Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain's electricity 'to have first gas-free hours by 2025'
- Germany set to remove green power hurdles at next cabinet meeting
- BP to slash value of assets by up to $17.5bn
- Unilever to invest €1bn in climate change fund over 10 years
- Leading UK charities urge PM to seek green recovery from Covid-19
- Emissions from 13 dairy firms match those of entire UK, says report
- President Trump must take Florida’s potential disasters much more seriously
- Covid-19 provides Government with an opportunity to move towards a zero-carbon Britain
- Climate worst-case scenarios may not go far enough, cloud data shows
- Impact of climate change on inter‐annual variation in tea plant output in Zhejiang, China
- Changes in West African summer monsoon precipitation under stratospheric aerosol geoengineering
In light of Great Britain’s record-breaking period of coal-free power generation, National Grid has announced it wants to operate the system without using any gas for short periods in 2025, reports the Sunday Telegraph. “That is likely to be hours at a time rather than days,” says the newspaper, adding: “Running the grid without natural gas, even for a few hours at a time, would be an important symbolic and practical step towards the UK’s commitment to cut carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050. It would also represent a further challenge to the oil and gas giants such as Shell and BP, who have pivoted their businesses towards gas in recent years due to its role in generating electricity. Demand for electricity is expected to spike given the growth in electric cars and possibly electric heating.”
Meanwhile, in other UK energy news, today’s Times covers a new report by the climate analysts Ember (formerly Sandbag) which shows that the “government has committed £13bn to support wood-burning power stations but [Ember] has found that it is relying on an outdated assumption that they help to combat climate change”. The Times adds: “Supporters say that the wood pellets burnt by the plants, mostly imported from the US, are carbon-neutral because trees are replanted. Wood-burning stations initially release more CO2 from their stacks, per unit of electricity, than the coal equivalents. The growth of new forest should eventually absorb as much carbon as was emitted. However, today’s report says that this process can take centuries, too long to prevent climate change over the coming decades. ‘The periods during which atmospheric CO2 levels are raised before forest regrowth can reabsorb the excess emissions are incompatible with the urgency of reducing emissions to comply with the objectives enshrined in the Paris Agreement,’ the authors write.” The Daily Telegraph also covers the story, adding: “The Telegraph found Drax, which runs the UK’s biggest biomass operation, is sourcing some of its wood pellets from forests in Russia that could take up to 150 years to regrow, five times longer than we have to meet our net-zero target.”
The Financial Times says the UK government has issues an “urgent call” for “shovel-ready” projects to help stimulate the economy. It says: “The Financial Times has seen the letter sent on 10 June by Robert Jenrick, housing secretary, to mayors and the 38 local enterprise partnerships, who are responsible for economic growth. Proposals are requested by 18 June, underlining the urgency of the economic crisis…The letter said: ‘Where considering new projects, these must deliver on two overarching objectives – driving up economic growth and jobs and supporting green recovery.’ Suggestions include modernising town centres; road, rail and cycling infrastructure; broadband improvements; research and development centres; and skills training programmes.”
The Daily Telegraph says that “expectations that the UK will reduce Chinese company Huawei’s role in the UK’s 5G network have been met with veiled threats that Chinese companies might pull out of building UK nuclear power plants and other infrastructure – ratcheting up tensions with potentially profound political and economic consequences”. The newspaper adds: “Plenty argue that would be no bad thing. China’s involvement in the UK’s nuclear power plants has long been controversial due to security concerns, while some experts also argue that large nuclear power plants have had their day as a source of energy. ‘The energy landscape has changed,’ argues Paul Dorfman, of the UCL Energy Institute, given that offshore wind power and other renewable technologies are getting much cheaper and more effective. Still, ministers appear keen on nuclear as a low-carbon, constant source of power, and they are consulting on a new funding model to build large nuclear power stations.” The Mail on Sunday carries a separate nuclear power story under the headline: “Rolls-Royce triggers £250bn nuclear race – huge boost for economy if UK consortium gets go-ahead to build fleet of mini reactor plants”. The report says: “A consortium of British businesses led by manufacturing giant Rolls-Royce has submitted proposals to Ministers to accelerate the building of a new fleet of mini nuclear reactors in the North of England. The plans, circulated in Whitehall ‘in the last few weeks’, could see construction of high-tech factories to build the small reactors begin by next year. The consortium – which includes UK construction and engineering firms Laing O’Rourke, Atkins and BAM Nuttall – would use British intellectual property to build the reactors. It would work with partners from the US, Canada and France.” BBC News has a report which begins: “More than 10,000 homes could become ‘mini power stations’, fitted with green technology such as solar panels, heat pumps and Tesla batteries. Plans for the Swansea Bay City Region would see 3,300 new properties built and 7,000 retrofitted with equipment. The scheme, where homes generate their own energy and also send surplus to the National Grid is being piloted in Neath on a small scale. Ministers in Cardiff Bay and London will need to approve it.”
