Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Brazil: Amazon sees worst deforestation levels in 15 years
- Emissions target pledges face scrutiny as dust settles on COP26
- The Glasgow summit left a huge hole in the world’s plans to curb climate change
- Hydrofluorocarbons are global warming super-culprits. The Senate should eliminate them
- The forgotten oil ads that told us climate change was nothing
- Temperature effects on carbon storage are controlled by soil stabilisation capacities
- Refined burned-area mapping protocol using Sentinel-2 data increases estimate of 2019 Indonesian burning
Several outlets cover the news that official data has revealed that Deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has hit its highest level in over 15 years. BBC News says a report by Brazil’s space research agency (Inpe) has found that deforestation increased by 22% in a year. The broadcaster adds: “Brazil was among a number of nations who promised to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 during the COP26 climate summit. The Amazon is home to about three million species of plants and animals, and one million indigenous people. It is a vital carbon store that slows down the pace of global warming. According to the latest data, some 13,235 sq km (5110 sq miles) was lost during the 2020-21 period, the highest amount since 2006.” Brazil’s environment minister Joaquim Leite says the data represents a “challenge” and that “we have to be more forceful in relation to these crimes”. He adds that the data “does not exactly reflect the situation in the last few months”. The Financial Times says the new figures “raise fresh questions about Brasília’s commitment to ending the destruction of the world’s largest rainforest”. It adds: “In the past three years, Brazil has lost more than 30,000 sq km of tree cover in the rainforest – an area the size of Belgium – mostly at the hands of illegal loggers, cattle ranchers, gold miners and land grabbers. The stark data comes just weeks after Brazil won plaudits for its commitments at the COP26 summit in Glasgow, including a pledge to eradicate illegal deforestation by the end of this decade, if not earlier. While hailed by diplomats, the pledges were met by scepticism from environmental campaigners, who highlighted that President Jair Bolsonaro regularly signals his support to those tearing down the forest…The issue is likely to increasingly weigh on Brazil’s international relations, particularly with European nations.” Reuters says that the “far-right former army captain still calls for more mining and commercial farming in protected parts of the rainforest”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “detailed new mapping has pinpointed the carbon-rich forests and peatlands that humanity cannot afford to destroy if climate catastrophe is to be avoided”. It continues: “The vast forests and peatlands of Russia, Canada and the US are vital, researchers found, as are tropical forests in the Amazon, Congo and south-east Asia. Peat bogs in the UK and mangrove swamps and eucalyptus forests in Australia are also on the list. The scientists identified 139bn tonnes (GT) of carbon in trees, plants and soils as ‘irrecoverable’, meaning that natural regeneration could not replace its loss by 2050.” And Cosmos covers a new study by UK and Swedish scientists which has “confirmed that, globally, the heating earth itself will cause soils to release carbon dioxide”. (See “New climate science” below for more on the study.)
As the dust settles on COP26, several outlets focus on what comes next. The Financial Times says that “big polluting nations have cast doubt on whether they would upgrade their emissions targets next year, after agreeing at the COP26…to ‘revisit and strengthen’ them in line with the Paris accord”. The newspaper says that “the US and Australia have already called into question whether they needed to upgrade targets known as ‘nationally determined contributions’ or NDCs”, adding: “The ink was hardly dry in Glasgow when US climate envoy John Kerry left significant room for manoeuvre on whether the US would upgrade its NDC next year. Australia, which was criticised at COP26 for lacking a credible plan to reach ‘net zero’ emissions, has said it will not update its target.” When asked about a new pledge, it quotes Kerry saying: “Not necessarily…You don’t automatically have to come back with a new NDC, you have to review it, and make a judgment. We need to see what’s do-able.”
The Guardian carries the views of Selamawit Wubet, a programme coordinator at the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF), who says: “Around half of all parties met the Paris agreement deadline [to produce new NDCs by the end of 2020]. So it will be an uphill battle to encourage countries to revise them again.” The Guardian adds that the CVF says that all those who wanted to see climate action must use the next year to put pressure on the governments that had inadequate plans.
The South China Morning Post carries the views of Jonathan Pershing, the US administration’s deputy special climate envoy, who, the newspaper says, has “played down the weakening of commitments to reduce coal usage at the recent COP26 conference, stressing that the fossil fuel’s inclusion in the summit’s resulting document was a victory in itself”. Bloomberg reports that US climate envoy John Kerry has told an event that faster action is needed to move coal-dependent nations to less-polluting alternatives. He is quoted as saying: “We have to start where the greatest amount of emissions are if we’re going to win the battle…We have to, all of us, be able to put the deals together that will phase out their coal fast.”
