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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 06.09.2021
Britain’s Sharma arrives in China’s Tianjin for climate talks

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News.

Britain's Sharma arrives in China's Tianjin for climate talks
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that Alok Sharma, the UK minister who is the COP26 president-designate, “arrived in Tianjin on Sunday to meet representatives from government and business”. Sharma says he is meeting top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua to discuss “how we work together” to ensure the November summit is successful, the newswire reports. It adds that China is “coming under pressure” to announce more ambitious measures on coal production and consumption: “However, climate watchers expect it to stick to its current trajectory of allowing coal consumption to rise further until 2025 before starting to decline.” The South China Morning Post also says that China is “under pressure” to set more ambitious climate targets ahead of COP26, “but climate experts said economic pressures made it unlikely China would bring forward its [2060] carbon neutrality goal, suggesting an end to support for overseas coal power as a possible option for any new commitment before COP26”.

There are also continuing reports about the visit to China last week by John Kerry, US president Biden’s climate envoy. The South China Morning Post has a piece with the headline: “China ‘tells US envoy John Kerry it will follow its own climate road map’”. The Hong Kong-based publication says: “Beijing has rebuffed American calls to make more public pledges on climate change before a UN climate summit in November, insisting it should follow its own plan rather than bowing to US pressure, according to a person familiar with the two countries’ negotiations.” The report has been picked up by Reuters. Another Reuters article says that Chinese premier Li Keqiang has urged major powers to “show responsibility” and play a leading role in improving global environmental governance and addressing challenges such as climate change. In other related news, the Economist runs an editorial discussing why Kerry has called on China to “end support for coal projects abroad”.

Meanwhile, an article in Energy Observer, an industry magazine supervised by state-owned China Southern Power Grid Corporation, focuses on the intensifying crackdown on the country’s “dual high” projects – a set phrase referring to projects with “high” energy consumption and “high” emissions. The piece says that “dual-high” projects “are bracing for the most stringent administrative control and punitive electricity price mechanism in history” following a meeting chaired by vice-premier Han Zheng on 26 August. The article says that the clampdown came after China’s top decision-making body instructed the country to pursue its climate goals in a “coordinated and orderly manner” and “rectify campaign-style ‘carbon reduction’”. China Dialogue syndicates another report by Energy Observer, which looks at the decarbonisation efforts by the power system under China’s carbon-neutrality commitment.

Elsewhere, a report in Argus Media says that “there is little room for China’s domestic coal prices to decline sharply in the near term”. The article explains that “lower-than-usual coal inventories, increasing restocking for winter and tight safety controls will stop coal prices from falling sharply”. The outlet cites China Coal Energy, a subsidiary of China Coal, a major state-run coal producer. Reuters reports that China’s Hainan province has said that it is considering setting up an international carbon emissions trading exchange to connect China’s national trading scheme with the global market. The newswire notes that the plan is “part of moves to open up the province for economic reforms”.

Nearly one in three Americans experienced a climate disaster this summer, from Hurricane Ida to the Caldor Fire
The Washington Post Read Article

New Washington Post analysis of US federal disaster declarations reveals that “nearly one in three Americans live in a county hit by a weather disaster in the past three months”. The newspaper adds: “On top of that, 64% live in places that experienced a multiday heat wave – phenomena that are not officially deemed disasters but are considered the most dangerous form of extreme weather. The expanding reach of climate-fuelled disasters, a trend that has been increasing at least since 2018, shows the extent to which a warming planet has already transformed Americans’ lives. At least 388 people in the US have died due to hurricanes, floods, heat waves and wildfires since June, according to media reports and government records.” It continues: “Even seasoned survivors say that recent disasters are the worst they’ve ever experienced. People who never considered themselves at risk from climate change are suddenly waking up to floodwaters outside their windows and smoke in their skies, wondering if anywhere is safe. The true test of this summer’s significance will be in whether the US can meaningfully curb its planet-warming emissions – and fast. The nation’s most ambitious plan to address climate change and adapt to its impacts – Democrats’ $3.5tn budget bill – is now in jeopardy after senator Joe Manchin III [a Democrat from West Virginia] called for a ‘strategic pause’ on the legislation Thursday, citing concern over the price tag. The proposal to institute renewable energy requirements for power companies, impose import fees on polluters and provide generous support for electric vehicles cannot pass without Manchin’s vote.” The New York Times says that “after a summer of disasters, some lawmakers see a chance for climate action”. But it adds that the budget bill is facing a “perilous path”: “Republicans are uniformly opposed to it because it also includes a raft of social spending, like funds for universal child care. Some Democrats are also unhappy with the $3.5tn price tag and want to scale it back, although a few who initially balked at the cost now say they may make an exception when it comes to climate provisions.”

