Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Boris Johnson ‘missing in action’ ahead of vital climate talks, says Keir Starmer
- China to release updated climate plans 'in near future': envoy
- Forest fire closes in on Turkish power station
- Germany's Greens pitch climate ministry to boost faltering campaign
- The bipartisan infrastructure deal is not not a climate bill
- Allegra Stratton, once merely the liability’s spokesperson, is becoming a liability all of her own
- Future BP dividend hikes will test investor commitment to its green plan
- Record winter winds in 2020/-21 drove exceptional Arctic sea ice transport
Keir Starmer, the Labour party leader, has said that COP26 is at risk of failure because Boris Johnson is “missing in action” while his “climate spokesperson talks about freezing bread”, reports the Guardian. It adds: “The Labour leader said there is already ‘dystopia’ all around caused by climate breakdown, but Johnson’s ambition to tackle the scale of the crisis is irresponsibly small…’As host of the summit, the world is looking to Britain to deliver,‘ writes Starmer in today’s Guardian. ‘We cannot afford to miss this moment, but I fear we will.’” Starmer says in his comment piece: “A credible government now would be demonstrating serious ambition. Look at President Biden in the United States, who says that when people talk about climate, he thinks about jobs, and who has a plan for green investment. Labour has the same ambition…The first step in that ambition should be a £30bn investment in a green recovery from the pandemic. That investment would create hundreds of thousands of secure jobs across the whole country…With 100 days to go before the end of COP26, the world needs a truly historic result in Glasgow. Often, when politicians talk about the climate crisis, they make an emotional plea for action on behalf of our children’s generation. As a parent, I know first-hand the desire to give your children a better future. But the future is already with us. It’s desperate that we have a government so firmly rooted in the past.”
Meanwhile, the Independent reports its own “exclusive” interview with Starmer in which he says he has committed Labour to the “ambitious climate crisis target of achieving the ‘substantial majority’ of greenhouse gas emission cuts by 2030”. The online newspaper adds: “The Labour leader’s previous reluctance publicly to reaffirm the pledge inherited from Jeremy Corbyn had sparked fears among climate activists that he was backing away from radical action on global warming, with 20 leftist MPs writing last year to urge him to readopt the Green New Deal approved by the party in 2019. But in an exclusive interview with the Independent, Starmer said the party’s commitment to the promise – effectively putting the UK on the path to net-zero 20 years ahead of Boris Johnson’s 2050 target – was as strong now as ever.” Ahead of a visit to Scotland, Starmer tells the Daily Record in another “exclusive” interview that he “would talk to [SNP leader and Scottish first minister] Nicola Sturgeon about the climate change crisis”, but that he “has ruled out any deal with the SNP leader on the constitution”. The newspaper adds that Starmer has accused the SNP of a “huge failure on the climate crisis”, saying that only one in 20 of the offshore wind jobs the Scottish government promised a decade ago have actually materialised. Relatedly, the Guardian reports that “Nicola Sturgeon is on the brink of signing a deal with the Scottish Greens that would cement a pro-independence majority at Holyrood and may see the Greens taking ministerial seats”.
In other COP26-related news, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres has told BBC Scotland that COP26 needs to be a hybrid event with some negotiations happening virtually. She says that organisers needed to find the “sweet spot” that would allow for safe and efficient negotiations. The Sun reports her comments under the headline: “COP26 summit ‘too big’ to happen in person, warns climate change negotiator.”
In other UK news, Reuters reports that the “authority overseeing Britain’s carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) said a mechanism to curb costs in the scheme has not been triggered for August and would not be until November at the earliest”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says that “Britain has taken a crucial step towards creating a fleet of mini reactors that would reduce reliance on Chinese money and nuclear technology after Rolls-Royce secured investment to build the world’s first production line”. It continues: “A consortium led by the FTSE 100 engineer has secured at least £210m needed to unlock a matching amount of taxpayer funding, which will make it the first ‘small modular reactors’ (SMR) developer to submit its designs to regulators. It is understood heavyweight financial investors specialising in energy are now thrashing out the final details of their backing to drive work on the so-called ‘mini nuke’ power plants.” The Guardian covers a new Green Alliance report which says “reusing and repairing household goods, from washing machines to phones, and recycling throwaway consumer items such as plastic bottles, could create hundreds of thousands of green jobs across the UK”. Finally, BBC News covers a warning by the Timber Trade Federation which says that the price of timber in the UK has risen sharply with “builders struggling to get supplies, as post-lockdown construction and DIY projects create huge demand”. It adds: “Climate change is also increasing the pressure on supply with more wildfires and pests that kill trees.”
