Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Canada election: Trudeau's Liberals win but lose majority
- Britain now G7's biggest net importer of CO2 emissions per capita, says ONS
- Government reveals plans for 'green number plates'
- Farming could be absorber of carbon by 2050, says report
- France may yet pursue 100% renewable power strategy: minister
- The Guardian view on Extinction Rebellion: numbers alone won’t create change
- Did Exxon deceive its investors on climate change?
- Contribution of the land sector to a 1.5C world
- Large loss of CO2 in winter observed across the northern permafrost region
- Ecological resilience of Arctic marine food webs to climate change
Outlets around the world are reporting this morning that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party has narrowly retained power in Canada in a general election where climate change was a key campaigning issue. BBC News says that “his party will claim the most seats in parliament but their second term will be much harder, relying on other parties to pass legislation”. It adds: “Monday night’s results could be good news for the country’s left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and its leader Jagmeet Singh, who could be kingmaker.” The Guardian’s live-blog carries a quote from his victory speech: “You have asked us to invest in Canadians, to reconcile with the indigenous people and make it a priority and to show even more vision and ambition where we are fighting against the biggest challenge of our times – climate change.” Reuters notes that “minority governments in Canada rarely last more than 2-½ years”. It adds: “The Greens, who have assailed Trudeau for not doing enough to combat climate change, also made gains on Monday.” See Carbon Brief’s in-depth profile of Canada for more about the nation’s climate and energy policies.
The Guardian reports that that UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has concluded that the UK has become the biggest net importer of CO2 emissions per capita in the G7 group of wealthy nations – outstripping the US and Japan – as a result of buying goods produced abroad. The newspaper adds: “The ONS warned that Britain had increased its net imports of CO2 emissions per capita from 1.7 tonnes in 1992 to 5.1 tonnes in 2007, offsetting domestic progress on shifting the UK economy away from fossil fuels. According to the ONS study, China was the biggest single source of Britain’s imported emissions, as the UK ramped up purchases of goods such as mobile phones made in the Asian country, where labour costs are lower and pollution regulations less stringent.” BusinessGreen says that “there has long been debate over how the UK’s emissions impact should be measured…[and that] critics have countered that in recent decades the UK has shifted to a more service-driven economy that, bolstered by environmental policies, has seen a relative decline in carbon-intensive domestic manufacturing and industry in the face of cheaper competition abroad”. (For more on this topic, see the guest post published by Carbon Brief earlier this year on why “the UK’s carbon footprint is at its lowest level for 20 years”.)
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that the UK government “has rejected the latest recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change to fully include international aviation and shipping emissions under the UK Climate Change Act, insisting emissions from international journeys should be dealt with under the auspices of UN agreements”.
Separately, the Financial Times reports that the “mayors of the UK’s two biggest cities have called for extra powers and funding to help tackle air pollution and address climate change”. It adds: “London’s Sadiq Khan has urged central government to devolve more responsibility for environmental issues such as improving the energy efficiency standards for more than 3m homes in London. Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, which covers the Birmingham metropolitan area, wants extra funding to promote sustainable policymaking at a local level.”
Several UK outlets cover the news that the UK’s transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced that electric and other cleaner vehicles could soon be fitted with green number plates as part of efforts to encourage more people to switch to less polluting vehicles. BusinessGreen reports: “The government said it is considering a number of different designs: a green number plate with black lettering, a green flash on a number plate, or a green dot or symbol.” The Daily Telegraph adds that the plates “will eventually give electric car drivers privileges such as using bus lanes and cheaper parking”. It continues: “The government is also consulting on which electric and low-emission vehicles should qualify for the new plate, which could be introduced as soon as late 2021.” BBC News carries the views of Friends of the Earth who say that “without better financial incentives and more charging points, little would change”. Meanwhile, the RAC claims that it could “foster resentment among existing drivers of petrol and diesel vehicles”.
A new study published in Nature Climate Change (see New Climate Science section below) concludes that, the Guardian reports, “managing agricultural and other land in a more environmentally sound manner could take the world nearly a third of the way towards meeting the Paris agreement goals”. The newspaper adds: “If one in five people in richer countries went near-vegan, and threw away a third less food than they currently do, while poor countries were assisted to preserve their forests and restore degraded land, the world’s agricultural systems could be absorbing CO2 by 2050 instead of adding massively to global heating as they do at present. Tree-planting and improving the fertility of soil through better farming practices would also be needed…Land accounts for about 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, or 11 gigatonnes of CO2 a year. With the right measures, according to the study, it would act instead as a carbon sink absorbing 3 gigatonnes from the atmosphere a year by 2050. That could give some scope for other sectors such as aviation to continue to use limited amounts of fossil fuels.”
