Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Cancel all planned coal projects globally to end ‘deadly addiction’, says UN chief
- Top oil and gas lobbying group close to backing a carbon tax
- House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050
- China cuts "carbon intensity" 18.8% in past five years, in effort to rein in emissions
- Greening the “special relationship”
- In the Atlantic Ocean, subtle shifts hint at dramatic dangers
- What a shocker... or why your new hybrid car isn't nearly as green as you thought
- Atmospheric river precipitation contributed to rapid increases in surface height of the West Antarctic ice sheet in 2019
- Decadal variability modulates trends in concurrent heat and drought over global croplands
UN secretary-general António Guterres has called for governments, private companies and local authorities around the world to “cancel all global coal projects in the pipeline and end the deadly addiction to coal”, the Guardian reports. The comments about the most polluting fossil fuel came at the opening of a UK-hosted summit of the Powering Past Coal Alliance (PPCA), members of which commit to ending coal burning for power by 2030 in developed nations and reducing it by 80% globally, the newspaper states. The other two big requests made by Guterres were for an end to the international financing of coal plants and efforts to “jump-start a global effort to finally organise a just transition [for coal-industry workers]”, the Guardian adds. According to Reuters, Guterres called on wealthy nations to end coal use by 2030 so the world can meet its goals to curb global warming, noting that “phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5C goal” of the Paris Agreement. Specifically, he urged members of the G7 group of wealthy nations to make that commitment before or at a leaders’ summit in June. Climate Home News reports that this puts “Japan, the US and Germany on the spot”, noting that Japan and the US “have no formal coal phase-out plans, while Germany plans to continue burning coal until 2038”. The Independent’s coverage focuses on the fact that, while the UK is hosting this summit, a domestic controversy continues to brew around the government’s refusal to intervene in plans for a new coking coal mine in Cumbria. The news website quotes energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who opened the summit and said countries must do more to “ensure coal-generated energy becomes a distant memory”. It then quotes other politicians and campaigners who said it was “hypocritical” for ministers to “lecture others on the need to phase out coal”. The Independent quotes Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband who says the proposed coal mine will harm the UK’s prospects of delivering at the upcoming COP26 summit in Glasgow, adding that it “is wrong for the climate, won’t help our steel industry and won’t deliver long-term secure jobs”.
Miliband is quoted in a separate piece by the Guardian accusing the government of being “stuck in the past” and unwilling to make the kind of public investment that is needed to kickstart a green economic recovery in the UK. The Labour politician blamed their outlook on free-market Conservatism that he said was failing to keep up with the need for economic intervention arising from Covid-19 and climate change, the newspaper notes. Meanwhile, the Times quotes Miliband’s Conservative counterpart, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, who has said today’s budget should should focus on economic growth rather than tax. A piece in the i newspaper looks ahead to the budget and the “green” elements expected in it.
Meanwhile, in more coal news, Reuters reports that at least five US private equity firms have bought coal plants in markets “where regulators pay them to be on standby to provide emergency power when demand surges with extreme hot or cold weather”. According to the newswire, this illustrates “how fossil fuels will remain an important part of the energy mix…even years after demand for them peaks”. Separately, the Associated Press via the Washington Post says the EU is investigating whether Germany’s plans to compensate owners for the early shutdown of coal-fired power plants by 2038 “is in line with the bloc’s rules on state aid to businesses”.
The American Petroleum Institute (API), the US oil and gas industry’s key lobbying group, is “edging closer to endorsing a carbon tax” which would make fossil fuels more expensive, according to the Washington Post. It says the organisation’s policy committee is considering such a tax as an alternative to federal regulation and policies aimed at slowing climate change. However, the newspaper notes that critics “doubted the sincerity” of such a move because it is unlikely Congress would adopt a carbon tax, “allowing the trade group to appear to support climate action while risking little”. It notes that the organisation must pick the right language at a time when president Joe Biden “wants urgent action in the fight against climate change” and the API wants to push back against limits on drilling and methane regulations. The statement from the API, which was first reported in the Wall Street Journal, says: “API supports economy-wide carbon pricing as the primary government climate policy instrument to reduce CO2 emissions while helping keep energy affordable, instead of mandates or prescriptive regulatory action”. Wall Street Journal columnist Holman W Jenkins writes a piece praising the development, stating that a carbon tax was “Congress’s primary focus for a decade until the green left shifted wholesale to the mandates-cum-subsidies approach that prevails today”. The Hill notes that the move comes after French oil company Total announced its exit from the API, saying the group’s goals and those of the Paris Agreement were at odds.
Meanwhile, speaking at the world’s largest oil and gas conference CERAWeek, the US climate envoy John Kerry urged fossil-fuel companies to do more to diversify and adopt low-carbon technologies to tackle climate change, Reuters reports. The piece notes Kerry was “speaking alongside oil executives making the case for the continued production of oil and gas”, and called specifically for the acceleration of hydrogen development, carbon capture and other technologies that can reduce emissions. The Hill quotes Kerry as saying the US could significantly expand its renewable capacity, but would have to “get rid of some of our chauvinism and our parochial components that resist common sense and the need to move very hastily to get this done”.
