Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate change: July world's hottest month ever recorded – US agency
- UK: Green grants of £7,000 to help households replace gas boilers
- India's £972bn infrastructure plan to boost economy and tackle climate change
- Grim new climate report triggers calls on China to slash carbon emissions sooner
- US coal and oil demand on the rise again in blow to climate goals
- Canada election: Trudeau calls snap summer campaign
- Germany ‘set for biggest rise in greenhouse gases for 30 years’
- The Observer view on Britain’s net-zero plan
- Implications of climate change for railway infrastructure
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has announced that July was the world’s hottest month ever recorded, reports BBC News. It continues: “The data shows that the combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 0.93C (1.68F) above the 20th century average of 15.8C (60.4F). It is the highest temperature since record-keeping began 142 years ago. The previous record, set in July 2016, was equalled in 2019 and 2020. Experts believe this is due to the long-term impact of climate change. NOAA administrator Rick Spinrad said in a statement: “This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.” The combined land and ocean-surface temperature was 0.01C higher than the 2016 record, notes BBC News: “In the northern hemisphere, land-surface temperature reached an ‘unprecedented’ 1.54C higher than average, surpassing a previous record set in 2012.”
Meanwhile, various extreme weather events continue to make headlines around the world. BBC News says that “nearly two million people have been urged to evacuate their homes amid heavy rainfall in parts of Japan”. It adds: “Highest-level rain warnings have been issued in a number of prefectures, including Fukuoka and Hiroshima…In total, non-compulsory evacuation warnings are now in place for more than 1.8 million people across seven prefectures, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK. Yushi Adachi, from Japan’s meteorological agency, described the current rainfall as ‘unprecedented’. ‘It’s highly likely that some kind of disaster has already occurred,’ he said.” The Independent says that “torrential rain has lashed much of Japan, flooding roads and buildings in the western part of the country, while three people were feared dead after a landslide in central Nagano prefecture”. Elsewhere, Associated Press, via the Independent, reports: “A wildfire raging through a Russian forest forced over 830 people to flee from a summer camp in the southern Urals as the flames burned only 1km (half a mile) away, emergency authorities said Sunday.” And Reuters says that “emergency workers battled to relieve flood-hit areas of Turkey’s Black Sea region on Friday, as the death toll rose to 31 in the second natural disaster to strike the country this month”. (See China news section below for news about flooding in Hubei province.)
The Times says it has been told by government sources that “Boris Johnson is planning to launch a £400m boiler scrappage scheme offering people £7,000 grants to encourage homeowners to buy low carbon alternatives”. The newspaper adds: “Dan Rosenfield, the prime minister’s chief of staff, has drawn up plans to revamp an existing scheme for Clean Heat Grants, which is being launched in April next year. It was due to run for two years with a budget of £100m, offering people grants of up to £4,000. The Times has been told that the prime minister wants to quadruple the budget and run the scheme over three years with an increased starting grant of £7,000. The plans will help finance the installation of nearly 60,000 heat pumps, bringing the cost more into line with gas boilers. The government is also preparing to launch a significant advertising campaign for the scheme to encourage people to replace their gas boilers.” The newspaper continues: “The Treasury, however, is said to be resisting the proposals amid concerns about whether the scheme will be ready in time. It is understood to fear a repeat of the Green Homes Grant, a £1.5bn programme to decarbonise households that was scrapped in March after six months because of a low take-up. ‘The Treasury is not opposed to the principle of the scrappage scheme,’ a government source said. ‘It’s worried about the design and whether it will be effective. The prime minister is fully behind it though. He sees it as a key announcement in the run up to COP26.’”
