Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate action cannot be another Covid victim – PM
- China's carbon neutral pledge could curb global warming by 0.3C – researchers
- California plans to ban sales of new gas-powered cars in 15 years
- Few countries living up to Covid 'green recovery' pledges – analysis
- Melting Antarctic ice will raise sea level by 2.5 metres – even if Paris climate goals are met, study finds
- China’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060: What it means
- Goodbye and good riddance to gas-powered cars
- A strong steel industry would support post-pandemic recovery
- It's time to get serious about food waste in fight against global heating
- The hysteresis of the Antarctic Ice Sheet
- Mapping carbon accumulation potential from global natural forest regrowth
The UK prime minister Boris Johnson is to call on world leaders at the UN to “commit to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and secure the planet for the next generation”, report BBC News and others. Johnson will tell a meeting hosted by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres that climate action “cannot be another victim of coronavirus”, BBC News says. Speaking via video link, he will also urge leaders to “look ahead to how we will rebuild” after the pandemic and how to “build back better”, BBC News adds. It continues: “His speech at Thursday’s UN Climate Action Roundtable is part of the preparations for a global climate conference the UK is hosting in partnership with Italy in Glasgow in November next year. The UN conference, known as COP26, is the most important round of climate talks since 2015, when the landmark Paris Agreement was secured, committing all countries to work to limit further rises in temperature.” The Guardian adds: “Under the 2015 accord, all countries must come forward this year with new national plans that ratchet up their carbon-curbing ambition. Tougher plans, called nationally determined contributions (NDCs), are needed because current commitments would lead to a disastrous 3C rise.” Reuters also has the story.
The announcement comes as Climate Home News reports that Johnson’s own climate plans have been delayed by coronavirus. Several sources tell CHN that Johnson was poised to outline his government’s vision for COP26 at this week’s virtual UN general assembly session. “Instead, a number of policy announcements, including ending overseas fossil fuel financing and bringing forward a ban on the sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles to 2030, are being deferred to later this autumn,” CHN reports.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that fossil fuel companies are “misleading” Johnson on green hydrogen. The Times reports: “Over the last year dozens of energy supply firms, including Shell and BP, have joined forces to push the government to commit to hydrogen as the key element of its target for the UK to be carbon neutral by 2050…The campaign has led to warnings from independent energy experts that Downing Street is falling for ‘hype’ and risks jeopardising the 2050 target while leaving consumers with a multibillion-pound bill to subsidise the changes.”
Separately, BBC News covers a report from the thinktank Green Alliance finding that the UK’s low tax on home heating is “bad for the climate” and disproportionately benefits rich people. “The low VAT level on gas and heating oil is seriously hampering the UK’s ability to cut carbon fast enough to tackle the climate emergency,” BBC News reports.
President Xi Jinping’s pledge that China will achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060 could curb likely global warming by 0.2-0.3C this century, if achieved, according to research reported on by Reuters. This would make the pledge “the most significant climate policy move for years”, it says. The research, from research consortium Climate Action Tracker (CAT), comes after Xi surprised the world by announcing China’s intention to achieve carbon neutrality at the UN General Assembly on Tuesday. If delivered, the pledge would bring about the biggest reduction in projected global warming of any climate commitment made to date, says the research. “This is the most important announcement on global climate policy in at least the last five years,” Niklas Hoehne, a partner at German-based New Climate Institute, one of the two organisations behind CAT, tells Reuters. A second Reuters story reports that China’s new pledge, if combined with a win for US presidential candidate Joe Biden, could bring climate goals back “into view”. And a story in the Financial Times also reports on how China’s pledge “revives hopes of a climate game change”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that China’s new climate pledge has made Australia’s resistance to a mid-century net zero emissions target look “increasingly unsustainable”. The Guardian reports: “The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Sunday the government had committed to reach net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, rejecting a call from business, industrial, farming and union groups for it to set that target for 2050. The government has not set a formal long-term target, and has said it does not intend to change its 2030 goal – a 26-28% cut below 2005 levels – before a major UN climate meeting in Glasgow next year.”
