Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China and US pledge climate change commitment
- Biden to pledge climate aid for developing nations
- COP26 preparations to intensify after compromise on virtual talks
- EU split over delay to decision on classing gas as green investment
- We must help poorer countries tackle climate change
- A committed fourfold increase in ocean oxygen loss
- Potential carbon leakage under the Paris Agreement
China and the US have published a joint statement saying they are committed to working together and with other countries on tackling climate change, report a variety of news outlets around the world. BBC News says the statement followed a meeting in Shanghai late last week between Chinese climate envoy Xie Zhenhua and his US counterpart John Kerry. “The US and China are committed to cooperating with each other and with other countries to tackle the climate crisis,” says the statement, adding that both nations will continue to discuss “concrete actions in the 2020s to reduce emissions aimed at keeping the Paris Agreement-aligned temperature limit within reach”. Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environment analyst, says: “Both sides have…promised plans for reducing their own emissions further. President Biden will unveil his proposals at or before the US summit this coming week. President Xi is playing coy over whether he’ll attend the summit. Instead he may announce tighter Chinese targets at the Boao Forum – a Chinese forum for business and government leaders – also this week.” The South China Morning Post joins other outlets in quoting Greenpeace’s Li Shuo, who says: “This joint statement should put global climate momentum back on high gear.”
However, Associated Press carried an interview on Friday with China’s vice foreign minister Le Yucheng who “signalled that China is unlikely to make any new pledges at a climate change meeting called by president Joe Biden for next week”. When asked about China’s own climate goals, Le said: “For a big country with 1.4 billion people, these goals are not easily delivered. Some countries are asking China to achieve the goals earlier. I am afraid this is not very realistic.”
The Financial Times says the joint statement comes “despite rising tensions between the two powers, boosting chances of a global deal on emissions at a UN summit this [year]”. It adds: “The pledge, which follows two days of high-stakes meetings in Shanghai, is a signal that climate change could be a rare area of collaboration in a strained relationship.” The FT notes that Kerry told reporters after the meeting: “I think this is the first time, China has joined in saying it’s a crisis…The language is very strong…you can see we agreed on critical elements of where we have to go.“ The newspaper also mentions that “they stopped short of establishing a dedicated US-China working group on climate change, a suggestion that had been raised by the Chinese side during bilateral talks in Anchorage last month”. The Times says the joint statement has been “hailed by environmental activists”.
Speaking to the New York Times, Kerry said “it’s very important for us to try to keep those other things [disputes over human rights and Hong Kong] away, because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world”. The newspaper adds that on Friday Chinese leader Xi Jinping, “in what seemed to be a retort to the US, he warned that the climate issue should not be ‘a bargaining chip for geopolitics’ or ‘an excuse for trade barriers’”. On a call with the leaders of France and Germany on Friday, Xi is reported as saying: “China is sure to act on its words, and its actions are sure to produce results…We hope that the advanced economies will set an example in momentum for emissions reductions, and also lead the way in fulfilling commitments for climate funding.” The Financial Times says that Xi pledged on the call that China “would use the shortest time in world history to go from a carbon peak to carbon neutrality”. Politico reports that on the same call “France and Germany’s efforts to prod China to do more on climate prompted Beijing to sharply reject a key EU policy”. It adds: “Xi blasted EU plans to develop a so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism – aimed at ensuring that companies producing in countries with laxer climate rules face a carbon cost when exporting to Europe. ‘Tackling climate change should…not become an excuse for geopolitics, attacking other countries or trade barriers,’ Xi said, according to Chinese state media Xinhua. The accounts of the call differed significantly between Berlin and Beijing, while France didn’t release any readout as of Friday afternoon. According to Xinhua, Xi said: ‘I am willing to strengthen cooperation with France and Germany on climate change.’”
The Sydney Morning Herald says that the “show of solidarity [on climate by China and the US] will put further pressure on Australia to take more action on emissions reduction”. Sky News has a brief interview with Kerry in which he stresses that “the reason for the real urgency is because we are not getting the job done” and adds that “we are very sorry for the last four years when the president didn’t care about science”. The Guardian and Bloomberg are among the other publications reporting the joint statement.
