Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China makes no shift away from coal in five-year plan as it 'crawls' to carbon neutrality
- Whitehaven coal mine firm seeks judicial review of council U-turn
- Germany urges new outreach to Moscow on climate change
- Women suffer most from climate change so let’s help them fight it
- Is the burger nearing extinction?
- Quantifying the influence of short-term emission reductions on climate
- Long‐term evolution of global sea surface temperature trend
There is widespread coverage of China’s new “five-year plan”, a draft of which was released by the Chinese government on Friday. Climate Home News says the pivotal policy document provides a summary of the country’s economic plan up to 2025 and “those hoping for a shift away from coal were left disappointed”. The news website continues: “The document will shape China’s emissions trajectory and gives an insight into how Beijing is planning to get on track to achieve its climate goals of peaking its emissions before 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2060. And, for analysts, the answer is with baby steps.” The Guardian says: “China has set out an economic blueprint for the next five years that could lead to a strong rise in greenhouse gas emissions if further action is not taken to meet the country’s long-term goals… China will reduce its ‘emissions intensity’ – the amount of CO2 produced per unit of GDP – by 18% over the period 2021 to 2025, but this target is in line with previous trends, and could lead to emissions continuing to increase by 1% a year or more. Non-fossil fuel energy is targeted to make up 20% of China’s energy mix, leaving plenty of room for further expansion of the country’s coal industry.” The Sunday Times describes the plan as a “great leap backwards on cutting emissions”, adding: “President Xi Jinping said last year that China would reach net-zero emissions by 2060, and climate experts hoped his new five-year plan, which sets out the nation’s strategy from 2021 to 2025, would reveal how that would be achieved. Li Keqiang, the prime minister, was widely expected to announce that it would reach peak carbon emissions by 2025 when he unveiled the five-year plan to the National People’s Congress on Friday. Instead he gave details of an industrial strategy that leaves China reliant on burning coal.” An accompanying editorial in the Sunday Times says: “It is clear [China’s] emissions will continue to increase unless economic growth slows dramatically. The can was kicked down the road. Genuinely green growth in China is some way off and the world will suffer the consequences.” Bloomberg says that “a lot hinges on how much the environment ministry can persuade other ministries and state-owned companies to take China’s 2060 goal seriously”.
Reuters reports on the views of the delegates meeting in Beijing for the all-important “two sessions” gathering of China’s communist party officials, where the five-year plan is to be agreed. The newswire says: “China should accelerate development of nuclear power to help meet Beijing’s pledges to bring greenhouse gas emissions to a peak before 2030 and become ‘carbon neutral’ by 2060, according to industry delegates at the annual session of parliament. China said in its [draft] 2021-2025 five-year plan released on Friday that it would raise total nuclear capacity to 70 gigawatts (GW) by the end of 2025. Capacity reached 51GW at the end of last year, falling short of its 58GW target.” A feature in Vox on the new plan says: “These targets suggest modest progress from the world’s top emitter in the years to come. It is worth noting, though, that historically, environmental goals in five-year plans have been set to be overachieved.” A feature in the Sydney Morning Herald asks whether China can “build coal plant and climate treaties at once” and notes that “China has yet to violate any of its climate commitments”. It quotes former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd: “He still sees China as a serious actor on climate change. Rudd says there has been a revolution in the way China views climate change since the failed Copenhagen climate summit 2009. ‘The reason is, frankly, that they get science. I’ve been talking to Chinese political leaders and climate change officials about this for more than a decade,’ Rudd says.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “China urged the US on Sunday to remove ‘unreasonable’ curbs on cooperation as soon as possible and work together on issues like climate change, while accusing Washington of bringing chaos in the name of spreading democracy”. Writing for Bloomberg, Minxin Pei, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says that “China shouldn’t try to blackmail Biden on climate”, adding: “Xi Jinping will will want to set a high price for cooperation but he has less leverage than it may appear.”