Several publications report that California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars statewide by 2035. In an executive order, governor Gavin Newsom directed California’s regulators to develop a plan that would require automakers to sell steadily more zero-emissions passenger vehicles in the state, such as battery-powered or hydrogen-powered cars and pickup trucks, until they make up 100% of new auto sales in just 15 years, the New York Times reports. The plan would also set a goal for all heavy-duty trucks on the road in California to be zero emissions by 2045 where possible, the New York Times says, adding: “And the order directs the state’s transportation agencies to look for near-term actions to reduce Californian’s reliance on driving by, for example, expanding access to mass transit and biking.” The Los Angeles Times reports that Newsom also “threw his support” behind a plan to ban fracking in the state. It reports: “Newsom did not take executive action to ban the controversial oil extraction method known as fracking but called on the state Legislature to do so, setting up what could be a contentious political fight when lawmakers reconvene in Sacramento next year.” Newsom’s move is also covered by Reuters, the Guardian and InsideClimate News. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Michigan has announced its intentions to aim for carbon neutrality by 2050.
Elsewhere in US news, the Guardian reports on a poll showing “a clear majority of American voters want decisive action to deal with the threats posed” by climate change. Seven in 10 voters support government action to address climate change, with three-quarters wanting the US to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources such as solar and wind within 15 years, the Guardian says. The poll was carried out by the Guardian and Vice. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that nearly 40 Democrat senators have now called for climate change questions in the presidential debates.
The Guardian reports on research finding that few countries are living up to their promises of a “green recovery” from the coronavirus crisis. Instead, “hundreds of billions of dollars are likely to be spent on economic rescue packages that increase greenhouse gas emissions”, the Guardian says. The US is planning nearly $3tn in spending with few environmental safeguards attached and little money going to low-carbon efforts, the Guardian reports. Of the total US stimulus of about $2.98tn, only around $39bn is going towards green projects, according to the research by Vivid Economics as part of the Finance for Biodiversity initiative. The Guardian adds: “Among the world’s 20 biggest economies, only the UK, Germany and France as individual countries, and the EU as a whole, are planning for a green recovery in which the benefits to the climate and nature outweigh the negative impacts.” (See Carbon Brief’s new analysis on China’s stimulus spending.)
The Guardian reports on a study finding that melting of the Antarctic ice sheet could cause sea level rises of about two-and-a-half metres around the world. The Guardian reports: “The melting is likely to take place over a long period, beyond the end of this century, but is almost certain to be irreversible, because of the way in which the ice cap is likely to melt, the new model reveals. Even if temperatures were to fall again after rising by 2C, the temperature limit set out in the Paris agreement, the ice would not regrow to its initial state, because of self-reinforcing mechanisms that destabilise the ice.” The research is published in Nature, the Guardian adds. MailOnline also covers the study.
Several publications offer analysis and comment on China’s surprise announcement that it intends to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2060. For the New York Times, Steven Lee Myers, the newspaper’s Bejing bureau chief, explores what led China to make the announcement and what it would need to do to achieve the pledge. He writes: “Xi’s China is generally impervious to criticisms of its domestic policies, but his government has faced pressure to do more on the warming climate. China’s commitments were raised last week when he met with leaders of the European Union, which had threatened to impose carbon tariffs if China did not reduce its emissions.” Similarly, Climate Home News explores “five burning questions” surrounding China’s carbon pledge. Reporter Isabelle Gerretsen says: “China’s target appears to only cover carbon dioxide emissions, not other greenhouse gases like methane from cows, nitrous oxide from fertilisers or fluorinated gases used as coolants.” Axios also examines what China’s pledge means for climate change.
For the i newspaper, environment reporter Madeleine Cuff says that China’s pledge is “very good news for the climate”. She adds: “The announcement could mark a turning point in the global fight against climate change…But there are still a host of unanswered questions surrounding China’s new climate pledge. There is still uncertainty over how soon before 2030 China can peak its emissions, or how it will define carbon neutrality.”
In the Daily Telegraph, environment editor Emma Gatten writes: “Britain was the first major economy to commit to carbon neutrality by 2050, but that goal only covers emissions that occur within the country. Meanwhile, we have become dependent on quick, cheap and carbon intensive imports from China. The UK is the G7’s biggest net importer of CO2 emissions per capita, and our imported emissions from China grew 260 per cent between 1997 and 2017. We can’t be truly carbon neutral until our imports are. Depending on how China decarbonises, that could mean the era of mass cheap goods could have to end.”
Meanwhile, a team at Bloomberg explore whether China’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2060 is physically possible. The analysis explores how China’s policies on renewable energy, fossil fuels, electric vehicles, hydrogen and carbon offsets might need to change in order to meet the target.
On China’s Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air blog, analyst Lauri Myllyvirta looks at whether China’s 2060 pledge is a “long-awaited breakthrough or sugar-coating another decade of rising emissions?” He writes: “For those of us who have despaired over the rebound in China’s coal use in the past few years, and a new surge in permitting and construction of new coal power plants, it is tempting to see the 2060 carbon neutrality announcement as the turnaround that we’ve been hoping for. There is some reason for optimism – Chinese government has taken its previous climate commitments seriously, and had little reason to make a major new announcement right now, so I fully expect this to be more than a cheap PR stunt.”
