Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China's new coal projects account for 90% of global total in first-half of 2020 – study
- Climate change: 'Huge' implications to Irish climate case across Europe
- Amazon forests ravaged by 6,800 blazes in a month
- Open up offshore windfarm subsidy scheme, urges Scottish Power
- James Murdoch resigns from News Corp board over editorial differences
- Ban ads for polluting large cars, report says
- Why alarm over climate change is not alarmism
- Sea level rise driving increasingly predictable coastal inundation in Sydney, Australia
- Economic valuation of climate change–induced mortality: age dependent cold and heat mortality in the Netherlands
Many outlets cover new data published by the US-based thinktank Global Energy Monitor (GEM) showing that, reports Reuters, “China built more than half of the world’s new coal-fired power plants this year and accounted for 90% of new planned capacity”. However, it adds: “Global coal-fired generation capacity saw a net decline of 2.9 gigawatts (GW) from January to June, the first drop on record for a six-month period, thanks to plant retirements in Europe and elsewhere.” The Guardian says GEM’s data reveals that “the closure of coal generators, mostly across Europe and in the US, outstripped stations being commissioned, largely in Asia”. Bloomberg says: “The net decline of 2.9GW may be small, at just over 0.1% of the world’s coal generation capacity, but marks a turning point in the burning of the dirtiest fossil fuel to produce electricity.” The Financial Times says that the GEM data shows “the coronavirus pandemic has accelerated a global shift away from coal with the exception of China, which has expanded plans to build power stations using the fuel”. The FT adds: “South and south-east Asian nations have also curtailed plans to build plants, with Vietnam considering cancelling 9.5GW of planned coal power plants and Bangladesh discussing halting 16.3GW of additional plants.” (The Dhaka Tribune also reports on how “Bangladesh could be set for a dramatic switch away from coal power as plans for the construction of 26 out of 29 coal-fired power plants are under review”.) Carbon Brief has published a guest post by GEM’s Dr Christine Shearer with all the details from the new data.
In other fossil-fuel news, the Financial Times reports that “ExxonMobil and Chevron both reported deep quarterly losses on Friday, as two of the US’s corporate titans revealed the trauma caused to their businesses by the worst oil price crash in decades”. Separately, the Financial Times says that “the amount of gas burnt off in flares by oil producers jumped to its highest level in a decade last year, representing a setback in global efforts to eradicate this environmentally harmful practice”. It adds: “The equivalent of more than 400m tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere as the result of burning unwanted natural gas from oil extraction, according to the latest data compiled from satellite imagery by a World Bank-led initiative. This was more than the annual greenhouse gas emissions of the entire UK economy.” And another Financial Times article says that “Glencore, the miner and commodity trader, has emerged as a big winner from the oil market turmoil sparked by a price war and the coronavirus pandemic, with its trading business expected to report blockbuster results”. Unearthed reveals that “the oil giant BP has used money from a ‘low carbon transition’ fund to buy shares in companies developing new ways to find and use fossil fuels”. Bloomberg says that the “oil crisis presents BP’s new CEO with a chance to change”. And Reuters reports on new Indian government data which shows that “Indian power plants used the most gas in at least 3.5 years in the June quarter, as operators along the west coast snapped up cheap liquefied natural gas imports that have become competitive against coal”.
There is extensive coverage of a ruling last Friday by the Irish Supreme Court which could have “huge ramifications” across Europe for climate change policy. BBC News says: “On Friday the Supreme Court quashed the government’s 2017 National Mitigation Plan. Judges ruled that it did not give enough detail on the reduction of greenhouse gases. The case was brought by the environmental group Friends of the Irish Environment. The Irish government welcomed the ruling and said it would ‘carefully examine the decision’. Friends of the Irish Environment spokeswoman Clodagh Daly told BBC News NI the verdict was ‘crystal clear’ and would have implications across Europe.” Friends of the Irish Environment has successfully argued the Irish government had a responsibility to reduce emissions within the next couple of years and contended the increase in emissions allowed in the 2017 National Mitigation Plan was contrary to the 2015 Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act. In Ireland, the Irish Independent, RTE and the Irish Times, among others, covered the news. Climate Home News says: “The Irish government has not denied the importance of tackling climate change. But in court its lawyers had contended that the state is not obliged to respond to climate change in any particular way and said even a 25% reduction in emissions by 2020 would cause an ‘extreme alteration’ to Irish society.” Writing for the Irish Times, Colm Keena argues that “the Supreme Court has made a decisive intervention into what many would argue is the most significant challenge facing the political establishment and has done so in a way that is a cause for international embarrassment”.
