Today's climate and energy headlines:
- California wildfires: Trump blames forest management during tour of devastation and says ‘I want great climate’
- Dozens arrested after climate protest blocks five London bridges
- France’s climate change commitments trigger rising diesel prices and street protests
- UK government spending foreign aid money to promote fracking in China
- Private investors to spark UK’s first subsidy-free solar boom
- Trump Says He’ll Nominate Andrew Wheeler to Head the EPA
- Veteran Democrats wary of climate push by Ocasio-Cortez and her allies
- Green energy subsidies fuel rise of Northern Ireland mega-farms
- Policies of China, Russia and Canada threaten 5C climate change, study finds
- National Trust has £30m fossil fuel fund
- The stark message from California’s raging fires
- How extreme weather Is shrinking the planet
- Business interview: Drax chief Will Gardiner on seeking a clean successor to Old King Coal
- The UK shale revolution that never was
- Dryland changes under different levels of global warming
- Contributions of climate change, CO2, land-use change and human activities to changes in river flow across ten Chinese basins
US president Donald Trump has “insisted that he had not changed his mind on climate change” after witnessing the aftermath of the California wildfires, the Independent reports. “I have a strong opinion”, the US president told reporters during a visit to meet with firefighters and first responders and assess the damage from the fire. “I want great climate, we are going to have that and we are going to have forests that are very safe”, Trump said. During an interview on Friday, Trump said that climate change “maybe contributes a little bit” to the California fires, the Hill reports, but maintained that: “the big problem we have is management” – appearing to double down on his argument that mismanagement of California’s forests was the main contributing factor to the speed and ferocity of the fires. Trump’s remarks that the US should learn from Finland which “rakes” its forest has been widely mocked as being inaccurate, reports BBC News. Reuters describes the wildfire as California’s “deadliest ever”, with 993 people still listed as missing. The remains of 77 people have been recovered, officials said yesterday. A feature in National Geographicexplains “how a warmer world primed California for large fires”.
There is widespread media coverage of the “Extinction Rebellion” protests in London on Saturday. The Guardian reports that 85 people were attested after thousands of protestors peacefully occupied five bridges in central London for several hours: “The move is part of a campaign of mass civil disobedience organised by a new group, Extinction Rebellion, which wants to force governments to treat the threats of climate breakdown and extinction as a crisis.” The Sunday Times says protesters “blocked traffic in surrounding roads and dug holes to plant trees as ‘a symbol of life'”. The Sun says: “Questions will be raised over The Met’s [Metropolitan Police] handling of the demonstrations, which were widely advertised on social media.” The Guardian has posted videos of the protests and, separately, reports that the artist Gavin Turk was among those arrested. BBC News, which has been criticised by the protesters for not prominently covering the protests on its news bulletins, carries the views of Roger Harrabin, its environment analyst: “We haven’t seen a British green group quite like this before. It thinks marching with placards has failed, so it’s aiming to make mayhem instead. But have the protestors picked the right target? The UK is in the leading pack of nations in cutting the CO2 emissions that are over-heating the planet.” Reuters, Sky News and CNN are among the many other outlets covering the news.
Most leading news outlets around the world cover the protests in France where hundreds of thousands of people, many wearing yellow jackets, took to the streets and blocked roads to demonstrate against rising fuel costs. One protest was killed in the eastern Savoie region when a driver panicked by demonstrators accidentally accelerated a vehicle into the crowd. “The protesters’ chief complaint: the rising cost of diesel fuel,” says the Washington Post. “The recent price hike is a direct result of President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to curbing climate change, which included higher carbon taxes for 2018, the first full year of his term. But beyond the diesel issue, many turned out Saturday to voice any number of other frustrations with the ‘president for the rich’, who is seen as increasingly removed from ordinary people’s concerns.” BBC News says the protests have left more than 400 people injured. It adds: “The government has announced a number of measures to help poorer families pay their energy and transport bills. But support for the protests appears broad. Nearly three-quarters of respondents to a poll by the Elabe institute backed the Yellow Vests and 70% wanted the government to reverse the fuel tax hikes.” The Times says the protesters have promised to continue the disruption over the coming days and weeks. It adds further context: “Many of the protesters were pensioners, whose taxes have increased as Mr Macron tries to shift the fiscal burden from those who work to those who do not. With them were drivers objecting to a 21 cents per litre rise in diesel fuel tax over the past eight years, and who face another 6.5 cents rise in January. Mr Macron argues that the increases will dissuade drivers from using diesel engines, helping to save some of the 48,000 people who die as a result of air pollution in France every year. Last week Mr Macron announced a €500m package to offset the rising cost of petrol but ministers insist that the green taxes will not be stopped.” The Daily Telegraph, Reuters and Bloomberg are among the many other publications carrying the news.