Xie Zhenhua, China’s special envoy on climate change, has said that China will release its updated plans to reduce carbon emissions “in the near future”, reports AFP via France 24. According to the newswire, Xie told an online webinar organised by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology on Tuesday that China’s updated plans would “soon be released”, “potentially before” the COP26 in Glasgow in November. The Hong Kong China News Agency also reports on Xie’s speech. It says that Xie urged countries to “put aside arguments” to deal with the “increasingly severe climate crisis” with joint efforts. China missed last week’s UN deadline for inclusion of updated plans in its forthcoming synthesis report. The South China Morning Post says Xie remarked that “world should focus on delivering commitments instead of setting new goal”. Associated Press carries the comments of Todd Stern, the former US climate chief negotiator who was speaking at the same online event. He said: “Peaking (carbon emissions) by 2030 in China cannot get the job done, and I don’t think it represents a best effort to hold to 1.5C. Nor is China’s substantial planned expansion of its coal fleet in its 14th Five-Year Plan compatible with what needs to happen.”
Meanwhile, HK01.com, a Hong Kong-based news outlet, reports that Tung Chee-hwa, the first chief executive of Hong Kong after its 1997 handover, and Carrie Lam, the current chief executive of Hong Kong, also delivered speeches at the webinar which Xie attended. Tung said that the world “has entered a climate emergency”, while Lam said she would “personally chair an inter-departmental climate change and carbon-neutral steering committee” in Hong Kong, according to HK01.com.
Finally, Carbon Brief has published an article explaining China new “single-game” instructions to guide its climate action.
There is continuing coverage of the wildfires affecting various Mediterranean and Aegean coastal regions. Reuters says: “A forest fire moved closer to a coal-fired power station in southwestern Turkey on Tuesday evening and wildfires raged near southern resorts for a seventh day as firefighting planes from Spain and Croatia joined the battle to quell them.”
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that “a sweltering heatwave in Greece, the country’s worst in 30 years, has forced residents to flee homes close to Athens”. It continues: “The temperatures were so high that officials were forced to close the Acropolis in the afternoon to tourists. It is usually open between 8am and 8pm, but will close between midday and 5pm during the heatwave. More than 300 firefighters with 35 vehicles and 10 aircraft battled a blaze in a densely vegetated area in the foothills of Parnitha mountain in the suburb of Varympompi, some 20 kilometres north of the capital.” Associated Press, via the Guardian, says: “With the heatwave scorching the eastern Mediterranean intensifying, temperatures reached 42C in parts of the Greek capital…The extreme weather has fuelled deadly wildfires in Turkey and blazes in Italy, Greece and Albania.”
The Daily Telegraph carries a news feature under the headline: “Floods, wildfires and the exorbitant costs of adapting to climate change.” The Washington Post has a news feature headlined: “Heatwaves to drastically worsen in Northern Hemisphere, studies warn.” And the Associated Press has a piece on how this summer’s extreme weather has hit “wealthier places”.
Reuters reports that Germany’s Greens have presented an “emergency climate protection programme” aiming to “reset their national election campaign after squandering an early surge in opinion polls with a raft of mistakes”. The newswire adds: “The programme includes plans for a new ministry for climate protection that would ensure no legislative project undermines a goal of limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris Agreement. The ministry would lead a government climate task force that would convene every week for the first 100 days of the next government, and would have a veto right over other ministries should draft legislation not be compliant with the Paris accord.” The Financial Times notes that “the Greens have climbed back to about 20% [in the polls ahead of the looming general election]. That is still well behind the CDU, at 28%, but ahead of the Social Democrats, with about 17%…Recent polling by YouGov shows 55% of Germans believe man-made climate change caused this summer’s flooding. This has helped the party overall.”
Separately, Reuters says that “German primary energy consumption gained 4.3% year-on-year in the first six months of 2021 after the start of economic recovery from the pandemic and cooler weather drove demand, industry statistics group AGEB said on Tuesday”. And the New York Times has a feature about how electric trucks in Germany can use an electrified highway.
