Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate change: Snowy UK winters could become thing of the past
- Downing Street denies report PM Johnson wants Cameron to lead climate summit
- Australia drops plan to use Kyoto credits to meet Paris climate target
- Eastern countries hold out for more cash on EU climate deal
- Boris Johnson will have to raise his game to ensure climate targets are met
- The merits of a global carbon offset market
- The health and well-being effects of drought: assessing multi-stakeholder perspectives through narratives from the UK
- Fossil electricity retirement deadlines for a just transition
BBC News has an exclusive about new Met Office projections showing that, in a scenario based on global emissions accelerating, “by the 2040s most of southern England could no longer see sub-zero days”. The findings have been shared with BBC Panorama – which airs an episode entitled “Britain’s Wild Weather” tonight at 7pm on BBC One – and “it could mean the end of sledging, snowmen and snowball fights, says Dr Lizzie Kendon, a senior Met Office scientist who worked on the climate projections”. BBC News adds: “If the world reduces emissions significantly the changes will be less dramatic, the Met Office says. The average coldest day in the UK over the past three decades was -4.3C. If emissions continue to accelerate, leading to a global temperature rise of 4C, then the average coldest day in the UK would remain above 0C across most of the country throughout winter. Even if global emissions are reduced dramatically and world temperatures rise by 2C, the average coldest day in the UK is likely be 0C.” Dr Kendon tells BBC News: “The overarching picture is warmer, wetter winters; hotter, drier summers. But within that, we get this shift towards more extreme events, so more frequent and intense extremes, so heavier rainfall when it occurs.” The story is picked up widely across UK outlets, including the Press Association, Sky News, Daily Mirror, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sun and the i newspaper. BBC News has also created an interactive feature which allows UK users to type in their postcode to see what the Met Office projections show for a specific area. It reveals that the Met Office data is based on the “UK Climate Projections” (UKCP18), which Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A about in 2018 when they were first released.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg covers the latest monthly report by Europe’s Earth observation agency, Copernicus, which shows that “this past November was the hottest ever recorded”. It adds: “November was close to 0.8C above the average temperature between 1981 to 2010, and 0.1C above the previous warmest Novembers in 2016 and 2019, according to Copernicus. Temperatures were most above average in Northern Europe, Siberia, and the Arctic.” The New York Times also carries the story.
Reuters reports that Downing Street has denied reports that that UK prime minister Boris Johnson wanted his predecessor David Cameron to take over from business minister Alok Sharma as president of next year’s COP26 climate summit. The newswire adds: “Earlier, ITV political editor Robert Peston said on Twitter that Johnson was keen for Cameron to take the job, but Cameron had not agreed because of his strong objections to a cut in Britain’s foreign aid spending commitment announced last month. ‘It’s not true at all,’ a spokeswoman said in response to a request for comment from Reuters. ‘We are happy to knock it down.’ …Peston had said ministers had told him it was unsustainable for Sharma to do the COP26 job part-time at the same time as being business minister, after US president-elect Joe Biden appointed John Kerry as his country’s full-time negotiator.” Earlier, the Sunday Telegraph had reported that “Boris Johnson’s rumoured New Year reshuffle could see Alok Sharma sacked from either of his roles as business secretary and president of COP26”. The newspaper adds: “Downing Street insiders are concerned that Mr Sharma cannot manage both his jobs at the same time, risking the UK’s reputation on the world stage when it hosts the UN climate conference in November next year. A source claimed he was likely to be replaced in a reshuffle early in the New Year, which Mr Johnson is considering in an attempt to “reset” the government after the departure of his former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings…Downing Street officials are understood to have been rattled by the appointment of John Kerry, a former US Secretary of State, as Joe Biden’s climate envoy. ‘The penny is dropping in Number 10 that to make this happen you need the right personality,’ an MP said.“ The Daily Telegraph has an “exclusive” about how “Conservative MPs are plotting to curb house building on biodiversity and climate change grounds unless the government sufficiently waters down its controversial new homes algorithm”. Meanwhile, Politico says that “Britain’s financial establishment is trying to recruit US authorities under incoming president Joe Biden to throw their weight behind the UK’s green finance ambitions”. It adds: “The British government and finance watchdogs would benefit from international support for a series of initiatives that would gear the financial sector against climate change, in the run-up to the COP26…The early signs are that Washington might be keen.”
