Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain's electricity grid had 'greenest ever' day on Easter Monday
- Carbon emissions from England's roads plan '100 times greater than government claims'
- Report: Record US and EU coal plant retirements offset by China coal boom in 2020
- US climate envoy Kerry says India is 'getting job done' on climate
- China’s vast bitcoin mining empire risks derailing its climate targets, says study
- Impact of climate crisis on mammals largely unknown as scientists sound alarm over huge data gap
- Bank boards have conflicts of interest over climate – and it shows in the fossil fuels they back
- Policy assessments for the carbon emission flows and sustainability of Bitcoin blockchain operation in China
Great Britain’s electricity system was the “greenest” it has ever been on Easter Monday, according to the i newspaper. It reports that low demand driven by the Easter holiday, together with sunny and blustery conditions, helped renewable power sources “dominate the energy mix over the weekend”. The Guardian states that wind turbines and solar farms generated 60% of all electricity around lunchtime while nuclear power provided 16% of the electricity mix, “meaning almost 80% of the grid was powered from low-carbon sources”. BBC News adds that, according to the National Grid Electricity System Operator (ESO), emissions for each unit of electricity consumed dropped to just 39g of carbon dioxide (CO2) – the lowest ever recorded for the grid – at 1pm BST. The news website notes that there was no coal generation on the grid and just 10% of power was from gas plants at this time, compared to 24.8% of power from fossil fuels the following day. Other outlets including the Independent and ITV News also have the story. Meanwhile, Reuters covers a new capacity report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), which finds that a record 260 gigawatts (GW) of new renewable energy capacity was added worldwide in 2020, up 50% from the year before. It adds that more than 80% of all new electricity capacity added last year was renewable.
In more UK coverage, BBC News reports that a £150m proposal to redevelop Leeds Bradford Airport, which has faced criticism over its climate impact, has been delayed to allow communities secretary Robert Jenrick more time to consider it.
Emissions from the UK government’s £27bn roadbuilding programme for England will be around 100 times greater than the government’s official estimates, according to expert witnesses speaking in a court challenge and reported in an “exclusive” story for the Guardian. Ministers and government officials have stated that new schemes in the programme would contribute just 0.27m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e) until 2032, the end of the UK’s fifth carbon budget period, the newspaper says. However, it quotes Prof Phil Goodwin, emeritus professor of transport policy at University College London, who testified to the high court that “the total emissions of carbon from RIS2 [second roads investment strategy] schemes reported by Highways England in its separate scheme appraisals give a number which is roundly 100 times greater than that suggested by DfT [Department for Transport] witnesses”. The piece notes that the disparity appears to be explained in part by the government only counting “new” schemes, which make up just five of the 50 in the programme, and accounting for construction climate impacts elsewhere. It also adds that the DfT “argues that its forthcoming decarbonisation plan, and especially the transition to electric vehicles, will vastly reduce emissions”.
Separately, BusinessGreen reports that sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles achieved a combined 14% market share in UK care sales last month, marking a new record. The figures for March are also reported by the Guardian, which notes that this is traditionally the biggest month of the year for motor dealers, but adds that demand for low-emissions vehicles “surged despite overall trade remaining lower than before the pandemic”. Fleet News reports that Nissan is cutting the price of its Leaf cars to ensure they qualify for the plug-in car grant, which the government recently reduced.
Another Guardian piece confirms that the “stereotype of the Chelsea tractor” is “based on reality”, with new figures showing SUVs, which produce high levels of CO2 emissions, are most popular in affluent urban areas “such as Kensington and Chelsea”. The report by climate charity Possible and the New Weather Institute, which is also covered by BBC News, shows three quarters of these large vehicles sold in the UK are registered to people living in towns and cities.
Finally, the Times reports that deep sea mining company DeepGreen has accused the companies including BMW and Volvo Group of being “lazy” for joining a campaign against the extraction of metals for electric car batteries from the bottom of the ocean.
New analysis from the NGO Global Energy Monitor and covered by BusinessGreen confirms that while a “record-equalling” 37.8 gigawatts (GW) of coal plants closed in 2020, mainly in the US and EU, China continues to expand its coal capacity, commissioning 38.4GW in 2020. Coal power capacity development therefore saw its first increase in five years in 2020, the news website reports. The Times also covers the story, noting that “China’s continued reliance on coal is undermining the UK’s plan to make the closure of coal plants a key theme of [UN climate summit] COP26”.
In more China news, Red Star News reports that Prof Zhou Weisheng, an expert in policy science, has highlighted the importance of developing and employing renewable energy for China to achieve its climate goals – especially against the backdrop of potential climate cooperation between Beijing and Washington. Zhou tells the state-affiliated website it’s critical to replace traditional fuel vehicles with “new energy” ones and suggests using hydrogen to help with the “cleaning of coal”. He also tells the outlet that China and the US “must collaborate” to tackle climate change because the two nations have the same interest and responsibility as members of a shared “climate community”.
Separately, Ma Jun, director of the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), has said that “high-carbon” industries and banks would face a survival “crisis” should they not transform “towards carbon neutrality”, reports Chinese financial news site wallstreetcn.com. Ma said at an industrial forum that “almost all” traditional high-carbon energy forms, as well as relevant industries and businesses, would “disappear” in the next 30 years unless they adopt low or zero-carbon technologies, the article reads.