The Independent reveals that it has seen documents which show that “taxpayers’ money earmarked to support overseas development has been spent on supporting China’s fracking industry”. It adds: “Even with climate change threatening the developing world with droughts, flooding and heatwaves, millions have been spent on fossil fuel investment abroad over the past two years. This includes two schemes aiming to ‘export the UK’s expertise in shale gas regulation’ to China…In a report seen by the Independent, energy watchdog Platform revealed £2m from the government’s Prosperity Fund for overseas economic development has been used to expand the oil and gas sectors in nations including Brazil, Mexico and India. This cross-departmental fund was set up to ‘remove barriers to economic growth in order to reduce poverty…and [support] the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals’.” Campaigners have criticised the funding, says the paper. Tom Viita from Christian Aid tells the paper: “It is a flagrant misuse of the UK’s aid budget to fund the fossil fuel industry overseas when the priority must be shifting to low carbon energy and boosting climate resilience.”
Construction will begin next month on three subsidy-free solar farms, “marking the first fresh private investments in renewable energy without government handouts”, the Daily Telegraph reports. The three new farms will total 45MW. Rodolfo Bigolin, a partner at Horus Capital – the private equity fund that is developing the solar farms – told the paper that the farms will pave the way for further UK projects totalling 250MW by 2020. Elsewhere in the paper, energy editor Jillian Ambrose argues that: “winter has come early for the government’s energy policy”. “Major policies affecting Britain’s gas and electricity supplies have been thrown into doubt”, Ambrose writes, as a European court ruling brought “a cornerstone scheme designed to keep the lights on to an immediate standstill”, while “Brexit fears have reignited concerns over Britain’s decision to forego investment in gas storage facilities”.
Trump has indicated that said he intends to nominate Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to be the permanent administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the New York Times reports. The paper says that Wheeler has been “instrumental in seeing through rollbacks of major environmental policies”. Axios and the Washington Post also cover the news.
Long-serving Democratic lawmakers are “closing ranks against new members pushing the party to the left on climate change”, according to Politico. The sites reports that “they want to address climate change”, but that they are “bristling at the tactics” of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others who say the party needs to come up with a “Green New Deal” to decarbonise the economy within a decade. Representative Peter DeFazio told Politico: “The idea that in five years or 10 years we’re not going to consume any more fossil fuels is technologically impossible…We can have grand goals but let’s be realistic about how we get there.” Meanwhile, a feature in the Atlantic – examining the “new politics” of climate change in the US – argues that “climate change needs more than day-to-day partisan advocacy”. Staff writer Robinson Meyer says that the “Democrats lack a climate strategy: While the party’s leaders preach about the problem’s urgency, it’s unclear what they actually want to do next time they control Congress and the White House”. The Hill also covers Ocasio-Cortez’s climate change push.
The Guardian reports on an investigation by the not-for-profit journalism group SourceMaterial which has found that “green energy subsidies are fuelling the rise of poultry mega-farms across Northern Ireland”. The Guardian says that “an alliance of agri-food companies enlisted the support of Northern Ireland politicians to unlock an estimated £800m in subsidies for contractors…The [chicken farming] industry experienced huge growth after overcoming the problem of how to dispose of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chicken litter, which was subject to environmental controls. To solve the issue, industry officials obtained subsidies for biogas generators that turn animal waste into renewable energy. As a green energy, biogas lets the industry skirt limits on harmful emissions and dispose of the ammonia-laden manure. It was energy contractors…who pocketed the subsidies.” BBC News also covers the story, saying that Northern Ireland’s top auditor has now called for an independent investigation into the allegations.
