Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China resists demands for more ambitious climate action with new pledge
- Britain drafts COP26 deal on global aviation emissions
- US: Biden, pushing $1.75tn spending bill, dealt setback on infrastructure
- Climate tops the agenda as G20 meets in person after two-year gap
- Wealthy nations urged to meet $100bn climate finance goal
- US House Democrats grill Big Oil in climate deception probe
- UK weather: Flooded roads and swollen rivers in Cumbria as some areas get up to 13 inches of rain
- COP26 summit is a pivotal moment for the planet
- Boris Johnson’s green journey
- The changing nature of hydroclimatic risks across South Africa
China has submitted a new climate action plan to the United Nations that formalises its previous commitments to reduce emissions, but “resisted demands for more ambitious action from Beijing”, reports Politico. China’s new nationally determined contribution (NDC) – published on the UN’s registry yesterday – commits the country to reach climate neutrality before 2060 and an emissions peak before 2030, the outlet explains, adding: “China will also reduce the emissions intensity of its GDP by more than 65% by 2030 and step up its wind and solar capacity to more than 1,200 gigawatts.” The principle targets “were announced last year by China’s president, Xi Jinping”, says the Guardian, which notes that they “are insufficient to keep the world on course to hold global heating to no more than 1.5C”. Li Shuo, a policy adviser at Greenpeace China, tells Reuters that the lack of new pledges “casts a shadow on the global climate effort”. Li added: “In light of the domestic economic uncertainties, the country appears hesitant to embrace stronger near term targets, and missed an opportunity to demonstrate ambition.” Bernice Lee, a China expert at Chatham House, tells Climate Home News: “We can’t sugarcoat it…Beijing’s new climate plan is disappointing and well off where the world’s biggest emitter needs to be. China has lowballed its target and missed a chance to be recognised as a global leader.” The new NDC “foreshadows a grim start” to the COP26 climate summit, says the New York Times, which notes that US climate envoy John Kerry said it “doesn’t advance the ball sufficiently”. And Isabel Hilton from China Dialogue tells New Scientist that expectations for China’s new climate plan were low because the government’s narrative amid the country’s ongoing energy crisis has been about a “steady and careful” energy transition rather than “big ambition”. She added: “On the positive side, it means Xi Jinping not coming [to Glasgow] is not a sign that China is either not interested or lacks seriousness or commitment…[But] it’s not a big mood lifter, to be honest.“ The Hill also has the story.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times Climate Capital column says that China and India have “cast a pall over the opening of the COP26 summit” by rejecting calls to set tough new climate target – “calling into question whether the world’s biggest polluters will start cutting emissions this decade”. Bloomberg reports that coal is “in freefall” in China as the government “steps up war on prices”. And BBC News notes that India “has yet to submit its latest plans to cut greenhouse-gas emissions”.
According to a draft document seen by Reuters, the UK is “asking countries to push for a global target to cut aviation emissions to levels compatible with the Paris Agreement, under a deal due to be announced at the COP26 climate change summit”. The newswire continues: “As COP26 host, Britain is rallying countries to join an ‘International Aviation Climate Ambition Coalition’ and agree to push the United Nations’ aviation agency to set a long-term target to reduce emissions from international flights. Countries that sign the deal would commit to supporting the adoption by the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) of an ‘ambitious long-term aspirational goal that is compatible with net-zero global emissions by 2050’, the draft said.” The proposal is “one of a set of deals Britain is trying to strike among clusters of countries” at COP26, the newswire explains. However, “some campaigners said the draft aviation deal was a positive step, but warned that voluntary targets were no substitute for binding regulations to curb pollution from flights”. Jo Dardenne, aviation manager at the European Federation for Transport and Environment, tells the outlet that “a target doesn’t mean anything if you don’t have a policy to enforce it”.
