Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Boris Johnson's wind power pledge comes under fire as critics say he can't meet 2030 target
- EU tussle over climate change ambition hots up after parliament vote
- Big fossil fuel groups all failing climate goals, study shows
- Trump report touts oil and gas as 'energy security' amid US climate disasters
- New Zealand PM Ardern vows to phase out coal-fired boilers, cut emissions in climate push
- India may close dirtiest coal plants as green focus grows
- Johnson’s green vision needs more than hot air
- The green revolution explained
- The 2020 federal budget fails to address climate change, Australia's greatest economic threat
- Legacy effects from historical environmental changes dominate future terrestrial carbon uptake
There is continuing coverage across the UK’s media of the announcement yesterday by prime minister Boris Johnson that the government will provide £160m funding for the nation’s wind power industry, plus his repetition of a manifesto commitment to quadruple offshore wind capacity to 40GW. The Daily Mail carries the story across two pages, focusing on how “doubts” have been expressed about the feasibility of the plan: “Industry leaders said much more Government action was required to make the target a reality. And Labour said the target was less than half the capacity needed for homes by the end of the decade.”
The Daily Telegraph reports on analysis conducted by Aurora Energy Research (originally published in February) which finds that delivering the government’s proposals for wind energy will cost the private sector around £50bn and require “massive reform of the power market”. According to the newspaper, “businesses and households will ultimately have to foot the bill”. The Guardian also reports on the figures and quotes Keith Anderson, chief executive of Scottish Power, who says there is “no shortage of capital or investor appetite in offshore wind”, but notes the industry’s growth will depend on the government’s ability to grant licenses and contracts quickly. The Independent features quotes from NGOs, politicians and researchers questioning whether the sum proposed by the prime minister would be sufficient to match the government’s rhetoric on expanding renewables. Professor Rafael Palacios, from the department of aeronautics at Imperial College London tells the news website: “£160m (probably spread through many years) is a very small amount to have a real impact on our climate change commitments, if that’s the goal.” A separate article in the Independent focuses on Johnson’s condemnation of his past self for “sneering” at wind power and saying it would not “pull the skin off a rice pudding”.
The Daily Mail’s coverage also includes a comment piece by pro-nuclear lobbyist Zion Lights who suggests more nuclear power will also be needed to provide enough clean energy for the UK. The Scotsman explains Johnson’s pledge to power all UK homes by wind by 2030 and asks if it could work. Another article in the Times states that, according to scientists, Johnson’s wind farm claims “don’t add up”, with quoted experts emphasising the greater challenge of replacing gas heating in the UK.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Downing Street is backing plans to spend £1.5bn-2bn of public money on an array of up to 16 mini nuclear reactors, as part of a project being proposed by a nine-member industrial consortium. However, it notes that discussions are “still ongoing” and a final decision will depend on the Treasury’s current multi-year spending review.
Finally, BusinessGreen reports that according to the latest data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), UK electric vehicle sales have increased 664% since 2016 “despite a sharp downward trend for the wider auto market”.
Reuters reports that the European Parliament voted last night in favour of a legally binding target for the EU to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030 against 1990 levels. This is more ambitious than the emissions cut of “at least 55%”, which was proposed by the European Commission to build on the existing goal of reducing emissions by 40%. The parliament must now agree the target with EU member countries, “who are split over how ambitious it should be”, according to Reuters. The article notes that a 60% target is unlikely to secure enough support, but says parliament backing a more ambitious target “could make it harder for countries to water down the target in the ensuing negotiations”.
No major fossil fuel company is on track to align their business with the Paris Agreement target of limiting the global temperature rise to well below 2C by 2050 despite various net-zero pledges, according to new research covered by the Financial Times. The investigation into oil-and-gas producers, coal miners and electricity groups was undertaken by London School of Economics researchers in cooperation with investors managing $21tn in funds who belong to a group called the Transition Pathway Initiative (TPI), the newspaper reports. According to the article, the initiative found that of the 59 fossil fuel companies assessed, only seven are on track to align with existing emissions pledges by governments. Only three – Shell, Total and Eni – are approaching the 2C scenario of the Paris Agreement, although their actions are “still not quite enough to bring them into line with that benchmark, let alone lower”. Utility companies fared better, with 39 of the 66 electricity groups analysed aligned with governments’ Paris commitments and 22 on track for the “tougher benchmark” of below 2C, the Financial Times notes. Reuters reports that BP, which has generated extensive publicity for its net-zero pledge and green commitments, is the “least aligned” with climate targets among the European companies. The newswire notes that, in May, BP said that it disagreed with TPI’s methodology for these reports, which focuses on the carbon intensity of fuels. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a piece explaining how big fossil fuel companies do not provide guidance to investors on the climate impact of their future plans.
