Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain proposes domestic emissions trading scheme from 1 January
- Germany, Denmark agree closer offshore wind cooperation
- Morrison government should be 'doing more' with states driving 33% cut in emissions by 2030
- Biden closes in on picks for key environmental posts
- ExxonMobil promises emissions cuts after investor pressure
- Emissions statement
- Deforestation-induced warming over tropical mountain regions regulated by elevation
- Climate models capture key features of extreme precipitation probabilities across regions
- Climate co-benefits of air quality and clean energy policy in India
There is widespread media coverage of the UK’s energy white paper, published yesterday after a long delay, which outlines plans for delivering a net-zero energy system by 2050. Reuters leads with the white paper’s confirmation that the UK will “establish a domestic emissions trading scheme from 1 January 2021 to replace the current EU regime”. The newswire adds: “It said the scheme would be more ambitious than the EU system it replaces, reducing the cap on emissions allowed within the system by 5% from day one, and may link to other international schemes in future.” BBC News instead leads with the news that, as part of the white paper’s plans, “government has begun talks with EDF about the construction of a new £20bn nuclear power plant in Suffolk”. It adds: “The Sizewell C site could generate 3.2 gigawatts of electricity, enough to provide 7% of the UK’s needs. But it has proved controversial with campaigners saying it is ‘ridiculously expensive’ and that taxpayers will have to foot the bill for extra costs.” The Times says that “taxpayers [are] in the frame for funding at Sizewell nuclear plant”.
BusinessGreen reports that “after several delays spanning at least a year”, the publication of the document “marks a significant milestone in the UK’s net zero transition”. There are eight “key lessons” from the white paper, the website adds – “increased renewable electricity capacity, green home heating, energy efficiency upgrades, carbon capture and storage projects, hydrogen production, smart grid and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, new nuclear projects, and a national carbon market.” BusinessGreen also runs a reactions piece to the white paper, including quotes from business secretary Alok Sharma and his Labour shadow Ed Miliband. In its coverage, the Daily Telegraph focusses on the phase-out of gas boilers by the mid-2030s, as well as the plan to build new home off the the gas grid from 2025. It adds that the plans for all newly installed heating systems to be “low-carbon” by the mid-2030s “leave open the possibility for hydrogen-ready boilers to be installed”. The Times also focusses on boilers, adding that, according to the white paper, “there are currently around 1.7m fossil fuel boiler installations every year” and that “4m off-grid households in rural areas, which rely on stored oil or gas for heating and hot water, will have to move to green alternatives”. Bloomberg says that the policies outlined in the document make the UK “among the most ambitious countries in the world in transitioning away from fossil fuels”, adding that this strengthens Johnsons “authority on the environment” ahead of COP26. The Daily Mail also covers this story under the headline: “The dash to ditch gas for hydrogen boilers.” The Times says that a “break-up of National Grid has moved closer” after an announcement that “the management of the country’s power system may need to become more independent”.
In other UK news, Reuters reports that “Britain proposes bringing its coal exit forward one year to 2024”. The Times reports that “two construction firms at the centre of investigations into the Grenfell Tower disaster” will receive millions of pounds from the government as part of the drive to improve energy efficiency in homes. The Daily Mail covers the news that “Britain’s first long-distance battery-fuelled trains will be tested on 300-mile route in 2022”. The Guardian runs a piece about the importance of allowing trees and woodlands to regrow naturally in order to “restore Britain’s forest cover”. Finally, Climate Home News says that “the UK is planning to bring donor countries and vulnerable nations together at a conference in March” to address the “dismal” financial support promised to poorer nations at the 5th Anniversary of the Paris Agreement last weekend.
Germany and Denmark have pledged to cooperate on joint offshore wind power development, Reuters reports. The planned cooperation is an “important step” towards achieving the EUs offshore wind strategy, which “aims to increase Europe-wide capacity from 12 gigawatts (GW) today to 60GW by 2030 and 300GW in 2050”. Reuters also reports that changes to new energy laws in Germany have been agreed to “boost renewable power and help the country meet its goal of producing 65% of its electricity from green sources by 2030”. The laws would “cut bureaucracy on production from solar power plants after their first 20 years of run-time”, and the plan is for the legislation to be enacted by January 1st. Another story on Germany by Reuters reports that “renewable sources met 46.3% of Germany’s power consumption in 2020, 3.8 percentage points more than in 2019”.
In other EU news, French president Emmanuel Macron has confirmed that he will run a referendum to decide whether or not to add “climate and environmental protection” to the French constitution, Politico reports. Reuters adds that Macron told a Citizens’ Climate Council that “he was willing to include mention of biodiversity, the environment and tackling climate change in Article 1 of the Constitution”. Euronews also covers the story, saying that Macron “acknowledged that France was not yet doing enough to tackle global warming as the country had been missing its targets on the Paris Agreement.”
Euractiv reports on shipping emissions in the EU, saying that as the EU prepares to publish its plans for changing the rules of the carbon market, shipping emissions that are “currently exempt from the emissions trading scheme” could soon be included. Energy Monitor also reports on the changes to the EUs emissions trading system. Meanwhile, Axios reports that an alliance of some of “Europe’s largest commercial truck manufacturers” have announced plans to “end sales of fossil-fuel-powered models by 2040”, and Reuters says that “EU competition regulators cleared on Monday a 30-billion-euro ($36.5 billion) Dutch scheme to support projects reducing greenhouse gas emissions”.
