Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate change: Temperature analysis shows UN goals 'within reach'
- Deforestation in Brazil's Amazon skyrockets to 12-year high under Bolsonaro
- Australia heatwave breaks records in Sydney, escalates fire danger across wide area
- UN agency hit with corruption allegations at climate projects
- Britain's National Grid gets funding for hydrogen research facility
- Questions raised over 'misleading' report into electric cars
- Shell in court over claims it hampered fossil fuels phase-out
- Honour your climate commitments, Australia, signed your Pacific neighbours
- Opportunities and challenges in using remaining carbon budgets to guide climate policy
- Increased cyclone destruction potential in the Southern Indian Ocean
- Global mean thermosteric sea level projections by 2100 in CMIP6 climate models
BBC News reports new analysis from Climate Action Tracker (CAT), which finds that new climate promises from China and the carbon plans of US president-elect Joe Biden make it possible that “the rise in world temperatures could be held to 2.1C by the end of this century.” The outlet says that for more than a decade, CAT has been monitoring global pledges and that “previous estimates indicated up to 3C of heating, with disastrous impacts”. Notable developments in recent months include pledges of net-zero emissions by China, Japan and South Korea, as well as the election of Joe Biden in the US. However, BBC News notes that “the experts are worried the long-term optimism is not matched by short-term plans to cut CO2.”
Separately, BBC News outlines a report published yesterday that concludes Boris Johnson’s 10-point climate plan “won’t do enough to achieve his goal of curbing the country’s greenhouse emissions”. The outlet says that, according to the report, “the UK will need to go further and faster to achieve its commitment of net zero emissions by mid-century”, and that, to avoid dangerous levels of warming, the year 2030 is “key”. It adds that, according to the analysis, which was conducted by Cambridge Econometrics, “Mr Johnson’s plan will reduce emissions 59% by 2030, based on 1990 levels”, but that “they should really fall by 70% by that date”. It also notes that the timing of this report is important, as “the UK is set next month to declare its 2030 climate target to other nations in the hope of persuading them all to do more”. The Financial Times reports on Johnsons plans to make the UK a “global green finance hub”, saying that Johnson has “injected enthusiasm into the UK’s green bond market”, but that “the country has a challenge ahead to catch up with rivals across the English channel”. The outlet says that Johnsons 10-point plan “included vows to boost the City’s role in green bonds and carbon trading and to introduce new corporate disclosure requirements”, and that UK is “UK is keen to present itself as a green leader” ahead of COP26. However, it says that the EU is still “leading the way in terms of green government bond issuance.”
The Times covers a recent report by Oil & Gas UK, which finds that carbon emissions in the UK have fallen by 10.2% this year due to covid-19 lockdowns. The newspaper reports that this “outstrips a 5.5% decline in emissions globally”. However, according to the outlet, the report notes that “the estimated decline in emissions was less than the forecast 11.3% decline in UK GDP expected this year” and says that this “highlighted the huge scale of the challenge that would be involved to meet the UK’s target of reducing emissions to net zero by 2050”. The Independent covers a report from Drax Electric Insights which finds that “the UK cut carbon from its power supply at almost twice the pace of any other major economy in the past decade”, putting it “far ahead of nations, such as the US, Germany, Australia and China when it comes to decarbonising of power supplies”. The outlet says that, according to the report, “a continued shift away from burning coal for electricity and a six-fold increase in renewable power were found to be among the main factors behind the rapid decarbonisation of the UK’s power grid.” Finally, the Daily Telegraph reports that abandoned coal mines in Britain “could become powerhouses once again under plans to turn them into geothermal plants”. The paper says that, according to the Coal Authority, “one in four UK households are above abandoned coal mines…which are warmed by natural geothermal processes”.