Meanwhile, in an “exclusive BBC message”, Pope Francis has called on world to provide “effective responses” to climate change at COP26 and offer “concrete hope” to future generations. Speaking from the Vatican for BBC Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, the Pope urged the world to respond to them with vision and radical decisions, so as not to “waste opportunities” that the current challenges present, the outlet reports. “We can confront these crises by retreating into isolationism, protectionism and exploitation,” the Pope said, “or we can see in them a real chance for change”. Also speaking ahead of the COP, US climate envoy John Kerry has said the summit is the “chance to win a victory for the next century, for life on this planet”, but “must significantly accelerate our efforts”, reports the Press Association. Speaking at the London School of Economics (LSE), Kerry said there was “real, meaningful and growable” momentum among countries and businesses to drive a shift to green economies, the newswire reports. Kerry said that all countries must work together, noting that “Mother Nature only has one measure of how much emissions are in our atmosphere. She doesn’t measure whether it’s US, China, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, it’s just atmospheric. Every ounce matters, every tenth of a degree of temperature matters”. Politico has a piece on the “daunting climate quest’ facing Kerry, and a special climate issue of Time magazine includes an in-depth interview with Kerry. Taking a different tone, actor and former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger tells BBC News that leaders who claim combating climate change hurts the economy are “stupid or liars”. In an interview for BBC Radio 4‘s 39 Ways to Save the Planet series, Schwarzenegger said California’s continued economic success and prolific job creation proves CO2 reduction and boosting wealth go hand in hand: “They are liars, they are stupid. Or they don’t know how to do it, because we figured how to do it and it’s all about having the balls to do it.”
In other COP news, Climate Home News reports that the UK COP26 presidency is “considering a proposal for the final Glasgow outcome to demand another round of updated nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2023”. The outlet notes that the idea is “backed by Christiana Figueres”, but “is meeting resistance from emerging economies, who want more support to meet existing targets before rewriting them”. The UK’s UN ambassador Barbara Woodward has confirmed that the UK is not expecting Chinese President Xi Jinping to attend the summit, reports Reuters. Russia’s environment minister has told Reuters that the country will press for its forests, nuclear plants and hydroelectric power to be recognised as green projects at COP26. Anote Tong, a former president of Kiribati, has warned that “we need concrete action now. We cannot wait until 2050, it is a matter of our survival”, reports Reuters. And the i newspaper reports that a delegation of pastoral farmers from indigenous communities around the world is heading to COP26 to “argue that sustainably-reared livestock has a key role to play in a ‘net-zero’ world”.
There is also a flurry of explainers and preview pieces on the COP, including “four numbers that set the stage for climate change negotiations” from BBC News, as well as a BBC News piece on what the “big polluters” are doing to cut emissions. The Press Association has explainers on the “history of the science and fight against climate chaos”, the challenges facing leaders and negotiators to deliver a successful COP, and a “jargon buster”. The Guardian explains what’s at stake at COP26.
US president Joe Biden was “dealt a setback” yesterday, reports Reuters, “as the House of Representatives abandoned plans for a vote on an infrastructure bill with progressives seeking more time to consider his call for a separate $1.75tn plan for climate measures, preschool and other social initiatives”. The newswire explains: “Biden had sought to unite his party behind the climate and social spending plan with personal appeals on Thursday, and had pressed for a Thursday vote on the $1tn infrastructure bill, another main plank of his agenda. He hoped a framework on the larger measure would convince progressive House Democrats to support the infrastructure bill, but their insistence that the two move together led House leaders to abandon a planned vote, leaving Biden empty handed.” According to a “person familiar with the matter”, Biden told House Democrats: “I need you to help me; I need your votes…I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that the House and Senate (Democratic) majorities and my presidency will be determined by what happens in the next week.” However, Biden then departed for COP26, leaving behind “a US Congress bubbling with conflicts and unanswered questions, but one that seemed to be inching towards votes on his economic agenda, perhaps within days”, the newswire says. Biden’s move was “one of the biggest gambles of a career that spans nearly a half century”, says the Washington Post. And the Guardian says that Biden “faces a major challenge to reassert American credibility” as he heads to COP26.
