Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Canadian supreme court upholds Justin Trudeau’s carbon tax
- Boris Johnson battling to make sure landmark COP26 climate summit goes ahead in person as world battles Covid third wave
- US oil lobby backs carbon fee as substitute for regulation
- Britain's greenhouse gas emissions dropped 9% in 2020 amid pandemic
- US pledges to slash solar energy costs by 60% in a decade
- Beijing to build China’s ‘voluntary emissions reduction’ trading centre
- India to double down on coal projects amid climate warnings
- The Guardian view on environmental politics: make votes for green politicians count
- Observational evidence of increasing global radiative forcing
- The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers
Canada’s supreme court has ruled that the federal government can impose a carbon price across the country, reports the Financial Times, despite the protests of some provinces. The six-to-three majority decision dismisses a challenge from the oil-rich provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, which were joined by Conservative-run Ontario in arguing that the federal government’s 2018 carbon tax law infringed on their jurisdiction, the paper explains. In its ruling, the court said there was “broad consensus among expert international bodies that carbon pricing is a critical measure for the reduction of [greenhouse gas] emissions”. The court described climate change as “an existential threat to human life in Canada and around the world” and said the harms went “beyond provincial boundaries and that it is a matter of national concern”. The FT says the decision “will be seen as vindication for Justin Trudeau’s governing Liberal party, which made climate a centrepiece of its re-election bid in 2019 and in December committed the country – the biggest exporter of oil to the US – to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”. CBC News in Canada notes that the federal carbon tax, which is $40 a tonne this year, “is set to rise dramatically in the decade to come as the federal government pursues an ambitious, green-friendly economic transition”. The New York Times and BBC News also cover the story.
In an “exclusive”, the Sun reports that UK prime minister Boris Johnson “is battling” to make sure the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow will go ahead in-person later this year despite rising Covid cases around the world. While “worried officials from the UN are said to be trying to force parts of the event online”, a source tells the paper Johnson and COP president Alok Sharma are “fighting back hard”. The source adds: “They don’t want it to be virtual, but even if it’s not as big as previous COPs, they feel it must be done face-to-face.” The paper says it is “expected that the leaders’ discussions will definitely take place in person”, but “there are worries over whether the fringe events will be able to take place in full”. Johnson told MPs on the liaison committee on Wednesday that “the question now really is just to make sure that we can have a COP that is physical”. He added: “I really think it would be a wonderful thing if by November, the UK can lead the world in all sorts of things, but actually have a summit that is a big global summit where everybody turns up. And everybody turns up without fear.”
Meanwhile, the Scotsman reports that Scotland’s police force is “actively planning” for Pope Francis to attend the event. Bernard Higgins, the force’s assistant chief constable, told a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster that the climate summit was “one of the biggest policing safety operations” in the UK in recent years. He explained: “We have a set of planning assumptions which we have been working to, based on a number of world leaders coming at a particular time, who may include the president of the US, and who may include the Holy Father, Pope Francis, which would escalate the event into something not seen in the UK in many, many years.” Higgins described the COP as “literally…the biggest policing event possibly since the Olympic Games in London in 2012”, says STV News. The police also have plans to prevent and repel “hardline anarchists” intent on committing “serious acts of violence and disorder”, says the Daily Express.
In other COP news, DeSmog reports that a letter published today and signed by over 170 grassroots groups is urging the government to “kick out” polluters from sponsoring or even visiting the summit. And in France, Le Monde carries a comment piece co-written by key COP21 architects Laurent Fabius and Laurence Tubiana, plus Alok Sharma, which says that the COP26 outcome must include new 2030 targets in line with a net-zero pathway, an effective finance and debt relief package, and a strong signal that the fossil-fuel era is coming to an end.
