger-wagging letter to chief executives has become a feature of the corporate governance calendar, often setting the agenda for global companies and shareholders alike”. The New York Times reports: “In an interview, Mr Fink said the decision developed from conversations with ‘business leaders and how they’re thinking about [climate change], talking to different scientists, reading different research’.” The BlackRock letter is also covered by NPR, the HillAxiosReuters and BBC News. Commenting on the BlackRock move, Daily Telegraph investment editor Taha Lokhandwala writes that the decision “might be cynical marketing”. But it is still “better than Vanguard’s silence”, he says, referring to the refusal by the world’s second-largest asset manager to sign up to Climate Action 100+, a group of major investors calling on fossil fuel firms to disclose how their business is compatible with climate goals.

In other investment-related news, the Hill reports that billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer “claims he divested from fossil fuels a decade ago, but it’s more complicated”. The Daily Telegraph reports that the director of the British Museum “has denied hypocrisy for accepting BP funding as the institution prepares a climate change exhibition”. And Reuters reports: “Climate activists dump coal inside Swiss bank UBS.”

EU sets out trillion euro plan to avert 'climate crash'

The European Commission has set out a plan to invest €1tn in climate action, towards its aim of net-zero emissions by 2050, Reuters reports. It quotes the commissioner for budget Johannes Hahn saying: “We need climate cash in order to avoid a climate crash.” Reuters explains that roughly half the €1tn will come from the EU’s long-term budget over the next decade, wtih €100m from member state government co-financing, €300m from private sources and another €100m from the EU’s “just transition fund” designed to help regions dependent on the coal economy. According to the Independent, the €1tn plan would earmark a quarter of the EU budget towards the “European Green Deal”. Associated Press also covers the announcement. Politico reports that the commission has faced “scepticism over whether its climate funding adds up”. It explains: “[The] plans rely on fresh money from the next long-term EU budget, which is currently the subject of fierce negotiations among member countries. They also rely on national governments using other EU cash for green purposes and on the European Investment Bank (EIB), private investors and public bodies coming up with much of the money.” A second Politico article says “a fight is brewing” over which countries and regions will receive money under the just transition fund. Writing for Foresight Climate & Energy, E3G’s Rebekka Popp argues that the fund “presents an opportunity to get the EU on track towards climate neutrality, but only if it requires all countries to present phase out plans for high-emission technologies like coal burning”. The Financial Times has an interview with Frans Timmermans, commission executive vice-president for the green deal, in which he says: “If you say you are moving from an economy entirely based on carbon to an economy that should be weaned of this carbon dependency, that is not a small change of policy, that is a tectonic shift in the way our society is structured…We still have a long way to go before this sinks in everywhere.” Timmermans is also quoted saying: “Any industrial revolution leads to a shift in jobs, a shift in institutions. If you only concentrated on the jobs that will disappear and do not have a plan for the jobs that will emerge then you get into trouble.”

Reuters Read Article
Scores of countries signal more ambitious climate plans in 2020

Some 114 countries have produced more ambitious climate pledges under the Paris Agreement or intend to do so this year, according to UN figures reported by Press Association. This represents a doubling of the number of countries committing to raise their ambition since September, PA adds. In addition, 120 countries have told the UN they have signed off on plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 or are working towards that goal, the newswire says. It continues: “The figures have been released at the start of a year when countries are expected to boost their ‘nationally determined contributions’ to the Paris Agreement ahead of ‘COP26’ climate talks in November in Glasgow.” The Indian Express also reports the numbers under the headline: “Vulnerable, small nations now lead charge to submit new climate plans ahead of COP 26 in UK.” It says: “As per the report, small Island Pacific and Caribbean states, Africa, leading EU economies, Argentina, Mexico, Ukraine, and Switzerland are among those set to submit new plans. India, China, and Japan are among those countries yet to announce when they will release new emission targets.” Reuters reports that Slovenia on Tuesday became the latest nation to declare a goal of carbon neutrality by 2050. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that security at the COP26 summit in November could cost “several hundred million pounds”, according to Scottish police. It explains: “Up to 90,000 people – delegates, observers, heads of state and media – are expected to attend COP26, over 12 days in November. A Scottish Police Authority report says it will be the largest mobilisation of police officers in the UK.”

Press Association via Belfast Telegraph Read Article
James Murdoch attacks father’s news empire over bushfires

Several publications report comments by Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch, criticising his father’s news outlets for, according to the Financial Times, “promoting false scepticism about climate change as deadly bushfires tear across Australia”. The FT continues: “In a pointed joint statement aiming to highlight their deep unhappiness with the coverage, James and his wife Kathryn took aim at conservative News Corp outlets in Australia for their ‘ongoing denial’ of global warming.” The Daily Beast, which broke the story, reports the comments of a spokesperson for the couple, saying: “They are particularly disappointed with the ongoing denial among the news outlets in Australia given obvious evidence to the contrary.” The Guardian’s report notes: “James Murdoch’s criticism sheds light on the family’s internal rifts, amid speculation over his 88-year-old father’s succession plans. James’s older brother Lachlan is still actively involved in the family businesses as the US-based chairman and chief executive of the slimmed-down Fox Corporation, which owns Fox News.” Reuters and MailOnline also report on James Murdoch’s comments, while another Guardian article says that the News Corp board has yet to discuss his criticisms. A further Guardian piece says of the Murdoch-owned paper the Australian: “[It] says it accepts climate science, so why does it give a platform to ‘outright falsehoods’?” A Guardian podcast explains: “Why do we need to factcheck claims made about Australia’s bushfires?” Writing for Foreign Policy, Ketan Joshi argues that “Australians are ready to break out of the cycle of climate change denial.” He adds: “Catastrophic fires make it hard for media to stick to old narratives.” The Sydney Morning Herald reports the comments of Australian science minister Karen Andrews in an interview with the paper, saying: “Every second we spend discussing if climate change is real is a second we don’t spend addressing these issues. Let’s move on and get over this.”

