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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 24.08.2020
California wildfires: Trump declares major disaster

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News.

California wildfires: Trump declares major disaster
BBC News Read Article

There is extensive continuing coverage – and commentary – of California’s latest wildfires. BBC News reports that Donald Trump has “declared that wildfires burning through homes and devastating precious forestry in parts of California are a major disaster and has released federal aid”. It adds: “On Saturday, California governor Gavin Newsom said the SCU Lightning Complex fire south and east of San Francisco was the third-largest in the state’s history…An evacuation order on Saturday extended to thousands of people in the Bay area near San Jose and warned others to be prepared to abandon their homes at short notice…In California’s oldest state park, flames scorched redwood trees that began their lives more than 2,000 years ago…The state faces a more acute shortage of personnel than usual – the coronavirus pandemic has depleted a fire-fighting corps made up of prisoners, which has helped the state battle blazes since World War Two, due to early releases from jail.” Reuters says that “nearly two dozen massive wildfires continued to ravage parts of California on Saturday, fuelled by high temperatures and ongoing lightning strikes, including 100 that hit on Friday…The fires have killed six people and incinerated nearly 700 buildings since beginning after an earlier lightning storm last week. Together, the blazes have burned nearly a million acres.” The Financial Times notes: “Coming even before the official start of the wildfire season, when strong autumn winds fan flames at the end of a long dry season, the unusual August outbreak has been the latest incident to expose what state leaders have blamed on the worsening ravages of climate change.”

The New York Times asks: “Why does California have so many wildfires?” Answering its own question, it says: “There are four key ingredients to the disastrous wildfire seasons in the West and climate change figures prominently…While California’s climate has always been fire prone, the link between climate change and bigger fires is inextricable. ‘Behind the scenes of all of this, you’ve got temperatures that are about 2-3F warmer now than they would’ve been without global warming,’ Dr Park Williams, a bioclimatologist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said. That dries out vegetation even more, making it more likely to burn.” Axios also notes that “heat is fuelling this summer’s extreme weather”. InsideClimate News says: “The wildfires that exploded over the past few days in California and Colorado show clear influences of global warming, climate scientists say, and evidence of how a warming and drying climate is increasing the size and severity of fires from the California coast to the high Rocky Mountains. They may also be the latest examples of climate-driven wildfires around the world burning not only much bigger, hotter and faster, but exploding into landscapes and seasons in which they were previously rare.”

Reacting to the fires, Leah C Stokes, an assistant professor of political science at UC Santa Barbara, writes in the Atlantic that California’s “heatwaves, blackouts, and fires – amid a pandemic – offer a warning of our fossil-fuel future”. She continues: “We have seen what using fossil fuels has done to California. They have poisoned communities. Dirtied our air. And led to record fires, heatwaves, and drought. We are not going back. I still believe we can tackle the climate crisis. I’m still planting fruit trees in my backyard. At last count, I have 34 – one for each year I’ve circled the sun. I don’t know how long they will stand, but I will keep doing everything I can to ensure their future. What’s happening in California has a name: climate change. It doesn’t have to be this way. A better world is possible.” In New York magazine, David Wallace-Wells writes that “California is Australia now”, adding: “Fires are among the best and more horrifying propagandists for climate change – terrifying and immediate, no matter how far from a fire zone you live. They offer up vivid, scarring images it can be impossible not to read as portents of future nightmares even as they document present tragedies and horrors.” Amy Harder in Axios says that “California’s crises show [the] politicisation of climate change and energy”. She continues: “Politicians are trying to extract simple political wins from the complex problems – electricity outages and extreme weather – that millions of Californians are facing (to say nothing of the ongoing pandemic crisis).” An editorial in the Washington Post takes aim at Trump’s reaction to the fires: “No matter what else factors into them, Mr Trump’s weird outbursts about forest cleaning are clearly attempts to deny the obvious: This is what a warming world looks like.” And there is continuing debate about whether to blame the rolling blackouts on California’s renewable energy policies. Don Morain in the Washington Post responds: “It is true that California relies on renewable sources, primarily solar and wind, for a third of its electricity. And former governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation requiring California to get 100% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2045. This makes green energy, more frequently championed by Democrats, an easy target. But California’s transition from fossil fuels has been bipartisan. Former Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called for 1m solar rooftop arrays, a goal California reached last year.” Jonathan Ford in the Financial Times tries to attack the state’s energy policies and argues: “We need a balanced system that is both cost-effective and delivers power reliably. Otherwise the consumer may come to equate energy transition with the misery of rising prices and power cuts.” Robert Reich, the former US secretary of state for labour, says in the Guardian: “If [Trump] mentions the pandemic at all during the Republican convention, he’ll probably blame China and claim the official numbers are exaggerated. Many of his followers will believe him. But just as with the floods and windstorms and fires, an increasing number who have experienced Covid-19 personally have become hardened against his lies.”