Elsewhere, a new round of China’s central ecological and environmental inspection works have officially begun, reports state news agency Xinhua. A total of eight inspection teams are due to carry out month-long probes in eight provinces, says Xinhua, citing the Ministry of Ecological and Environment (MEE). Among other things, inspectors will assess if the local officials “strictly control” the approval and initiation of “dual high” projects – those that would cause high pollution and high emissions – the MEE says. (Read Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A explaining these inspectors’ role in China’s climate governance structure.) Finally, The head of MEE, Huang Runqiu, last Friday inspected the environmental governance works in a state-level new area near Beijing, reports China Environmental News. Huang’s trip to the Xiong’an New Area – about 62 miles southwest of the capital – came less than a month after he paid a surprise visit to the smog-shrouded city of Tangshan, catching steel mills violating production restrictions.
As US climate envoy John Kerry continues his travels around the world speaking to leaders about their climate change ambitions, he has praised India as a leader in renewables and said the nation is “getting the job done on climate, pushing the curve”. As Kerry entered into talks with his Indian counterparts about cutting emissions, government sources told Reuters that India “was unlikely to bind itself to a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”, despite much speculation around such a target. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports ahead of a leaders’ summit organised by US president Joe Biden for later this month that Russian president Vladimir Putin plans to be in attendance. The news website notes that this would be his first public engagement with Biden as US president “amid deep strains in relations”. The Hill reports on comments from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen who said the US is working closely with the international community on climate change after the country “lost four important years” under the Trump administration.
In more US news, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Michael Regan tells Bloomberg that the Biden administration will propose by the end of July new limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars that are strong enough to meet “the urgency of the climate crisis”, reversing Trump-era regulation that relaxed limits.
The Hill reports on fears from environmental groups and progressives that the infrastructure package proposed by Biden will see climate-focused aspects sacrificed “to ensure passage in the 50-50 Senate”. Meanwhile, Politico has a piece looking at the “big wage gap between the new green energy jobs and the old fossil fuel ones” which could hamper Biden’s green jobs-focused spending package. This finding, which is also reported by Reuters, comes from a report produced by workforce research firm BW Research Partnership, the National Association of State Energy Officials and the Energy Futures Initiative thinktank – headed by Ernest Moniz, president Barack Obama’s energy secretary.
According to a new study, China’s “electricity-hungry bitcoin mines” that power nearly 80% of the global trade in cryptocurrencies could jeopardise the nation’s pledge to peak carbon emissions by 2030, Agence France-Presse reports. It notes that the high-powered computers used to verify transactions in bitcoin “mining” consume large amounts of electricity, and adds that around 40% of China’s bitcoin mines are powered with coal, while the rest use renewables. New Scientist reports that the total carbon footprint of bitcoin mining in China is expected to peak in 2024, releasing around 130m tonnes of carbon. This figure “exceeds the annual carbon emissions of countries including Italy and the Czech Republic”, the magazine notes. The paper, which is published in Nature Communications, has been widely reported, with coverage in the Daily Telegraph, i newspaper and Independent, among others.
A piece in the Independent notes that while 25% of all mammal species are already threatened with extinction, with the risk exacerbated by climate change, “the myriad ways in which the changes are currently impacting animals, and how they will develop into the future, are highly complex topics”. It says that scientists are “sounding the alarm bell over our lack of data and limited knowledge of these interacting systems”. The Daily Mirror also covers the story, noting that scientists think “one in four alpine mammals are under threat of extinction due to climate change – but more many could also be at risk”. The newspaper adds: “Dr Maria Paniw, from the University of Zurich, has now re-examined this data and is calling for survival and reproduction rates to be examined together in future to give a more detailed understanding of the impact of climate change.”. Separately, the Daily Mail reports that a new study shows polar bears “may lack the skills to forage for new food like bird eggs as they try to adapt to climate change”.
A piece in the Guardian examines US banks’ pledges to tackle climate change, concluding that “their boards are dominated by people with climate-related conflicts of interest, and they continue to invest deeply in fossil fuel projects”. The article is authored by Emily Holden for non-profit news organisation Floodlight and Emily Atkin, who writes the climate newsletter Heated, and cites a “first-of-its-kind review by climate influence analysts” for DeSmog, which is currently running a series on “exposing climate-conflicted bank directors”. According to the Guardian piece, the analysis found that 77% of board members at seven major US banks have current or past ties to “climate-conflicted companies or organisations – from oil and gas corporations to trade groups that lobby against reducing climate pollution”. Among the projects being supported by board members is the new Line 3 tar sands pipeline, currently under construction in northern Minnesota, which environmental groups estimate “would add 50 new coal plants’ worth of carbon emissions to the atmosphere every year for the next three to five decades”, the piece states. It adds: “Much of the US economy is built on fossil fuels, and people with enough experience to be appointed to bank boards are likely to have some connection to climate-conflicted organisations. But the DeSmog analysts said the heavy representation of industry on boards shows a ‘lack of creativity’ in recruitment and is probably why bank policies aren’t more environmentally progressive.”
The annual energy consumption of bitcoin mining in China will peak in 2024 at almost 300 terawatt hours – generating 130m tonnes of carbon emissions – unless policy interventions are implemented, according to a new study. The authors run a simulation of the emissions from bitcoin mining, and find that, domestically, it “ranks in the Top 10 among 182 cities and 42 industrial sectors in China”. The authors show that “moving away from the current punitive carbon tax policy to a site regulation policy which induces changes in the energy consumption structure of the mining activities” is more effective at limiting emission from bitcoin mining.
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