New analysis by Frontier Economics has found that “if [Australian] states delivered on their expected commitments, the country would make at least a 33% cut in emissions by 2030 compared with 2005 levels”, the Guardian reports. It adds that this would put the country on track for more significant reductions in emissions over the next decade than those proposed by the government. A comment piece by Greg Jericho in the Guardian headlined “Australia’s path to net zero emissions is massively behind schedule” says that, despite claims from prime minister Scott Morrison that Australia will reduce emissions by 26% below 2005 levels, projections from 2019 suggest that a reduction of only 16% by 2030 is expected. Jericho adds that “the latest projections for Australia’s greenhouse emissions reveal just how pathetic both our performance and our ambition are” and says any reported decrease in emissions is due to the pandemic rather than climate policy.
The Times says that Morrison is “seeking explanations” about reports that China’s top economic advisory body decided to “allow power stations to import coal without clearance restrictions, with the exception of Australia”. Morrison told reporters that this would “obviously be in breach of WTO rules” and is a “lose-lose” situation, according to the outlet. This story is also picked up by Reuters, which adds that coal is the third biggest export from Australia and that Morrison said that “his government would not back down on these issues”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports on the heavy rain and strong wind across the northeast coast of Australia, which are forcing widespread evacuations as water levels rise. The Sydney Morning Herald reports on a study from the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO, which finds that a “middle-of-the-road” scenario of 2C warming by 2060 will cause a 20% reduction in streamflow across Australias food bowl.
US president-elect Joe Biden is nearing a final decision on environment-related jobs, reports the Wall Street Journal, which adds that Biden’s choices “are being watched closely by the energy industry as well as progressives who are concerned about Mr Biden’s commitment to ambitious climate policies and diversity”. Biden is considering Michael Regan, a North Carolina environmental regulator, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the paper says: “Mr Regan previously worked at the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group. He spent more than nine years at the EPA, where he focused on air quality issues.” Also under consideration are Richard Revesz, a law professor at New York University, and Collin O’Mara, chief executive of the National Wildlife Federation and a former Delaware regulator. The New York Times reports that the Biden team has moved away from Mary D Nichols, “California’s clean air regulator and arguably the country’s most experienced climate change official, [who] was seen as a lock to run the EPA”. The chief reason, the paper says, is that “this month, a group of more than 70 environmental justice groups wrote to the Biden transition charging that Ms Nichols has a ‘bleak track record in addressing environmental racism’”. The paper continues: “The environmental justice groups cited Ms Nichols’s role in pushing California’s cap-and-trade program, which is designed to broadly reduce pollution of planet-warming greenhouse gases – but disproportionately does so at the expense, the groups said, of communities of colour by exposing them to more pollutants like smog and soot. The groups charged that Ms Nichols had repeatedly disregarded or dismissed the concerns of those communities about the effects of the climate policies she enacted.” The Hill also has the story. Biden is also nearing decisions on the team of officials who will chart his environmental and energy policy, reports Bloomberg. It says: “The candidates include former EPA chief Gina McCarthy and onetime Google executive Arun Majumdar, as well as Senator Tom Udall and North Carolina environmental regulator Michael Regan, according to people familiar with the matter. The final team, expected to be announced this week, would play a key role driving regulatory policy to help fulfil Biden’s campaign promises to decarbonise the electric grid by 2035, promote electric vehicles and restrict oil development on federal land.” Reuters has a “factbox” piece on the people who have made Biden’s shortlist for central roles in his energy and environment agenda. In other Biden-related news, Philippe Etienne – the French Ambassador to the US – speaks to the Los Angeles Times about the impact that Biden could have on global climate action. The New York Times gathers a virtual panel of experts to discuss the challenges and opportunities of US climate policy in 2021. And BusinessGreen editor James Murray has “six things we learned” from the weekend’s Climate Ambition Summit. He writes: “It seems that Biden is prepared to use the convening power of the White House and the bully’s pulpit of the presidency to ramp up pressure on laggard nations to come forward with bolder climate plans.”
Elsewhere in the US, Reuters reports that “US solar installations are expected to soar 43% this year, just shy of a pre-pandemic forecast, as the industry has recovered more quickly than expected from a virus-related slowdown”. The outlet also reports that the EPA is aiming to “propose rules on the amount of biofuels refiners must blend into their fuel mix next year” by 31 December, after missing a deadline last month. And, finally, a Wall Street Journal editorial comments on a report from the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis about “how the Fed and eight other regulatory agencies should penalise investment in fossil fuels and promote green energy”.
