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Daily Briefing

23.02.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Climate change a grave security threat – Boris Johnson
Climate change a grave security threat – Boris Johnson

News.

Climate change a grave security threat – Boris Johnson

There is continuing coverage of the virtual UN Security Council meeting due to be held today. Speaking ahead of the meeting, Boris Johnson stated that climate change is a “grave security threat” and that cutting carbon emissions will protect global “prosperity and security”. Johnson will chair the meeting later today – the first time a UK prime minister has chaired such a meeting since 1992 – the Guardian reports. Johnson is also quoted in the Evening Standard and the Sun. Meanwhile, Bloomberg Green notes that the meeting will highlight the “risk of failure by developed countries” to deliver the $100bn per year of climate finance promised to poorer nations a decade ago. A separate Guardian piece notes that the security council has “regularly” discussed climate change, but that Johnson’s decision to focus on the topic “will be seen as a statement of intent ahead of COP26”. The outlet adds that Sir David Attenborough is also scheduled to speak. The Evening Standard reports the Prince Charles has also delivered a warning on climate change – telling scientists at the Commonwealth Science Conference yesterday that there is “no time to waste” in addressing the environmental and health crises. Meanwhile, the Independent runs a comment piece by Donnachadh McCarthy entitled, “Johnson needs to commit to a moratorium on new fossil fuel investments at COP26”.

In other UK news, the Times reports that “local government pension funds have almost £10bn invested in fossil fuels”, despite most of them having declared a “climate emergency”. A report by environmental campaign groups Friends of the Earth and Platform finds that 3% of the local government pension scheme is comprised of fossil fuel businesses, the outlet adds. According to the Independent, this £10bn investment is a 40% decrease from the 2017 investment in fossil fuels. Nevertheless, it adds that “the 6.8 million people who depend on local government pension funds had at least £1,450 invested in fossil fuels”. The Guardian notes that the Greater Manchester combined authority has one of the greatest investments in fossil fuels, with more than £1bn in the 2019-2020 financial year, accounting for almost 5% of its pension fund.

A separate piece in the Times states that if rules for insurers are “tweaked” as part of post-Brexit reforms, “almost £100bn could be invested in green infrastructure and other projects”. On a similar note, Energy Monitor reports that as Brexit slows imports and exports, “some believe the country has no choice but to boost its local clean energy economy. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen states that “fiscal policy” is needed to reduce emissions from heating, which currently constitute 37% of the UK’s carbon emissions, whereas an opinion piece in CityAM by Hayden Wood, the CEO of Bulb, states that “we need to design our taxation system so people are encouraged to do the right thing”, adding that VAT on green products should be removed to “supercharge the renewable revolution”. Finally, BusinessGreen reports that British Gas has announced plans to electrify its entire fleet of road vehicles by 2025 and has already ordered 3,000 e-vans.

BBC News Read Article
Cost of flood damage to U.S. homes will increase by 61% in 30 years

New research finds that at-risk US homes could see around $20bn in flood damage this year and $32bn by 2051, Reuters reports. The newswire adds that, according to the report – produced by the First Street Foundation – flood damage between 2010 and 2018 amounted to $17bn, but that costs are increasing due to rising sea levels and extreme weather. This year, 4.3m homes have “a substantial risk of sustaining economic damage from flooding”, it notes. According to the Boston Globe, the financial losses in Massachusetts will see a 36% increase from today. US homeowners collectively face $1.18bn in flood damages annually, according to Bloomberg Green, but that their insurance currently covers less than 25% of this amount. The Miami Herald adds that higher insurance rates will be expected for homeowners in flood-prone areas when the National Flood Insurance Programme introduces “a new way of pricing flood insurance” later this year.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the last week’s blackouts in Texas, US federal energy regulators have announced that they will “examine threats that climate change and extreme weather events pose to the country’s electric reliability”, the Financial Post reports. The outlet adds that in the announcement yesterday Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Richard Glick said that “the effects of climate change are already apparent” and that “we must do everything we can within our statutory authority to ensure that the electric grid is capable of keeping the lights (on) in the face of extreme weather”. Reuters also covers this announcement. According to analysis by Capital Weather Gang in the Washington Post, the blackouts show “our vulnerability to coming climate extremes”. The analysis states that, although “there may be a climate change connection to this cold outbreak”, the blackouts are made particularly “baffling and foreboding” because “the grid failed during an extreme event that was largely within the boundaries of a ‘normal’ climate.” It adds that similar “cold snaps” have been recorded in the past, but that recommendations to “weatherise” energy infrastructure which were ignored due to the high costs. Similarly, a perspective piece in the Washington Post states that the cold snap “was not ‘unprecedented,’ and it was inexcusable to be unprepared”. Meanwhile, Vox disputes claims from Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson that “a reckless reliance on windmills is the cause of this disaster”, pointing out that all power plants were impacted by the cold, but that natural gas “failed most significantly”, and that the failure of wind turbines in Texas is down to “the specific intersection of temperature and humidity”. Similarly, the New York Times highlights that aging infrastructure systems “are increasingly vulnerable to climate change”, whilst a column in the Los Angeles Times by Michael Hiltzik states that “while nature sets the stage for disasters, they’re almost all manmade”. Meanwhile, Scientific American states that the blackouts raise questions about the future greening of Texas’s power grid. It notes that the state’s grid currently “carries the highest-emissions electricity in the nation”, but questions whether the “political fallout” from last week’s blackout will “slow the state’s momentum toward a greener grid”. Similarly, Bloomberg Green reports that Biden wants to run the nation’s grids entirely on carbon-free sources by 2035, but notes that this will require billions of dollars of spending.