Relatedly, the Financial Times reports that “climate experts have warned that delaying plans to ban the sale of new gas boilers in the UK beyond 2035 would be ‘unthinkable’, as a slower phaseout was incompatible with the country’s 2050 net-zero emissions target”. The FT adds: “Climate thinktanks, including E3G and the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), warned that delaying action beyond 2035 would conflict with the 2050 target, given boilers can last for up to 15 years.” The Independent reports that “around 800,000 homes have been built to lower emissions standards or without carbon offsets because the government scrapped tough environmental rules six years ago”. The Mail on Sunday says that “Rishi Sunak is being urged to deliver a Budget just days before the COP26 summit to stop Boris Johnson making ‘outlandish’ spending pledges at the huge climate change event. Government insiders revealed that the chancellor is being privately advised to tie the prime minister’s hands by making a financial statement on the eve of the [COP26].” And another Mail on Sunday article says that “the chancellor faces a Tory ‘Red Wall’ revolt if he dares to unveil a fuel-duty hike this autumn…The shot across Mr Sunak’s bows comes just days after Tories from the North and Midlands vented their anger at the impact on their voters of the government’s ‘net-zero’ environmental plans”. At the same time, the Guardian says experts are warning that the Treasury is blocking green policies essential to put the UK on track to net-zero. The Sunday Express says that “there is concern in Tory ranks that measures to slash net carbon dioxide emissions to zero could leave the country’s poorest citizens worse off”. It runs the story under the headline: “Boris warned of defeat as bad as Churchill in 1945: ‘They didn’t vote for Greta Thunberg!’” The Financial Times says that Boris Johnson is expected to delay a Cabinet reshuffle until after COP26: “One Cabinet minister said the reshuffle would be delayed until after the COP26 conference in order to find a new job for Alok Sharma, president of the summit.” The Guardian carries the views of Lord Deben, the Conservative peer and chair of the climate change committee, who says Boris Johnson’s delay in publishing the net-zero emissions strategy has left a space for climate sceptics to “complain, attack and undermine” on cost grounds. The newspapers adds that “the projected costs of net-zero have come in for criticism in recent weeks, with the backbench Tory MP Craig Mackinlay forming a group to challenge the price tag [know as the “Net Zero Scrutiny Group”]. Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister and prominent Tory, has become a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the climate science sceptic outfit run by the former chancellor Nigel Lawson. Deben said it was important for the government to keep stressing that the overall cost of tackling climate change was ‘a relatively small amount and certainly perfectly doable’.“ The i newspaper carries an interview with the self-professed “hardman of Brexit” Steve Baker, who says: “We’ll have another absolute political fiasco if we don’t confront the cost of net zero now.” It continues: “He is unusually straightforward about the role of his faith as an Evangelical Christian in his politics describing himself as a ‘Christian libertarian’. ‘I am absolutely not a Tory.’” And in an interview with the Observer, Nicholas Stern, author of the 2006 government study into the costs of climate change, says that imposing “premature austerity” again will undermine the fight against climate change and stop poorer households going green.
In other UK news, the Sun reports that “energy suppliers pushing green tariffs that actually use fossil fuels are facing a crackdown”. It adds: “Nine million households are on tariffs branded ‘100% renewable’ or ‘green energy’. But there are fears the claims are misleading and there are calls for changes to rules. Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan has ordered a review.” The Guardian also covers the story saying there is “growing concern over the extent of ‘greenwashing’ by large energy firms claiming to offer environmental benefits to customers”. Finally, the Sunday Times says that police are “gearing up for violent disorder on a large scale” during COP26: “One informed source said that the worst-case scenario was that anarchists and others determined to cause mayhem use children, students and other peaceful protesters as shields.” (See Climate and Energy Comment below for more UK-related coverage.)
Sky News reports that India’s prime minister Narendra Modi has used his Independence Day speech to announce that the nation will spend 100tn rupees (£972bn) on a national infrastructure plan to boost economic growth and help the country meet its climate goals. The broadcasters adds: “While he did not go into great detail, he said the scheme, called ‘Gati Shakti’, will expand the use of cleaner fuels. ‘India is moving fast towards achieving its climate goals,’ he said. Mr Modi pledged to invest more in electric mobility, solar energy and ‘green hydrogen’ – which does not emit CO2 – in order for the country to become energy independent by 2047. ‘Before the 100th anniversary of independence, we will make India energy independent,’ he said. He aims to wind down energy imports, which costs the country more than 12tn rupees (£117bn) each year. India imports about 85% of its oil needs.” Reuters says that Modi explained that “Gati Shakti, a big programme…will create job opportunities for hundreds of thousands.”
