Today's climate and energy headlines:
- BP is planning to drill for fossil gas on edge of world’s largest cold-water coral reef
- China tightens grip on coal market as prices continue to rise
- US: Heavyweight investors demand more disclosure of environmental risks
- US: Biden weighs ban on China’s solar material over forced labor
- EU farming policy failing to fight climate change, auditors say
- UK aviation sets short-term targets in 2050 zero emissions pledge
- As Barnaby Joyce unleashes a new strain of climate denial, can Labor plug the credibility gap?
- A missed chance for rationality about federal fuel taxes
- Emergence of seasonal delay of tropical rainfall during 1979-2019
- Rapid increases and extreme months in projections of US high-tide flooding
- Heavy-duty truck electrification and the impacts of depot charging on electricity distribution systems
An investigation by Unearthed and SourceMaterial finds that British oil company BP is planning to drill for gas on the edge of the world’s largest cold-water coral reef, the Independent reports. According to the newspaper, the planned “Greater Tortue Ahmeyim” project aims to develop a new gas field close to a 580km coral ecosystem off the coast of Senegal and Mauritania in west Africa. This area is “crucial for migrating waterbirds, as well as threatened sharks, turtles and whales”, the paper adds. Unearthed reports that the project is the first of three hubs that BP plans to operate for at least 30 years in the region, which could recover 40tn cubic feet of gas. When burned, this amount of gas would account for 0.3-1% of the remaining global carbon budget left to limit warming to 1.5C, it adds. BP has set a target to cut emissions to net-zero by mid century and “confirmed that emissions from the first phase of GTA and any further stages or approved projects will count against their emissions reductions targets”, the outlet notes.
Meanwhile, Unesco has recommended that the Great Barrier Reef be placed on the world heritage “in danger” list, the Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that UN officials have urged Australia to “take ‘accelerated action at all possible levels’ on climate change”, but adds that the Australian government is “stunned” by the recommendation and will “strongly oppose” it. The Financial Times reports that Australia has called the decision “politically motivated”. It continues: “Sussan Ley, Australia’s environment minister, said the government had been ‘blindsided’ by the committee’s finding and alleged there was a lack of consultation and transparency”. However, Queensland environment minister Meaghan Scanlon told the Guardian that she could “see why the advisory committee expects our country to do more”. Reuters notes that Australia has been trying to keep the Great Barrier Reef off the “in danger” list for years, as this could lead to its removal from the world heritage site list. “Australia’s outrage at the way UNESCO is raising alarm over the risk from climate change to the Great Barrier Reef misses the greater point – that the crowning glory of the world’s coral reefs is being torn apart by global warming”, writes Mike Foley, the climate and energy correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald. Meanwhile, Imogen Zethoven – an environmental consultant to the Australian Marine Conservation Society on world heritage – has written a comment piece in the Guardian. She says: “Unesco has absolutely made the right decision. The reef is in danger. It is time for the Australian government to take ambitious climate action for the reef.” Bloomberg also covers the story.
(See reaction to Barnaby Joyce’s return as leader of Australia’s Nationals party – and what it could mean for the nation’s climate policy – below in Climate and Energy Comment.)
Some of China’s regional regulators and companies have suspended the operation of their coal mines amid rising concern over industrial accidents, reports Bloomberg. Hubei province has halted all coal mining operations from 15 June to 5 July following a gas pipeline explosion that killed 25, the newswire says. A coal industry group called Anyuan also ordered five coal mines in Jiangxi province to stop running from 21 June to 4 July, it adds. China’s coal prices have continued to rise, Bloomberg writes. Meanwhile, China’s Securities Times reports that the National Development and Reform Commission has pledged to “closely monitor” the pricing trends of coal and other “bulk commodities” amid their “rapidly rising” costs. Energy Monitor reports that “market reforms and administrative policies are often at odds in China, leaving fossil fuels with distinct advantages over wind and solar power”. And the South China Morning Post reports that, according to experts, China “needs breakthroughs in green hydrogen to catch up with global leader Japan”.
State-run newspaper China Daily reports that “new energy” vehicles, or NEVs, are set to play a “major role” in reducing future carbon emissions. The outlet cites “industry figures” at a recent auto forum in Chongqing. Meanwhile, Argus Media reports that China’s NEV production and sales “once again set new monthly records in May”. Elsewhere, Caixin reports that China is seeking to accelerate the launch of its carbon futures market, citing an official. According to an official transcript, the official said the move could complement the national emissions trading scheme (ETS) – which focuses on spot trading and is set to go online by the end of the month.