Ahead of up to 40 world leaders meeting online this Thursday and Friday for Joe Biden’s climate summit, Bloomberg reports “the Biden administration is set to announce…a plan for distributing billions of dollars more in aid to help developing nations adapt to global warming and embrace clean energy, according to people familiar with the matter”. It adds: “The finance plan is part of a rush of actions as the administration seeks to prove to the world that the US is back in the global fight against climate change. The president is also preparing to issue an executive order addressing the financial risks posed by climate change and to vow to cut US greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade from 2005 levels.” The Hill quotes White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy: “I think it’s going to be a great two days, I think we’re going to show the world that we’re back.“ The Guardian reports on the summit under the headline: “Joe Biden to reveal US emissions pledge in key climate crisis moment.”
Meanwhile, Reuters says that a group of US electricity companies has written to Joe Biden “saying it will work with his administration and Congress to design a broad set of policies to reach a near-term goal of slashing the sector’s carbon emissions by 2030”. Another Reuters article notes that the “US Interior Department on Friday sought to erase the Trump administration’s pro-fossil fuels legacy from the nation’s public lands by revoking a suite of policies that boosted drilling and mining and ordering that climate change be put at the forefront in future agency decisions”. Politico reports that “teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg will testify before Congress at an Earth Day hearing on Thursday, the same day that president Joe Biden will convene world leaders for a virtual conference on climate change.” It adds that Thunberg will appear before a House Oversight Committee panel for a hearing entitled: “The role of fossil fuel subsidies in preventing action on the climate crisis.”
Separately, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times says that “Biden must set aggressive carbon reduction goals to meet the Paris climate targets”. It continues: “Sticking with fossil fuels because it would be expensive to change is not an option unless we’re ready to accept the climate consequences…It is crucial that Biden reestablish confidence among other countries that the Trump interregnum on climate change has ended, though in truth, other countries have reason to be sceptical of us. Obstinate climate denial and its close cousin, misguided frugality, are strong currents in our domestic politics, and a country that elected Trump once is capable of doing so again.” In contrast, the Wall Street Journal‘s opinion pages chooses to promote a new book doubting climate science and action on climate change. Politico carries a feature about how “despite deep scepticism from union allies, Democrats are determined to make their ‘just transition’ away from fossil fuels work”.
Several outlets report that the UN has decided to hold extended preparatory negotiations online ahead of the major COP26 climate summit scheduled to be hold in Glasgow in November. The Guardian says “nations compromised over how to conduct virtual negotiations ahead of the summit” and the UN has “ruled that governments should hold a three-week long virtual meeting from 31 May to 17 June”. Traditionally, these annual “intersessional” talks have been held in Bonn, Germany, over a fortnight. Climate Home News says these “critical” discussions will be held online, but “no decisions will be made” because the talks will not be formally constituted. It adds: “Resolution on the most contentious elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook, notably around carbon trading, is long overdue…The idea is to allow negotiators to discuss potential compromises on a number of contentious issues and work towards a draft text that could be ready for approval when physical talks resume.”
Meanwhile, the Press Association reports that the UK environment secretary George Eustice has said that he believes COP26 itself would be “much more effective” if people were able to physically attend. He told Sky News: “There may be components of it that are part-virtual that some people attend virtually, but we think for the main leader summit that it happens in person and that’s our intention.” The Times notes that the House of Commons foreign affairs committee report has today “called on the government to make clear how it will decide whether COP26 can go ahead with people attending in person”. It says the report adds: “Previous conferences have too often been momentary waypoints that have not secured the change needed. The UK’s presidency will not be a success unless it sets a path to net-zero made real by changes to our economy, that recognise the real cost of carbon output, and are secured by ambitious green financing.” (See Comment below.)
The Financial Times reports that the “European Commission is split over whether to postpone a decision on classifying gas generated from fossil fuels as green energy under its landmark classification system for investors” It adds: “Brussels had planned to publish an updated draft of a taxonomy for sustainable finance later this week. The document is designed to guide those who want to direct their money into environmentally friendly investments, and help stamp out the misreporting of companies’ environmental impact, known as greenwashing. The commission was forced to revamp its initial proposals earlier this year after the text was criticised by member states which want gas to be explicitly recognised as a low-emission technology that can help the EU meet its goal of becoming a net-zero polluter by 2050. Now the publication of the draft rules could be postponed again as the commission seeks to resolve the impasse.” Both the FT and Reuters say they have seen a draft of the text, which shows that the “commission proposed to delay the decision in order to carry out a separate assessment of how gas and nuclear ‘contribute to decarbonisation’ to allow for a more ‘transparent’ debate about the technologies”. The FT adds that “a final decision on whether to approve the current text or delay it again for further redrafting is likely to be made [today]”. Reuters says the draft also shows that “the European Union will…lay out conditions that transport, industry and buildings must meet to be classed as a sustainable investment in Europe”. EurActiv says of the draft text that it “kept controversial criteria for bioenergy and forestry” adding that on both topics the “the draft rules were considerably relaxed”.