Meanwhile, several outlets focus on another extreme weather event facing the US with two hurricanes forming in the Caribbean at the same time. Reuters reports that “thousands evacuate as duelling storms take aim at US Gulf Coast”. It adds: “Hurricane Marco and Tropical Storm Laura tore through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, forcing thousands of coastal residents in Louisiana and Cuba to flee, and flooding roads in Haiti’s capital, with damage across the region expected to worsen this week.” The Guardian asks: “Could the US and Caribbean be heading for their worst hurricane season?”

Earth has lost 28tn tonnes of ice in less than 30 years
The Observer Read Article

The Observer covers a new review paper published in the journal The Cryosphere, which concludes that “a total of 28tn tonnes of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994”. (The paper is a preprint and so is still undergoing peer-review.) The Sunday newspaper adds: “That is stunning conclusion of UK scientists who have analysed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains and glaciers to measure how much ice coverage lost because of global heating triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions. The scientists – based at Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London – describe the level of ice loss as “staggering” and warn that their analysis indicates that sea level rises, triggered by melting glaciers and ice sheets, could reach a metre by the end of the century…The scientists also warn that the melting of ice in these quantities is now seriously reducing the planet’s ability to reflect solar radiation back into space. White ice is disappearing and the dark sea or soil exposed beneath it is absorbing more and more heat, further increasing the warming of the planet.” The newspaper quotes Prof Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling: “In the past researchers have studied individual areas – such as the Antarctic or Greenland – where ice is melting. But this is the first time anyone has looked at all the ice that is disappearing from the entire planet. What we have found has stunned us.”

Tougher EU climate target technically, economically feasible, researchers say
Reuters Read Article

A European Union plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions to 55% below 1990 levels by 2030 is technically and economically possible, according to new findings published jointly by Agora Energiewende and the Oeko Institut in Germany, and reported by Reuters. The newswire adds: “The European Commission will next month propose a tougher EU climate goal for 2030, to steer the bloc towards its flagship target of net-zero emissions by 2050, down from the nearly 4bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent it currently emits annually. The Commission will propose a 50% or a 55% emissions reduction for 2030 – up from an existing 40% goal. It would set the stage for planned EU reforms on tax, energy policy and the carbon market next year…To deliver the 55% target, the researchers said emissions covered by the Emissions Trading System (ETS) should fall to 61% below 2005 levels, a much deeper cut than the 43% reduction the carbon market is designed to deliver by 2030. That would require reforms to the carbon market, including reducing its cap on emissions by up to 5.4% annually from 2025, compared with the 2.2% reduction rate currently planned.” However, Reuters says that EU countries, which must approve the new climate target, “are divided”.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the UN’s climate change secretariat has warned of “inaction over climate change and a widening gulf between climate negotiations and societal demands”. In the latest UN annual report, secretary-general António Guterres said that “never has the gap between climate reality and action been wider. And never has the divide between the global negotiations and the demands of society been deeper…The postponement of COP26 must not mean the postponement of climate action. Countries must still, as a matter of urgency, raise ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance.”

Separately, Reuters covers the outcomes of the Green Climate Fund’s latest board meeting: “The [GCF] has promised developing nations it will ramp up efforts to help them tackle climate challenges as they strive to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, approving $879m in backing for 15 new projects around the world. At a four-day virtual board meeting ending late Friday, the fund added Afghanistan and Sudan to a list of more than 100 countries receiving a total of $6.2bn to reduce planet-heating emissions and enhance climate resilience. The GCF was set up under UN climate talks in 2010 to help developing nations tackle global warming and started allocating money in 2015.”

Brits warned to prepare for 'extreme weather swings' of heatwaves and storms
The Daily Mirror Read Article

The Daily Mirror reports that Met Office forecasters have warned that “dramatic swings between extreme weather events are set to become commonplace [in the UK] as a result of climate change”. The warnings comes after the UK was hit by Storm Ellen’s 70mph winds over recent days, which means, the paper says, that the UK’s weather has “lurched from a heatwave to flooding and then strong winds in the last two weeks”. The Met Office forecaster Luke Miall tells the paper: “We’ve gone from one extreme to the other. The first thing that springs to mind is climate change. We are likely to see these swings more frequently. I couldn’t necessarily say these two events were directly caused by climate change, [but] it’s likely that these sorts of swings will become more frequent.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the “worst wheat harvest in four decades could cause the price of flour and bread to rise, [UK] farmers have warned”. It adds: “Heavy rain and flooding meant only 40% of wheat was planted last year compared to normal, while this year droughts followed by rain in the summer have meant the crop has been of a poor quality. The harvest crisis, along with the risk that the UK’s farming sector could be hit with tariffs if Brexit talks fail, could push up the price of flour and bread.” (The National Farmers’ Union issued a similar warning last week.)

In other UK news, BBC News says that “road planners in England have been accused of rigging accounting rules to disguise the climate impact of new roads”. It adds: “Environmentalists say the Department for Transport has under-counted CO2 from its road improvement programme. That’s because the DfT measures emissions against national CO2 targets, whilst measuring benefits of a new road against the local economy. A Treasury spokesperson said this was a reasonable approach. But critics say the resulting calculation exaggerates the benefits of new roads, whilst downgrading the negatives in terms of carbon emissions.”