Separately, the Financial Times reports that US bank JPMorgan Chase says it will shift its portfolio away from fossil fuels “after facing years of pressure from shareholders and environmental activists”. The Wall Street Journal says the bank intends to push clients to align with the Paris Agreement and work toward global net zero by 2050.
A month before the US presidential election, the Trump administration’s energy department has released a report touting oil and gas as “providing energy security and supporting our quality of life”, which the Guardian notes does not acknowledge the role of fossil fuels in driving climate change. [Carbon Brief has published a tracker of climate and energy policies from the two candidates, which demonstrated the support from president Donald Trump for the fossil fuel industry.]
Meanwhile, in an editorial, the New York Times has come out in support of Joe Biden, noting that “he recognises the fateful threat of climate change and has put forward an ambitious, $2 trillion plan to slash carbon emissions, invest in a green economy and combat environmental racism”. Separately, Our Daily Planet notes that Biden has “made history” with the first every presidential advert devoted to climate change. Axios notes that the ad is “airing in a big swing state that president Trump narrowly won in 2016” and features a family of cherry farmers trying to adapt as their harvests have “been decimated by extreme weather in recent years”. Climate Home News has a piece examining how US greenhouse gas emissions have fared during the four years of Trump’s presidency so far, concluding the US is “a marginally less polluting country than when he came to power. But that is a low bar”. It notes that emissions have declined “more slowly” during Trump’s term than former president Barack Obama’s stint in the White House and slower than in the EU and Japan.
Finally, the Independent reports that around half of Fox News viewers think climate change is being driven by natural changes in the environment and not human activities, according to a new study by Yale University. Meanwhile, the Daily Express reports that a new survey by the World Risk Poll reveals “worrying levels of scepticism” about climate change, with 13% of respondents saying it poses “no threat at all”.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced a series of climate measures that she says her Labour government will undertake if they are returned to power following an election on 17 October, Reuters reports. These include replacing coal-fired boilers with electric alternatives to help businesses cut emissions and ensuring that only zero-emissions buses are purchased by 2025, with the goal of decarbonising the entire public transport bus fleet by 2035, according to the New Zealand Herald. The newspaper notes that while Labour has also pledged to boost funding for agricultural emissions research by $6m a year, the government has “drawn scorn” from environmentalists for opting against bringing the sector, New Zealand’s biggest source of emissions, into its emissions trading scheme “in favour of an industry-government partnership”. The Guardian reports that Labour is currently ahead in the polls, with 47% support in September poll compared to 33% for the main opposition party, National and 7% for coalition partners the Greens.
Meanwhile, following the release of the Australian government’s federal budget, the Guardian has a piece with experts weighing in on the announcement. It includes a quote from Erwin Jackson of the Investor Group on Climate Change, who says despite funds for clean technology development and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, “Australia is still without clear market signals to attract the matching private investment that is essential for economic recovery and emissions reductions”.
Bloomberg reports that India is looking into a proposal that may force some of its dirtiest coal plants to close. The plan being considered by ministers “would cap plants’ so-called heat rate, which is a measure of how much coal energy is needed to produce each unit of electricity”, according to the news outlet. It notes that plants amounting to 10 gigawatts of power have been identified as breaching the proposed benchmark, amounting to 5% of the coal power capacity in India, which is the second biggest user of the fuel after China.