Finally, state broadcaster CCTV reports that “the world’s first million-kilowatt (gigawatt, GW) hydropower unit” is undergoing a grid-connection experiment at the Baihetan hydropower station. The station’s first batch of units will officially go into operation before 1 July, the official channel says. Baihetan is the world’s second-largest hydropower station after the Three Gorges Dam – which is also in China – the state-run Global Times previously reported.
A group of “heavyweight” investors from the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) is demanding that 1,320 companies make their disclosures about environmental risks clearer, the Financial Times reports. According to the newspaper, 168 asset managers and financial institutions from 28 countries “signed up to support the CDP’s campaign to ensure that data on climate change, deforestation and water usage are properly reported by companies”. The CDP has warned that the targeted companies produce more emissions than the entire European Union, the outlet notes. It adds that Emily Kreps – global director of capital markets at CDP – “said the tide was turning against companies that were not responding to investor demands for better disclosures of environmental risks”.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is “preparing to require public companies to disclose more information about how they respond to threats linked to climate change”. The newspaper adds that while technology companies, such as Apple and Microsoft, say they support the initiative, energy and transportation companies say that “climate disclosures could be misunderstood by investors who lack experience with the data or put too much weight on one factor, like a company’s total greenhouse-gas emissions”. And a separate piece in the Wall Street Journal notes that, according to a paper released by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, “expectations of new legislation can influence decisions before laws are approved”.
The Biden administration may ban imports of polysilicon – a key component of solar panels – from China’s Xinjiang region, Politico reports. Half of the world’s polysilicon currently comes from Xianjing, where “the Chinese government has been accused of rounding up hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims in what the State Department has labeled a ‘genocide’”, the outlet notes. It adds that a ban on polysilicon imports “would assuage bipartisan pressure to crack down on human rights abuses but could undermine the White House’s aggressive climate change goals”. It continues: “For months, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has pushed Biden to impose import restrictions on polysilicon similar to ones the Trump administration placed on cotton, tomatoes and other products exported from Xinjiang. Now, the White House is considering an effective region-wide ban on polysilicon from Xinjiang, according to the four sources in the industry and on Capitol Hill with knowledge of administration plans.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal asks whether US solar panel manufacturing can keep up with that of China. It notes that China dominates the market on solar panels, but adds that American company First Solar Inc. has committed to building a $680m panel factors in Ohio.
The European Court of Auditors has found that the European Union is “failing to rein in greenhouse gas emissions from farming” – despite the 100bn euros of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies paid towards climate change since 2014 – Reuters reports. The newswire continues: “EU negotiators will this week attempt to agree new rules for the CAP, the farming subsidy scheme that will spend 387bn euros, a third of the EU budget for 2021-2027.” The auditors say that the new CAP “should incentivise emissions reductions from livestock and fertilisers, and pay farmers to restore drained land so it can absorb and store CO2”, it adds. EurActiv adds that the audit “criticises inaction on livestock farming and calls for a ‘polluter pays’ principle”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times warns that EU plans to cut carbon emissions from the shipping industry could have the opposite effect, instead increasing emissions. And an analysis piece in Reuters reports that the policymakers producing the world’s first carbon border levy are “caught between industry demands to twin it with free carbon permits worth billions of euros, and analysts’ warnings that doing so could expose the EU to legal challenges at the WTO”. Finally, EurActiv carries an opinion piece by three of its reporters entitled: “How the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive risks destroying Europe’s forests.”
The UK’s aviation sector will pledge to reduce its emissions by 15% in 2030 and 40% in 2040, compared to 2019 levels, the Financial Times reports. The newspaper notes that “a substantial proportion of the targets will still have to be met by offsetting schemes or carbon removal technology, which is not yet fully commercialised”. It adds that aviation emissions accounted for 7% of the UK’s emissions in 2018. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that global passenger aviation is “making an uneven recovery from the pandemic, with major differences among countries and domestic, short-haul and long-haul flights, resulting in a patchy pick-up in jet fuel consumption”.
In other UK news, the Times reports that Cornish Lithium – a mining start-up that “seeks to develop domestic supplies of lithium for electric vehicle batteries” – has raised £6m in a crowdfunding campaign. The Daily Telegraph says that it took less than 20 minutes to raise this money, adding: “Lithium is a key component in electric car batteries, but is due to be in short supply within the next decade as demand surges for electric cars…Cornish Lithium is working on projects to extract lithium absorbed by hot waters underground in Cornwall, as well as to drill into granite to produce battery-grade granite.” Meanwhile, BusinessGreen notes that, according to a new report, it would cost the UK between £14bn and £49bn of additional investment per year to reach its net-zero goals.