The larger spending plan includes a newly unveiled $555bn “Build back better” plan, reports the Washington Post, which “represents the biggest clean-energy investment in US history” and includes a “package of tax credits, grants and other policies aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions that are fuelling climate change”. The paper explains: “Although Senator Joe Manchin III forced Democrats to drop a key provision targeting the electric power sector, the final bill includes an array of tax credits for companies and consumers that will make it easier to buy electric vehicles, install solar panels, retrofit buildings and manufacture wind turbines and other clean-energy equipment in the US…The legislation, coupled with executive actions, could help Biden halve US greenhouse gas emissions in less than nine years compared with 2005 levels.” Bloomberg says the plan “cuts US emissions by more than a gigatonne”. Reuters reports that “tucked [in] the 1,600-page” is a proposal to “charge oil and gas operators if they release methane above a limit and offer $775m to help reduce and monitor the greenhouse gas”. Bloomberg also covers the “first-time fees” on methane. Vox and Bloomberg have explainers on the plan, and the Guardian and Atlantic also cover the story. Abrahm Lustgarten, an environmental reporter for ProPublica, writes in the New York Times that the amount of money “might seem enormous. but over the long term, it will be a pittance”. Reuters reports that the Biden administration also “unveiled fresh steps toward building offshore wind farms in waters off the coasts of Massachusetts, the Carolinas and in the Gulf of Mexico”.
The G20 summit of the the world’s 20 largest economies, being held in Rome this weekend, will be “dominated by wrangling over climate targets that are likely to set the tone for the COP26 summit that follows”, the Financial Times reports. It says Italian diplomats hope the first in-person G20 meeting in two years “can pave the way for a breakthrough” and adds that the presidents of China and Russia, Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, will participate via video link. Reuters also says climate is “set to dominate” the meeting. Another Reuters article says the newswire has seen a draft communiqué, subject to change, that says: “we commit to tackle the existential challenge of climate change”. The newswire adds that the draft also says: “We acknowledge the key relevance of achieving global net-zero greenhouse gas emissions or carbon neutrality by 2050”. Reuters continues: “However, the 2050 date appears in the draft in brackets, indicating it is still subject to negotiation.” Other commitments in the draft, according to Reuters, include G20 members doing their “utmost” to stop building new unabated coal-fired power stations “taking national circumstances into account”, a phrase the newswire says is “commonly used to avoid firm commitments”. It adds: “The leaders said they would end public finance for overseas coal plants by the end of this year and aim for a ‘largely decarbonised’ power system in the 2030s, according to the draft.” The publication also notes a bracketed call in the draft for “additional climate financing”.
Bloomberg also reports on the draft communiqué under the headline: “G20 leaders plan to stop funding offshore coal, draft statement says.” It says the 11-page draft is dated Thursday and “shows key deliverables have yet to be agreed”. It continues: “Many references to climate objectives and dates are still in brackets or with large slabs of text highlighted in various colours, meaning they haven’t been finalised. That includes a vow to take ‘immediate action’ to keep the objective of limiting global warming to 1.5C within reach.” It adds: “The negotiations are very slow, particularly on climate and energy issues, said another G20 official. China and India have been an obstacle to drafting the statement, according to a separate official, with the Chinese delegation digging in their heels on points of contention.” Another Bloomberg piece says that a G20 pledge to end overseas coal finance could avoid emissions amounting to 230m tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, according to Global Energy Monitor. A blog for Italian thinktank ECCO by its co-founder Luca Bergamaschi and Alex Scott of E3G sets out four climate “tests” for the G20 including finance and access to vaccines, “unlocking ‘trillions’ in financial firepower for an equitable recovery and climate transitions”, faster emissions cuts to limit warming to 1.5C and new commitments on coal. However, it adds: “Consensus is not guaranteed. Significant differences remain going into the summit…If G20 leaders fail to deliver, the pressure will reach boiling point once they land in Glasgow and have their feet to the fire of the climate vulnerable country leaders. Ultimately, only at the end of the long second week of COP26 we will be able to judge how much or little progress the world has truly made in 2021.”
Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, has urged wealthy countries to close the gap to meet a $100bn annual climate finance target for developing nations a year earlier than expected, reports the Guardian. Speaking before the G20 meeting this weekend and next week’s COP26, she said rich countries had “to try harder” to close the shortfall in climate finance. (See Carbon Brief’s new analysis on why climate finance flows are falling short of the $100bn pledge.) The Financial Times says that the G20 meeting is “from the EU perspective…a litmus test for its self-declared leadership, as it will prove a tall order convincing other countries to follow suit” on its climate commitments. It adds: “One area where the Europeans are hoping for headline-making progress [at COP26] is reaching the $100bn target for climate financing for the world’s poorer countries.” EurActiv notes that von der Leyen said that the G20 “will somehow be a pacemaker for the COP26” and she is calling on world leaders in Rome to agree “credible commitments for decarbonisation to reach the goal of net zero mid-century”. Additionally, Reuters reports that von der Leyen has announced that the EU will launch a project with South Africa at COP26 to speed up the country’s exit from coal.
Meanwhile, in China Dialogue, Sonam P Wangdi, who chairs the Least Developed Countries Group, discusses climate finance: “Currently, climate finance focuses more on mitigation than adaptation. We need funds for adaptation. We must achieve a balance…We didn’t cause this crisis but we are suffering the worst of its impacts. Dedicated finance to address loss and damage is urgently needed. COP26 must see progress on achieving this.” And in Foreign Affairs, Mohamed Adow, director of the energy and climate thinktank PowerShiftAfrica, has a comment piece under the headline: “The climate debt keeps growing. Rich countries still refuse to pay their share.”
In testimonies to US Congress yesterday, executives from some of the world’s biggest oil companies “denied that they continue to misinform the public about the role of fossil fuels in climate change and resisted calls to ask lobbying groups they fund to stop obstructing climate-friendly policies”, says Reuters. It continues: “It was the first time executives of the top oil majors – ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, BP America and Chevron – and the heads of the American Petroleum Institute (API) and Chamber of Commerce answered questions about climate change in Congress under oath.” Committee Democrats “said the hearing opens a year of investigations into whether Big Oil has deceived Americans about its role in climate change”, the newswire says, while James Comer – the panel’s top Republican – did not mention climate change in his opening remarks and said the panel should be addressing inflation and high energy prices he linked to Biden administration policies. He added: “The purpose of this hearing is clear: to deliver partisan theatre for prime-time news.“ Democratic Representative Ro Khanna told the assembled executives: “I don’t believe that you purposely want to be out there spreading climate misinformation, but you’re out there funding these groups.” Khanna asked them if any would commit to an independent audit to verify that none of their funds were going to groups that deny climate science, but “none of the executives said yes”. Democrats said the industry had expanded fossil fuel production despite being aware of the role of emissions in heating the planet as far back as the 1970s, reports the Financial Times: “They drew parallels with 1994 hearings in which cigarette industry executives appeared before Congress and denied nicotine was addictive, triggering a wider shift in public opinion against Big Tobacco.” The Hill carries quotes from the executives as they sought to “defend [their] efforts” to address climate change and BuzzFeed News also covers the testimonies.