Separately, a South China Morning Post article reports that Wang Yi, a senior adviser to the Chinese COP26 delegation, has told an online event: “We hoped the summit could achieve a powerful, balanced and inclusive result. In general, it was a successful conference.” The article adds: “Wang Yi said China did not join the global methane pledge primarily because it did not represent ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ – a principle China has insisted on in climate negotiations for decades. But he added that China had plans for methane emissions control under its 14th five-year plan for economic and social development until 2025.”
In a headline, the Independent poses the question: “Why did India object so fiercely to coal ‘phase out’ in COP26 agreement?” The article states: “Experts have pointed out that the Glasgow pact failed to address concerns about global equity. They have said that the deal put more pressure on developing countries such as India and China, and left out loopholes for developed countries for coal usage…Top officials of India’s foreign affairs ministry have now pushed back against the criticism that New Delhi must be blamed for the change in language. They have pointed out that the addition of ‘phase down’ was done in consensus with other countries.” The news outlet quotes an official from India’s Ministry of External Affairs: “It is not a term that India either proposed or tabled [for the first time]. It [term ‘phase down’] was already there [in circulation], we simply accepted it…We were opposing it also on behalf of BASIC [a group of newly-industrialised countries such as Brazil, South Africa, India and China] countries for which India holds the chair.”
Meanwhile, Climate Home News has a feature about how “Papua New Guinea sparked final day panic at COP26”. It continues: “The rainforest nation was threatening to block a deal in Glasgow over the status of Redd+ forestry projects in a UN carbon market…The idea of Redd+ is to financially incentivise rainforest nations like PNG to protect their trees. It was instigated by PNG and Costa Rica at UN climate talks in 2005. But its record is patchy.” Another Climate Home News article focuses on Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley – “the ‘fearless’ leader pushing a global settlement for the climate frontlines”. It picks up on Mottley’s “a rip-roaring speech” at COP26, adding: “Her impact on the climate conference went beyond the usual pleas for ambition and support. Armed with concrete proposals, Mottley elevated wonky discussions about the global finance system to the highest political level.”
The Economist has an assessment of COP26 which starts by saying that “in an admission that the goals set in Paris were not being met, the summit sought to speed up the fight against climate change in a number of ways”. It notes that “in a departure from previous cops, a number of countries joined assorted ‘coalitions of the willing’ to do their part to eliminate coal power, reduce methane emissions, make financial services greener, protect forests and more”, adding: “Perhaps most important of all, governments agreed to beef up their national plans for reducing emissions over the coming decade before meeting for next November’s COP27 in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. That means translating the promises made in Glasgow into policies and seeking new ways to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels by 2030…The next 12 months will be marked by a constant drumbeat to keep up the pressure on climate change…Sharm el-Sheikh…is likely to see frustration do battle with celebration.”
An editorial in the Chicago Tribune sits under the headline: “Greta Thunberg sees failure at climate change summit. She’s wrong.” The article states: “Finally, the world’s governments agreed on rules for a global carbon-emissions market that will enable countries to trade carbon credits with each other…Getting the rules straight is essential, in part to keep rich nations from snapping up discounted credits so they can keep emitting as usual. Though operational details still need to be worked out, we have high hopes that a functioning market will encourage new investment and reduce emissions overall.”
In the Pakistan Observer, Huma Baqai, who is an associate professor of social sciences and liberal arts at Karachi’s Institute of Business Administration, argues that the COP26 outcome was a “poor compromise”. She adds: “Largely, the post-summit sentiment is reflected in statements that say, ‘We must accelerate climate action’ and ‘go into emergency mode’, which includes ending fossil fuel subsidies, phasing out coal, putting a price on carbon, protecting vulnerable communities and delivering the $100bn-dollar, climate finance commitment. None of the goals stated were achieved at the conference.”
An editorial in the Washington Post says that “pound for pound, carbon dioxide is not the worst global warming culprit”. it continues: “Cutting smaller amounts of these super-warming chemicals is often easier than wringing carbon dioxide out of the economy – and can make a surprisingly large difference. This is why it is a big deal that President Biden on Tuesday submitted to the Senate an international treaty on hydrofluorocarbons, known as HFCs. The accord requires a two-thirds vote to pass. On its merits, it should sail through unanimously.” It concludes: “Senators often complain that presidents commit the country to international agreements, such as the Paris climate accord or the Iran nuclear deal, without consulting the Senate, the body that the Constitution gives the power to review treaties. Presidents fear, with reason, that partisanship has become so toxic that lawmakers would reject an important international accord merely to deny a win to a president of the opposite party. The Senate should show, on this crucial issue where there is broad consensus, that it can still do its job.”