Finally, Carbon Brief has published new analysis by Lauri Myllyvirta and Yedan Li showing that China’s Covid stimulus plans for fossil fuels are three times larger than for low-carbon projects.
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times celebrates California governor Gavin Newsom’s order for the state to ban the sale of gas-powered cars within 15 years. The editorial says: “The state is already feeling the effects of climate change with record-high temperatures and record-year wildfires. We cannot wait for the federal government to step up, or be deterred by Trump’s denial of science and facts. California has to take the lead, again.”
Elsewhere, an editorial in the Times questions UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for “green hydrogen” following its story (see above) on how fossil fuel companies could be “misleading” him on the technology’s benefits. The editorial says: “While technology exists to produce ‘green hydrogen’ via electrolysis from water, it remains prohibitively expensive. Nor is there sufficient surplus renewable energy capacity to drive hydrogen production.”
Meanwhile, an editorial from the Financial Times’s Lex team argues that Elon Musk has overpromised on the falling costs of batteries for electric cars. It says: “Two years ago the chief executive of Tesla declared that a $25,000 car model could be three years away. On Tuesday he announced that the low-cost version was in fact another three years away and required a battery overhaul…Moving battery cell production in-house is the sort of costly, ambitious plan that Tesla shareholders should be primed for – particularly after the company revealed $8.6bn of cash and equivalents at the end of the last quarter.” Elsewhere in the Daily Telegraph, head of technology Robin Pagnamenta says: “Elon Musk’s battery ambitions face major hurdles – but you’d be brave to bet against him.”
Writing in the Times’s Red Box section, Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary, and Roy Rickhuss, general secretary of the Community trade union, argue that “the prime minister and chancellor should recognise that a strong, sustainable steel industry must be at the heart of the economic recovery”. They add: “This is the right thing to do, environmentally and economically. The fact is that whether we are building railways, schools or hospitals, a national infrastructure programme will require millions of tonnes of high-quality steel — and the vast majority of this steel can be domestically produced…There is a wider challenge here too: the future of the steel industry as we tackle climate change and look towards green transformation. It is essential that there is a strategic transition to a decarbonised steel sector that protects British jobs and the industry itself. Ensuring that environmental considerations are weighted into the awarding of government contracts will be crucial. Contracts cannot be awarded on price alone and, alongside the social benefit to local jobs and communities, the environmental cost must be recognised. Transporting steel from overseas takes much more CO2 and it has often been produced with lower environmental standards.”
Writing in the Guardian, Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis warns that food waste is an “environmental disaster” as well as a “social and economic one”. He says: “As a society, we are converting more and more land to food production, with massive consequences for wildlife, water and forests. Yet one third of all food produced is thrown away and food waste is responsible for a staggering 8% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, more than any country in the world bar the US and China.” Despite the scale of the problem, “not a single country mentions food waste in its nationally determined contribution (NDC) to the Paris climate agreement”, Lewis says. This must change, he writes: “If we continue to waste good food at current levels, we will fatally undermine our ability to tackle the climate emergency.” The Guardian also carries a news story on Lewis’s article. Carbon Brief published a guest post on food waste as part of its recent week-long series on food and climate.
Failure to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement would see Antarctica’s long-term sea-level contribution “dramatically increase and exceed that of all other sources”, a new study warns. The researchers find that the ice sheet’s “temperature sensitivity is 1.3 metres of sea-level equivalent per degree of warming up to 2C above pre-industrial levels”, which almost doubles to “2.4C per degree of warming between 2 and 6C”. These thresholds display “hysteresis behaviour”, the researchers note, which means that the ice sheet won’t necessarily regain the lost ice if global temperatures are reversed to present-day levels. For more on tipping points, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer and a guest post specifically on the West Antarctic ice sheet.
New research investigates the potential of “natural regrowth” of forests across the world to capture carbon and help mitigate climate change. Combining more than 13,000 field measurements of carbon accumulation with environmental data, the researchers produce a “global, one-kilometre-resolution map of potential aboveground carbon accumulation rates for the first 30 years of natural forest regrowth”. The map reveals “over 100-fold variation in rates across the globe”, the study says, and also indicates that “default rates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may underestimate aboveground carbon accumulation rates by 32% on average”. In addition, the study notes that “maximum climate mitigation potential from natural forest regrowth is 11% lower than previously reported”.
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