There is widespread coverage around the world of various episodes of extreme weather and events that could impact the global climate. The Times reports that “fires ravaging the Amazon basin surged last month in a sign that the most biodiverse place on Earth could see a repeat of last year’s devastating destruction”. It adds: “Brazil’s space agency said that the number of fires in the Amazon was up by 28% from the same time last year. Satellite images showed 6,803 new forest fires were started, a three-year high for the month of July.” The newspaper quotes Dr Ane Alencar, the director of science at Brazil’s Amazon Environmental Research Institute: “We can expect that August will already be a difficult month and September will be worse yet. It’s a terrible sign.” [Dr Alencar featured in last month’s Carbon Brief webinar and in-depth explainer on wildfires and climate.] BBC News adds: “President Jair Bolsonaro has encouraged agricultural and mining activities in the Amazon. But under pressure from international investors in early July his government banned starting fires in the region.” Reuters also covers the story, explaining: “Criminals generally extract valuable wood from the jungle before setting fire to the land to increase its value for farming and ranching. Natural fires are very rare in the Amazon.”
Meanwhile, various places in the northern hemisphere have been experiencing extreme heat. The i newspaper says that last Friday saw the UK experiencing its third hottest day on record with temperatures hitting 37.8C at Heathrow Airport in London. Associated Press says: “San Sebastian on Spain’s northern coast witnessed 42C on Thursday – the hottest temperature there since records began in 1955, the national weather agency said.” It quotes the Spanish weather agency, Aemet: “Climate change is increasing the frequency of heatwaves,” adding that the annual number of days in heatwave conditions has doubled since the 1980s. The New York Times says that several countries in the Middle East experienced record high temperatures last week: “a sweltering 125 degrees Fahrenheit in Baghdad on Tuesday; a record 115 degrees in Damascus on Wednesday. And extreme levels of heat in Israel and Lebanon.” The Daily Telegraph says that “blue crabs [have] become [the] scourge of fishermen in Adriatic as warming sea temperatures boost their numbers”. And on Saturday BBC News reported that “US weather forecasters have issued warnings of a potentially life-threatening heat wave over the weekend in south-western areas of the country”.
The Independent reports from Bangladesh where it says: “Around a third of Bangladesh is underwater due to recent catastrophic flooding and the climate crisis has played a role in the devastation, according to experts.” It quotes Dr Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Bangladesh: “I think that this is definitely linked to climate change. This is a one in 20-year flood event that we are having now for the fifth time in the last 20 years. The events didn’t happen because of climate change but they are definitely more intense because we’ve interfered with the climate system.” In neighbouring India, Reuters reports that the India Meteorological Department has released a statement saying that monsoon rains are expected to be 104% of a long-term average in August and September, “indicating bumper harvests and helping to alleviate the economic damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic”. However, the Hindustan Times covers a study showing that the “intensity of Indian monsoon may decline due to rapid warming of Bay of Bengal”.
Finally, MailOnline and the Sun both report on how NASA satellite images show that “two Arctic ice caps have vanished due to human-induced global warming”. MailOnline says: “Images taken by NASA in 2015 and 2020 reveal how they have disappeared in just half a decade. Mark Serreze, director of the National Snow and Ice Data Center, has studied the St Patrick Bay ice caps in some capacity since the 1980s. He published a scientific paper in 2017 that stated if greenhouse gas emissions are not curbed, the ice caps would vanish within five years. He was correct.”
In UK energy news, the Guardian reports that “one of Britain’s biggest wind power developers has called on the government to scrap the limit on its next offshore wind subsidy auction to help power a green economic recovery, claiming it will not lead to a rise in energy bills”. It adds: “Scottish Power has urged government officials to open up next year’s offshore wind subsidy auction to as many new projects as possible in order to deliver a “huge wave” of investment and jobs following the pandemic. In previous auctions the government has capped the amount of renewable energy that can win a subsidy contract, which is paid for through energy bills, to encourage developers to lower their costs.” Meanwhile, the Times reports that “millions of households are to save an average of £85 a year from this autumn as energy prices slump, a leading supplier predicts”, adding: “A fall in the wholesale price of gas and electricity since the turn of the year is expected to reduce standard tariffs by about 7.5% in October. Ofgem, the industry regulator, will confirm in the coming days how a cap on default tariff prices, introduced in January last year, will be shifted to account for the costs faced by suppliers.”
The Sunday Telegraph continues its run of stories about China’s influence, saying: “China General Nuclear, the minority owner of the Hinkley Point C power station, has appointed a chairman with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party and the country’s military nuclear programme.” Whereas the Times’ energy editor Emily Gosden has a feature about the Hinkley Point C plant and how last week she was “allowed on site to see how the companies are trying to learn lessons from previous projects and keep Hinkley Point on track”.