The “sweeping” report released last Monday by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “puts a spotlight on China”, according to a news article in the journal Science. The publication says that the report “highlights the problems the country will face as the climate warms”. The assessment “should also serve as a warning for the Chinese government to cut its emissions more rapidly”, it adds, citing “some climate policy experts”. Meanwhile, China Daily, a state-run newspaper, reports that China is strengthening its ties with Indonesia to help the south-eastern Asian country “boost [its] climate action”. Caixin focuses on the “first cross-border deal” in China’s carbon market. The publication says the buyer was “an institution and an individual” from Hong Kong, a special administrative region in China with separate climate goals.
In other news, Xinhua reports that at least 21 people have died in central China’s Hubei province as of Friday following two consecutive days of extreme rainfall. Four people remained missing and more than 8,000 had been affected, the state-run newswire says. Hubei Daily says that multiple areas in the province had issued a “red alert” for heavy rain. (Red is the most severe in China’s four-tier, colour-coded weather warning system.) CCTV, the state broadcaster, says that “preliminary research” showed that 2,700 houses or shops had been flooded or damaged in Liuling, including 221 that had collapsed. It notes that 11.3km of roads, 63 bridges and 725 electricity posts in the town had been washed away. Reuters also has a report about the Hubei flooding. The disaster comes less than a month after more than 300 people had been killed by rain-triggered floods in Henan province last month. Read Carbon Brief’s China Briefing for more.
Elsewhere, Angus Media reports that China’s production and newly-installed volume of power batteries “increased significantly” in July. It says the boom was “supported by the rapid development of the country’s new energy vehicle (NEV) industry”. In a separate report, the publication notes that the country’s NEV production and sales “refreshed record highs” in July. Statistics show that 284,000 NEVs were produced last month – a 170.8% year-on-year increase – with sales up by 164.4% to 271,000 over the same period, the article says.
Finally, the Financial Times reports that “shares in Chinese clean energy companies have rallied this month as investors bet the sector will benefit from continued government support and avoid the crackdown that has engulfed the technology sector”. And the Guardian has an article headlined: “‘You follow the government’s agenda’: China’s climate activists walk a tightrope.”
The Financial Times reports that “America’s appetite for fossil fuels has come roaring back as the economy cranks into gear, providing a boost to energy groups but flying in the face of Washington’s drive to slash emissions”. It continues: “Motorists’ return to the roads following the loosening of pandemic restrictions is pushing up fuel demand and the bottom lines of oil refiners, while a shift away from natural gas in power generation has been a boon to coal miners…Climbing natural gas prices have spurred power producers to burn more of the dirtiest fossil fuel [coal] once again. The EIA estimates that coal consumption in US electricity generation will jump 17% to 511.7 short tons this year.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that “Boris Johnson’s government is locked in an increasingly fraught tussle with Joe Biden’s administration over money to counter global warming”. It continues: “Mr Johnson has made rich nations giving $100bn a year of climate finance to poorer nations a top objective for COP26, the UN climate change conference. But with the Glasgow conference now a little over two months away, insiders close to the negotiations believe they are still between £10bn and £15bn a year short of hitting the goal. Britain, Germany and Canada have all substantially increased their pledges, but America’s figure is roughly similar to what it was under former US president Barack Obama. UK officials are understood to see America’s current proposed contribution as ‘pitiful’ and are demanding that it ‘catch up’ with other G7 countries. They also acknowledge that Washington’s decision on whether to give more cash is effectively ‘make or break’ for hitting the $100bn ambition.”
