Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Citizens Assembly lets public consider how UK should meet climate change goals
- US threatens retaliation against EU over carbon tax
- £30bn pension fund: we'll sack asset managers that ignore climate crisis
- Greta Thunberg says her 'demands' to Davos billionaires 'have been completely ignored'
- Inequality makes climate change much harder to tackle
- Tesla’s rise has sparked an electric revolution
- Intensification of the Atlantic Water supply to the Arctic Ocean through Fram Strait induced by Arctic sea ice decline
- Mixed manifestations of climate change in high mountains: insights from a farming community in northern Pakistan
There is widespread coverage across the UK media of the first meeting of the Citizens Assembly on climate change. The Sunday Telegraph explains: “More than 100 citizens from across the country were asked to consider who should bear the costs of climate change at the first citizens assembly to tackle how we should reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions. A representative sample of 110 members of the public gathered in a 16th floor hotel conference room in Birmingham on Saturday in the first of four weekends before they give their thoughts on how the government should meet its legally binding target by 2050. The first weekend was designed to introduce the members to the background of climate change by a panel of experts, and the ethical considerations that should inform their decision-making.” Many outlets, including the Independent and Sky News, focus on the presence of Sir David Attenborough at the event. BBC News notes that he remarked that the UK’s fixed-term parliaments could see politicians failing to prioritise climate change. Attenborough told the assembly: “It is very difficult to persuade politicians that they should give money and time and attention and worry about an issue which is not going to come to a climax – and people won’t know if it is successful or not successful – for 10 years hence, 15 years hence.” Roger Harrabin, the BBC’s environment analyst, reports on the make-up of the 110 assembly members: “Their differences are crucial – they’ve been chosen to reflect the nation in diversity of age, ethnicity, geography and opinion. Among them are people who are unworried by climate change – as well as others who are positively alarmed…This aims to be an extraordinary gathering of ‘ordinary’ people…Chris, an engineer from Oxford, says he’s not yet convinced climate change is an emergency – he says he wants more facts. Leia from Darlington, who just lost her job as an engineering apprentice, doesn’t need convincing – she doesn’t want to be left with a badly-damaged planet.” In a separate article for BBC News, Harrabin notes that “members heard talks from climate experts, and got the chance to ask questions”. These included: “’Which is better for the environment – British beef or an avocado from Peru?’ ‘What do you think should be the balance of business and government action on climate change?’ ‘How committed are other countries to net-zero?’ And, ‘Is there an argument for letting climate change happen?’ Several questions were about fairness – about who should do most to address climate change, and how the actions the UK takes are fairly distributed across generations and income groups.” The Financial Times also focuses on the “burning question” examined by the assembly members: “The assembly – which was commissioned by six cross-party House of Commons select committees – aims to produce a series of non-binding recommendations about how to decarbonise sectors such as transport and housing. On Saturday, a common question raised by both speakers and members was how to ensure that the transition to a greener society is fair and does not hit the poorest the hardest.”
Separately, BBC News reports that “NHS staff are being encouraged to drive to work less and bring in reusable cups and bottles to help the health service tackle climate change”. It adds: “The suggestions are part of an NHS plan to cut carbon emissions to net-zero and reduce air pollution. Hospitals will also be told to switch to less-polluting anaesthetic gases and reduce emissions from buildings. The plan follows the launch of Climate Assembly UK this week, which is looking at how the UK can best get to net-zero.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian has a story about how leading UK climate scientists have warned that ministers are doing little to meet net-zero targets and need to urgently introduce policies. Corinne Le Quéré, professor of climate change science at the University of East Anglia, has called for the government to prioritise the net-zero goal across all policy areas: “Every minister should have a plan for their own [policy area] on how to reach net-zero. Some infrastructure must be phased out. Ministers should be preparing in a way that is well coordinated and fair, so that the public are brought on board.”
The Financial Times reports that the “EU’s plans for a carbon tax have emerged as a potential new flashpoint in transatlantic trade ties, after the Trump administration warned that it would ‘react’ with possible punitive measures against Brussels”. It adds that Wilbur Ross, the US commerce secretary, compared the EU’s proposals to recent moves by several European countries to impose a digital services tax. Ross tells the FT: “Depending on what form the carbon tax takes, we will react to it – but if it is in its essence protectionist, like the digital taxes, we will react.“ The FT adds: “Taxing carbon imports is one of the EU’s top priorities under the new European Commission led by president Ursula von der Leyen. But the plans look set to add to friction between Brussels and Washington over the environment. Meanwhile, EurActiv reports on comment made by commission vice president Frans Timmermans at Davos last week, in which he said: “We’ve seen over the last couple of years that radical climate-change deniers have changed their position because the facts are so overwhelming. It’s an untenable position. I would assume, as a politician myself, that Donald Trump is thinking about the next election and he’s looking at American society.”
Separately, Reuters reports on new research by consultants Refinitiv showing that “the turnover in global emissions trading hit a record high last year of $214bn as prices rose on current or expected stricter regulation”. The newswire adds: “The turnover was up 34% from a year earlier and marked a third consecutive year of growth. The world’s largest carbon market, the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), makes up of almost 80% of traded volume. The average price of carbon permits in the scheme rose by $10 last year to $28 a tonne. The main reason for the increase in prices was a mechanism which came into effect in January last year, designed to withhold a significant amount of permits and tighten supply.”
The Guardian reports that the £30bn Brunel Pension Partnership, which manages pension money for nine councils in south-west England as well as for the Environment Agency, has “threatened to sack investment managers that do not take action on the climate crisis, criticising the sector as ‘not fit for purpose’.” The Guardian adds that the Bristol-based fund will “demand that companies in which it invests take steps to align their emissions with targets agreed at the 2015 Paris climate summit”. BusinessGreen says the fund believes the finance sector is “part of the problem” when it comes to the climate crisis, adding: “It accused the sector of focusing too much on short term performance rather than long-term value, of failing to invest enough in the low-carbon economy, and not accurately analysing and responding to climate risk.”