In carbon pricing news from the US, Bloomberg reports that the board of the American Petroleum Institute (API) voted yesterday to endorse putting a tax or other price on CO2 emissions. The outlet continues: “The largest US oil industry lobbying group cast its support for a so-called carbon price as part of a broader plan for combating climate change, including efforts to standardise reporting of sustainability efforts and propel emissions-reducing technologies. But API support for the carbon price hinges on the policy being applied economy-wide and replacing existing regulations on greenhouse gases – a trade-off seen as key to luring support from Republicans on Capitol Hill.” The decision “marks a stark reversal”, says the Financial Times, which notes that the API “fought to sink a bill that would have introduced carbon pricing under the Obama administration”. However, it explains, many of API’s members “have since voiced support for the policy” and the group is keen “not be frozen out of the conversation in Washington”. Mike Sommers, API chief executive, tells the paper: “Look, we’re dealing with the new Biden administration and we know [climate] is one of the top four items that they are going to pursue in their policy agenda…So we want to set up a discussion about what is the appropriate way to do this in a way that is market-based, rather than policies that some are pursuing which are more command-and-control.” The Wall Street Journal adds that “big member companies at API – especially the Europe-based supermajors – also have been demanding the group do more to address climate change as they face their own pressure from political leaders, investors and environmental activists”. The New York Times notes that “Republicans in Congress remain firmly opposed to a carbon tax and have voted repeatedly and nearly unanimously over the years to bar the government from imposing one”. It adds that “several people familiar with the forthcoming infrastructure package in the US said that there are no plans currently to price carbon emissions”. The Washington Post reports that environmental groups “were unimpressed with API’s shift”, with one labelling it “self-serving greenwashing”. The Hill also has the story.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times “Energy Source” column looks at the global implications of “India’s oil spat with Saudi Arabia”. The Guardian says a new report from risk analysts Verisk Maplecroft warns oil-dependent countries that are not preparing to adapt to the global shift away from fossil fuels risk their own stability. And the New York Times reports on how ad agencies are stepping away from oil and gas companies in a “echo” of an earlier shift away from tobacco.
US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm yesterday announced a goal to cut the cost of solar energy by 60% over the next decade as part of plans to decarbonise the US power sector by 2035, reports Reuters. The newswire continues: “The US Department of Energy (DOE) said the goal accelerates its previous utility-scale solar cost target by five years. For the US power grid to run entirely on clean energy within 15 years, a key pillar of president Joe Biden’s climate change agenda, solar energy will need to be installed as much as five times faster than it is today, DOE said.” In addition to the target, Granholm announced a further $128m in funding aimed at cutting the cost of deploying solar energy and hastening development, says the Hill. In a statement, Granholm said: “In many parts of the country, solar is already cheaper than coal and other fossil fuels, and with more innovation we can cut the cost again by more than half within the decade.”
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has revoked an expansion permit for a US Virgin Islands oil refinery granted in 2020. Inside Climate News says the decision cites “environmental justice concerns”. The Hill also reports that interior secretary Deb Haaland has defended the Biden administration’s pause on new federal oil and gas leasing. At a public forum event, Haaland reiterated that “fossil fuels will continue to play a major role in America for years to come”, but said the pause “gives us space to look at the federal fossil fuel programs that haven’t been meaningfully examined or modernised in decades”. The Guardian has a feature on how the US interior department “will look radically different with Deb Haaland at its helm”.
In other US news, the Guardian reports that the country’s national science academy has recommended establishing a multimillion-dollar research programme on solar geoengineering. In a report, the body recommends funding of $100m (£73m) to $200m over five years to better understand the feasibility of interventions to dim the sun, the risk of harmful unintended consequences and how such technology could be governed in an ethical way, the paper explains. The New York Times carries the comments of Prof Chris Field, head of the committee that produced the report, who said that “solar geoengineering is not a substitute for decarbonising, but that technology to reflect sunlight “deserves substantial funding, and it should be researched as rapidly and effectively as possible”. (For more on solar geoengineering, see Carbon Brief‘s explainer.)
Finally in the US, the Washington Post reports that Democrats on Capitol Hill are “aiming to swiftly reinstate Obama-era rules designed to rein in the emission of methane from the nation’s oil and gas industry”. And the Guardian has a feature on how a “plan to end the climate crisis” is the new “must-have” for US billionaires.