In other US news, the Hill reports Republicans are “introducing long-shot legislation” in an attempt to undercut Biden’s decision to rejoin the Paris agreement. Senator Steve Daines claims that Biden “violated the Constitution” by rejoining the agreement and states that the agreement should be sent to the senate for approval. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the administration is “taking steps that could limit the ability of oil refineries to get exemptions from a federal biofuel-blending mandate”. The Hill notes that an announcement of the administration’s support was made on Monday. However, the administration’s request to pause a case on a Trump administration rollback has been declined, according to a separate piece in the Hill. The judge sided with environmentalists, who “argued that they are currently facing harm because of the Trump administration’s policy and didn’t want to delay a decision that could benefit them”. In other news, the Wall Street Journal reports that the US Treasury may run “climate stress tests” on US banks and insurers to reveal risks to regulators and firms. Finally, an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal by Walter Russell Mead states that Biden’s stance on climate change is welcome to climate activists, but that “as climate moves to the center of the world stage, activists will lose influence over policy.”

Reuters Read Article
Recent Australian emissions cuts likely to be reversed in recovery from Covid and drought

“Most of the reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions last year is likely to be wiped out as transport rebounds”, the Guardian reports. The outlet adds that, according to an audit of national data, there was a 4.5% drop in carbon pollution “over the two years to 2020”, due to the impact of the Covid-19 shutdown on transport, as well as a “surge” in solar and wind energy. However, it adds that, according to the report, a rebound in emissions due to a lessening of lockdown restrictions and a recovery of the farming industry after a long-term drought means that emissions are likely to “revert to their previous steadily growing trend”. Meanwhile, the Australian National Farmers Federation is calling for renewable energy to be “part of new investment to address the $3.8bn annual shortfall in infrastructure in regional Australia”, according to a separate Guardian piece. The Federation state that renewable energy “zones” must be ““at the centre of any regionalisation agenda”, the outlet adds.

The Guardian Read Article
Warmer world lets Russian ship cross frozen Arctic on return from China

“A commercial tanker has for the first time sailed through the Arctic”, the Times reports. The journey was completed by a Russian ship, returning from carrying gas to China, this month. The ship which was accompanied by a nuclear-powered ice breaker for the last leg of its trip, travelling through ice that was “only 30cm thick in places” due to lack of buildup from previous years. Bloomberg adds that the ice shrinkage “means Arctic navigation routes remain open for longer”, but it sends a “worrying” climate signal. Carbon Brief has previously published a guest post on how Arctic shipping routes could open up as the world warms.

The Times Read Article

Comment.

How UK Fleet Street moved from denial to acceptance and now action on climate change

Charlotte Tobitt, the news editor of the Press Gazette, outlines the evolution of climate coverage in major UK newspapers with the help of Christian Broughton – managing director of the Independent. Broughton has categorised three “phases” of climate journalism – the first questioning whether to believe scientists, the second focussing on the “nitty gritty” of the science, and the third asking “what are we all going to do about it?”, the piece explains. Tobitt notes that many publications began to “ramp up” their climate coverage “after Extinction Rebellion protesters blockaded printing sites” and that, in January 2020, the BBC announced “its most ambitious year of climate change” in the run-up to COP26.

Amongst the most “surprisingly campaigners” on climate change are the Daily Express and the Sun, according to Tobitt. She notes that given the previously “climate-sceptic views” of the Daily Express, its seven-month “campaign for a Green Britain revolution from the Government” is “taking many by surprise”. However, Daily Express editor Gary Jones told the Press Gazette that climate change is an “issue any modern media organisation has to embrace” and he has been “leading a crusade to transform the paper since he joined three years ago”, Tobitt explains. She notes that the Sun ran a poll on climate opinion in 2019, finding that 87% of people believe in climate change and subsequently ran a “Green Team campaign”. Meanwhile, the Independent and the Financial Times have created climate sections of their respective sites to house climate-related content. Tobitt states that the Independent “has long been a leader in this area”, and notes the “multiple awards” won by the Financial Times for its climate coverage. According to Broughton, the climate narrative is “an absolutely heart and soul subject for The Independent”, Tobitt reports, adding that “the newsbrand has also hired three climate correspondents based in three continents”. Finally, Tobitt notes that “Bloomberg launched a new climate-focused vertical Bloomberg Green” and that the Guardian pledged net-zero by 2030 by 2019.