Separately, China’s state news agency Xinhua underlines the importance of launching the nation’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) by the end of June. The article (in Chinese), titled “‘Carbon neutrality’ causes heated discussions, national ETS to be launched”, calls the programme one of the “key policy tools” for China to hit its carbon emission goals. It also reports that participants at China’s “two sessions” suggest the government should accelerate the building of the ETS system, improve the carbon-trading mechanism and promote the “hierarchical development” for the country’s green financial apparatus.
Carbon Brief will be publishing a detailed Q&A about China’s new five-year plan later this week, once all the details have been revealed.
The continuing saga of the planned coking coal mine in Cumbria is covered by BBC News with the news that the company planning to build the mine is now taking legal action over the county council’s decision to reconsider its approval of the scheme. BBC News says: “The authority granted West Cumbria Mining (WCM) planning permission in October but the plans had not been formalised. WCM said the decision to reconsider approval ‘cannot be justified’ and it is seeking a judicial review…The company said the decision to rethink ‘at the eleventh hour and after comprehensive, extensive and prolonged consultation and consideration, cannot be justified and is based on a misunderstanding of the relevant law and facts’.” Writing in Cumbria’s News & Star, feature writer Stephen Blease argues that “we don’t need West Cumbria coal mine for jobs”. He adds: “The government’s own climate advisers – and anyone with half a clue about the environment – say it is bad news, and that the last thing we should be doing at the moment is setting fire to yet more fossil fuel.” A feature in the Financial Times says that the “coal mine plan pits local needs against global green ambitions”.
Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Sunday Times carries a feature asking: “What ever happened to fracking [in the UK]?” Ben Spencer, the newspaper’s new science and environment editor, writes: “The potential economic benefits were not enough for people to put aside fears about earthquakes and environmental damage.” The Financial Times begins a new series “examining whether hydrogen can help cut emissions across industries from transport to construction”. The “big read” looks at the race to scale up hydrogen and says: “The rising cost of carbon – particularly in the EU where the bloc’s emissions allowance scheme has almost doubled in price in the past year – has the potential to divert resources into accelerating the uptake of hydrogen made from renewable energy.” [See the detailed Carbon Brief Q&A on hydrogen for more background.]
Separately, the Sunday Telegraph reports that “retailers in Northern Ireland face increased costs on white and electrical goods such as refrigerators and televisions because of new EU green rules”. [EU green rules have helped keep energy bills far lower than they would have been over the past decade.] BusinessGreen covers a new paper, “led by the influential economists Lord Nicholas Stern and Dimitri Zenghelis”, which concludes that “ambitious green recovery plans bolstered by strategies to restore and sustain private investment are needed to ensure G7 economies bounce back in a sustained, strong, and non-inflationary manner”. Writing in CityAM, Ruth Warder, the co-CEO of Edelman UK, says that “Brits must ditch ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mentality to tackle climate change”. She continues: “In the year when the UK holds the presidency of the G7 and hosts COP26, less than a third of the British public think government and business are doing enough to address climate change. It is a cause of genuine anxiety in people’s minds. Strikingly, people are more worried about climate change, than they are about contracting Covid-19.” Finally, the Daily Telegraph has a comment piece by the climate sceptic Ross Clark where he tries to argue that the UK government’s climate targets “will leave us poorer”. [Modelling for official advisers the Climate Change Committee shows meeting the net-zero goal would raise GDP, as Carbon Brief reported in December.]
The Financial Times reports that “Germany has called for greater co-operation with Russia on climate change in a contentious new effort to restore frayed EU ties with Moscow” It adds: “The European bloc should develop a ‘concrete and detailed strategy’ on global warming as part of a broader attempt to ‘selectively engage’ the Kremlin, according to a document drawn up by Berlin ahead of EU leaders’ talks on Russia this month. The German proposal highlights deepening EU internal divisions over how to handle Russia.”
In other Europe news, a separate Financial Times article says that “Germany has agreed to pay €2.8bn to four energy companies as compensation for forcing them to close their nuclear plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan”. France 24 reports on how Poland’s mining heartlands are contemplating a coal-free future: “An energy policy u-turn from Poland has seen the country announce its intention to close all its thermal coal mines by 2049. It’s not the most ambitious scheme, but it does mark a wider shift of attitudes in Poland, spurred on by an EU emissions trading scheme that’s making the reliance on coal more and more expensive. At the same time, alternatives continue to get cheaper.” World Nuclear News has a report on how “Hungary and Poland plan nuclear to replace coal”. EurActiv reports that “poor countries in line to receive funds from EU carbon border levy”.
