Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Budget is vital test of UK government's green credential
- Fossil fuel emissions in danger of surpassing pre-Covid levels
- Case for Cumbrian mine undermined by doubt over UK market for coking coal
- China’s carbon neutral goal: online trading of emission allowances to start by June in road to 2060 targets
- Volvo Cars bets on electric vehicles
- A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved
- Passionate young voices demand to be heard on climate crisis
- Burning embers: Synthesis of the health risks of climate change
- A mechanism for regional variations in snowpack melt under rising temperature
- Extreme rainfall in New Zealand and its association with atmospheric rivers
The Guardian reports that the UK budget – due to be revealed by chancellor Rishi Sunak tomorrow – is the last formal budget to be released before the COP26 talks later this year and will be “a vital test of Boris Johnson’s green credentials”. According to the Times, the budget is likely to include £27m to create an “energy transition zone” in Aberdeen, £5m for an “underwater technology centre” in Scotland and £2m to a North Sea transition deal “to help oil and gas companies move towards a more environmentally friendly future”. The Press Association, via the Belfast Telegraph, and the Scotsman note that that, overall, a £57m investment in jobs and green energy is expected to be allocated to Scotland in the budget. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that, according to a new report commissioned by Friends of the Earth, 250,000 green apprenticeships could be created using around £10.6bn of government money. The outlet notes that, according to the report, around 50,000 young people between 16 and 24 are out of work, and the number could double when the furlough scheme is withdrawn. BusinessGreen notes that the report identifies London, West Midlands and Greater Manchester as the most notable regions for training, with a potential for 44,200, 19,400, and 14,000 new green apprenticeships each. It adds that the training could be delivered “at a network of national and regional ‘Centres of Excellence for Zero Carbon Skills’ at further education colleges”. The Sun notes that, according to Friends of the Earth, “the chancellor could tackle both climate change and soaring youth unemployment in one ‘double whammy’” with this plan, and urges Sunak to include this in tomorrows budget. The Daily Express also covers this report.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Sun claims “victory” for its “legendary Keep It Down campaign”, as it reports that fuel duty will be frozen in the new budget for the tenth year running. The Sun also covers it via a news story. A commentary by Tim Lord of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (and, until recently, a government advisor) also notes that there will be no increase in fuel duty – in line with the freeze seen in the past decade. Lord points out that fuel duty raises around £30bn in revenue per year, adding that if it had continued to rise as planned since 2010, emissions would now be 5% lower, and revenues £10bn higher. DeSmog also comments on the increase in road transport emissions, citing analysis from Carbon Brief. In other news, the Sun reports that MPs produce 4,000 tonnes of carbon every year by eating meat and 2,000 by heating their homes, noting that campaigners have “urged politicians to go veggie and save the planet”. Meanwhile, in an interview with the Sun, Boris Johnson announces there will be “no additional taxes on meat or carbon”. Politico also reports on this interview.
In other news, the Financial Times reports that “experts are warning that decarbonising the electricity grid was, in many ways, the easy part of the journey to net zero”. For example, it notes that, according to the Committee on Climate Change, annual spending on greening by the private sector will peak at £50bn by 2030 – one eighth of current annual investment from the public and private sectors.
A new report by the International Energy Agency finds that emissions in December 2020 were 2% higher than those in December 2019, according to the Guardian. The paper adds that emissions began to rebound only a few months after Covid-19 “triggered the deepest slump in CO2 output since the end of the second world war”, adding that this “threatens to dash hopes that the world’s emissions might have peaked in 2019”. The report finds a strong link between countries that put in place economic stimulus packages with an environmental benefit and those that “kept a lid on the carbon emissions rebound”, the outlet notes. (See the Carbon Brief‘s green recovery tracker for more details) These countries include France, Spain, Germany and the UK. Meanwhile, it notes that China, India, the US and Brazil recorded “steep carbon rebounds” in the second half of 2020 as economies reopened. The Independent notes that India’s 2020 emissions rose above 2019 levels from September onwards, whilst China was the only country to produce more annual emissions in 2020 than 2019. (See the Carbon Brief’s new analysis for more on China’s emission rebound.) This story is also covered in Reuters and Bloomberg.
The Daily Telegraph runs an “exclusive” on the coking coal mine proposed in Cumbria, reporting that “fresh doubt” has been raised about whether the coal can be used by the UK steel industry. According to the newspaper, 13% of the coal from the proposed mine would be expected to go to British Steel and Tata Steel, but in an email to the Cumbria county council a representative at British steel reportedly said “the sulphur content of the coal is an issue for British Steel currently due to our operations and blend sulphur limit”. Although the council concluded that the sulphur content “would need to be managed”, and that it was unclear “whether this can be achieved”, the outlet notes that it went ahead to grant planning permission for the mine. According to the article, there are also doubts over the quality of the coal and whether the coal would be competitive on a global market. The Cumbria county council are reviewing the decision to give planning approval the the deep coal mine, the paper adds.