Meanwhile, in other news, the Guardian and BBC News report that more than 150 jobs at the Nant Helen opencast coalmine in south Wales are under threat after the Welsh government used new powers to force it to halt due to its “environmental and climate change impacts”. Unearthed has secured the release of previously deleted emails sent by the government’s former shale gas commissioner Natascha Engel. BusinessGreen reports on the government’s announcement that it aims to boost the UK’s nascent low-carbon aviation sector with the formation of a new “jet zero council”. And finally, the Guardian reports that “the UK government is considering steps to end its ongoing financial support for fossil fuels overseas after using £3.5bn of public funds to support polluting projects since signing the Paris climate agreement”.
Reuters says it has seen German government documents showing that it “is set to seal deals to remove two stumbling blocks to Berlin hitting its target for green energy to reach 65% of production by 2030”. It adds: “A draft of an addendum to a law on energy in buildings shows the removal of a solar capacity cap of 52 gigawatts (GW) and a general rule to build wind turbines 1,000 meters away from homes are set to be passed at a 18 June cabinet meeting.”
Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that “Norway has opened two areas for offshore wind power developments in the North Sea, including one along its maritime border with Denmark”. The newswire adds: “Western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer generates most of its electricity from hydropower and normally has a surplus, but wants to develop offshore wind to make room for more industry as well as exports.” Another Reuters story says that South Africa’s government has entered consultations with industry over “a proposed 2,500 megawatt nuclear power plant building programme”, adding: “South Africa wants to supplement its power capacity because of problems at state utility Eskom’s fleet of coal-fired power plants, some of which will be decommissioned over the next two decades.” And another Reuters story says “Australia will spend another A$1.5bn ($1.03bn) on infrastructure and fast-track approval for projects including the expansion of BHP Group’s Olympic Dam in a bid to stimulate its ailing economy”.
In France, Le Parisien reports (in French) on new polling showing widespread public support for a Covid-19 recovery package that also aims to tackle climate change. Politico says that the Covid-19 lockdowns “spell trouble” for central Europe’s coalmines. And, in the US, Bloomberg reports that “clean energy executives worry Democrats have abandoned them”, adding: “Many now quietly worry that the House Speaker – whose to-do list also includes addressing police violence and civil unrest, dealing with the public health consequences of Covid-19, and the looming election – will let this once in a lifetime opportunity to transition to a carbon neutral economy slip away.”
The FT carries this morning’s breaking news that BP has “said it will write off up to $17.5bn from the value of its assets as the UK oil major revises longer-term energy price assumptions with the expectation of a quicker shift away from fossil fuels”. It adds: “BP said coronavirus will have a lasting impact on the global economy as well as oil and gas demand and sees the pandemic only accelerating a global shift towards cleaner forms of energy. Under its new chief executive Bernard Looney, the company is undertaking an overhaul of its business as it becomes a leaner organisation that is fit for the energy transition.”
Reuters reports that Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer products company whose brands include Dove soap, Marmite and Knorr soup, has announced today that it will “invest €1bn in a fund to invest in climate change projects and reduce to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions from all its products by 2039, 11 years ahead of the Paris Agreement deadline”. The fund will invest in projects including reforestation, water preservation and carbon sequestration over the next decade, it says. Bloomberg also covers the news, saying the “new set of climate goals…make it the most ambitious of any consumer goods company tackling carbon emissions”. It adds: “Each of the company’s 70,000 products will show on their labels how much greenhouse gas was emitted in the process of manufacturing and shipping them to consumers.” The Guardian says the company “pledges to have a ‘deforestation-free’ supply chain within three years, and to harness emerging digital technologies – such as satellite monitoring and geolocation tracking – to increase traceability and transparency”.