Meanwhile, there is continuing coverage of the call from billionaire Daniel Loeb – from the hedge fund Third Point – for the break up of Shell because of its “incoherent, conflicting set of strategies attempting to appease multiple interests but satisfying none”. The Times reports that Shell CEO Ben van Beurden has “hit back”, insisting the group was stronger as one. The paper reports: “He said it had ‘an incredibly coherent strategy’ and that, crucially,‘a very significant part of this energy transition is going to be funded by the legacy business’: in other words, cash from oil and gas will need to be ploughed into low-carbon energy.” Reuters reports the comments of other executives that say Shell’s businesses “operate better together than apart”. (The Times also reports that van Beurden has said that Shell will not be at COP26 because it was told that it was “not welcome”.) Another major investor has also rejected the call to split the company, reports the Financial Times. The FT’s Lex column argues that “integration helps with decarbonisation, for now at least”, adding: “Powering its businesses with its own renewable power, as well as making hydrogen with it.” And Reuters reports the comments of Exxon Mobil senior vice president Neil Chapman, who said that “we’ve been in hydrocarbons for over 130 years…it’s the core part of our business and it will be for a long time” as he announced plans to press ahead with a $30bn liquefied natural gas project in Mozambique.
In other energy news, the Financial Times reports that UK and European natural gas prices fell yesterday after Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered state-run Gazprom to begin filling storage facilities in the continent from next month. The FT also reports that “Moldova’s prime minister has warned that the country is on the brink of an economic and social crisis as she called on the EU to offer more support to help the country weather pressure from Russian gas producer Gazprom”. Reuters reports that Fatih Birol – director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) – told a conference in Copenhagen that it is “completely wrong” to “portray the current high energy prices as the first crisis of the clean energy transition”. He added: “The current situation on the energy market has nothing to do with the clean energy transition. If there is one link, it is not because there is too much clean energy, but there is too little.” And New Statesman contributing writer Adam Tooze explains why “the so-called ‘energy crisis’ is both a threat and an opportunity”.
Cumbria in northwest England has been hit by flooding after up to 13 inches of rain (332mm), Sky News reports. The Independent, illustrating the flooding with a picture on its digital frontpage, says hundreds of people have been told to evacuate their homes and railway lines have been blocked by what has been classified as as “major incident”. It adds: “Trains into Glasgow were also affected as the city was hit by flooding just days before it hosts the COP26 climate conference.” The Daily Mail also reports on the Cumbrian floods, saying: “It comes as parts of Glasgow also flooded just three days before the city is due to host world leaders at COP26, with motorists stranded by floodwater, roads shut and drivers parking on central reservations to escape.” BBC News reported this morning that rain had continued in Cumbria overnight “after about 40 properties were flooded and road and rail travel were hit on Thursday”.
Elsewhere, BBC News has a piece on the “lessons from German tragedy” during Europe’s flooding in the summer.
The upcoming COP26 climate summit is “a defining moment in the struggle to keep the planet from climate catastrophe”, says a Financial Times editorial. Yet, the “omens are not propitious”, the paper says: “The pandemic delayed the summit by a year and created logistical misery. Though most countries have submitted new or updated plans, the combined result still leaves the world on track for 2.7C of warming by century’s end.” The “risk of failure in Glasgow is real”, the editorial warns: “Yet the key to a successful COP26 is held in part by leaders of G20 countries, responsible for about 80% of global emissions, who meet in Rome at the weekend. Glimmers of hope remain that they can take steps that would galvanise the summit to follow.” The paper notes that there has been a recent “emergence of a new generation of activists and investors ready to hold [political leaders” to account”. It adds: “Even if they do make progress, they must be open with their populations, both in the developing and the developed world, about the difficulty and cost of what must be done. The race for net-zero will not end in Glasgow. But COP26 must ensure it has a chance of becoming a reality, not a perennially distant hope.”
A Bloomberg editorial says that COP26 “could still be a success”, but it needs to secure “breakthroughs on two long-standing challenges”. The first is to “finalise the rules for a global carbon market that would give precise meaning to pledges on emissions” (The article links to Carbon Brief‘s in-depth Q&A on this topic.) And the second is to “support mitigation and adaptation in poorer and more vulnerable nations”. The outlet says: “Most are already grappling with debt and need help. Assistance of $100bn a year by 2020 was promised more than a decade ago but not delivered. That’s a fraction of what developed-country governments spent during the pandemic.” And an editorial in the Economist says COP26 “will be both crucial and disappointing”. It adds: “For all their disappointments, the UNFCCC and its repeated COPs are the best forum to force change. But until the arguments sink in, the wisest response is bold, prompt action from willing countries in Europe and elsewhere that others cannot frustrate.”