Separately, the Financial Times reports on new findings by the NGO the Environmental Investigation Agency which show that the volume of black-market hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) originating in China estimated to be entering the EU market is at least equivalent to the annual emissions of 3.5m cars. The FT also carries a profile of Bernard Looney, the incoming chief executive of BP and notes that “he says he wants to reposition the energy major in the age of climate change activism”. The Observer also profiles the 49-year-old Looney saying: “Bernard Looney becomes BP’s new chief executive next month at a time of mounting public pressure to prevent a climate breakdown by phasing out fossil fuels. His career success has been built on the millions of barrels of oil that BP produces every day, but his tenure at the helm will be defined by his response to the climate crisis.”
Meanwhile, EurActiv reports on the remarks last week by Florian Ermacora, a senior official at the European Commission’s energy directorate, who said: “It’s clear that, if we want to go for a carbon neutral Europe in 2050, natural gas will not be able to do the job of decarbonisation…Yes, we need gas, but we also need to think about how to effectively decarbonise gas.”
MailOnline joins several outlets in reporting Greta Thunberg’s criticism of last week’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos: “Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg said her demand at Davos that world leaders immediately stop investing in fossil fuels had been ‘completely ignored’ after she was branded ‘a joke’ by the US treasury secretary.” The Guardian says that Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate has “called out racism in [the] media after she was cropped out of a photo featuring prominent climate activists including Greta Thunberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson”. The criticism came after Nakate was cropped out of a published version of a photo of the group by the Associated Press, a US news agency. According to the Guardian, David Ake, the AP’s director of photography, later told Buzzfeed UK that, under tight deadline, the photographer “cropped it purely on composition grounds”. AP later replaced the cropped photo with its original, claiming “no ill intent”. Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday criticises Prince Charles for using private jets in his run-up to meeting Thunberg in Davos. “The Mail on Sunday can reveal that in the 11 days before his high-profile appearance, Charles took three flights on private jets for official government business and one on a helicopter.” It adds: “Prince Charles was last night facing embarrassment after taking a series of private jet flights while lecturing world leaders about climate change.” The Sun columnist Tony Parsons uses this to attack Prince Charles: “There is one law for the peasants and another for the big-shots…He was campaigning to save the planet decades before that was fashionable. But whatever the merits of his beliefs on climate change, the brutal fact is that establishment hypocrisy makes most people reach for the mute button.” The Sunday Express columnist Nick Ferrari attacks Greta Thunberg instead: “If you happen to be planning to drive to the shops today or getting on a bus to go to work, you’re in for a shock. To achieve High Priestess Thunberg’s goals, they’ll have to go almost immediately.”
The Guardian’s economics editor reflects on the focus on climate change at last week’s Davos meeting: “Any sensible person observing the World Economic Forum annual meeting from the outside would come up with the following analysis: working people are going to be less terrified about new technology if they are represented by a trade union. Growth would be higher, and less dependent on debt, if workers were able to bargain collectively. Public support for more rapid action to fight global heating would be stronger under a more progressive tax system. Entrepreneurs would develop new green technologies more quickly if governments set more onerous targets for reductions in carbon emissions. All these notions are anathema to those running multinational corporations. They hate the idea of trade unions, they are ideological in their opposition to stronger states, and they recoil from the idea that they should pay more tax. But if poor people are expected to make all the sacrifices, expect some resistance. And expect the battle ahead to be long and hard.”
An editorial in the Financial Times looks at the rapid recent rise over Tesla’s share price and the influence of the company’s founder Elon Musk: “Mr Musk deserves credit for establishing a pure electric brand in an industry notorious for its barriers to entry. There are questions over how sustainable Tesla’s valuation is: the company turned cash positive in the last quarter but it still does not make many cars (367,500 last year compared with VW’s 11m). The $100bn price tag is, nevertheless, a vindication of Mr Musk’s vision.”
Elsewhere in the FT, Michael Skapinker looks at what “goes to the heart of the apparently disproportionate criticism of air travel”. He says that “flying is an elite activity worldwide and frequent flying is an elite activity even within wealthy countries”. But he says that “the evidence suggests that in rich countries business trips are a falling proportion of flights”. He continues: “According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, fewer business trips were taken from the UK in 2018 than in 1998. In the US, a 2017 survey for Airlines of America showed that business trips had fallen to 31% of total flight journeys, down from more than half in 1979. It is leisure travellers – on holidays, to second homes, to exotic weddings – who are boosting flight growth. And as their numbers rise, the climate warriors will carry on gunning for air travel.”
A study identifies a new mechanism that could help to explain why Arctic sea ice decline is causing some parts of the Arctic Ocean to more closely resemble the Atlantic – a phenomenon known as “Atlantification”. Using modelling, the research shows that Arctic sea ice decline has led to less sea ice moving through Fram Strait, a passage between Greenland and the Arctic. This has lead to an increase in salinity in the Greenland Sea, which, in turn, has caused ocean currents in the Nordic Seas to strengthen. The strengthening of these ocean currents “enhances the warming trend of the Arctic Atlantic Water layer, potentially contributing to the Arctic Atlantification”, the authors say.
Farmers in the high mountains of Karakoram, Pakistan, report feeling negative impacts from snowfall decline, which can cause water scarcity in spring. The study surveys local farmers in the region and finds their perception of weather change is “in line with trends detected at the nearest weather station”. However, “the local effects of these [climate] changes are rather diverse and strongly depend on microclimatic and other factors”, the authors add.
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