Reuters reports that France’s environment minister Elisabeth Borne has said that the government is yet to decide whether to build new nuclear reactors and could yet pursue a long-term strategy of 100% renewable energy: “The minister was responding to questions on Europe 1 radio after the CEO of state-controlled power utility EDF last week said it is clear France is preparing to build new reactors. EDF operates all of France’s 58 nuclear reactors, which account for more than 75% of the country’s electricity needs.” Borne told the radio station: “The decision on new reactors has not been made. There are different scenarios with new nuclear reactors in the mix. We are also looking at a scenario where we have 100% renewables.”
Separately, Leslie Hook in the Financial Times, reporting from the China Wind Power conference in Beijing, writes that “leaders of the wind power industry have warned that the global trade war could endanger progress on renewable energy, as slowing growth in clean energy projects risks the goals of the Paris climate accord”. She adds: “The cost of wind turbines has fallen dramatically over the past decade, making new wind installations cost competitive with fossil fuels in certain areas. But the US-China trade dispute and mounting concerns about protectionist policies worldwide is being felt in the global supply chain for wind turbines.”
An editorial in the Guardian says that “Extinction Rebellion [has] succeeded in putting the climate crisis on the political agenda”, adding: “This is a welcome pivot to an existential issue for a society that has become gummed up by enervating fights over Brexit.” However, it says it’s now time for XR to reflect on its hits – and misses: “People being in the streets isn’t effective without a strategy, and XR needs a clearer one for what could be years of struggle. There is an open question whether tactics that toppled dictators work in a liberal democracy. This perhaps explains XR’s reluctance to spell out whether it wishes to achieve a revolution to overturn a political order or to create pressure to persuade governments to act. Reform or revolution – XR will have to make this call as it reflects on its own success.”
Writing in the New York Times, the director of the Rockefeller Family Fund sets out what he believes to be the case against oil giant Exxon Mobil which is facing a lawsuit this week being initiated by New York’s attorney general. “The lawsuit is one of several the company is facing that if successful, would force Exxon Mobil, which took in some $290bn in revenue last year, to account for the true costs of its nature-crushing fossil fuel business, making it less competitive with wind, solar and other renewable energy sources and thus accelerating the transition to a clean-energy economy,” writes Lee Wasserman. “This is Economics 101. It’s cheap to pollute if you don’t include the costs of the damage on your books…The industry is based on a deceit. The companies know the planet is headed toward a climate catastrophe, but they keep drilling away, trying to squeeze the last nickel from their deadly product. It will be up to the judge overseeing the New York case, Barry Ostrager, to determine whether Exxon’s misrepresentations violated New York’s securities law, but when it comes to the moral repugnancy of the company’s climate deception, the verdict is in.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal describes it as a “show trial”, adding: “These suits are all part of a political, media and legal strategy hatched over the last decade by activists, politicians and foundations to stigmatise the fossil-fuel industry…Last we checked, drilling for oil and gas was still legal, and Exxon and other companies in the industry provide a livelihood, directly or indirectly, for millions of American families. But to the climate alarmists, they must be destroyed.” BBC News also has a report on the “unprecedented” case.
A new review paper assesses the “modelled pathways and literature on mitigation strategies” and develops “a land-sector roadmap of priority measures and regions that can help to achieve the 1.5C temperature goal”. Transforming the land sector and deploying measures in agriculture, forestry, wetlands and bioenergy “could feasibly and sustainably contribute about 30%…of the global mitigation needed in 2050 to deliver on the 1.5C target”, the paper says – this is equivalent to around 15bn tonnes of CO2 per year. However, “it will require substantially more effort than the 2C target”, the researchers note, while “risks and barriers must be addressed and incentives will be necessary to scale up mitigation while maximising sustainable development, food security and environmental co-benefits”.
Permafrost in the high latitudes of the northern hemisphere are emitting more CO2 in winter than they take up during the average growing season, a new study suggests. The researchers “synthesise regional in-situ observations of CO2 flux from Arctic and boreal soils”, finding that the region is losing approximately 1.6bn tonnes of carbon per year during the winter season (October-April). Their projections for further losses in a warming climate suggest that winter CO2 emissions will increase by 17% by 2100 under the “moderate mitigation scenario” of RCP4.5 and by 41% by 2100 under the very-high emissions RCP8.5 scenario. An accompanying News & Views article says that “estimates of winter CO2 loss indicate that it can offset carbon gains during the growing season, meaning that the region is a source of carbon”.
Arctic marine food webs may be able to “absorb and begin to adapt to ongoing climate change”, a new study suggests. The researchers use the ecosystem of the Kongsfjorden fjord in Svalbard as a case study as its food web was interrupted by an influx of warmer Atlantic water in 2006-08. The study identifies an “emergent pattern of an improving but possibly short-lived resilience” to the changes, which “can be explained by continuing subsidiary inputs of Atlantic species that repair (self-organise) interactions within some configurations”. An accompanying News & Views article says the study “shows that Arctic marine food webs can adapt to climate change – but the study authors warn that this impression of resilience may be false in the long term”.
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