Separately, the Times reports that a “Conservative MP who had received £10,000 from the former boss of a Russian arms company lobbied the EU in support of an energy project co-run by the donor”.

Comment.

Melting ice is a reminder of the climate emergency
Editorial, Financial Times Read Article

An editorial in the Financial Times looks at the “worrying new normal of sustained [ice] loss” alongside the prospects of a Joe Biden victory in November’s US election: “Investors are already betting that Donald Trump will lose the November US presidential election to his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, who has a $2tn green energy plan that he made a centrepiece of his address to the Democratic party convention this week. Shares in clean power companies have soared as Mr Biden’s polling figures have climbed. A Biden victory could mean much more than a reversal of Mr Trump’s ill-advised decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord. Global trade could be shaken too. Mr Biden has vowed to impose carbon border taxes on imports from climate laggards, a measure the EU also backs. A US-EU carbon club would in theory pose a formidable threat.”

An editorial in the Observer also focuses on the planet’s melting ice, using its news story (above) about the Earth losing 28tn tonnes of ice over the past 30 years to say: “Thanks to the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], we are at least aware of the problem that now faces our world. We know exactly how much fossil fuel we have left to burn if we want to limit global temperature rises to a relatively safe rise of 1.5C. Individual nations have until next year – at the United Nations climate change conference in November – to announce how they will achieve those reductions in oil, gas and coal burning in order to make that target possible and to halt global heating. It is an achievable aspiration even at this late date. We still have hope, in other words.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the New York Times looks at “how to reverse course on Trump’s environmental damage”. It says: “As president, Mr Biden would have several weapons at his disposal. He could use the complex Congressional Review Act to overturn initiatives that Mr Trump was unable to complete in time, possibly including the recent weakening of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act’s regulations. And he would almost certainly seek to replace Mr Trump’s executive orders and rules with his own, a laborious though necessary process. And he can move forward with his own agenda. The centrepiece, as of now, would be his sprawling $2tn plan to tackle climate change with ambitious deadlines, a more measured approach to drilling on public lands (he’d leave the Arctic alone) and big investments in energy efficient buildings, clean fuels and clean cars. Look closely, and there’s something else important in that massive document and in Mr Biden’s speeches: evidence of a wholly different mind-set toward the relationship between humans and the natural world.”

Carbon trading: the ‘one-way’ bet for hedge funds
David Sheppard, Financial Times Read Article

In the FT’s latest “big read”, energy editor David Sheppard looks at how “the EU’s ‘green’ recovery plan has driven up the price of carbon credits amid warnings that speculators stand to gain”. He continues: “To veterans of the niche carbon trading industry, which was established 15 years ago, the price rise [of European carbon allowances has] made little sense. Coronavirus lockdowns and the resulting deep global recession have cut emissions across Europe as factories have slowed and power demand has fallen. Prices should, they argue, be going down not up. But the market is evolving, attracting a new breed of trader who cares less for short-term factors such as whether the market is oversupplied this year. Instead, they see an opportunity to cash in on a market whose direction will ultimately be dictated by politics and support for a ‘green recovery’ after the pandemic.” Sheppard adds: “Renewed interest in the EU carbon market could have significant ramifications for European industry. At about €25 a tonne, the carbon price is already high enough to have started to push coal off the electricity grid, with utilities switching to less-polluting natural gas or carbon-free renewables. The next stage, traders suspect, is for the carbon price to rise high enough – between €40 and €50 a tonne – to start forcing other sectors to invest in cleaner technology and fuels – good for the environment, but a seismic change for industry, the impact of which is not yet fully understood.”

Science.

Projected changes in hot, dry and wet extreme events' clusters in CMIP6 multi-model ensemble
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

Climate change is likely to cause more hot-dry and hot-wet extreme weather events across the world in the coming decades, a study says. “Extreme” events are those that are in the top 1% expected in a world without climate change, the research says. The authors add: “Hotspot regions for hot and dry clusters are mainly found in Brazil, i.e. in the Northeast and the Amazon rain forest, the Mediterranean region, and Southern Africa. Hotspot regions for wet and hot clusters are found in tropical Africa but also in the Sahel region, Indonesia, and in mountainous regions such as the Andes and the Himalaya.”

Adapting cultural heritage to climate change impacts in the Netherlands: barriers, interdependencies, and strategies for overcoming them
Climatic Change Read Article

There is a lack of policy aimed at protecting cultural heritage from climate change in the Netherlands, a new survey finds. Using a web-based questionnaire with 57 experts, the authors find that the most frequently reported barriers to protecting cultural heritage in the Netherlands are a lack of climate change adaptation policy for cultural heritage and a lack of climate vulnerability and risk assessments for diverse cultural heritage types. The authors say: “Climate change is currently impacting cultural heritage globally. Despite advances in the understanding of the relationship between climate change impacts and cultural heritage, there are significant barriers that hamper adaptation of cultural heritage to current and projected climate risks.”

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