The current climate policies of Russia, Canada and China would push the world above a “catastrophic” 5C of warming by the end of the century, according to new research, the Guardian reports. The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, ranks the climate goals of different countries. The US and Australia are close behind with their goals driving global temperature rise over 4C above pre-industrial levels. “Even the EU, which is usually seen as a climate leader, is on course to more than double the 1.5C that scientists say is a moderately safe level of heating”, the Guardian writes. Under the 2015 Paris agreement, countries committed to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C-2C.
The National Trust has more than £30m of investments in oil, gas and mining firms, reports the Guardian, despite the charity “pledging to cut down its own use of fossil fuels and warning about the impact of climate change”. The Guardian’s investigation – which features on the paper’s frontpage – found that these investments were held indirectly via a portfolio fund. The trust has vowed to generate 50% of its energy across its estates from renewable sources by 2020.
“The signs are that the breathtaking scale and spread of the so-called Camp Fire is a harbinger of worse to come”, argues an editorial in the Financial Times. The paper says that “the most urgent step is to acknowledge the growing impact of global warming”. It describes Donald Trump as being “doubly mistaken” in blaming California’s latest fires on poor forest management. “Forests have little to do with it; nor does failure to clear undergrowth. The chief culprits are California’s recurring droughts and average temperature rises”, the paper notes. It continues: “there is no scientific dispute that global warming is behind the growing intensity of such disasters, even if it is hard to pinpoint the precise amount.” The editorial concludes by highlighting the need for adaptation: “The world must assume the future will be at least as severe as the recent past. That means removing people from harm’s way.”
The New Yorker has a new feature by veteran environmental writer and campaigner Bill McKibben about how “we are on a path to self-destruction, and yet there is nothing inevitable about our fate”. He looks back over the past 30 years since he wrote his first environmental essay for the magazine in 1988: “I was frightened by my reporting, but, at the time, it seemed likely that we’d try as a society to prevent the worst from happening. In 1988, George H. W. Bush, running for President, promised that he would fight ‘the greenhouse effect with the White House effect’. He did not, nor did his successors, nor did their peers in seats of power around the world, and so in the intervening decades what was a theoretical threat has become a fierce daily reality. As this essay goes to press, California is ablaze…In the face of our environmental deterioration, it’s now reasonable to ask whether the human game has begun to falter—perhaps even to play itself out.”
A feature in the Evening Standard examines how a company “notorious among environmentalists for being one of the bigger polluters in the country”, is “working hard to shift its status”, interviewing the company’s chief executive Will Gardiner. Drax plans to change at least one of its remaining coal units into gas, and switch off coal by 2023, the interview says. But environmentalists “remain suspicious of switching to gas, which they say will still spew carbon into the atmosphere”, the Evening Standard says, and “they are also far from happy about biomass”. It concludes that: “handling those voices will be the toughest test yet of Gardiner’s political skills”.
“If I were a shareholder in Cuadrilla or any of the other companies hoping to drill in areas believed to hold shale gas…I would be starting to think the game was not worth the candle”, writes Nick Butler, in his column for the Financial Times. But his reason for scepticism “is not environmental but economic”. “Since 2013, gas prices have fallen sharply”, he explains, continuing: “looking ahead, the position of gas in the energy mix remains threatened by increasing supplies of low-cost renewables”. Butler concludes: “in Lancashire, viability against currently available imported gas prices is at best uncertain and, realistically, highly unlikely”.
Limiting global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels rather than 4C could prevent up to 1.9 billion additional people living in drylands, a new study suggests. The research estimates global expansion of drylands under three specific levels of warming – 1.5C, 2C and 4C. At the high-end of warming, the findings show an overall 7% increase in drylands by 2100, which could see an increase of 5.2 billion people living in areas of high aridity.
Human-caused climate change is responsible for around 90% of the observed flow changes in China’s major rivers in recent decades, a new study says. Using a high resolution land surface model, researchers assessed the influence of climate change, rising atmospheric CO2 and land-use change on natural river flows for ten Chinese basins between 1979 and 2015. Climate change – especially increasing precipitation – was responsible for more than 90% of the changes, the researchers say, while “the direct effect of rising CO2 concentration and land-use change contributes at most 6.3%”.
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