Following Barnaby Jones’ appointment to lead Australia’s Nationals party and, therefore, take office as deputy prime minister, Peter Lewis – an executive director of strategic communications and research company – has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian. Lewis writes that prime minister Scott Morrison’s support for coal mines has “softened” in recent months and that is has “left open the idea of hitting zero emissions”. However, he says: “It requires deft political skills to remove the barriers to climate action that will damage Australia’s interests while attempting to cling to the decade-long political advantage that turbo-charging fossil fuels into culture war fodder has delivered. But a nuanced disposition that recognises the need to transition the energy market while managing the expectations of rural constituents is not part of Joyce’s DNA.” According to a recent Guardian poll, he notes, the majority of the Australian public “don’t want the coal industry to close overnight”, but want the government to invest in renewables. Meanwhile, Sydney Morning Herald columnist Jenna Price says that Joyce “hardly believes in climate change” and thinks that renewable energy is “unreliable”. And an editorial in the Age says that “fractures within the Coalition over climate change have been growing since the prime minister began slow-walking towards a net-zero emissions target for 2050”, adding that Joyce is “expected to make a lot more noise” about climate policy than his predecessor.
The chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald writes that the National party is warning against a net-zero target of 2050, adding that the “fight” over the target is expected to “dominate” negotiations between Joyce and Morrison. And associate editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, Tony Wright, says that Morrison filmed a 2019 Christmas message “musing, in relationship to climate change, that ‘there’s a higher authority that’s beyond our comprehension and right up there in the sky’”. In news coverage, Reuters calls Barnaby a “climate change sceptic”, adding that will make it harder for Morrison to commit to net zero by 2050. And the Financial Review reports that Joyce’s appointment “risks mining and farming exports being hit by European carbon tariffs”. BBC News explains: “Mr Joyce defeated Michael McCormack in a party vote on Monday. It follows growing concern from some National MPs over their party’s influence in climate policy. The party, which represents farmers and rural voters, has 21 members in the governing centre-right coalition. Over the past week, National party members voiced opposition to indications from the government that it is moving towards a 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.” Phillip Coorey, the Financial Review‘s political editor, says that “Joyce’s comeback…[has] ended any prospect of a Coalition commitment to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050”.
An editorial in the Washington Post says there have been no “clear outcomes” from the bipartisan infrastructure bill currently under discussion in the US – except for the decision not to increase federal fuel taxes. “Once again, irrationality about this subject reigns, as it has ever since Congress last increased the excise taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel 28 years ago”, the piece says. It continues: “Instead of creating an incentive to limit driving, which produces about 24% of US carbon emissions, federal fuel tax policy has been encouraging it”. The editorial also calls excise taxes “regressive” adding that “fuel costs represent a larger share of poor people’s budgets than rich people’s”.
Meanwhile, Democratic senator Chris Coons has penned an opinion piece in the Washington Post entitled, “A bipartisan infrastructure bill proves our democracy can still work”, arguing that a bipartisan infrastructure proposal is “the best way” to achieve investment in sectors such as combatting climate change. And Guardian US columnist Bhaskar Sunkara writes that “if we want to fight the climate crisis, we must embrace nuclear power”.
The arrival of seasonal rainfall over “the northern tropical land and Sahel” during 1979-2019 was delayed by an average of four days, new research suggests. Most of this delay is caused by “external forcings, dominated by greenhouse gases (GHG) and anthropogenic aerosols (AER)”, the paper says. These forcings delay rainfall by “producing a moister atmosphere, thus increasing its lag in response to seasonal solar forcing”, the paper explains. It adds that “as GHG increase and AER decrease, these seasonal delays are projected to further amplify in the future”.
Coastal locations around the US could see “rapid increases in the frequency of high-tide flooding (HTF)” by the mid-2030s, a new study says. Using sea level rise (SLR) scenarios and flooding thresholds, the researchers show how the combined effects of SLR and high tides “lead to acute inflections in projections of future HTF”. The study also shows that “annual cycles and sea-level anomalies” lead to “extreme seasons or months during which many days of HTF cluster together”.
Electrifying heavy trucks used for short-haul deliveries in the US could be achieved without upgrades to electrical substations, a new paper suggests. The study notes that short-haul operations are “early candidates” for electric trucks because of “their short, predictable routes and return-to-base applications, which allows vehicles to recharge when off shift at their depots”. The paper “summarise[s] the causes, costs and lead times of distribution system upgrades anticipated for depot charging”. An accompanying News & Views article says the findings suggest “that utilities and fleet operators should work together to use low charging power at depots and consider sharing the capital cost savings that are made by using solutions that do not require costly and time-consuming substation developments”.
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