Separately, in other UK news, the Times speaks to Chris Stark, chief executive of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), who says that the UK would need 30 times as much offshore wind farm capacity to produce enough “green” hydrogen to replace all natural-gas boilers. Stark added that converting all gas heating systems to clean-burning hydrogen was “unwieldy and impractical” because of the difficulty of producing enough of it. (See Carbon Brief’s new in-depth Q&A about hydrogen.) Bloomberg has a feature about the CCC, which it describes as the “wonk shop behind the G20’s most ambitious climate goal”. The Independent says that tree planting across the UK is to be given a £3.9m boost, the government has announced – but campaigners have described the new funds as “just a leaf in a forest”. BusinessGreen says green groups have also criticised the government’s plan to cut the rail enhancement budget by £1bn to £9.4bn, when it plans to spend £27bn on road-building. The Observer reports that campaigners are arguing that “Britain must end all oil and gas extraction in the North Sea as a matter of urgency if it is to maintain its position as a credible climate champion”. It continues: “That was the stark warning issued by green campaigners yesterday in the wake of last week’s decision by Denmark to halt its exploration for new North Sea reserves as part of its commitment to cut carbon emissions and tackle climate change.” Bloomberg covers a new report from right-leaning thinktank Policy Exchange which concludes that “Britain’s power market needs urgent reform to allow it to cope with coming changes like a doubling in renewable capacity feeding into the grid as the nation moves toward net-zero by 2050”.
The Daily Telegraph says “the government has established an environmental ‘nudge unit’ to work out how to persuade people into green behaviours, such as driving less and cutting down on meat”. The newspaper adds: “The new ‘behaviour change and public engagement team’, which is working from inside the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy department, is focused on how to get public buy-in for further emissions cuts, which will be targeted at what we eat and how we travel and heat our homes. BEIS will also work to ensure that green policies do not unfairly impact one area of society.” Another Daily Telegraph story says: “Boris Johnson risks ‘rank hypocrisy’ in his green policies after it emerged that British taxpayers are poised to underwrite an African pipeline which will produce the same carbon emissions as all UK flights every year.” It quotes John Sauven, Greenpeace UK’s executive director: “The UK government will struggle to persuade other countries to cut their carbon emissions when it’s channelling millions of taxpayer’s money to finance fossil fuel projects abroad.” Finally, BBC News covers new figures released via a freedom of information request which show that a new tunnel linking Kent and Essex will create five million tonnes of CO2.
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that “prime minister Scott Morrison will tell world leaders that Australia has abandoned a longstanding plan to use Kyoto carryover credits to achieve its emissions reduction targets, in a pledge that paves the way for a reset of his government’s climate change policies”. The newspaper continues: “The decision to drop the controversial Kyoto credits will be announced at a 12 December summit convened by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has asked leaders for ‘ambitious’ new commitments as a condition of speaking at the gathering…Mr Morrison’s promise to reach Australia’s 2030 target without using carryover credits is likely to be welcomed by other countries that have long criticised the accounting method, building goodwill for the Australian position going into the Glasgow summit…The new stance will be a significant shift after years of government claims that Australia is entitled to use ‘surplus’ units the country accumulated when meeting the Kyoto Protocol targets from 2008 to 2020 and count them toward the Paris targets from 2021 to 2030.” A follow-up story in the Sydney Morning Herald says that “former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has welcomed his successor Scott Morrison’s intention to ditch plans to use carryover carbon credits to meet its Paris climate targets, but warned Australia will need to go much further if it is to avoid being a global ‘laggard’”.
Reuters reports that the European Union has “not yet won over countries seeking more cash and conditions in exchange for committing to sharper emissions cuts, as it tries to strike a deal on on its new climate target by the end of the year”. The newswire says that the EU hopes to agree a new climate target this week committing the bloc to cut emissions by “at least 55%” by 2030, from 1990 levels. However, Reuters says “that ambition looks increasingly shaky” with Poland and Hungary threatening to veto the bloc’s next budget, which “could freeze the cash they and other countries say they need to curb their emissions”. It adds: “The deal also includes a so-called ‘enabling framework’, sketching out a plan to deliver the goal, with assurances on EU funding and countries’ right to choose their own energy mix. This is where the problems lie.” Bloomberg reported on Friday that “the price of European Union carbon emissions hit 30 euros a metric tonne for the second time this week as traders prepare for stricter measures from the bloc to address climate change”.
In other European news, Reuters reports that Denmark’s climate minister has announced that Denmark hopes that by “deciding to stop its search for North Sea oil and gas it can become a credible trailblazer in fighting climate change”. The newswire adds: “The decision to end all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050 came after Denmark this year set an ambitious target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% by 2030 and being climate neutral in 2050. ‘Oil revenues from the North Sea has to a large degree funded our welfare state for more than four decades,’ Dan Jørgensen said in an interview.” The Guardian also carries an interview with Jørgensen. Reuters also reports that Denmark has also “agreed on a deal with parliament to put at least 775,000 electric or hybrid cars on Danish roads by 2030 in its latest move to reach its ambitious target reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in 2030”. Another Reuters story says that a Czech Republic national commission has backed a 2038 coal phase-out, “on par with Germany”.