In a piece for Politico, senior UK correspondent Esther Webber and senior climate correspondent Karl Mathiesen unpack why UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s views on climate are a “mixture of sentiment and hard-nosed political instinct”. They explain: “It was not so long ago that the UK prime minister scoffed at wind turbines, his predecessor David Cameron lost patience with ‘green crap’ and members of his Conservative Party questioned the science of man-made global warming on the floor of the House of Commons. Johnson and the Conservatives have evolved since the party took power in 2010. While much has been made of the prime minister’s turquoise-tinged family and his boyish enthusiasm for technology, less remarked on is the calculated political pragmatism at the heart of his green agenda.” They also note that Johnson is “a huge fan of technological whizz-bangery”, with one Conservative MP telling them that “Boris keeps going on about technology solving everything…It might do. But it might take a heck of a long time”. The UK’s new climate policies have been “greeted with a typical Johnsonian flourish”, Webber and Mathiesen say. However, they add, while Johnson’s enthusiasm for climate action “implies a smooth transition to the sunlit uplands of a green UK”, the “reality may be bumpier”. They writes: “While [Michael] Gove, now housing secretary, and, increasingly, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, are keen backers, Johnson’s influential chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has often seemed reluctant to mention net-zero. And there is a whole new awkward squad on the backbenches, the Net-Zero Scrutiny Group, who question how the transition will be paid for.” Nonetheless, “ahead of the COP26, the UK’s political climate evolving to embrace the ‘green crap’ is to Johnson’s advantage – and he has never wasted one of those”.
In other UK comment, Tim Harford – the Financial Times “undercover economist” has a piece on why “we need a carbon tax now”. Similarly, Gillian Tett – chair of the editorial board and editor-at-large, US, of the Financial Times – says the a carbon tax should be “at the top of the wish list” at COP26. The Guardian‘s economics editor Larry Elliott writes that tackling global warming may be “expensive”, but “failing to meet climate challenge will cost a lot more”.
Leo Murray – co-founder and director of innovation at climate charity Possible – writes in the Guardian that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s move to halve passenger duty on domestic flights “has revealed the Tories’ true priorities”. (For more on this week’s budget, see Carbon Brief’s summary.) Also in the Guardian, Jake Hess – a researcher at the World Bank in Washington DC – writes that, “if the Bank wants to achieve its official goals of eradicating poverty and building shared prosperity, now is the time to step up…It is likely to fail this test, however. At a time when the world needs to move away from dirty energy as quickly as possible, the Bank has spent more than $12bn on direct fossil fuel project financing since the landmark Paris climate agreement” And writer and climate campaigner Eleanor Salter has a Guardian piece on why “Australia’s zany prospectus for net-zero can’t hide its carbon addiction”. Finally, the Times columnist Emma Duncan criticises activist group Insulate Britain for its tactics, arguing that they can “learn lessons from the patient, inclusive campaign to clean up waterways”.
Strong climate pledges could significantly reduce “hydroclimatic risk” in South Africa in the latter half of this century, according to a new study. Researchers use climate models to project changes in surface temperatures and seasonal precipitation in South Africa under a set of future climate scenarios ranging from no mitigation to achieving the 1.5C temperature target by the end of the century. They find that strong mitigation measures would mean that it would take until 2065-2074 to reach the same risk of precipitation changes that would be hit by 2030 with no mitigation measures in place. The “delay” of this risk, they write, could “provide invaluable lead-time for national efforts to prepare, fortify, and/or adapt” to rising temperatures and changing precipitation.
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