Charlotte Tobitt, Press Gazette Read Article
What’s really behind corporate promises on climate change?

The New York Times carries a piece by reporters Peter Eavis and Clifford Krauss under the sub-heading: “Many big businesses have not set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Others have weak goals.” For example, despite last month’s statement from BlackRock’s chief executive that they have “driven us to confront the global threat of climate change more forcefully”, the pledge itself misses “crucial details”, such as “what proportion of the companies BlackRock invests in will be zero-emission businesses in 2050”. The authors emphasise that “as the biggest companies strive to trumpet their environmental activism, the need to match words with deeds is becoming increasingly important”. They add that “household names like Costco and Netflix have not provided emissions reduction targets despite saying they want to reduce their impact on climate change”, while “technology companies like Google and Microsoft” have “slashed” emissions, but find that the technology they need “doesn’t yet exist”. A report from Science Based Targets last month found that the 338 companies around the world for which it has sufficient data cut their emissions by 25% between 2015-2019, the piece adds.

The authors also highlight the clothing company Levi Strauss, noting that its emissions largely come from production abroad in coal-fired power plants, plus subsequent transport on ships and planes. The company “rolled out its 2025 climate action strategy three years ago”, the piece notes, adding that Science Based Targets found emissions grew 16% between 2016-2019. Similarly, the authors report that Cargill – “one of the largest privately owned American companies” – tried to become a “strong voice on climate change”, but struggled to meet its targets. The piece concludes that “deep-pocketed tech firms” have made the most progress, and are now “setting even more ambitious targets”.

Peter Eavis, The New York Times Read Article
Et tu, Ted? Why deregulation failed

The New York Times carries an opinion piece by economist Paul Krugman, stating that the collapse of the Texas power grid last week “showed that the entire philosophy behind the state’s energy policy is wrong”. Krugman states that Texas “pushed deregulation further than anyone else”, and that there is essentially no prudential regulation”. Electricity is “essential to modern life in a way few other commodities can match”, he says, stating that the free market will not ensure that the system works under stress. Similarly, an opinion piece by columnist Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post states that “the GOP has worshiped at the altar of deregulation”, but that “this deregulated market led to a race to the bottom”. She emphasises that the price competition has pushed producers to “trim costs wherever possible”, providing few incentives for energy companies to make the investment to weatherise. A further New York Times opinion piece by Magaret Renkl discusses the public response to the blackouts under the sub-heading: “Disasters call for compassion and action, not sniping on social media”. Meanwhile, the Washington Post carries a further opinion piece by Frank Soos, stating that Alaskans like himself are “torn” between their “collective dependence on revenue from oil and the environmental damage it is causing”.

Paul Krugman, The New York Times Read Article

Science.

Who’s responsible for climate change? Untangling threads of media discussions in India, Nigeria, Australia, and the US

New research examines newspaper articles from four countries – the US, Australia, India and Nigeria – in order to “understand print media discourses on the existence and responsibility for climate change”. Media from all four countries “agreed that climate change was real”, the researchers say, but “narratives of responsibility” varied. They explain: “In Australia, the primary narrative stated that India and China were responsible for the majority of emissions, while abdicating Australia from responsibility. In contrast in the US, the primary narrative focused on the country’s own responsibility. In India, the primary responsibility was assigned to the Global North, while in Nigeria, all countries were considered equally responsible for global emissions.”

Climatic Change Read Article
Multi-decadal trends in Antarctic sea-ice extent driven by ENSO–SAM over the last 2,000 years

Changes from one decade to the next in Antarctic sea ice over the last 2,000 years have been driven by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Southern Annular Mode (SAM), a new study says. The researchers present “two new decadal-resolution records of sea ice and sea surface temperatures that document pervasive regional climate heterogeneity in Indian Antarctic sea-ice cover over the last 2,000 years”. The finding indicate that “natural variability is large in the Southern Ocean and suggest that it has played a crucial role in the recent sea-ice trends and their decadal variability in this region”, the authors conclude.

Nature Geoscience Read Article
Hydroclimatic trends during 1950–2018 over global land

A new study analyses changes in the global hydroclimate over land between 1950 and 2018. The results suggest that rainfall has increased “over mid-high latitude Eurasia, most North America, southeast South America, and northwest Australia, while it has decreased over most Africa, eastern Australia, the Mediterranean region, the Middle East, and parts of East Asia, central South America, and the Pacific coasts of Canada”. Coupled with the drying caused by rising surface temperatures, these rainfall changes have “greatly increased the risk of drought over Africa, southern Europe, East Asia, eastern Australia, northwest Canada, and southern Brazil”, the study warns.

Climate Dynamics Read Article

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.