There are several articles marking International Women’s Day. In the Times, there is a joint op-ed by Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the UK international champion on adaptation and resilience for the COP26 presidency, and Rebecca Pow, the environment minister responsible for domestic climate adaptation. They write that “around the world 80% of people displaced by climate change are women”, adding: “Given the enormous impact this is having on women, we need to do more to empower them and make sure they are leading our fight against climate change and improving the environment. We need to listen to women and girls from around the world, especially those living in areas most affected by climate change, to hear their priorities and concerns on this issue…Championing women’s roles as decision-makers, educators and climate leaders is vital if we are going to deliver effective, long-term solutions to climate change.” The Independent‘s Daisy Dunne interviews Prof Katharine Hayhoe, the US climate scientist who was recently appointed chief scientist at Nature Conservancy. She says that women must not be “sidelined” at climate talks: “Social science has shown us that the greater the diversity of voices that you have at the table – in terms of life experience, culture, knowledge, expertise, gender, race and other things – the bigger the range of possible solutions you’re able to come up with.” As part of the Financial Times’s “women in business” special report, climate reporter Camilla Hodgson profiles three female lawyers who are “on a mission to save the climate with legal knowhow”. The featured lawyers are Kristin Casper at Greenpeace International, Susan Mac Cormac at Morrison & Foerster and Brynn O’Brien from the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility. BusinessGreen’s Cecelia Keating rounds up the views of various female sustainable business leaders who reveal their hopes for “a greener, fairer economy”.
Separately, the Guardian interviews the New Yorker’s climate journalist and author Elizabeth Kolbert about her new book, “Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future”. She says: “Are we gods or are we just bumbling, technologically advanced creatures? As Ed Wilson also said: ‘We have paleolithic brains, we have medieval institutions and space-age technologies.’ That is a really dangerous combination and we are seeing that.”
Columnist Frank Bruni writes in the New York Times that “meat has more competition – and less justification – than ever before”. He continues: “This is the future: not a meatless one – not anytime soon – but one with less meat. I’m now sure of that. It’s the inevitable consequence of alarm over climate change, to which livestock farming contributes significantly…I don’t imagine that our juicy, saucy romance will ever end entirely. But a bit of the thrill is gone.” Writing for Bloomberg, Gernot Wagner says it is “too late for Big Oil’s pivot to a carbon tax”. Writing for CNN, Danna Smith, the executive director of Dogwood Alliance, argues that “we can’t plant or log our way out of climate change”. In the Independent, John Rentoul asks: “What part will green taxes play in achieving net zero carbon?” adding that the idea of green taxes in the UK is “falling out of favour”. Finally, the New York Times carries a feature asking: “Can Biden keep coal country from becoming a ‘ghost town’?”
New research shows that the reduction in CO2 and aerosol emissions caused by Covid-19 could cause a “temporary enhancement in warming rate”. The authors simulate the effects of short-term emissions on global and regional temperature and rainfall in an Earth system model, and find that the “temporary” change in emissions will have only a “modest” impact on global and regional climate. They also note that “even large emission reductions applied for a short duration have only a small and likely undetectable impact”. Last year, Carbon Brief published an early estimate of the impact of Covid-19 on global CO2 emissions.
The equatorial central Pacific ocean switched from cooling to warming in the middle of the last century, and is one of the fastest-warming ocean regions over recent decades, according to new research. The authors quantify changes in global sea surface temperature over the last century, and find that the ocean has been warming in all regions other than the the subpolar North Atlantic, the equatorial central Pacific, and the Southern Ocean in the Pacific sector. It adds that the strongest warming in recent decades is in the Arctic Ocean, east of the continents in the northern hemisphere, the entire Indian Ocean, and especially in the tropical Pacific Ocean.
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