Writing in the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer argues that the $1.2tn bipartisan infrastructure deal negotiated by the Senate last week “on its face…isn’t a climate bill”. He adds: “Still, it’s a big deal, and I think this could be what the future of climate legislation looks like…Considered together, what is in the bill would amount to one of the federal government’s most significant pushes ever on climate change. But it isn’t nearly enough to decarbonise the US by the middle of the century. The bill contains money to grow the power grid, for instance, but no mechanism to ensure that the electricity in the grid comes from zero-carbon sources. For that, Democrats will need to pass a reconciliation bill.” New York Times reporter Christopher Flavelle says: “The bill is remarkable…For the first time, both parties have acknowledged – by their actions, if not their words – that the US is unprepared for the worsening effects of climate change and requires an enormous and urgent infusion of money and effort to get ready.”
Separately, in a comment piece in the New York Times, Kate Brown, Democratic governor of Oregon, says: “Building back better means building a more just and equitable country for all. In Oregon, we have taken decisive action on climate while still growing our economy, with many green technology companies choosing Oregon for their operations. States and cities are on the front lines of the climate crisis. But this is a problem that knows no borders. Climate change is playing out here now, with a fury, but it will be in your backyard next. People are dying. Congress must act, now.”
There is continuing reaction to the comments made by Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s COP26 spokesperson, who said she would not yet give up her diesel car for an electric vehicle. Political sketch writer Tom Peck in the Independent says: “What is the point of a climate change spokesperson who talks people out of buying electric cars?” He continues: “Johnson, you see, is a liability. But what is becoming ever harder to avoid is the suspicion that maybe, just maybe, Ms Stratton is too. She’s been moved on to her new role now, as the spokesperson for the forthcoming COP26 climate change conference, making her – unofficially at least – the spokesperson for climate secretary Alok Sharma. It is hard to imagine anyone finding themselves in difficulty while working as a spokesperson for Alok Sharma, which is not entirely unlike being spokesperson for a not especially brightly painted breeze-block. But she has managed it nonetheless.” The Guardian carries the views of five readers who talk about why they now prefer driving electric vehicles. Another Guardian article carries the views of experts defending electric vehicles in light of Stratton’s comments. And in a Guardian “long read”, Tom Standage – business editor at the Economist – looks at the history of electric cars and “what it tells us about the future of transport”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has turned to climate sceptic Bjorn Lomborg to pen an article on why he thinks “Allegra Stratton is right about electric cars”. In the Daily Express, former Conservative minister Esther McVey sets out why she thinks “going green will put us in the red”. And in the Times, the Conservative hereditary peer and former hereditary chair of failed bank Northern Rock Matt Ridley attacks the Climate Change Committee in an opinion article about animal sentience.
Several business commentators react to the news that BP, as the Guardian reports, “will hand shareholders a surprise dividend increase, and $1.4bn (£1bn) in share buybacks, after the company returned to profit after a rebound in oil prices which it believes could last for the rest of the decade”. Nils Pratley, the Guardian’s financial editor, says: “The investors, even as they say they’re up for “transitioning” to a lower-carbon future, also want to see the cash, in their pockets, from today’s oil production. At $60 or $70 a barrel, the script roughly works. Shareholders, fed with short-term divis, are more likely to overcome their doubts about the long-term financial returns that can be generated by being a latecomer to the business of investing in solar and offshore wind projects. One wonders, though, what would happen if the oil price goes much higher. At what point would Looney come under pressure to rethink his plan to cut oil and gas output by 40% by 2030 or to tone down the renewables budget? He has definitely won more supporters for his strategy over the past year – no question. But shareholders’ thirst for dividends is still more obvious than their backing for long-term green projects.”
Ben Marlow, the Daily Telegraph‘s chief City commentator, says BP should “give up on its green dreams”. He adds: “What makes those responsible for building the old energy system best suited to building an entirely new one? There are literally thousands of companies in existence with far greater green credentials than the fossil fuel dinosaurs that have dominated energy supply for the last hundred years. The returns of green energy stocks are far greater too, a recent study from Imperial College London and the International Energy Agency found…A more sensible move would be to run down the operations of Shell, BP, Exxon and others for cash, allowing shareholders to put the money into a new generation of genuine renewables companies without the same overwhelming conflicts of interest.” And Times chief business commentator Alistair Osborne asks: “Has BP’s big oily green reset turned oily?”
The high sea-level pressure over the central Arctic Ocean during the winter of 2021-21 “drove older sea ice from the [region] into the lower-latitude Beaufort Sea, where it is more vulnerable to melting in the coming warm season”, according to new research. The study uses satellite data to show that the high sea-level pressure resulted in “unprecedented anticyclonic winds” over the ice. “We suggest that this unusual atmospheric circulation may potentially lead to unusually high summer losses of the Arctic’s remaining store of old ice”, the authors conclude.
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