Elsewhere, the New York Times says “after a decade of disputing the existence of climate change, many leading Republicans are shifting their posture amid deadly heatwaves, devastating drought and ferocious wildfires that have bludgeoned their districts and unnerved their constituents back home”. It continues: “Members of Congress who long insisted that the climate is changing due to natural cycles have notably adjusted that view, with many now acknowledging the solid science that emissions from burning oil, gas and coal have raised Earth’s temperature. But their growing acceptance of the reality of climate change has not translated into support for the one strategy that scientists said in a major United Nations report this week is imperative to avert an even more harrowing future: stop burning fossil fuels. Instead, Republicans want to spend billions to prepare communities to cope with extreme weather, but are trying to block efforts by Democrats to cut the emissions that are fuelling the disasters in the first place.”
An editorial in the Washington Post says: “[Joe] Biden, and even progressives in Congress, have ruled out what the policy economists – and common sense – tell us would permanently curb demand for fossil fuels: a carbon tax, or its first cousin, higher excise taxes on motor fuel…The answer, of course, is not to ‘drill baby drill’, but to effect a structural shift in US energy demand so that this country is less dependent on all suppliers of fossil fuels, both foreign and domestic. Taxes are an inescapable element of that.” An editorial in the New York Times responds to the new IPCC report by focusing on what the US should do in response: “Can Congress deliver? No small question…One [proposal coming before Congress] is billions in incentives for electric vehicles and for clean energy sources like wind, solar and nuclear power. The other is a clean electricity standard that, as currently envisioned, would reward power producers that reduce emissions and penalise those that don’t…How great would it be if the Senate and then the House approved such a package before the climate summit in Glasgow? One person who would shout to the rafters is John Kerry, once again the White House’s point man on international negotiations. He’ll be the face of America’s resolve in Scotland, and he’ll need tangible evidence to prove that Washington cares. Congress can give it to him.”
Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has called a snap summer general election, reports BBC News. The 49-year-old Liberal leader said: “Canadians need to choose how we finish the fight against Covid-19”. The vote will take place on 20 September, some two years ahead of schedule. BBC News explains: “In October 2019, voters handed him a minority, meaning he has had to rely on opposition parties to help him pass his agenda. The pollster says that about 46% of Canadians in their recent surveys say they believe the country is heading in the right direction – the highest it’s been in about five years…It will be both a referendum on Mr Trudeau’s handling of the pandemic and a vote on future plans to the recovery…Climate change will be front-and-centre, against a backdrop of the province of British Columbia’s summer of devastating heatwaves and wildfires, and with parts of the Prairies experiencing severe drought. [Pollsters] say almost half Canadians say the environment is in their top five concerns, up from 39% two years ago.”
Germany is forecast to record its biggest rise in greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 this year as the economy rebounds from the pandemic-related downturn, reports the Associated Press. This is according to the Berlin-based environmental thinktank Agora Energiewende who say the country’s emissions will probably rise by the equivalent of 47m tonnes of CO2. AP adds: “The increase means Germany’s emissions will be about 37% lower than in 1990. It had aimed to cut emissions by 40% by 2020, and met the target last year but only due to the economic downturn. The government recently pledged to increase efforts to combat climate change and reduce emissions to net-zero by 2045.”
Meanwhile, BBC News‘s Reality Check team has published an article headlined: “Does Germany produce double the UK’s carbon emissions?” It says this claim (by a Conservative politician seeking to downplay the UK’s emissions) is true, but adds: “For a start, Germany is bigger than the UK. It’s home to 83 million people, 17 million more than the UK. It makes more things than the UK. Germany is a net exporter.” In the Sunday Times, Paris-based Europe editor Peter Conradi has a comment piece under the headline: “When it comes to the climate crisis, it should be penalties for those filthy Germans: Despite its pious green image, Europe’s biggest economy is a world-class, coal-powered polluter.”