House Democrats have introduced a “revamped version” of a major bill – the CLEAN Future Act – aiming to get the US on the road to carbon neutrality by 2050, the Hill reports. It notes that the bill also sets an interim target of reducing the country’s emissions to no more than half of what they were in 2005 by 2030, and includes a clean electricity standard under which retailers would need to provide 80% of their power from clean sources by 2030 and 100% by 2035. This lines up with president Joe Biden’s plans for the power system, the piece notes. Reuters adds that the legislation, which would need to pass committees and then the full House and Senate and be signed by Biden before becoming law, “does not include a carbon tax, a mechanism supported by some Republicans and companies”. The news wire quotes one of the Democrats behind the bill who says given the thin Democratic majority in the Senate, senators could try to pass the bill under budget reconciliation in that chamber, which would require only 51 votes instead of 60 in the 100-member Senate.
Separately, another Reuters piece notes that Democrats have introduced a set of bills for reforming federal oil and gas leasing regulations, “including by raising royalty rates and toughening cleanup requirements”. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that as the US Interior Department awaits its new secretary Deb Haaland, the agency is “already moving to lock in key parts of president Biden’s environmental agenda, particularly on oil and gas restrictions”.
China has lowered its “carbon intensity” by 18.8% over the five years through to 2020, according to a Chinese Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) report covered by Reuters. This decline in the amount of CO2 emissions the country produces per unit of GDP beat the official target for an 18% reduction, it states, adding: “A new carbon intensity target is expected to be contained, along with other climate-related targets such as energy consumption control, in a five year plan for 2021-2025 that is due to be presented to China’s parliament later this month.” See more analysis of China’s CO2 emissions in a new article published by Carbon Brief earlier this week, which reveals a 4% surge in emissions in the second half of 2020.
A piece co-authored by Rachel Kyte, a former UN climate envoy, Ana Toni of Instituto Clima e Sociedade (iCS) and Bernice Lee from Chatham House examines the arrival of Joe Biden as US president and why the UK hosting the COP26 climate summit “gives the Anglo-Saxon world a unique opportunity to demonstrate climate leadership in 2021”, with a key objective being the provision of funds. “With key countries already committing to carbon neutrality, the top priority in Glasgow is not to bring big polluters on board, but rather to marshal support for the dozens of smaller developing countries,” they write. They say a global debt-relief plan and a climate-finance package will be essential and it “is now up to the UK and the US to create the conditions for scaled-up green investment in the developing world”. Without such support, any deal that emerges from COP26 “will be dead on arrival”, as “global powers’ failure to deliver a substantial financial package, while still insisting that everyone phase out fossil-fuel infrastructure, would merely fuel further tensions between developed and developing countries”.
Separately, a recent piece in Politico has emerged from behind its paywall that looks at “Britain’s climate dilemma as it navigates post-Brexit trade”. It states that “without fixing its trade policy, [the UK] risks outsourcing its pollution problem” and ahead of COP26 the nation “can only be a leader on tackling climate change if it matches a ‘green industrial revolution’ with a revolutionary plan for its international trade”.
The New York Times has produced an interactive article examining how scientists think the warming atmosphere is causing an arm of the Gulf Stream to weaken. The piece says the the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc) is “a poster child for the idea of climatic “tipping points”—of hard-to-predict thresholds in Earth’s climate system that, once crossed, have rapid, cascading effects far beyond the corner of the globe where they occur”. The article allows you to scroll through and see how this system works on a global level and also underwater.
The Daily Mail has a pair of comment pieces on yesterday’s news that consumer magazine Which? found that plug-in hybrid cars can, in some circumstances, consume up to four times more fuel than advertised. Ross Clark, a columnist who often expresses scepticism about climate action and climate science, writes: “Right now many motorists who splashed out on a hybrid car — in the belief that they are doing both the planet and their pockets a favour — are feeling that they’ve been sold a pig in a poke”. An accompanying editorial in the same newspaper says “if cynical ministers and manufacturers keep conning them, they’ll find most motorists will simply buy cheaper, more reliable petrol cars before sales are banned in 2030”.
New analysis shows how “atmospheric rivers” contribute to winter snow accumulation on the West Antarctic ice sheet. The study uses satellite data to determine the change in height over the Antarctic from June to September in 2019, and a model of the atmosphere and snow to find the conditions that led to it. The researchers conclude that 41% of the increase in height was due to extreme precipitation events – 63% of which were associated with atmospheric rivers, which occurred only 5.1% of the time. (Earlier this year, Carbon Brief published a guest post on atmospheric rivers.)
The extent of maize and wheat cropland around the world affected by joint hot-and-dry extremes increased by around 2% between 1950-2009, according to new research. The authors use observations of daily maximum temperature from Berkeley Earth and simulate soil moisture using a land model. They find that the rise in concurrent hot and dry extremes accelerated rapidly from the mid-2000s – notably in the tropics. The authors suggest that “global climate is transitioning from one in which concurrent heat and drought occur rarely to one in which they occur over an important fraction of croplands every year”.
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