Meanwhile, in other EU news, EurActiv reports that “gas power plants overtook lignite in 2020 to become the EU’s single largest source of power sector emissions, according to fresh analysis from energy think tank Ember”. The Times covers new Citi analysis showing that “European oil giants embarked on $20bn of low-carbon energy projects in the first quarter of this year, 25 times more than they committed to oil and gas”. Reuters says that Poland “plans to create a special energy agency that would take over coal and lignite-fueled power plants from state utilities, including PGE, Enea and Tauron, so that they can focus on green energy investment”. Finally, the Guardian has a news feature about the rise of Germany’s Greens ahead of this year’s national elections: “The party’s standing in the polls – in second place at 21-23% of the vote – means it will on Monday, for the first time in its 41-year history, nominate a candidate for chancellor. Furthermore, that candidate will have a realistic chance of filling the top job in German politics by the end of the year.”
Writing in the Financial Times, COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma argues that “it is a gross injustice that those who have done the least to cause the climate crisis often suffer most from its effects”. He continues: “Public climate finance is by no means the only answer to these problems. But it is a significant part of it as it can help mobilise private capital…The first challenge is quantity. To support developing countries, in 2015 developed countries pledged collectively to mobilise at least $100bn a year in climate finance between 2020 and 2025. The UK has committed £11.6bn of investment to support climate action around the world. Yet globally, we still have a lot to do to reach the $100bn goal – a key priority for the UK’s COP26 and G7 presidencies this year. Second, it needs to be easier for communities to access the finance that is available…Third, as well as reducing future emissions, we need to make sure there is finance available to protect communities now.” The Sunday Express also carries a comment piece by Sharma in which he says the UK must “inspire the world to go green”. He adds: “The UK is recognised around the world as a leader on climate action. We have one of the strongest 2030 emissions reduction targets on earth. Now, we must inspire others to match our ambition. As one the largest and one of the most important summits we’ve ever hosted, COP26 is our chance to show the world what a confident, independent Britain can achieve on the global stage.”
Meanwhile, writing in the Times, Tom Tugendhat MP, who chairs the foreign affairs committee, says that COP26 is a “a test of British diplomacy”. He continues: “For environmental, strategic and national reasons, COP26 should dominate the government’s agenda this year. This is not only a responsibility, this is a chance for us to demonstrate strength. Carbon reduction won’t be achieved without transforming our economy, our society and our dependence on others. The UK can show the creativity needed to capture carbon in innovative ways.”
In other commentary, the South China Morning Post carries a piece by David Dodwell who says that “with hope, COP26 will broker detailed net carbon timetables, meaningful carbon pricing and an end to fossil fuel subsidies”. And the Sunday Times has a feature by Ben Spencer on the “battle” between the heat pump and hydrogen: “A revolution is about to take place in the way we warm our homes – and two opposing sides are in the pipeline to provide the greener alternative.”
The world’s oceans are committed to a four-fold increase in oxygen loss, even if global net-zero emissions are achieved this year, according to new research. The study notes that, over the past 50 years, the oceans have lost around 2% of their oxygen content. By running an Earth system model, the authors find that the deep ocean will eventually lose more than 10% of its pre-industrial oxygen content, even if CO2 emissions were stopped this year. However, the paper adds, in the surface ocean’s layer, “the ongoing deoxygenation will largely stop once CO2 emissions are stopped”.
A new study finds that carbon leakage – “the effect of emissions transferring to certain countries due to others having a stricter climate policy”– doubles with a US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. Authors use a model of the world economy that includes energy and carbon emissions to analyse the effect of leakage under six different scenarios, including with and without the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement. The study finds a “medium carbon leakage” of 1-9% of total emissions if Paris Agreement policy is coordinated across countries, compared to a high leakage of 8-31% if countries operate in isolation. However, they add that leakage rises to 3-16% with a US withdrawal.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.