Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China aims for 'carbon neutrality by 2060'
- Tesla outlines ambition to halve cost of batteries
- Australia: Labor commits to 'environmentally sustainable' gas development
- Democratic donors push Biden for a cabinet free of fossil fuel connections
- EU aims to cut aviation emissions by 10% with more direct flights
- Green plans diluted as government protects farmers
- A third of my country was just underwater. The world must act on climate
- 'The one chance we have': The pandemic gave the world a golden opportunity to fix the climate crisis. We’re about to waste it.
- Vote like the future of humanity depends on it
- Aboveground carbon loss associated with the spread of ghost forests as sea levels rise
- Shallow peat is most vulnerable to high peat burn severity during wildfire
- Human influence strengthens the contrast between tropical wet and dry regions
China will aim to achieve “peak emissions” before 2030 and “carbon neutrality” by 2060, reports BBC News. The announcement by president Xi Jinping, which was made yesterday via video link to the UN general assembly in New York and has received widespread coverage, is “seen as a significant step in the fight against climate change”, the news website states. It notes that China is the world’s largest source of CO2, responsible for around 28% of global emissions. The Guardian quotes the president saying that “China will scale up its intended nationally determined contributions [under the Paris climate agreement] by adopting more vigorous policies and measures”. It adds that he also called for a “green recovery” from the Covid-19 pandemic. The newspaper calls this an “unexpectedly forthright commitment”, while the Associated Press quotes UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa who describes it “a big shift for curbing emissions and a significant step forward in international cooperation”. The Financial Times notes that the “surprise move” by China would require a “radical reshaping” of this major economy and would drastically cut the nation’s reliance on coal. It includes comments from Li Shuo, an energy policy officer at Greenpeace in Beijing, who says there is a need for more details following Xi’s announcement. “How much earlier can China peak its emissions? How can we reconcile carbon neutrality with China’s ongoing coal expansion?” he asks.
The New York Times notes that the nation’s plans may become clearer when its leaders issue their next “five-year economic plan”, which will guide the country’s development until 2025. China’s previous goal had been to aim for peak emissions in about 2030, but last week the nation held an online summit with the EU, “amid signals Beijing would take a stronger climate stance”, according to the Guardian. (The EU itself has been discussing raising its emissions reductions to 55% by 2030, it adds.) The Guardian notes that every nation is meant to be putting out a stronger climate plan this year ahead of next year’s delayed COP26 summit in Glasgow, but, before these proposals by China and the EU, it was “mostly only smaller countries that had done so”. The largest emitter now lacking a strategy is the US and Reuters reports that “minutes” before Xi spoke, US president Donald Trump – who has withdrawn his country from the Paris Agreement – attacked China for its “rampant pollution”. The Los Angeles Times describes Trump as “echoing” his presidential campaign theme of being “tough on China” in his speech, accusing the Asian superpower of “unleashing” the coronavirus pandemic on the world. Bloomberg’s coverage notes that China releasing a net-zero pledge ahead of the US shows “how hard Beijing is striving to put itself at the centre of global politics and the economic shift to clean energy – something Washington has been unwilling to do”.
A piece from last week for the Brookings Institute written by former US climate envoy Todd Stern examines how the US and China can rebuild their climate relationship. He warns: “China’s leadership will need to understand, before too long, that there is no way for China to maintain and enhance its standing in the world, with rich and poor countries alike, if climate change starts to wreak widespread havoc and China stands out as the dominant polluter who refused to do what needed to be done.”
Meanwhile, in another message delivered at the UN general assembly, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro said his country had been the subject of a “brutal disinformation campaign” concerning activities in the Amazon rainforest and Pantanal wetlands, the Independent reports. The Pantanal has been “devastated” by a record number of fires this year, according to Climate Home News.
Finally, as world leaders speak at the assembly, the Washington Post reports that some of the world’s biggest companies, including Morgan Stanley, AT&T and Walmart, have announced new plans to combat climate change, with the former setting a net-zero pledge for 2050. In a BusinessGreen editorial, editor James Murray writes about the cynicism some may feel when hearing about such targets, noting that the number of businesses with net-zero targets has more than trebled to over 1,500 since the start of the year. “You can doubt the feasibility of such goals and you can doubt the honesty of those setting them, but you can’t doubt the publicly stated intent,” he concludes.
Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk has revealed plans to cut the cost of the company’s batteries by more than half and put the company on course to make an electric car priced at $25,000 in about three years, the Financial Times reports. Such an innovation would put the vehicles on a par with petrol and diesel-powered cars, the newspaper notes. It says the strategy is based on a “deeper level of vertical integration” that will involve the company in every level of battery manufacturing, including processing the raw materials and buying lithium deposits still in the ground. Bloomberg describes $100 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) as the “magic number” laid out a decade ago by the US government as the cost of a battery pack that would be required for “a revolution” in which electric cards achieved cost parity with internal combustion engine cars. Another Bloomberg article cites BloombergNEF estimates that Tesla’s battery prices in 2019 were $128/kWh, noting the 56% cost reduction proposed by the company would bring prices down to $56/kWh. The Daily Telegraph notes that Tesla has long been trailing announcements of its “battery day” event where the announcement was made, but had to delay due to Covid-19.
In a Guardian comment piece, columnist George Monbiot is sceptical about relying on electric vehicles to meet environmental targets following reports the UK government plans to bring forward a ban on fossil fuel vehicles to 2030. “If, as a forecast by the National Grid proposes, the current fleet is replaced by 35m electric cars, we’ll simply create another environmental disaster,” he writes, in part due to the environmental impact of roads and car construction.
Separately, Financial Times energy editor David Sheppard writes that refineries “struggling to find a home” for excess jet fuel have been forced to blend it with other fuels powering everything from vans to ships, suggesting “something is seriously awry in the global oil market”.
The Australian Labor party’s new policy platform commits a future government to the “responsible” and “environmentally sustainable” development of gas, the Guardian reports. It notes that Labor, which is “battling internal divisions about climate and energy policy” also recognises renewable energy as “central to our economic future”. The news comes after Scott Morrison’s Coalition government announced the need for a “gas-led” economic recovery from the pandemic, while environmental groups expressed concerns such an approach would lock the nation into a future of using fossil fuels and compromise Australian climate targets, the Guardian notes. In a separate piece analysing the government’s announcement, Guardian Australia’s environment editor Adam Morton writes that the technological solutions proposed to address climate change, including hydrogen, energy storage and low-emissions steel and aluminium, lack evidence to “back them up” as viable solutions.
A group of more than 60 “deep-pocketed” donors is calling on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden to renounce advisers with ties to the fossil fuel industry, including some from the Obama administration, the New York Times reports.
Meanwhile, as extreme weather disasters continue across the nation, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Andrew Wheeler has said there is “scientific debate” over whether hurricanes and other extreme events are exacerbated by climate change, the Hill reports. Separately. the Hill says that US GDP will be 1% smaller than it would have been otherwise in 2050 because of climate change, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The European Commission is aiming to cut emissions from the aviation industry by up to 10% by ensuring more direct flight paths and reducing delays due to congested airspace, Reuters reports. The proposals will need approval from the European Parliament and the EU’s 27 countries and come after Europe’s Covid-19-struck airlines “called for greater flexibility in air traffic management to make it easier to adjust capacity to demand”, Reuters notes. Another Reuters piece reports that EU nations may be allowed to grant more state aid to projects that can help it achieve its climate goals, “underscoring” efforts to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Germany’s government is planning to offer companies with high energy consumption “relief on a new charge on CO2 emissions”.
BBC News reports that a strategy that involves using grants for farmers to promote environmentally friendly activities, such as planting forests or capturing flood waters, is being “diluted”. The article states that smaller farmers have persuaded ministers that the new environmental land management scheme (ELMS) is being supplemented with a sustainable farming incentive (SFI) which rewards farmers for “basic activities round the farm such as crop rotation”. It adds: “Environmentalists say farmers shouldn’t be paid extra for enhancing soil which benefits their business anyway – or for obeying the laws prohibiting water pollution.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on new analysis from Greenpeace that finds all the farm livestock in Europe are producing more emissions every year than all of the region’s cars and vans put together. (Carbon Brief’s food-and-climate special series published last week explores emissions from meat and dairy in depth.) The Daily Mail reports on Sir David Attenborough admitting to “middle-class hypocrisy”, as he sometimes eats meat.
Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh and also chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, has written a comment piece in the Guardian warning other nations that while her country is particularly susceptible to the impact of climate change, other nations “will not be able to escape its destructive force for long”. She writes that one third of the country was underwater last month following the heaviest rains in almost a decade, leaving more than 1.5 million Bangladeshis displaced. “Countries more fortunate than mine should take a long, hard look at what we are battling…Both the climate crisis and the pandemic are complex problems with many ramifications. They will either be solved collectively, or not at all.” She concludes with a recommendation that nations need to come forward with stronger climate change plans. “At the next UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, countries must commit to enhancing their nationally determined contributions and ultimately give us hope for tackling all the other problems that afflict our collective existence.”
Meanwhile, a lengthy feature in the New York Times describes the US as “under siege by climate change” as wildfires afflict the west coast and tropical storms batter the east. Its writers say scientists are now warning that these disruptions are “already locked into the global ecosystem and cannot be reversed”, meaning there is a need for adaptation. “One hope raised by some experts is that the current onslaught of fires and storms – the death, the destruction, the apocalyptic skies – might motivate people to unite behind calls for action,” they write.
A major feature in CNN focuses on how Poland, Canada, Australia and India are investing in fossil fuels in the wake of Covid-19, zooming in on specific sites and the people involved. “The pandemic could have been the decisive moment in the fight against climate change, an opportunity for leaders to bail out the environment and pivot the planet toward a greener future,” the piece states. Instead, it says that CNN has found many major fossil fuel producers are “injecting taxpayer money into propping up polluting industries”, citing “exclusive new data” from Climate Action Tracker which “shows these decisions are taking the world a step closer to a climate catastrophe”.
Veteran environmentalist, activist and author Bill McKibben writes for Rolling Stone about how the “2020 election is our last shot to steer humanity away from climate disaster”. Citing president Trump’s rejection of climate science snd the Paris Agreement, he notes “four more years will be enough to cement in place his anti-environmental policies and to make sure it’s too late to really change course”. An opinion piece by columnist Thomas L Friedman in the New York Times considers the attitudes of the two presidential candidates to climate change and science . “Trump wants everyone to believe that protecting nature means unemploying people. It’s clean air OR economic growth. It’s gas guzzlers OR unemployment. He’s forever pitting jobs against nature,” he writes. Biden, on the other hand, offers “the unity of jobs AND the environment, the unity of jobs AND mitigating climate change”.
As sea levels rise, saltwater is intruding into coastal forests, leaving “ghost forests” of standing dead trees behind. The emergence of ghost forest is causing carbon to be released into the atmosphere, a study finds. The research maps ghost forest spread across coastal North Carolina using repeat radar surveys, multi-temporal satellite imagery and field measurements of plants to quantify changes in aboveground carbon. The authors say: “In this changing environment, human intervention, whether through land preservation, restoration, or reforestation, may be necessary to prevent aboveground carbon loss.”
Shallow peat is most vulnerable to burning and releasing its stored carbon during wildfires, a study says. To examine the role of pre-fire peat depth on peat burn severity, the researchers measured the depth of burn (DOB) in peat of varying depths (0.1–1.6 m) within a rock barrens landscape. The authors say: “We found that DOB (0–0.4 m) decreased with increasing pre-fire peat depth, and that there was a strong correlation between the percent of the profile that burned and pre-fire peat depth.”
Climate change is strengthening the contrast between wet and dry regions in the tropics, a study says. Using a combination of satellite and on-the-ground data, the research finds that this contrast is a result of rainfall in wet regions increasing substantially opposed by a slight decrease in dry regions. The researchers say: “Our results show that most of the observed change has been caused by increasing greenhouse gases.”