And in other EU news, the Financial Times has a “big read” on why “Poland’s plan to go nuclear…reflects the stark choices for EU states to meet the bloc’s ambitious climate goals”.
An editorial in the Observer insists that the UK must have a coherent strategy on emissions if it is to provide leadership at COP26: “Britain must make it clear that it has plans to put its own house in order with a programme of measures that demonstrate it can curb its carbon emissions speedily and effectively. Many nations will be coming to Glasgow to look for inspiration and the UK’s credibility as summit host rests on it having a clear [net-zero] strategy…Unfortunately, there are few signs that such a master plan is anywhere near readiness…Our prospects of influencing the world at COP26 at this moment look bleak…the claim that Britain is nearing a coherent climate policy is unconvincing.” An editorial in today’s Guardian says: “Boris Johnson’s apparent willingness to sign off a new oilfield, Cambo, in the North Sea makes a mockery of his claim to global climate leadership…For the UN climate summit to be a success, Mr Johnson’s team, headed by Alok Sharma, must cajole recalcitrant countries into line. It is doubtful that Mr Sharma can persuade other nations of the merit of forsaking fossil fuels when Britain will not lead by example.”
A range of UK columnists focus on climate change. Journalist and presenter Andrew Marr in the i newspaper says “treat people like grown-ups and they will fight climate change like Covid-19”. He adds: “We are swinging from the many months of coronavirus obsession into an autumn which will be dominated, rightly, by the climate emergency. But much of what we have learned from Covid-19 – about the state, authority, journalism and civil society – is directly applicable to what’s coming next…Public support on ripping out and replacing domestic boilers, even at a high cost to millions of families, can be won, just as support for mask-wearing and social distancing was.” Isabel Hardman – assistant editor of the Spectator – in the Observer says “green issues expose Tory division and loner Boris Johnson’s distance from his party”. She continues: “The changes he needs to make don’t even involve him dropping his green agenda. They just involve him listening to the different tribes in his party and understanding that they aren’t automatically signed up to his policies yet.” James Frayne – of the policy research agency Public First – in the Sunday Telegraph says: “Boris must sack hypocrite ministers who refuse to buy an electric car. Ministers saying one thing and doing another threatens to undermine both the net zero strategy and the Government’s popularity.” Also in the Sunday Telegraph, columnist Zoe Strimpel argues: “The tragedy, apart from our roasting planet, is that the green brigade have got so much wrong. Instead of focusing on creative and ingenious ways to pour money into reversals of climate change, viewing human ingenuity as the only way out of this, they have chosen human-bashing hyperbole and a desire to make us to suffer for our sins. This has alienated those who, feeling attacked at every turn, respond by descending into irrational, unhelpful climate change denial.” In the Daily Telegraph, columnist Michael Deacon writes: “If we want to save our planet…there is only one possible course of action left. Those of us who care about our grandchildren’s future must launch an urgent counter-protest – in which we endlessly disrupt the lives of Extinction Rebellion activists, to stop them endlessly disrupting ours.” In the Guardian, columnist Jonathan Freedland says: “To accept the facts about climate science without changing the way we live is also to deny reality.” In the Sun, motoring journalist Jeremy Clarkson writes: “What is the point of a tiny country like Britain becoming carbon neutral when, on the other side of the world, coal-fired power stations are still pumping millions of tonnes of CO2 into the upper atmosphere? We will become a green and peasant land. Home to the thin and the cold and the bored. While in Beijing and Delhi, they’ll be driving Cadillacs and having a ball.”
A new review paper highlights the key challenges for assessing the risks that climate change poses for railways. These include “understanding weather-impact relationships and how they could change with climate change, assessing the costs of current and future weather impacts and the potential cost versus benefit of adaptation, and understanding practices and tools for adapting railway infrastructure”, the authors say. Published research reveals “examples of progress and good practice in all these areas”, the paper notes, “providing scope for effective knowledge-sharing…in support of infrastructure resilience and adaptation”.
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