The Financial Times reports that “Brussels has been urged to stick to climate science when drawing up rules on sustainable finance after experts warned that the European Commission was at risk of jeopardising the EU’s pledge to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050”. The FT adds: “A group of 123 scientists from 27 countries has signed an open letter expressing “deep concern” at a draft commission proposal on sustainable finance rules that omits a reference to companies needing to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050 – an important goal of the EU’s climate law.” Another FT story says that “US oil and gas producers have begun to follow their European rivals in setting ambitious targets on cutting their emissions amid mounting investor pressure over climate change”.
There is continuing comment and editorial reaction in the UK media to the UK’s new “68% by 2030 based on 1990 levels” emissions pledge, announced last week by Boris Johnson. An editorial in the Independent says the UK government must now “go full-throttle to meet emissions goals and drastically reduce production, consumption and the export of oil and gas…The person he hopes will soon be his new best friend, Joe Biden, will naturally approve. It is to be hoped that the president-elect and prime minister will form an important alliance in the months leading up to COP26”. In the Sunday Telegraph’s business section, the Daily Telegraph’s assistant editor Jeremy Warner says that “climate change sceptics have lost the argument”. He adds: “They have become no more than faintly eccentric, lone voices crying in the wilderness, as irrelevant to the future as Extinction Rebellion, with its focus on impoverishing life-style changes, is to pragmatic pursuit of a carbon free world.” Making his wider point, he says: “It’s all very well to adopt a world leadership role in saving the planet, yet if it destroys the economy in the meantime, he’s unlikely to get much thanks for it at the ballot box. But here’s the point; it’s not going to destroy the economy. Much more likely is that it is end up part of the economy’s salvation.”
Elsewhere, a number of sceptic commentators are given an air to vent their opposition. In the Financial Times, City editor Jonathan Ford writes: “Mr Johnson should focus on keeping the associated borrowings to a minimum. Forget talk of green jobs and industrial renaissance. And put away those spoons.” In the Daily Telegraph, columnist Tom Harwood – who is also a senior reporter for the right-wing political news website Guido Fawkes – has a message of Johnson: “keep calm, ignore the regressive hippies, and let the market do its job”. In the Sunday Telegraph, Nigel Farage says “this country simply cannot afford to blow money on trendy ‘green’ projects”, such as low-traffic neighbourhoods. MailOnline quotes “88-year-old climate denier” Nigel Lawson speaking to a right-wing YouTube channel in which he says Johnson’s plans were “absolutely mad” and “crazy”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has published a letter co-signed by various climate scientists who say “we call on policymakers to engage with the risk of disruption and even collapse of societies”. They add: “After five years failing to reduce emissions in line with the Paris climate accord, we must now face the consequences.”
An editorial in the Financial Times argues that “stringent standards, governance and audit will be needed” to ensure the success of a global carbon market. It continues: “Despite valid concerns over the effect of voluntary carbon offsetting, [former Bank of England governor Mark] Carney is right to give his backing to the creation of a global market. Policymakers will need to consider mechanisms to smooth the transition from fossil fuel-driven economies to ones based on renewables. It will be imperative to find ways to allow economic activity to continue while reducing emissions. Many companies, especially those with emissions that are hard to abate, will need to offset the carbon they produce as they strive to meet their decarbonisation goals. Demand for credible offsets is growing and a large and effective carbon market could help to drive capital towards projects that make a difference… Managed correctly, a voluntary carbon offset market has the potential to play a limited but still important role.”
A new study explores the impact of drought on human health and well-being in the UK using “stakeholder narratives”. In the UK, the increasing risk of water shortages due to climate change has been identified as a “key area for action”, but authors of this study say that more work is needed to understand the health impacts of drought. This study finds that drought can “present perceived health and well-being effects” through reduced water quality and quantity, compromised hygiene and sanitation, reduced food security, and poor air quality. Drought was found to affect both mental and physical health poorly, and authors emphasise the importance of addressing the health consequences of drought for “at risk” groups.
A new “policy forum” paper investigating the remaining lifespans of fossil fuel power plants in the US concludes that “most fossil fuel power plants could complete normal lifespans and still close by 2035” because so many of the power plants are already nearing the end of their operational lives. This study uses a model to show that the 2035 energy decarbonisation deadline proposed by President-elect Biden would only “strand” roughly 15% of fossil capacity-years and 20% of job-years. The author comments that this is “unusually low from a global perspective”. This study also includes a video showing the future lifespan of natural gas, coal, and oil plants.