Meanwhile, there is continuing coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Ida. The New York Times says that President Biden will “visit hard-hit areas in New York and New Jersey, as residents call for more serious action on climate change”. It adds: “The lethal deluge from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, which killed more than 45 people in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, has amped up battles that began in 2012 with Hurricane Sandy over how to slow climate change and protect communities.” A New York Times video outlines New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s “rain-preparedness plan”. The Independent covers Biden’s visit to Louisiana to inspect the damage caused by Ida last week and says he “returned to a familiar role as comforter-in-chief”.

UK: No 10 denies COP26 plot to sideline Nicola Sturgeon
The Times Read Article

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has “criticised apparent moves to cut her out of the Glasgow COP26 conference after leaked messages emerged suggesting Downing Street is plotting to ensure the event does not become ‘an advert’ for an independence campaign”, reports the Times. The story, first reported by the Independent, which says it has seen “meeting notes and WhatsApp messages”, is the latest report suggesting that advisers at No 10 and the Cabinet Office have been seeking to sideline the first minister’s role at the UN conference. The Times also carries a quote from a UK government spokeswoman: “The prime minister has been clear that there is a role for all the first ministers from across the UK at COP26, and we are working together with the Scottish government to ensure this crucial summit is a success.”

In other UK news, the Times also reports on the latest tensions between No 10 and the Treasury over net-zero policy: “In the Treasury there is particular concern about achieving net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. Ministers and officials are said to fear that in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit the prime minister will be tempted to make a rash of expensive commitments. ‘People think the 2050 target will be met,’ a source said. ‘But Boris doesn’t want anyone to pay for it. The Treasury are fed up with the loose language around the target, there’s no real idea of how we’re going to get there. It’s empty headlines.’” The newspaper also quotes another “insider” who says that [the chancellor Rishi] Sunak had resisted pressure to make big spending commitments and that there would be little in the spending review in green subsidies beyond a boiler replacement fund…One policy being considered by the Treasury is a rise in fuel duty, possibly next year but more likely in 2023. ‘Fuel duty pays for schools, hospitals and public services,’ a source said. ‘There’s a case for raising it.’“ Meanwhile, the Observer says that ministers are “facing a fortnight of showdowns” with peers over weak post-Brexit green protections just weeks before COP26: “An alliance of crossbench and opposition peers has tabled more than 100 amendments to the environment bill in an attempt to beef up protections for nature, air quality and water standards and give the new green watchdog more powers.” And the Mail on Sunday says that “Boris Johnson will meet pension and insurance bosses in Downing Street next month to thrash out plans to channel billions of pounds of retirement funds into ‘green’ projects”.

Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that energy regulator Ofgem has “vowed” that the rollout of electric cars will push down energy prices for households across the country. Another Daily Telegraph article says that “the nuclear power industry’s hopes of being classed as ‘green’ investment in the UK have been boosted after the government said there was ‘strong evidence’ in favour of doing so”. It adds: “An independent group of experts is set to deliver initial recommendations to the government this month on the green rules – known as the ‘green taxonomy’ – helped by advice from energy experts under the energy working group.” The Sunday Times reports that “environmentalists want to stop the extraction of North Sea fossil fuels – but official data indicates that home-produced oil and gas emits less than half the greenhouse gases [during production, but not use] as the foreign imports on which the UK could be forced to rely”. Another article in the Sunday Times says that “the number of onshore wind turbines in Scotland is set to double to about 10,000 by the end of the decade as part of the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Greens”. Both the Guardian and Times cover new recommendations by the Social Market Foundation which urges ministers to push vegetarian options in the fight against climate change rather than tax meat. Finally, the Scotsman “reveals” the “shocking” carbon footprint of the COP26 venues in Glasgow.

Australia: Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers, 24-hour news channel to champion net zero emissions
The Sydney Morning Herald Read Article

The Sydney Morning Herald carries an “exclusive” on its frontpage saying that “News Corp Australia, an influential player in Australia’s decade-long climate wars, will end its long-standing editorial hostility towards carbon reduction policies and advocate for the world’s leading economies to hit net-zero emissions by 2050”. It adds: “The owner of some of the nation’s most-read newspapers, including the Herald SunDaily TelegraphAustralian and 24-hour news channel Sky News Australia will from mid-October begin a company-wide campaign promoting the benefits of a carbon-neutral economy as world leaders prepare for [COP26]. Rupert Murdoch’s global media empire has faced growing international condemnation and pressure from advertisers over its editorial stance on climate change, which has long cast doubt over the science behind global warming and has since 2007 attacked various federal government efforts to reduce emissions…From 17 October, the company will run a two-week campaign that will advocate for a carbon net-zero target to be reached by 2050, which is expected to focus heavily on jobs in a decarbonised economy, particularly blue-collar industries such as mining, resources and agriculture…A plan has been devised to limit – but not muzzle – dissenting voices among News Corp’s stable of conservative commentators, who will be expected to reframe their political arguments.”

