Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Chances of ‘record-shattering’ heatwaves to soar without urgent climate action, research warns
- Governments must agree to end use of coal power, says UK’s COP26 president
- China could quit UK nuclear projects if role threatened, experts warn
- High Court bid against road schemes dismissed
- Brits may be allowed more time to swap over dirty boilers in major row-back plot
- China to release top-level design plan on carbon neutralisation
- US EPA to tighten requirements on toxic waste from coal plants
- The Times view on China’s role in nuclear plants: Power Play
- UK needs stronger defences against extreme weather
- Potential CO2 removal from enhanced weathering by ecosystem responses to powdered rock
A new study warns that “record-shattering” events similar to North America’s recent deadly heatwave “could soar in the coming years if little is done to tackle rapidly rising greenhouse gas emissions”, reports the Independent. Using climate models, the researchers find that such record-shattering heat events could occur every six to 37 years somewhere in the northern mid-latitudes by the second half of the 21st century, the paper explains. Lead author Dr Erich Fischer tells the paper that “we need to prepare for more record heat events that shatter previous record temperatures by large margins”, adding: “This is yet another piece in the puzzle that demonstrates that, in order to reduce the risk of such record-shattering heat, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced very rapidly.” The study also shows that “the rate of climate change is an under-appreciated driver of extreme heat”, says Axios, “and that today’s quickening pace of warming virtually guarantees more extreme temperature records in coming decades”. This is an “important distinction”, says the New York Times, “and one that has implications for the real world outside of simulations, because the rate of warming has increased in recent decades as society continues to pump huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere” Prof Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, who was not part of the new research, tells the Guardian: “This study underscores something that has been apparent in the record weather extremes we’ve seen this summer: dangerous climate change is here, and it’s now simply a matter of how dangerous we are willing to let it get.” And Prof John King of the British Antarctic Survey tells the i newspaper that the findings “emphasis[e] the urgency for action to be taken at COP26 to reduce carbon emissions and limit climate change to safe levels”. The Times, Reuters and the Press Association also cover the study, while Carbon Brief has a comprehensive write-up.
In related news, the Guardian reports that researchers have warned that flash flooding – of the type seen in London over the weekend – will become a more common occurrence as the world warms. Dr Jess Neumann, a hydrologist at the University of Reading, tells the paper that “flooding from intense summer rainfall is going happen more frequently. No city, town or village is immune to flooding and we all need to take hard action right now if we are to prevent impacts from getting worse in the future”. And Prof Hayley Fowler, director of the UK Climate Resilience Programme, tells BBC News that flash flooding used to be “relatively unusual”, but warming means “these heavy short-duration bursts from thunderstorms which cause flash flooding are becoming more common”. A separate BBC News piece reports that Whipps Cross Hospital in east London was forced to evacuate patients and cancel operations after heavy rainfall caused it to lose power. Dr Jess Neumann, a hydrologist at University of Reading, tells the Washington Post: “Summer thunderstorms are not a new occurrence, but it is becoming ever clearer that the worsening impacts of flooding from intense rainfall are having devastating effects here in the UK and across Europe.“ The New York Times notes that “the latest rainstorm came at the tail end of a heatwave that had led Public Health England to issue an alert for the first time ever”. And the Press Association reports the comments of London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who says the flooding shows “the dangers of climate change are now moving closer to home”.
In other extreme weather news, the New York Times reports from the monsoon season in India, where “heavy rains have deluged entire towns and villages” and the death toll has reached “at least 164”. Bloomberg reports on how “all these calamities are part of a constellation of extreme weather events that paint a picture of a world that’s already warmed 1.2C from pre-industrial times”. Reuters says that “relentless rainfall in the Caribbean region caused at least two deaths amid severe flooding and major infrastructure damage in northern and eastern Costa Rica”. And the Financial Times Lex column notes that “flood risk remains one of the most underinsured risks across Europe”, which is “partly because of automatically high premiums across swaths of low-lying land”.
COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma has urged governments around the world to agree to end the use of coal power in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, reports the Guardian. The paper continues: “Ministers from more than 50 countries closed a two-day meeting in London on Monday without full agreement on phasing out coal, but with all countries agreeing to limit global heating to 1.5C, with fewer than 100 days to go before the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow this November.” Speaking at a news conference, Sharma said: “We were not able to get every country to agree to phasing out coal power, which was very disappointing. We will certainly have more discussions in the coming months…Unless we get all countries signed up to a coal phase-out, keeping 1.5C in reach is going to be extremely difficult.” The “informal gathering” to “discuss some of the key issues that will need resolving before COP26” was the first in-person meeting of climate ministers in 18 months, says BBC News. “Sharma told reporters: “I do think we made progress over these two days, however the issues we discussed are complex, and there are still significant differences that persist. We have moved closer together over the past few days, but still on these vital issues, we are not yet close enough,” the outlet reports. Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate chief, added that the face-to-face meeting of ministers had been “extremely productive”, but that “challenges” remained, reports the Independent. She said: “There is a lot of homework to do in the next 90-something days.“ Sharma also noted that the rain and flooding “sweeping London” while ministers were engaged in talks had sharpened their focus, reports the Press Association. He added: “I think it is a sober reminder on our own doorstep of the urgency of our task.” The i newspaper also has the story, while Reuters, Climate Home News and BusinessGreen have further reporting on last week’s G20 summit in Naples.
There is continued reporting and reaction (See Comment section further down) to the news, revealed by the Financial Times yesterday, that the government is exploring ways to remove China’s state-owned nuclear energy company from all future power projects in the UK. In further developments, the FT reports that industry experts warned yesterday that China General Nuclear (CGN) is likely to walk away from the Hinkley Point C power station being built in Somerset if the Chinese state-owned nuclear company is forced out of other future projects in the UK. One nuclear industry executive “pointed out there were four interlinked agreements between CGN, EDF and the government dating to 2015: Hinkley Point, Sizewell, Bradwell and the pursuit of regulatory approval for China’s reactor design”. They told the paper that “neither EDF nor the government can assume they can just deal with Sizewell in isolation…If you open one agreement then you potentially open all four. Legally, you open one part of the agreement, you run the risk of opening all parts of the agreement.” A senior government source tells the Times that “if we push too hard on Sizewell it could have wider implications…All the deals hang together. If you open up one of the deals, you open all of them. It’s never going to be as simple as ‘pull out of Sizewell’. I’d be amazed if CGN didn’t say: ‘You want us to put some more money into Hinkley Point? Well, screw you.’” The paper notes that a Whitehall source confirmed yesterday’s story in the FT and said the government was exploring ways of removing CGN from future projects. It adds: “The Times understands that two approaches are being considered. The first would involve the government buying a stake in Sizewell C, and the second is finding alternative investors.” Similarly, “ a person familiar with the situation” tells Bloomberg that the government is planning to press ahead with its flagship Sizewell C nuclear project even without Chinese funding. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail (via PressReader) pick up on the story, too, while Bloomberg also reports on how the “UK’s nuclear new-build programme looks in danger of unraveling”, which “potentially open[s] up a supply gap that must be filled with low-carbon power if the country is to meet ambitious climate targets”.
A High Court challenge against the government’s proposed £27bn road scheme has been dismissed, reports BBC News. Campaigners had objected to the “Road Investment Strategy 2” (RIS2) – which relates to 45 road projects in England – because “the government ignored the scheme’s environmental impact and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had acted unlawfully by approving it”, the outlet explains. Responding to the legal action – brought by the not-for-profit Transport Action Network (Tan) – Mr Justice Holgate said its net-zero carbon target had “plainly been taken into account” when it was approved. The Guardian adds: “[The judge] said claimants had ‘a heavy evidential onus to establish that a decision was irrational, absent bad faith or manifest absurdity’ and noted that the government was ‘taking a range of steps to tackle the need for urgency in addressing carbon production in the transport sector’, adding: ‘Whether they are enough is not a matter for the court.’” The campaigners have vowed to lodge an appeal, reports DeSmog, It adds: “TAN campaigner Rebecca Lush said the group was ‘shocked’ at the decision and accused the [Department for Transport] of not treating climate change ‘with the urgency it deserves’.” The Times also has the story.