There is extensive coverage in the opinion and editorial pages of the UK press of the green pledges made yesterday by prime minister Boris Johnson. An editorial in the Financial Times examine the “eye-catching” proposals by Johnson, who was “back in bombastic form” in his speech at the Conservative party conference. It emphasises that Johnson’s pledge to ensure the UK is “to wind as Saudi Arabia [is] to oil” will still take considerable investment and says more detailed plans are required from the government. Johnson proposed an investment of £160m in wind turbine construction and repeated a commitment to quadruple offshore wind generation by 2030, the editorial notes. However, it says that, according to analysts, achieving this goal “will require about £50bn in capital investment”. Noting that more details of a “green policy package” are expected at the end of this month, the editorial continues: “What is missing is a coherent plan, one that sets out both immediate steps as well as longer-term ones, not least a date for phasing out the gas heating boilers that account for a sizeable chunk of UK emissions”. The editorial suggests “targeted support measures” similar to those seen in other European countries are needed, mentioning hydrogen and nuclear power as two specific issues that need to be addressed. The Financial Times’ Lex column concludes the target of 40GW offshore capacity set out by Johnson is “achievable”, but “still ambitious”. For the UK, “its climate, geography and the cross-party ambition to address climate change should keep the wind at the industry’s back,” it says. The lead editorial in the Times says that the test of the government’s wind strategy will be whether it can “boost homegrown technology as well as jobs”, stating “forward-looking leadership, investment and tax breaks is needed now if Britain is to seize the opportunities of the green revolution”. A Guardian editorial also reflects on Johnson’s speech noting: “His conversion to offshore wind is late but welcome. It is also small beer compared with the £27bn roads budget that the Tories pushed through”. The Daily Mirror’s editorial concludes that Johnson’s rhetoric about wind “shows he’s a hypocrite” as he has “previously sneered” at the renewable energy source.
An editorial in the Sun states that the newspaper is “not yet convinced” by the government’s plans. “A wholesale switch to wind power? When nuclear is more reliable, just as clean and arguably cheaper? The cost will be vast, like the household bills,” it says. The Daily Telegraph’s editorial also says that wind “needs to be a part of an energy mix that includes nuclear…as well as new sources such as hydrogen backed by carbon capture and storage”. An op-ed in the same newspaper by former Brexit Party MEP Alexandra Phillips dismisses the prime minister’s speech as “hot air” and also says the UK is “running from” nuclear. An editorial in the Independent complains that Johnson “spent far more time painting a portrait of the sunny, green, wind-powered Britain of the far future than he did the rather more pressing public crisis of today”.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Conservative MP Gareth Davies looks at how green bonds can support the UK’s green infrastructure “revolution”. (The piece is adapted from a collection of essays on green finance published by the Social Market Foundation and the Chartered Banker Institute.) A commodity note in the Financial Times emphasises the importance of using hydrogen to support the transition to more renewables in the energy system.
The Spectator carries comment by the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate sceptic lobby group, in which it decries the government’s proposed “major green spending spree” as “positively alarming”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph has a piece by Matthew Lesh, head of research at the Adam Smith Institute, a rightwing thinktank, who writes “the capital and operating costs of wind remain extremely high”. (Carbon Brief published an article earlier this year explaining why the UK is likely to soon see “negative subsidy” wind farms, which pay money back to the government over their lifetimes.)
The Times has published an in-depth feature written by its environment, energy and transport editors and correspondents in the wake of Boris Johnson’s speech announcing a raft of future green policies, including “green collar jobs in wind, solar, nuclear, hydrogen and carbon capture storage”. It outlines the potential of all of these technologies in the UK, as well as electric cars, and examines where the nation already stands on each of them.
For the Sydney Morning Herald, Harry Guinness and Steven Hamilton, the chief executive and chief economist at the Blueprint Institute, an environmental think tank, argue that Australia’s latest budget omits any action on climate change. They say: “Tuesday’s budget was an emblem of this distraction. It brought welcome stimulus and promising initiatives to drive growth and jobs. But on climate change, there was next to nothing. Of $240 billion in additional spending, just 1% is on items one could only generously call ‘green stimulus’.” (Carbon Brief has been tracking the extent to which countries’ coronavirus recovery plans have included action on climate change.)
A new study estimates that the carbon uptake of land may increase at a higher rate than previously thought in the coming decades. This is because plants are “still adapting” to historical increases in atmospheric CO2, causing what is known as “legacy effects”. Additional CO2 in the atmosphere can cause plants to photosynthesise at a faster rate, thus also increasing the rate at which they absorb carbon. The authors say: “Legacy effects persist many decades after environmental changes occurred and need to be considered when interpreting changes and estimating terrestrial carbon uptake potentials.”
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