In other UK news, the Independent reports that at least 1,500 deaths due to heatwave in the UK can be attributed to climate change since the year 2000, according to a new study. BusinessGreen adds that the study also estimates that climate change caused $9bn in damages.
China is set to launch an online carbon emission trading system this quarter, according to the South China Morning post. The outlet notes that the Chinese government published rules on carbon emission trading in January, which took effect on 1 February, but that the launch was delayed due to concerns about the accuracy and transparency of emissions data. It adds that the trading system “will initially include coal- or gas-fired power plants, manufacturing facilities with ‘captive’ power plants and major refineries owned by state-controlled oil giants such as Sinopec and PetroChina”. According to the Chinese Minister of Ecology and Environment, “early implementation of the trading mechanism is desirable”, and “inauguration” of online trade “must” take place before the end of June. Meanwhile, ChinaDaily notes that National Association of Financial Market Institutional Investors issued its first batch of carbon-neutral bonds in February in a trial programme involving six companies and six commercial banks. It notes that, according to the association, the total value of the bonds is $992.3m and “the funds raised will be invested in 11 projects in the areas of wind power, hydropower, photovoltaics and green buildings”. S&P Global also covers China’s new green bonds. In other China news, the South China Morning Post reports that bitcoin mining in Inner Mongolia will be stopped before the end of April in an effort to curb emissions. The outlet notes that Bitcoin mining “requires huge amounts of computing power and uses large amounts of energy”, and that Inner Mongolia was one of only 30 areas that failed to meet its 2019 energy targets. A separate piece in the South China Morning Post reports that State Grid Corp of China – “the world’s largest utility” – published its carbon neutrality action plan yesterday, detailing its plan to “build a diversified clean energy supply system in the next five to 10 years”. The outlet notes that this is “the first state-owned enterprise to unveil its own carbon neutrality initiative”.
In other news, the South China Morning Post runs an opinion piece by Hong Kong’s former undersecretary for the environment, Christine Loh, entitled, “Why are Hong Kong’s vital low-carbon policies missing from the budget?” In the piece, Loh notes that “business leaders in Hong Kong are ready to capitalise on China’s climate and dual circulation policies”, but that “frustratingly” there is little action from the government.
The Swedish car firm Volvo has announced it is only going to sell electric cars by 2030, BBC News reports, phasing out all car models with internal combustion engines by then, including hybrids. Volvo previously announced that by 2025, half of its sales would be fully electric, with the rest being hybrids, the outlet explains, adding: “Volvo will not be investing in cars with hydrogen fuel cells, as it does not think there will be enough demand from customers. There is also a question mark over hydrogen’s availability in comparison with charging points for electric cars, a spokesman said.” Volvo – which will also shift all sales online as it cuts out dealerships in negotiating prices – is “the first major carmaker to commit to a global end to any sales featuring internal combustion engines so soon”, says the Financial Times. The Guardian reports the comments of chief technology officer Henrik Green, who says: “There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine…We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only carmaker and the transition should happen by 2030. It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.” Autocar also has the story.
In other car news, the Daily Telegraph reports that Vauxhall could receive money from a £500m state fund for electric vehicles to secure the future of its Ellesmere Port plant. The Times reports on new research that shows emissions at busy junctions could be halved if cars are turned off at traffic lights. The Times also reports on research by the consumer group Which? suggesting that plug-in hybrid cars can use four times more fuel than makers claim. In “real-word conditions”, the paper explains, “cars burnt 2.5 times more petrol or diesel than suggested in official miles per gallon (mpg) figures, rising to almost four times as much for the worst-performing vehicle.” An accompanying Times editorial says “this is not a repeat of the 2015 emissions scandal,” but that the problem “lies in the standardised laboratory tests to which the whole sector is subject”. According to the editorial, anyone wanting for a “green alternative” to fossil-fuel driven cars would “do better to switch straight to an electric car”, noting that the latest Tesla can go 300 miles on a single charge and that the cost of fully electric cars are “falling rapidly”. However, it notes that more than one third of British houses “do not have access to off-street parking or a garage” and concludes that the required rollout of new national charging infrastructure “will only happen if the government firmly plants itself in the driving seat”.
In the US, Reuters says that “to go electric, America needs more mines”, but warns that Biden administration “will be forced into hard choices that anger one constituency or another”. The newswire adds: “Two sources familiar with White House deliberations on domestic mining told Reuters that Biden plans to allow mines that produce EV metals to be developed under existing environmental standards, rather than face a tightened process that would apply to mining for other materials, such as coal.” In an editorial, the Los Angeles Times looks at the number of motor vehicles purchased last year that were electric and warns that it “paint[s] a daunting picture”. The newspaper says that political will and an increase in spending on “developing and producing clean energy sources, battery technologies and charging capabilities” are needed to expand the number of non-fossil-fuel driven vehicles on the road. However, it adds that “a significant overhaul of electric grids” and innovations to speed up battery charging are also needed, noting that this will have the largest impacts in the US – particularly in “car-heavy California”. It is “a sign of hope” that the world is moving to zero-emission vehicles, the piece continues, as some nations, cities and regional governments have pledged to end the sale of gas powered vehicles by 2040. However, it concludes that “much more needs to be done”, starting with “policies and programs for getting rid of the gas burners already on the road”.