A Sun “exclusive” reports that “Brits would be allowed up to five more years to swap out their dirty boilers in a major row-back plotted by Boris Johnson”. The paper says that the prime minister “is looking at pushing back a ban on sales of all new gas boilers by 2035 after a furious backlash over spiralling costs”. A Whitehall source tells the paper that “there will be no ban on boilers just yet – we were going to by 2035, but now that’s not happening”. The article also says that the Treasury has “scotched proposals to issue millions of households with ‘green cheques’ worth hundreds of pounds to compensate them for making their homes greener”. The source said that “clearly carbon cheques are the answer, but HMT [Her Majesty’s Treasury] vetoed it”. A Sun editorial says pushing back the ban on gas boilers shows that “slowly but surely the government begins to see sense on the environment. Its frenzy of rash pledges is rightly being softened into something Britain CAN achieve and support”. However, it says, “will the government put the brake on battery-only new cars next?”, adding: “With less than nine years to the arbitrary 2030 deadline they remain absurdly pricey and with derisory mileage ranges.” On the topic of electric vehicles, Andrea Coscelli, chief of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), writes in the i newspaper that “we urgently need to accelerate the roll-out of electric vehicle charging points to reach net-zero”.
Meanwhile, the Treasury has sought to play down reports of growing tensions with No 10 over how to fund the UK’s climate targets, reports BusinessGreen, claiming that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are “on the same page” over the need for an “effective, affordable” net-zero strategy. And, in related comment, the Daily Telegraph publishes a comment piece from Allegra Stratton, the former journalist who is now No 10’s spokesperson for COP26, who says that “each of us can take small steps toward achieving net-zero carbon”.
The Global Times reports that China is “to release” a “top-level design plan” for its carbon-neutralisation goal. The state-run newspaper cites China’s special envoy on climate change, Xie Zhenhua, who made the comments at a summit in Beijing on Saturday. Xie highlighted that China had pledged to drop its carbon emissions from the peak level to zero in the space of 30 years, while the same process would take the EU and the US 60 and 45 years, respectively, according to China News Service, a state news agency. China Nation Radio, the state radio station, also carries the story. It says that China may need to invest around 136tn yuan (£15tn) in various fields to achieve its 2060 carbon neutrality target.
Meanwhile, the death toll of the devastating flooding in central China’s Henan province has risen to 69, reports CCTV. The figure was counted up to Monday noon after rescuers found the remains of six new victims in an inundated expressway tunnel in provincial capital Zhengzhou, the channel says. In other news, China’s President Xi Jinping has stressed the importance of environmental and biodiversity protection of Tibet, reports state broadcaster CCTV. Xi, who visited the region last week, is quoted urging local officials to protect Tibet’s environment “well”. He described it as an action that could benefit “a thousand autumns” and nourish all beings “under the heavens”. The Guardian reports on how the Chinese media have discussed the role of climate change in the floods. While the New York Times says that “China’s breathtaking economic growth created cities ill-equipped to face extreme weather”.
Elsewhere, state-run Xinhua news agency reports that the electricity consumption of China’s “whole society” is expected to rise by 6% year on year for the second half of 2021. The newswire says that the projected increase would be caused by reasons including the “economic situation at home and abroad” and electrification – the use of electric energy to replace other fossil energies during end-use energy consumption. Moreover, a research centre founded to facilitate innovative efforts for carbon neutrality has been inaugurated in Nanchang, the capital of Jiangxi province, reports People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China. The institute, officially known as the Jiangxi Provincial Carbon Neutrality Research Centre, is the first provincial-level carbon-neutrality-themed technology innovation platform in China, the publication says.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said yesterday that it will set stricter requirements for how coal-fired power plants dispose of wastewater containing arsenic, lead and mercury, reports Reuters, which describes the move as “an important step in reversing one of the Trump administration’s major environmental rollbacks”. The newswire continues: “The EPA said it will work to undo the Trump-era rollback after conducting a science-based review of the 2020 Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule and finding that there are ‘opportunities to strengthen certain wastewater pollution discharge limits’. The agency said it will adhere to limits set prior to the rollbacks as it undertakes a formal process to strengthen the rule.” The rollback had “allowed many coal-fired power plants to avoid or delay installing equipment that could prevent lead, selenium and other toxic pollutants from seeping into rivers and streams”, the New York Times explains. Radhika Fox, the EPA’s top water official, tells the Washington Post that “what we found is that the Trump administration’s 2020 rule really is lacking…We think that we can do better when it comes to reducing water pollution from coal power plants”. The paper notes that “the power plant wastewater rule is among dozens of Trump administration rollbacks the Biden team is seeking to reverse in its effort to tackle climate change and reduce pollution that often overburdens the poorest communities in the US”. The Hill also has the story.