In a move to improve the yet-to-launch national emissions trading scheme (ETS), China’s capital city Beijing will build a country-wide “Greenhouse Gas Voluntary Emission Reduction Management and Trading Centre”, according to nbd.com.cn. The Chinese financial news website cites an official document published earlier this month by the Beijing government. Meanwhile, the nation’s first “carbon-neutral smart monitoring and managing platform” was launched in Beijing, reports state-run China.com. The platform, called Green 60, is capable of monitoring cities’ carbon emissions and “enforcing the implementation of carbon-reduction pathways”, according to the report. It can also inform cities of their “achievement rate” towards peaking emissions by 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2060, the article adds.
Separately, over 33,000 wind turbines are expected to retire between 2020 and 2030 in China, state-affiliated China Energy News reports. The country has yet to announce policies to deal with these ageing units following their “retirement”, says the outlet. Elsewhere, China Energy Investment Corporation has instructed its affiliated companies to install around 120 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy units during the 14th five-year plan period from 2021 to 2025, according to Eknower, an independent social media account focused on energy news. In eastern China’s Zhejiang Province, one-seventh of its electricity is now solar energy, reports state news agency Xinhua. The province’s photovoltaic capacity had surpassed 15GW by the end of 2020, Xinhua says.
Finally, China Securities Journal reports that analysts expect China’s electricity, iron and steel industries to be the first to “push forward” emissions peaking and carbon neutrality. The report adds that the launch of the national ETS is expected to accelerate the country’s transformation towards “clean energy”. The South China Morning Post reports that China has set up nuclear safety committee to “boost 2060 carbon neutral efforts”. And China Dialogue has a review of China’s 14th five-year plan.
India has set in motion the biggest-ever auction of coal mines in the country despite the fossil fuel’s key role in contributing to global warming, reports Bloomberg. It explains: “The country will put 67 mines on the block, the most in a single auction. Winners will be allowed to produce and sell the fuel, a reform meant to dislodge state monopoly over the domestic coal market and open it up to private firms.” The auction “sends mixed signals at a time when the world’s third-biggest emitter of greenhouse gases needs to shed its dependence on coal”, the outlet adds: “India is under growing pressure to improve its climate commitments, which have forced government officials to debate a possible net-zero emissions target. The country is one of the most vulnerable to climate impacts, and coal mining and burning also contributes to deadly air pollution.”
Provisional government data shows that the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by 8.9% in 2020, largely driven by a slump in economic activity due to Covid-related lockdowns, reports Reuters. In its preliminary report, the the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the fall “is primarily due to the large reduction in the use of road transport during the nationwide lockdowns and the reduction in business activity”. The data shows that the UK’s emissions have fallen for the last eight years in a row and are now 48.8% below 1990 levels, the newswire says. The long-term decline in UK emissions “has been driven by the shift away from burning coal for power generation”, explains Bloomberg, which adds: “As electricity demand fell and renewable energy made up a larger share of the power mix, CO2 emissions from the sector fell by nearly 12% in 2020.” Sky News and BusinessGreen also have the story. (Last week, Carbon Brief estimated a 10.7% drop in emissions in 2020. The difference between the two estimates can largely be explained by revisions to the government’s historical energy and emissions data. Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans has a Twitter thread to explain more.)
In other UK news, the i newspaper reports that Mike Hawes – chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) – has said the government was not doing enough to convince private drivers to switch their fossil fuel cars for electric. A conference of carmakers yesterday, Hawes warned that the “government seems to have the automotive industry in its sights, but it seems to have lost sight of one vital player in this deal – the consumer”. The Times says Hawes accused the prime minister and chancellor of indulging in “a game of snakes and ladders” by declaring the end for sales of cars with internal combustion engines by 2030, but then cutting plug-in car incentives. The SMMT has also warned that UK must install 700 electric vehicle charging points every day for the rest of the decade to support the transition, reports CityAM.