Meanwhile, in Politico, Nate Sibley argues that “COP26 showed that the world’s approach to climate change is failing…It’s time for the GOP [Republicans] to set aside denialism and come to the table.” He continues: “Conservatives in the United States have publicly questioned climate science to an extent that long ago surpassed the pretense of healthy skepticism. Thus, they surrendered the initiative almost entirely to the left, which has generally advocated government-centric solutions at home and placed too much trust in international institutions abroad…But a growing number of conservative leaders now accept the reality of climate change and are thinking about realistic proposals to mitigate it.” He adds: “By maneuvering past both their own history of denialism and public fatigue with the left’s alarmism and naivete, conservatives can put together a realistic, and even winning, global climate agenda — especially as they eye control of Congress next year and GOP presidential candidates test the waters for 2024. A Republican global climate agenda should reflect traditional conservative support for a robust foreign policy that prioritizes U.S. interests and values. This would entail, above all, publicly holding China, Russia and other egregious polluters to account — and using America’s economic clout to impose real costs when necessary. More broadly, a GOP approach would jettison the focus on climate as a standalone issue in international diplomacy and instead incorporate it into related efforts on trade, international investment, human rights and security.”
Finally, in the Hill, Paul Bledsoe, who served on the White House Climate Change Task Force under Bill Clinton, asks: “Can America prevent a global warming cold war?” He says: “[The] glaring geopolitical disparity in climate action between democracies and dictatorships is occurring even as climate protection is becoming a premier global security issue…All this suggests that the US and its allies need to reconceive the climate problem in clearer geopolitical terms. Inaction by a few major nations – China, Russia, Iran, India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia in particular – can effectively prevent solutions. More positively, since nearly 80 percent of global emissions are from the G20 countries, action by all of the largest nations can set the stage for success…We are on the precipice of a global warming cold war. The question is: will democracies exert the needed pressure on the world’s dictatorships to compel rapid climate action, before it’s too late? If not, the hard-earned climate progress democratic nations are making will not be nearly enough to protect the fragile climate we all share.”
The Guardian carries an illustrated feature carrying “a selection of big oil’s thousands of deceptive climate ads from 1984 to 2021”. This is “big oil’s PR sizzle reel”, say the authors and academics Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes. They add: “The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions. This has involved a remarkable array of advertisements – with headlines ranging from ‘Lies they tell our children’ to ‘Oil pumps life’ – seeking to convince the public that the climate crisis is not real, not human-made, not serious and not solvable. The campaign continues to this day.”
The Guardian also carries an comment piece by Andreas Malm, a scholar of human ecology at Lund University, under the headline: “The moral case for destroying fossil fuel infrastructure.” He writes: “We could destroy the machines that destroy this planet. If someone has planted a time bomb in your home, you are entitled to dismantle it. More to the point, if someone has placed an incendiary device inside the high-rise building where you live, and if the foundations are already on fire and people are dying in the cellars, then many would believe that you have an obligation to put the device out of action. This is the moral case which, I would argue, justifies destroying fossil fuel property. That is completely separate from harming human bodies, for which there is no moral case. And this particular moral case for direct action is, I believe, overwhelmingly strong, if the realities of the climate catastrophe are recognised.”
Finally, the Financial Times has a comment piece by John Thornhill who argues that “it is time to bet big on fusion energy”, adding: “The ultimate, carbon-free energy source is hard to produce and requires enormous capital, but it’s getting closer.”
Warmer soils store less carbon than their cooler counterparts – but the magnitude of this difference depends on the makeup of the soil, according to a new study. Scientists use more than 9,000 profiles of soil from around the world and analyse how the carbon content of the sample varies with temperature and soil texture. Averaged across the globe, they find that for each 10C of warming, soil carbon content decreases by 25%, but the effect is stronger for “coarse-textured” soils than for finer ones. The researchers say that this work can “help identify the soil [carbon] stocks that may be most vulnerable” to climate change around the world.
New research shows that the extent of land that burned in Indonesia during the 2019 fire season is significantly larger than previously estimated. Using high-resolution satellite imagery, researchers classify areas of forest and peatland as “burned” or “unburned” over the course of the year. They find that using the high-resolution imagery yields an estimate that is double the official estimate from the Indonesian government; they attribute this difference primarily to the smaller-scale burns captured in the high-resolution images. The authors write that this method yields “relatively” more accurate estimates of burned area than other approaches and could have “important implications” for calculating emissions from forest and peatland fires.