US energy major ExxonMobil has promised to cut emissions for every barrel of oil it produces by up to a fifth over the next five years, the Financial Times reports, after investor pressure for action on climate change. The paper continues: “The company on Monday said it would aim for a cut of 15-20% per barrel by 2025, compared with 2016 levels. The announcement comes as Exxon faces a vocal shareholder campaign to do more to reduce its environmental impact.” The paper adds: “Unlike many European producers, Exxon’s new targets apply purely to its scope 1 and 2 emissions – those produced by its own operations and its power providers. They do not apply to its scope 3 emissions – those produced by burning its oil. However, Exxon did say it would start to publish scope 3 emissions figures annually.” The Wall Street Journal notes that Exxon “also said it would end routine flaring, or burning, of methane from its oil-and-gas operations in the next 10 years”. However, says Reuters, the company “did not set an overall emissions target…and reducing intensity means that emissions still could rise if oil and gas output grows”. And Axios notes that – like Chevron – Exxon has “steered clear of vows by Europe-based multinational oil companies like BP and Shell to become net-zero emitters by midcentury”.
In related news, the Guardian reports that consumer goods company Unilever has, “in a first for the UK’s blue-chip companies”, announced plans to let shareholders vote on its climate transition plans. The paper explains: “The maker of consumer goods ranging from Dove soap to Hellmann’s mayonnaise will share its climate transition action plan with investors in the first quarter of 2021, before a vote at its annual meeting on 5 May.” This plan will include a proposal “to cut emissions from its operations to net zero by 2030 and to halve the environmental impact of its products”, says Reuters. The outlet adds that the move comes on the heels of the “Say on Climate” campaign launched by British billionaire Chris Hohn, which aims to force firms to give shareholders more of a voice. However, the Wall Street Journal notes that the vote “would be only advisory and doesn’t require Unilever to make changes”.
Many UK newspapers carry reaction to the new energy white paper. An editorial in the Times says that, while Boris Johnson “talked a good game on renewable energy”, it is only with the arrival of the white paper that the details are emerging. “There is much to commend about the government’s vision for the transition to net zero, overdue though it is,” the editorial continues, adding: “While it might seem churlish to complain of a prime minister speaking ambitiously on climate and energy policy, Mr Johnson is a man drawn to grands projets, however implausible. Failing to keep his word on delivering enough offshore wind to power every home in the country or phasing out gas boilers by the middle of the next decade, however, would be a graver failure than an unbuilt Garden Bridge. Britain has only one opportunity to overhaul its energy infrastructure if it is to meet its targets, and it is Mr Johnson’s to take.” Nils Pratley in the Guardian has a comment piece entitled: “Ministers would be wise to play for time before ordering Sizewell C.” He argues that the new nuclear power station would be a “replica of Hinkley Point C”, but points out that the “production of electricity wont happen at Hinkley until 2025 at the earliest”. An editorial in the Financial Times adds that although Sizewell, like Hinkley Point, “would generate 7% of the country’s electricity”, the government “cannot afford a repeat of what happened with Hinkley Point”. An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says that the “lack of British nuclear power plants is one of the great failures of public policy”. It adds that there are “understandable economic misgivings” about nuclear – namely that the taxpayer has to underwrite the costs, and the political considerations of the provision of nuclear power by “state actors in China and France”. An editorial in the Daily Mail says renewables “simply won’t fill the yawning energy gap in time” and “expanding nuclear is the only realistic option”. It adds that “small nuclear reactors” could be built at a “fraction of the price and less than half the time”.
The Times runs a comment piece from Conservative MP Robert Goodwill under the headline: “Nuclear power must be central to our plan for a greener future. He says that as the UK moves away from fossil fuels, nuclear power will be central to producing energy in a more green way. He adds that “our nuclear fleet is aging” and that, by 2030, “all but one of our currently operating nuclear power plants will have been decommissioned”. Goodwill states that “we must get on with building large scale nuclear”, saying that Hinkley Point C is not enough and that “experts suggest we need at least 10GW of nuclear to get to net zero by 2050 in addition to Hinkley Point C’s 3.2GW”. Dr Jonathan Marshall, head of analysis at the
Converting forests to farmland in mountain regions can cause local warming of up to 2C, a new study says – but the effect also depends on elevation. Using satellite observations of forest cover changes over 2000-14 and a high-resolution climate model, the researchers show that the “deforestation-driven local temperature anomaly can reach up to 2C where forest conversion is extensive”. The study also finds that the warming effect “depends on elevation, through the intertwined and opposing effects of increased albedo causing cooling and decreased evapotranspiration causing warming”. It explains: “As the elevation increases, the albedo effect increases in importance and the warming effect decreases.”
Most climate models in the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) “pass two key tests” on simulating rainfall extremes, a new study says. The research uses two measures to test the ability of climate models to simulate “the characteristic shape of the probability of occurrence of daily precipitation extremes” and how the “scaling of this shape is well reproduced across regions and seasons in current climate”. The results show “most models lying within the current range of observational uncertainty in these measures”, the authors say.
New research assesses the climate co-benefits of air quality and clean energy policies in India. The authors estimate an emission reduction potential of 0.1 to 1.8bn tonnes of CO2e per year in 2030, with the largest benefits accruing from “residential clean energy policy (biomass cooking) and air pollution regulation (curbing brick production and agricultural residue burning emissions), which cut black carbon”. The crucial impact of black carbon “suggests that it should be included in the international climate accord”, the authors say.
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