The Financial Times reports that Hawes backed Labour calls for direct government investments in electric vehicle battery factories to spur investment and secure the future of the British automotive industry. Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, yesterday called for a £1.5bn investment in at least three of the so-called gigafactories, warning that Britain was “significantly behind” other countries in building such plants, the paper explains. The story was somewhat overshadowed by coverage of Miliband’s interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, where he was – in the words of the Times – “mocked for calling for an electric car revolution while admitting he does not own one himself”. When asked whether he had an electric car, the former Labour leader said he hadn’t “yet”, but that “we were actually on our way to buying one before lockdown. It is going to happen, I promise you. I have bought an electric bike, but it’s on its way”, reports the paper, adding: “Susanna Reid, the host, replied: ‘So hang on – you’re pushing for everyone to have an electric car and you don’t have one yourself?’” The Daily Mirror and MailOnline cover this angle to the story, while ITV News carries a clip of the exchange.
Elsewhere in the UK, the Guardian reports that the Scottish Green Party “would demand far tougher climate policies in exchange for agreeing to a coalition deal with the Scottish National party after the May election”. And Climate Home News reports that Ireland’s coalition government “has approved a climate bill that enshrines emissions reduction targets in law and puts the country on a path to carbon neutrality by 2050”.
Finally, the Sun reports that the thinktank Onward estimates that the UK could “create a staggering 1.7m new jobs in his green revolution”. CityAM also covers the report. And the Guardian reports that Octopus Energy – the UK’s fastest growing energy supplier – “will soon become one of Europe’s biggest renewable energy investors in a deal worth more than £3bn, which could bring green energy to 50m homes in six years”. Bloomberg also has the story.
An editorial in the Guardian warns that green policies “risk being marginalised” if the first-past-the-post voting system “reasserts itself” in the UK. The announcement that, after this year, mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections will be converted to first past the post “sent chills down the spines of all progressive electoral reformers”, the paper says: “The system of ranked preferences currently used in mayoral races is a means for voters to register support for candidates and parties, even if they are unlikely to win. Now, ministers want to revert from this modest degree of pluralism to duopoly (three-way contests are rare exceptions to the two-horse races which are first past the post’s speciality).” It would be a mistake, the paper continues, “to imagine that, when it comes to the environment, the two biggest parties have now ‘got it covered’”. It notes that “despite the net-zero target of 2050 voted into law under Theresa May, ministers show an alarming lack of urgency”. The paper says that the Green Party has “helped to keep the climate emergency at the forefront of policymakers’ minds”, but “small parties stand to be squeezed out if the opportunity to compete for mayoralties is effectively removed”. The article concludes that “this move against proportionality seems regressive and anti-democratic. It ought to be resisted strongly”.
Climate change is caused by energy imbalances in the climate system, with more heat being trapped than escaping back to space. While there are well‐established observational records of greenhouse gas concentrations and surface temperatures, there is not yet a global measure of the “radiative forcing”, in part because current satellite observations of Earth’s radiation only measure the sum total of radiation changes that occur. This study isolates radiative forcing from total radiative changes based on satellite data. The authors find it has increased from 2003 through 2018, accounting for nearly all of the long‐term growth in the total top‐of‐atmosphere radiation imbalance during this period. Rising greenhouse gas concentrations account for most of the increases in the radiative forcing, along with reductions in reflective aerosols, the researchers say. The findings serve as “direct evidence” that human activity has affected Earth’s energy budget in the recent past.
Animal agriculture contributes an estimated as 14.5% of human greenhouse gas emissions. However, past analyses have focused on the sector as a whole, rather than individual companies. This study examines the world’s 35 largest meat and dairy companies for their commitments to mitigating climate change and find four companies that have made an explicit commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050. The research finds that including industrial meat and dairy producers’ full global emissions in national accounting would impact national targets for greenhouse gas reductions. As examples, they show that two companies –Fonterra in New Zealand and Nestlé in Switzerland – would make up more than 100% of their headquarter country’s total emissions target in the coming decade. Additionally, an analysis by the authors finds that 10 US meat and dairy companies have contributed to efforts to undermine climate-related policies.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.