A feature in the Guardian by environment journalist Emily Holden marks the launch of “Floodlight” – a “non-profit news organisation that partners with local journalists and the Guardian US to investigate the corporate and ideological interests holding back climate action”. In the piece, Holden writes that Texas originally had plans to “virtually eliminate gas use in new buildings by 2030 and existing ones by 2040”, but that Texas Gas Service “drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials”. According to Holden, the moves “have so far proven a success for Texas Gas”, as Texas now uses gas for 47% of its state electricity. However, she notes that Texas’ “reliance” on gas was clear during the power outages in mid-February, when many plants and natural gas pipelines failed due to the cold. According to BusinessGreen, the Texas power firm Brazos has filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the power outages. Reuters reports that the “power crisis” is worsening as Texas energy companies have skipped payments. Meanwhile, the Washington Post runs a perspective piece by columnist Robert McCartney, stating that a “Texas-scale” blackout or water crisis is “unlikely” in Washington, but not impossible. McCartney notes that the electric grid in Washington is “much more resilient than that of Texas” and has the ability to import power from neighbours if needed. However, water is a bigger problem, as Washington faces floods and “eventually” drought, he adds.
In other US comment, Rolling Stone runs an interview with US climate envoy John Kerry, written by reporter Jeff Goodell, who notes that Kerry “has been on the front lines of the war for a habitable planet since the first Earth Day in 1970” and “has been a central player in virtually every climate conference and UN climate meeting”. In the interview, Kerry says that after the four “terribly lost years” of the Trump presidency, there is both an opportunity and obligation to “make up for lost time”. He also highlights his belief that “economics are going to take this over”. Kerry acknowledges that the US is $2bn behind on its commitment to the Green Climate Fund, as promised under president Obama, and calls it “an insult to everybody in the developed world” that the full amount was never raised. However, he says that he is currently “working very hard right now on a major approach to finance”, and talking to people at the World Bank, IMF, and private sector to “accelerate the focus of investment”.
“Those who will be most affected by a warming planet – the younger generation – are not happy”, says an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald. The editorial highlights a “landmark class action” due to begin in Melbourne’s Federal Court today, in which eight Australian teenagers will challenge federal minister for the environment – Sussan Ley – to “protect young people from climate change and the future harms of coal mining.” The group want the minister to halt the expansion of the Vickery open-cut coal mine, which would increase the mines coal production by 25% and emissions by 100m tonnes of greenhouse gases over its lifetime, the piece adds. According to the editorial, this type of case “rarely appear[s] to get the backing of the judges involved” but adds that “to a degree, that is not the point.” It continues to note that, legally, Ms Ley “has the stronger case” and “it would take a brave judge to set such a precedent”. While the “passionate young Australians” – all of whom are under 18 – cannot yet vote, the editorial concludes that “ when they can, they are sure to have little time for those who have dragged their heels tackling climate change”. The Guardian reports that the group hope to establish “the federal government’s duty of care in protecting future generations from a worsening climate crisis”. It adds that if successful, “the people behind the class action believe it may set a precedent that stops the government approving new fossil fuel projects”.
In other Australia news, the Guardian reports that the summer just gone was the country’s wettest in four years and third wettest since 1900. It paper also notes the “cooling La Niña” event that was “imposed across much of the continent.
A new paper produces a first effort to develop a “burning embers” graphic – used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its assessment reports since 2001 – to summarise the health risks of climate change. The researchers use “an evidence-based approach to construct the embers based on a comprehensive global literature review”. The results suggest that “recent climate change has likely increased risks from undetectable to moderate for heat-related morbidity and mortality, ozone-related mortality, dengue, and Lyme disease”, the authors say. Climate change is also likely to be “beginning to affect the burden of West Nile fever”, the study finds, and “a detectable impact of climate change on malaria is not yet apparent but is expected to occur with additional warming”.
As the planet warms, mountain snowpack is expected to melt progressively earlier each spring, a new paper says – but this “is not uniform” for different locations. Using an “idealised physical model”, the researchers simulate the timing of snowpack melt around the world. The results suggest that “under uniform warming the timing of snowpack disappearance will change most rapidly in coastal regions, the Arctic, the western United States, Central Europe and South America, with much smaller changes in the northern interiors of North America and Eurasia”.
New research analyses whether atmospheric Rivers (ARs) – narrow and elongated regions of enhanced horizontal water vapour transport – play a significant role in heavy rainfall and flooding events in New Zealand. Using a recently developed AR identification method and daily station data, the researchers find that “at each of the eleven stations analysed, at least seven to all 10 of the Top 10 heaviest precipitation days between 1980 and 2018 were associated with AR conditions”. (Earlier this year, Carbon Brief published a guest post on the role of ARs in the UK winter floods.)