In other coverage of the ongoing bushfire crisis, an editorial in USA Today says Australia’s experiences “provide a scorching warning on climate change to the rest of earth”. It continues: “Among global-warming skeptics, it used to be popular to mock environmentalists and climate scientists as Chicken Littles, forever frantic that the sky was falling. That kind of lampooning has worn thin, given the relentless rise in global temperatures coupled, most recently, with hellish images of a fire-ravaged Australian continent: skies cast in orange.” Reuters reports that Australia has “soften[ed] [its] climate change rhetoric” in the face of events. It points to prime minister Scott Morrison’s shift from holding a lump of coal in parliament to talking about the need for “adaptation” and “resilience”. The Guardian reports the comments of Labor former state premier Steve Bracks saying that Morrison is in danger of becoming a “climate change casualty” unless he acts to tackle the problem. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that lobby group the Business Council of Australia has “defended its stance on climate change amid fresh signs of discontent within the corporate sector over Australia’s approach to reducing carbon emissions”. A second article for the herald says climate change is “to force review of military’s role” due to the “major security challenge for Australia” that it poses. Another Reuters article reports that Australia could “become so hot and dry that the country’s residents could become climate refugees”, according to US climatologist Prof Mike Mann. The Hill reports that wildfire smoke from Australia will make a “full circuit” around the world, while Reuters reports that poor air quality “continues to disrupt Australian Open qualifying”. The Daily Telegraph reports that UK minister Zac Goldsmith is “call[ing] for international aid rules overhaul to allow Australia fire donations”. A comment for the Wall Street Journal says that Australia’s coal industry are “principle enablers in China’s climate crimes”, fuelling the countries rising CO2 emissions with their exports.

Meanwhile, a letter to the Guardian by several UK-based scientists says: “We write as scientists alarmed that a minister has ignored scientific evidence, relying instead on grossly misleading social media sources. In the House of Commons on 9 January, Foreign and Commonwealth Office minister Heather Wheeler answered a question about the Australian bushfires by stating: ‘Very regrettably, it is widely reported on social media that 75% of the fires were started by arsonists.’ The claim that arson is a primary cause of this season’s bushfires has been comprehensively debunked.”

Financial Times Read Article

Comment.

BlackRock needs to deliver on climate pledges

In an editorial on the decision by asset managing giant BlackRock to put climate change at the heart of its investment decisions, the Financial Times says: “When the manager of $7tn-worth of assets speaks, it pays to listen.” It notes that chief executive Larry Fink mentions the word “climate” some 30 times in his annual letter to clients, published yesterday, and coming after facing “growing pressure on the group to take meaningful action on climate change to back up its environmentally-friendly rhetoric”. The editorial continues: “BlackRock’s pledges have the potential to have a significant impact at what could be a key moment in the world’s fight against climate change…There is a risk BlackRock will not live up to its pledges, but this time it has set out concrete metrics that will enable its performance to be measured. Mr Fink deserves credit for recognising BlackRock is part of the problem. Now he needs to follow his own advice.” In a comment for the Guardian, Nils Pratley takes a similar line, writing: “It’s good news the world’s largest asset manager aims to change how it invests but actions will speak louder than words.”

Editorial, Financial Times Read Article
The Times view on the government’s rescue of an ailing airline: Flybe’s fortunes

Several UK papers carry comment on the government’s efforts to rescue regional airline Flybe from collapse. An editorial in the Times says: “[T]he government should be wary of reducing duty on domestic flights as part of its efforts to keep Flybe alive. This duty costs £26 a passenger in addition to the ticket price. It thus acts as a useful deterrent for passengers who can use rail for a short trip. To tackle climate change, it is vital that businesses pay the cost of their pollution. Aviation fuel is not taxed; duty is a belated attempt to redress this imbalance.” An editorial in the Independent says: “The government’s responsibility is to tackle the climate crisis, not to bail out failing airlines.” Writing in the Guardian, Green MEP Molly Scott Cato argues that the government should be investing in sustainable transport “instead of propping up ailing aviation companies”. In continuing news coverage, the Guardian reports ongoing reaction to the Flybe rescue under the headline: “Cutting air passenger duty to help Flybe could wreck UK carbon plan.” It explains: “[A f]requent flyer levy and cheaper trains would help with environmental pledges – but neither is planned.” A comment in the Independent by Amelia Womack says bailing out Flybe “would be an act of climate vandalism”. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Greg Dickinson argues that if we are “serious about tackling climate change” then “we should let terminally ill airlines like Flybe die”.

Separately, Reuters and Bloomberg report on a survey by the European Investment Bank showing that, according to Reuters: “Most Chinese, Europeans and US citizens plan to fly less for holidays this year to limit aircraft CO2 emissions and help prevent catastrophic climate change.” The poll of 30,000 respondents also show substantial majorities saying they are committed to reduce red meat consumption, Reuters notes, including 92% of Chinese, 79% of Europeans and 68% of Americans.

Editorial, The Times Read Article

Science.

Aboveground carbon emissions from gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon

Gold mining in the biodiverse Peruvian Amazon caused the release of 1.1m tonnes of carbon in a single year from 2017 to 2018, a new study finds. The analysis makes use of satellite data to look at the impacts of gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon, where highly diverse tropical forest is underlain with gold-enriched alluvium deposited by the Andes. The research finds that gold mining affected 23,613 hectares of forest from 2017 to 2018, including “ in protected zones and their ecological buffers”.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article

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