Many outlets cover the news that James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son, has resigned from News Corp citing disagreements over the company’s editorial decisions. News Corp owns dozens of influential newspapers around the world including the Wall Street Journal, The Times and the Australian. CBS News says: “In a resignation letter filed Friday afternoon, Murdoch said his departure ‘is due to disagreements over certain editorial content published by the Company’s news outlets and certain other strategic decisions’. The youngest son of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, James had been on News Corp’s board since 2013.” Edward Helmore writing in the Observer thinks that James Murdoch’s resignation “removes a powerful dissenting voice against the rightwing slant of the group”. He adds: “While the move was reported as likely to be based on 47-year-old James’ disagreement over the company’s sceptical reporting of the climate change crisis, some observers believe it was more likely to have come from the 89-year-old patriarch, who continues to maintain an iron grip despite a presentational handover of power to his sons.” Dean Kirby in the i newspaper says: “James Murdoch’s resignation from his father’s global media empire signals a growing political divide in the family and comes after he and his wife broke ranks to criticise his outlets’ coverage of the climate crisis…His opposition to the direction of News Corporation’s coverage came to a head in January, when he took direct issue with how the company had covered climate change and its impact on the bushfires in Australia. In a rare joint statement, James and his wife Kathryn criticised his father’s businesses for their ‘ongoing denial’ on the issue.” BBC News says: “Rupert Murdoch has described himself as a climate change ‘sceptic’ and denies employing climate deniers…critics of News Corp pointed to its comment articles and reporting of the alleged role of arson in the [Australian] wildfires as minimising the impact of a changing climate.”
BBC News reports on a new campaign in the UK called “Badvertising”, which is demanding an immediate end to adverts for large polluting cars. The campaign is calling for the UK government to clamp down on sports utility vehicle (SUV) car adverts in the same way it curbed smoking ads. BBC News says: “SUVs now make up more than 4-in-10 new cars sold in UK, while fully electric vehicles account for fewer than two in a hundred. The report from the green thinktank The New Weather Institute and the climate charity Possible says the trend towards big cars is propelled by aggressive advertising. They fear the global trend of rapidly increasing sales of bigger and more polluting SUVs is jeopardising climate goals…The authors want to outlaw advertising for cars with average emissions of over 160g CO2/km, and those exceeding 4.8 metres in length.” The Guardian also covers the new report, adding: “In the UK last year more than 150,000 new cars sold were over 4.8 metres long, too large to fit in a standard parking space. SUVs make up more than 40% of new cars sold in the UK – while fully electric vehicles account for less than 2%. Globally, there are more than 200m SUVs, an increase of 35m in 2010, accounting for 60% of the increase in the global car fleet since 2010. The report, Upselling Smoke, found the global trend of rapidly increasing sales of bigger and more polluting SUVs was jeopardising climate goals.” The i newspaper also covers the report. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that “UK auto manufacturers and dealers have warned that government plans to phase out petrol and diesel car sales risk pricing poorer people out of owning vehicles, as well as putting thousands of jobs at risk”. And the Observer says that “Northern Ireland is to be left out of the UK’s green car emission restrictions from 1 January, resulting in ‘Great Britain-only’ regulations for carmakers”.
In a comment for Bloomberg, New York University’s Gernot Wagner discusses the “two fundamental flaws” made by those attempting to “appear ‘rational’ by countering the ’emotional’ climate ‘alarmism’”. Wagner explains: “First, even the most middle-of-the-road predictions of what’s likely in store are bad enough…Second, the low-probability, high-impact tail risks make action now even more desirable.” He also discusses new research, published in July, on climate sensitivity, arguing: “It’s good news because climate change just became significantly more predictable…It’s bad news [because]…it looks like we aren’t going to get lucky.” (For more details, the authors of the new research wrote a Carbon Brief guest post on their findings.) Wagner concludes: “What’s known and quantified is alarming enough. What’s not yet known increases the need for climate policy ambition further still.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times carries a comment by Fast FT reporter Siddarth Shrikanth arguing that the “world’s [carbon] emissions trading systems are maturing, but still patchy in their coverage”. He adds: “Some have pointed to the lack of international consensus on which policy instrument is best suited to the climate challenge. Rather than creating carbon credit markets, it is also possible to tax carbon directly, as Canada, Norway and Denmark have done. While carbon taxes have historically attracted greater opposition from interest groups than cap-and-trade systems, that may be changing too.” And, in the Times, writer Edward Lucas says: “Bad cyclists are holding back green revolution. Inconsiderate members of my two-wheeled tribe need to mend their ways if more are to join us.”
Finally, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published a joint comment piece by Dr Hoesung Lee, the IPCC’s chair, and Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency. They write: “Today, overall investment in clean energy innovation is increasing, but only gradually – far too slowly to meet our challenges head on. Furthermore, the coronavirus pandemic is threatening to reduce funding for vital research and development efforts. Governments and the private sector both have critical roles to play in making sure investment in clean and sustainable energy innovation increases rather than declines at this pivotal moment.”
The number of days per year with minor coastal flooding in Sydney, Australia has increased from 1.6 to 7.8 from 1914 to present, a new study says. More than 80% of coastal flooding events caused between 1970 and 2015 were predominately driven by human-caused sea level rise, the study adds. In addition, such flooding in Sydney is likely to occur weekly by 2050 under high and medium global greenhouse gas emissions scenarios, the authors add.
Vulnerable people in the Netherlands face higher mortality risks from hot extremes than cold extremes, a study finds. The research also finds there is a “time lag” on the effect of temperature change on old and vulnerable people. The authors say: “. A main finding is that climate change is expected to first decrease total net mortality in the Netherlands due to a dominant effect of less cold-related mortality, but this reverses over time under high warming scenarios, unless additional adaptation measures are taken.”
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