In other Australia news, Reuters and the Sydney Morning Herald cover the comments of Selwin Hart, a UN special adviser on climate change, who says that Australia’s government should have a “more honest and rational conversation” about urgently abandoning coal power, which he said was in the nation’s and the world’s best interests.

Resurgent coal market hits new high as Chinese, Indian economies gather steam
ABC News Read Article

ABC News in Australia reports that “soaring demand for electricity in China and India has put a rocket under the coal market with prices for the fossil fuel hitting a record high despite efforts to de-carbonise the global economy”. The article quotes Viktor Tanevski, the principle coal research analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, saying that India is “on track to take up to 20m tonnes of Australian coal in 2021”. Reuters reports India’s power minister RK Singh saying: “India’s electricity demand is likely to continue increasing”. He has “​​asked officials to “streamline the stock and supply of coal”, it adds, and to “allow coal to be moved to areas of greatest shortage as energy demand rises”. He has also asked utilities to “import coal” and “consider blending imported coal with local fuel to address shortages”, the newswire reports.

Meanwhile, the Press Trust of India reports that “Coal India’s 39 coal mining projects are running behind schedule on account of delays in getting green clearances and issues related to rehabilitation and resettlement” and that “this assumes significance in the wake of the country’s power plants grappling with depleting stocks at their end.” The Hindustan Times reports that India’s union environment ministry has relaxed “green norms for projects connecting mines”, allowing “roads, conveyor belts, railway infrastructure etc. that connect mines to ports or other destinations can now be considered as standalone projects that can be approved by [its] regional offices”. It continues: “Transportation of coal is a contentious issue in many parts of the country where locals have opposed it due its large pollution footprint.”

In other news from India, the Hindustan Times reports that prime minister Narendra Modi is to visit the US this month on a three day trip, with climate change among the topics on his agenda. The paper says: “Modi will address the UNGA [UN General Assembly] with India a non-permanent member of the UNSC [UN Security Council] on 25 September. While he is expected to address the core issues facing the world, the speech will be forward-looking with a focus on climate change and terrorism.” Separately, Reuters reports that “hundreds of thousands of farmers gathered in India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh on Sunday, the biggest rally yet in a months-long series of demonstrations to press Narendra Modi’s government to repeal three new agricultural laws”. India’s former external affairs secretary KC Singh comments in the Free Press Journal that “while farmer concerns on the three ‘black laws’ need to be addressed, a debate on climate change and its effect on farming is called for”.

More than 200 health journals call for urgent action on climate crisis
Press Association via the Guardian Read Article

More than 200 health journals worldwide have published an editorial calling on leaders to take emergency action on climate change and to protect health, reports the Press Association. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) says it is the first time so many publications have come together to make the same statement, reflecting the severity of the situation. The editorial, which can be read in full on the BMJ website, says: “The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse. Despite the world’s necessary preoccupation with Covid-19, we cannot wait for the pandemic to pass to rapidly reduce emissions…We are united in recognising that only fundamental and equitable changes to societies will reverse our current trajectory…The greatest threat to global public health is the continued failure of world leaders to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C and to restore nature. Urgent, society-wide changes must be made and will lead to a fairer and healthier world.” DeSmog also covers the story.

Comment.

Climate change deniers are as slippery as those who justified the slave trade
Nick Cohen, The Observer Read Article

Nick Cohen, the Observer columnist, says that “global warming sceptics should be hiding in corners, but still some defend the indefensible”. He adds: “No one seems as defeated as the global warming ‘deniers’ who dominated rightwing thinking a decade ago. Like late 18th-century opponents of abolishing the slave trade, Lord Lawson and the claque of Conservative cranks who filled the comment pages of the Tory press are remembered today as dangerous fools – assuming they are remembered at all…Every argument they advanced has been disproved, as much by the experience of everyday life as science…And yet there is nervousness among the impressively large number of Conservative politicians who are serious about pushing for net-zero. They are pleading with their colleagues to understand the advantages to consumers and businesses that a determined remaking of the economy would bring…It remains an open question as to whether Boris Johnson secretly shares a denialist intent…Denialism is a shapeshifter. Its latest form may be a bombastic prime minister who promises the Earth but does next to nothing to protect it.”