Elsewhere in the US, DeSmog reports that a congressional committee is requesting an interview with the ExxonMobil lobbyist who was revealed by an undercover Greenpeace investigation last month admitting that the company has misled the public on climate change and continues to use lobbying tactics to prevent climate action. The House Committee on Oversight and Reform sent a letter to Keith McCoy, a senior director in Exxon’s Washington DC government affairs team, requesting his voluntary appearance before the committee for an in person on-the-record interview the outlet explains. The letter notes that McCoy’s statements “raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread climate disinformation, including through the use of ‘shadow groups,’ in order to block action needed to address climate change”, the Hill reports.
“It was never very likely that the government would allow a Chinese state-owned company to build a nuclear power station in Britain. So news that it is now looking for ways to remove China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) from future nuclear projects hardly comes as a surprise,” says a Times editorial. The “political context has changed” since the government agreed a deal in 2015 with CGN, the paper says: “The mood in parliament, particularly among Conservative MPs, has turned decisively against China, making it inconceivable that any government could allow China to build such sensitive national infrastructure.” However, the “reality is that Britain’s new nuclear programme was already in considerable disarray”, the editorial warns: “Without Sizewell C at least, it is hard to see how the government can meet its target for decarbonising the electricity network, let alone meet the increased demand for electricity arising from the decarbonisation of transport and industry.” The “changed political reality leaves the prime minister facing tough decisions”, the paper says: “ A long-awaited white paper in the autumn will set out proposals for a new funding mechanism for nuclear power stations that will result in some of the costs (and risks) of construction being passed on to consumers in the form of higher bills long before any electricity is generated. At the same time it will pave the way for the government to take equity stakes in nuclear power stations. The costs to taxpayers are potentially substantial at a time of considerable pressure on the public finances and many competing demands. On the other hand, if Mr Johnson is serious about delivering net zero, he may not have much choice.”
A Financial Times editorial warns “there are trade-offs in shutting out Chinese knowhow”. It says: “Most of Britain’s existing nuclear stations are to close by 2025. New plants are needed to bridge the gap, with coal also being phased out, and if the UK is to hit its net-zero emissions target. Barring big advances in battery technology enabling wind and solar power to be stored, Britain will need nuclear power for baseload generation. The Climate Change Committee’s latest ‘carbon budget’ suggested the UK would need 10 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2050; some industry estimates are higher.” And the Daily Mail‘s business editor Ruth Sunderland (via PressReader) writes that the government removing China from UK nuclear projects would be “better late than never”. She says: “The UK’s laissez-faire attitude to overseas takeovers and foreign control has also made other key industries vulnerable to Chinese control, potentially imperilling our national security and economy’s stability.”
“The evacuation of critically ill patients from flooding in hospitals in the south of England brings to mind how global catastrophes can quickly overtake the ability of mankind to control them,” says an editorial in the Independent. Commenting on the spate of extreme weather at home and around the world, the outlet says that “yet another day of freakishly heavy rain left much of Britain inundated, and not for the first time”. It says: “The typhoons, floods and unusually intense hurricanes seen across the planet derives from a simple meteorological fact – hotter air carries more moisture. That much we know, and it would help explain why places such as Worcester and Salisbury have for some years been underwater so often. Even though there is a chance that mankind can limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C, it is also true that things could turn out worse without the global will to succeed.”
Also in the Independent, Chris Stevenson – editor of “Voices” for the outlet – writes that “the pictures of flooded stations and roads show the work that needs to be done to give people – not just in London but around the UK – the protection they need to try and help mitigate such events as and when they arise”. And the Independent‘s economics editor Anna Isaac explains why “Britain’s climate defences need a flood of cash”.
Enhanced weathering “should be considered a prominent option when assessing land management options for mitigating climate change”, a new “perspective” paper says. The researchers explore “soil amendment with powdered basalt”, which “reacts with CO2 and removes it from the atmosphere”, but also “improves soil fertility and thereby potentially enhances ecosystem carbon storage”. This is “a fully developed technology that can be co-deployed in existing land systems”, the authors say, and it is therefore “suited for rapid upscaling”. Achieving sufficiently high net CO2 removal “will require upscaling of basalt mining, deploying systems in remote areas with a low carbon footprint and using energy from low-carbon sources”, the authors note, while “yet unknown side-effects, as well as limited data on field-scale deployment, need to be addressed first”. (Carbon Brief has previously published a guest post on enhanced weathering.)
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