The Guardian reports that a group of 57 UK-based charities representing 22m members has called for any government Covid-19 bailouts to be subject to strict conditions so that companies receiving state help would have to meet low-carbon targets. The charities are, say the newspaper, “urging [the prime minister] to use economic rescue packages to build low-carbon infrastructure and spur the creation of long-term green jobs”. It adds: “They also want ministers to cancel, rather than suspend, the debts of developing countries struggling with the impact of Covid-19 and the climate crisis.” BusinessGreen also covers the story, saying “the letter, organised by the Climate Coalition, joins a growing stack of missives sent to Number 10 in recent weeks that call on the government to use its forthcoming economic recovery plans to accelerate the UK’s transition towards net zero emissions and prevent the worst impacts of climate change”. It says the charities signing the letter include Greenpeace, WWF, Green Alliance, Possible and the RSBP, adding: “The government is expected to unveil its stimulus plan next month and a raft of green measures are expected to be included after both the prime minister and the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, signalled in recent weeks that they intend to step up investment in low carbon infrastructure.”
The Guardian has an “exclusive” about a new report published by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy in the US showing that the “biggest dairy companies in the world have the same combined greenhouse gas emissions as the UK, the sixth biggest economy in the world”. The newspaper adds: “The analysis shows the impact of the 13 firms on the climate crisis is growing, with an 11% increase in emissions in the two years after the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, largely due to consolidation in the sector. Scientific reports have shown that consumption of dairy, as well as meat, must be reduced significantly in rich nations to tackle the climate emergency.”
In a feature for the Daily Telegraph, economics reporter Tom Rees writes: “Chief executives, economists and politicians believe the need for huge stimulus to kick-start the economy hands officials a golden opportunity to reset and accelerate the move towards a zero-carbon Britain. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and Boris Johnson, the prime minister, have talked about ‘greening’ the recovery after pandemic. But many will fear any green tinge to the recovery will be window dressing on measures that prioritise a rapid return to growth.” He continues: “The Government’s plans for huge infrastructure spending could be given a green tinge by pumping funds into electrifying rail lines and electric buses, for example…However, the scale of the investment required to meet the net-zero 2050 target is staggering with IPPR estimating that an additional £33bn of spending every year is needed. It is understood that a coalition of environmental groups will urge the Government in the coming weeks to create a new state-backed ‘climate development bank’ to channel the funds needed.”
In a feature for the Guardian, its global environment editor Jonathan Watts says that some scientists are saying that “worst-case global heating scenarios may need to be revised upwards in light of a better understanding of the role of clouds”. Watts adds: “Recent modelling data suggests the climate is considerably more sensitive to carbon emissions than previously believed, and experts said the projections had the potential to be ‘incredibly alarming’, though they stressed further research would be needed to validate the new numbers.” The article quotes, among others, Timothy Palmer, a professor in climate physics at Oxford University and a member of the Met Office’s advisory board. “It was way outside previous estimates. People asked whether there was a bug in the code. But it boiled down to relatively small changes in the way clouds are represented in the models.“ Nasa’s Dr Gavin Schmidt has posted a response to the article on RealClimate. Carbon Brief has also published in-depth articles on this topic. For example, on the next generation of climate modelling known as ”CMIP6“, an explainer on how scientists estimate climate sensitivity, and a guest post by Prof Ellie Highwood on “why clouds hold the key to better climate models”.
The impact of climate change on tea plant production in China “increased significantly” from 1985 to 2018, a study finds. Increasing temperature was the main factor affecting the “economic output” of tea plants in spring, the authors say: “High temperatures and drought were the main factors impacting tea production in summer and autumn, and effected the economic output of spring tea in the following year.”
Releasing reflective aerosols into the stratosphere could offset the impact of climate change on rainfall in some Sahel regions of Africa but be over effective in others, a new study finds. Under severe climate change, rainfall during the West African Summer Monsoon is expected to increase by 45%, 20% and 5% compared to the present‐day climate in the northern Sahel, southern Sahel and western Africa region, respectively. In a scenario where aerosols are released (a form of solar geoengineering), rainfall is practically unchanged in the Northern Sahel region but in Southern and Western regions, rainfall is reduced by 4% and 11%, respectively. (Carbon Brief has an in-depth explainer on solar geoengineering.)
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