In other UK comment, columnist Financial Times Henry Mance argues that Extinction Rebellion “may be annoying, but it has a vital function”. He continues: “XR’s ability to mobilise thousands of people for the cause is impressive. Most of the activists I have met are warm and informed. When I hear critics mocking XR as scruffy work-dodgers, I think: what have you achieved for the climate? When they say that XR is alarmist, I think: hasn’t climate alarmism proved a lot more accurate than climate scepticism? Yes, a few XR activists do silly dancing, but overall XR aren’t the idiots here…XR will always be annoying. So is the repeated beeping of my smoke alarm when its battery is flat. That’s the point.” The Independent‘s Harry Cockburn interviews “former XR strategist” Rupert Read who says that “XR has opened this huge space, but it may now be for others who don’t seem so polarising to the average person to enter this huge space and really use it”. The Sunday Telegraph commissions a history writer called Dan Jones to argue that “in its lunatic saviour fantasies and doom-laden hokum, Extinction Rebellion is positively medieval”.

Elsewhere, an editorial in the Guardian argues that “plantations are no replacement for biodiverse forests that have evolved over thousands of years”. It adds: “The chief culprit for tree loss is the destruction of habitat by farming, grazing and logging. Global heating and its consequences, from extreme weather to rising sea levels, are increasingly taking their toll…Protecting such habitats must be the priority.” An editorial in the Times warns that “soaring global demand for gas is fuelling sharply rising costs for consumers”. It continues: “Rising bills are a forewarning of a problem that is likely to intensify as the world grapples with the transition to cleaner energy and higher carbon prices…the era of higher energy prices looks here to stay.” In the Financial Times, Lindsay Cook says that “after scrapping the troubled 2020 [green homes] scheme, the government must get things right with its new fund, next year”. Magnus Linklater in the Times argues that “the government must be straight about the difficult choices ahead as we switch from fossil fuels to a carbon-free future”. He says: “It is idle to pretend that jobs lost in the North Sea oil and gas industry will soon be made up by employment in renewables. Sooner or later Nicola Sturgeon will have to come clean over the Cambo oilfield off Shetland, which waits for drilling approval from the UK government…There is a perfectly respectable argument to be made for these new North Sea oilfields. For all our success in renewables we still need fossil fuels to fill the gap – and will do for some years to come.” A comment piece in the Sunday Times by Michael Glackin similarly argues that “drilling for oil is key to Scotland’s future prosperity”. Finally, in the Independent, Mary Creagh, a former Labour chair of the environmental audit committee who now works for lobbyists Lexington, argues that “the food we eat is set to become the latest front in the culture wars”.

Drowning our future in the past
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times Read Article

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says that everywhere she looks, old debates – foreign wars, women’s rights, climate change – are being relitigated: “We’re choking on enlightened climate proposals but the disparity between the disasters we see, and what’s being done in Washington, makes it feel as though nothing is happening except climate change. We’re so far from getting a handle on the problem, the discussions around it seem almost theoretical. Joe Manchin, tied to the energy industry, balks at climate change provisions in the reconciliation bill. He should be looking for ways to get West Virginia in touch with reality rather than living in the past…With a memory like a goldfish, America circles its bowl, returning to where we have been, unable to move forward, condemned to repeat a past we should escape.”

Meanwhile, almost as if to reinforce Dowd’s point, the Wall Street Journal continues to publish pieces attacking climate science. First, it publishes climate sceptic columnist Holman W Jenkins Jr railing at the media’s coverage of the latest IPCC report. And it returns once again to the climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg best known for his highly selective “cherry-picking” of climate data to try and sure up his political arguments. Interestingly, the WSJ adds an “editor’s note” to his column: “As November’s global climate conference in Glasgow draws near, important facts about climate change don’t always make it into the dominant media coverage. We’re here to help. Each week contributor Bjorn Lomborg will provide some important background so readers can have a better understanding of the true effects of climate change and the real costs of climate policy.”

In other comment, John Dizard in the Financial Times says that “Europe’s power companies still rely on coal despite green plans”. And in the Guardian, Natasha Abhayawickrama, a 17-year-old Australian climate activist, writes: “My anxiety about climate change has not depleted me of hope. I know that Australia is in an incredible position to move towards renewable energy and fast-track climate solutions, but it takes real leadership to do this. It takes a rejection of the money and greed that clouds the interests of the government. It requires the prioritisation of people over profit, and of long-term thinking over short-term gains.”

Science.

Future climate change significantly alters interannual wheat yield variability over half of harvested areas
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

More than 60% of harvested areas for wheat “could experience significant changes in interannual yield variability” under a high emission scenario by 2066–2095, according to a new study. The authors use a “multi-model ensemble of crop model emulators” to determine changes in temperature, precipitation and CO2. They project wheat yield will become more unstable across 23% and 18% of global harvested areas under the mid warming RCP4.5 and high warming RCP8.5 scenarios, respectively. Changes in temperature will generally have a greater impact on global wheat yield variability than changes in precipitation, the authors add.

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