Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Boris Johnson accused of lack of leadership on climate
- Launching climate summit, UK plans to bring forward ban on new petrol and diesel cars
- UK air industry sets zero carbon target despite 70% more flights
- Some Republicans say the party needs to tackle climate change
- Lex in depth: the fossil fuels that could be worthless
- Change is possible: Australia needs a Green New Deal
- Carbon release through abrupt permafrost thaw
- Persistent Quaternary climate refugia are hospices for biodiversity in the Anthropocene
- Transparency on greenhouse gas emissions from mining to enable climate change mitigation
Having been sacked as COP26 president on Friday, Claire O’Neill has written a “scathing” letter accusing the UK prime minister Boris Johnson of failing to provide leadership ahead of the major climate change summit, the Financial Times reports. O’Neill, who is also a former energy minister, said Johnson’s government was “miles off track” in setting a positive agenda for the Glasgow conference. According to Politics Home, O’Neill also took aim at the broader COP process, which she experienced first hand at the recent COP25 in Madrid, stating that it has become clear to her that the “current format of the global talks needed to be re-energised and focused”. She added: “The annual UN talks are dogged by endless rows over agendas, ongoing unresolved splits over who should pay and insufficient attention and funding for adaptation”. The full letter can be found here. It also alludes to tensions between Johnson’s team and the Scottish government, and says the prime minister is “considering re-locating the event to an English location”. Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the morning after the letter was released, O’Neill said Johnson “doesn’t really get” climate change, adding: “My advice to anybody dealing with Boris, even family members, is to get it in writing”. The Financial Times notes the revelation came “just hours” before the prime minister was set to launch COP26 in a speech at the Science Museum in London.
Much of the UK press focuses on the details of the event Boris Johnson is set to speak at to launch the UK-hosted COP. In a statement released by his office ahead of his speech in London, Johnson said that “hosting COP26 is an important opportunity for the UK and nations across the globe to step up in the fight against climate change”. The prime minister will today announce the bringing forward of an end to the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2035, Reuters says. BBC News reports that the proposal, which also now includes hybrid vehicles, will be subject to a consultation. It notes that the reason for the announcement is that experts warned the previous target of 2040 “would still leave old conventional cars on the roads after the clean-up date of 2050”. The Times reports motoring groups are critical of this “incredibly challenging” shift, “which is made amid a shortage of new electric cars in the UK”. The Guardian’s coverage focuses on a call from the prime minister for other major economies around the world to match the UK’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The paper notes that while around 80 countries around the world are committed to such a target, most have relatively small greenhouse gas outputs, and major emitters like China, the US and India “show little sign” of aiming for net-zero. A separate piece by the paper’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey provides some scene-setting, explaining the events of recent days and the diplomatic push the UK will have to undertake to achieve success at the COP. Sky News reports that Johnson’s attempt to “boost his green credentials” is to be aided by Sir David Attenborough, who will appear alongside Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, whose nation is co-hosting the COP with the UK.
A blog post by Richard Black, director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, says with the official launch of the COP, ministers “acquire political ownership of a process that could either bring diplomatic triumph in November, or result in the world’s least developed countries and the UK’s climate-concerned citizens spaffing industrial quantities of egg all over Mr Johnson and his Cabinet”. Meanwhile, a piece in E&E News explores the relationship in the UK between “nationalist” politics and climate change, noting that: “Denials of climate change have frequently hitched a ride with nationalism. Britain, it turns out, is an exception to that rule”.
BusinessGreen reports on comments made by the prime minister that while the country will maintain high green standards, there is “no need” for the UK to accept EU environmental rules after Brexit. According to a statement by the European Commission reported by Reuters, the UK is expected to restart auctions of EU carbon permits on 4 March, “following a hiatus of more than a year due to uncertainty over Brexit”. Another piece in BusinessGreen features comments from housing secretary Robert Jenrick saying zero carbon homes should be built as standard in England within the next five years.
The Guardian reports that the UK aviation industry has pledged to hit net-zero emissions by 2050, “despite still planning for 70% more flights over the next three decades”. It notes the “decarbonisation road map” laid out by the Sustainable Aviation coalition (which includes most major airlines and airports), relies on offsetting for more than a third of its emissions reductions. Other elements of the plan noted by the Guardian include modernising airspace, sustainable jet fuels, smarter flight operations, and new aircraft and engine technology, “including some yet to be invented”. According to Reuters, the industry accounts for roughly 7% of the nation’s emissions, and the coalition thinks business growth can continue despite such stringent targets. “This includes the opening of a third runway at Heathrow by around 2030,“ it notes.
A piece in the Washington Post considers the increasing number of Republicans who “say they need to acknowledge the problem [of climate change] and offer solutions if they have any hope of retaking the House”. It notes Republican climate issues include tree planting, tax breaks for research, curbs on plastic waste and big federally funded infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that a bill introduced last week by Democrat presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders that congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez helped create “would ban fracking nationwide by 2025, according to its newly unveiled text”. Another piece in the Hill notes that a group of 15 Democratic senators has written to banks asking them to ban funding oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. A piece in Vox comments on the Democrat presidential race and competition between Joe Biden and Sanders over scientists’ approval of their policies.
A “big read” piece in the Financial Times looks at the fossil fuels that may have to remain in the ground if governments were to try more aggressively to restrict the rise in temperatures to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels for the rest of this century, as per the Paris Agreement target. “In that context of the climate emergency, the cost of writing off stranded assets could be seen as a small price to pay. But the amounts involved would be breathtaking. According to Lex estimates, around $900bn — or one-third of the current value of big oil and gas companies — would evaporate.” The piece includes a series of charts examining this trend.
Meanwhile, a piece in Real Money looks at fossil fuels from an investment point of view, and says they are “once again…on the wrong side of history”: “I am not about making friends, I am about making money. And I don’t think I can help you make money in the oil and gas stocks anymore”.
The Guardian has a comment piece from the newly elected leader of the Australian Green Party calling for “a government-led plan of investment and action to build a clean economy and a caring society” – a “Green New Deal”. Bandt writes about the air pollution resulting from the on-going fires, the “climate and environment emergency” the nation is facing, alongside issues of inequality and a lack of jobs. “We are a smart and wealthy country and if we have the guts to take on the big corporations and the weak politicians they have in their pocket, we can solve these crises,” he says. He emphasises the two core elements of such a deal would be the government taking the lead to create new jobs and industries, and universal services “to ensure no one is left behind”. “Change is possible. In 2010, with the Greens in balance of power, we delivered climate legislation and the carbon price, bringing down pollution for the first time in Australian history. With a Green New Deal, we can deliver a manufacturing renaissance, turning Australia into a renewable energy superpower exporting our clean energy to the world.”
Earth system models that only consider gradual thawing of permafrost “are substantially underestimating” the amount of carbon that permafrost loss releases, a new study says. The researchers “synthesise the best available information and develop inventory models to simulate abrupt thaw impacts on permafrost carbon balance”. The results highlight the importance of taking “abrupt thaw” processes into account. For example, the study finds that while “gradual thaw may lead to net ecosystem carbon uptake under projections of Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5, abrupt thaw emissions are likely to offset this potential carbon sink”.
Climate change will disproportionally affect species that reside in diversity “hotspots” that have become refuges of stable temperature over the late Quaternary period, a new study says. These “climate refugia” potentially “harbour many species with low vagility and small geographical ranges, making them more vulnerable to future ecoclimatic change”, the researchers say. By comparing global and regional patterns of climate stability during short periods of unusually large and widespread climate changes since the Last Glacial Maximum with twenty-first-century patterns, the researchers show that the impacts of human-caused climate change will ultimately affect “the species, communities and ecosystems that are most vulnerable to climate change”.
New research analyses the direct and indirect emissions from copper extraction in order to estimate the global greenhouse gas emissions from all mining. Overall, the study suggests that “emissions associated with primary mineral and metal production was equivalent to approximately 10% of the total global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions in 2018”. For copper specifically, the study finds that “fuel consumption increased by 130% and electricity consumption increased by 32% per unit of mined copper in Chile from 2001 to 2017, largely due to decreasing ore grade”.
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