Several publications cover data from Brazil’s national space agency Inpe shows that levels of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon have reached a 12-year high. Reuters says that destruction has been “soaring since President Jair Bolsonaro took office and weakened environmental enforcement”, and reports that from August 2019 to July 2020 “destruction of the world’s largest rainforest rose 9.5% from a year earlier to 11,088 sq km (2.7m acres)” – an area roughly 7 times the size of London. The outlet reports that this figure is a marked increase from the 2018 figure of 7,536 sq km which was measured before Bolsonaro took office, but that, “while environmentalists blamed the government for the rise, federal officials hailed the figures as a sign of progress in fighting deforestation, as the increase was far lower than the 34% increase recorded in 2019.” The paper quotes vice president Hamilton Mourao telling reporters at Inpe’s headquarters that “while we are not here to celebrate this, it does signify that the efforts we are making are beginning to bear fruit”. BBC News also reports on this story, adding that Bolsonaro has “encouraged agriculture and mining activities in the world’s largest rainforest”, and that Brazil will miss the target that it set itself for “slowing the pace of deforestation to 3,900 sq km annually by 2020”. According to the New York Times, “the consequences for missing the target are not laid out in the law, but could leave the government open to lawsuits”. The Guardian quotes environmentalists, including Cristiane Mazzetti, a Greenpeace spokesperson for the Amazon, who says: “This is an even worse number than 2019 and a direct reflection of the Bolsonaro administration’s anti-environmental policies which have weakened the monitoring agencies and used misguided strategies to fight deforestation, such as deploying the armed forces rather than environmental protection agents.” Axios, New Scientist and the i newspaper also cover this story. Reuters runs a story that, according to military experts, “climate change will increase the burdens on Brazil’s armed forces and endanger the country’s energy and water security”, reporting that Brazil may face “major security threats”.
Many outlets cover the extreme heatwave and associated forest fires in Australia. “Millions of Australians are sweltering through a record-shattering heat wave that has set off hundreds of wildfires in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland”, reports the Washington Post. The newspaper notes that temperatures reached 40C over the weekend, although Australia has not even reached “the official start of summer” yet, and that the hottest temperatures in Australia are usually seen in January. The paper calls the extreme heat “ominously similar to the events that led to 2019-2020′s devastating wildfires”. (For more on those fires, see Carbon Brief’s coverage.) Reuters also reports on this story, adding that “more than 30 fire crews are trying to contain a massive blaze at world heritage listed site Fraser Island off the coast of Queensland”. It adds that, according to authorities, the fires have already “razed nearly half of the popular tourist island’s land area.” The Guardian says that a “catastrophic” bushfire has broken out in Queensland, reporting that “the blaze, which has been alight for more than six weeks, is threatening major tourism and rainforest areas after burning much of the island’s north”. The paper also states that “the fire started in mid-October after an illegal campfire and has since burned across 81,000 hectares (20,000 acres).” The Sydney Morning Herald adds news of a new study published yesterday in Nature about a strengthening of the positive Indian Ocean Dipole due to climate change, which is expected to increase the occurrence of “more frequent and intense dry spells for south-eastern Australia” in the future. The Independent adds that such an event may have been a key contributing factor to Australias 2019 fires. Carbon Brief has also published a guest post on this paper.
The Financial Times reports that, according to documents that it has seen, “the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is facing several allegations of fraud and corruption linked to the multibillion-dollar Global Environment Facility (GEF)”. The outlet says that “a copy of a draft report by UNDP’s office of audit and investigations, dated November 2020, described ‘financial misstatements’ worth millions of dollars across UNDP’s portfolio of GEF-funded projects around the world.” It adds that the GEF was established in 1991 as part of the World Bank to “help fight environmental challenges”, but has since become an independent organisation, and “disbursed more than $21bn in 170 countries, including $7bn in projects managed by the UNDP”. The paper notes that the review of UNDP’s GEF-funded projects “comes against a backdrop of rising concern from some donor countries over management and oversight issues at the UNDP.” UNDP has released a statement in response to the media coverage.
National Grid has received funding to launch a hydrogen research facility to “test how gas transmission assets can be used to transport hydrogen to heat homes and energy to industry”, Reuters reports. The newswire adds that Ofgem will award £9.07m of funding for the project, which will cost £12.7m in total, and that National Grid “aims to start construction this year and begin trials next year”. National Grid says the facility will test blends of hydrogen up to 100% at transmission pressures to assess how the assets perform. BusinessGreen also covers the story, reporting that National Grid will upgrade overhead electricity lines and adding that this project “is set to eliminate 39,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions and deliver £286m of efficiency savings”. The website reports that Antony Green, project director for hydrogen at National Grid, called the project “a major step forward” and stated: “If we truly want to reach a net zero decarbonised future, we need to replace methane with green alternatives like hydrogen…Sectors, such as heat, are difficult to decarbonise, and the importance of the gas networks to the UK’s current energy supply means projects like this are crucial if we are to deliver low carbon energy, reliably and safely to all consumers.” The Times reports that the first to benefit from this hydrogen-powered cooking and heating will be 300 households in Fife, Scotland, for a four-and-a-half year trial beginning in 2020, adding that “the gas will be produced through electrolysis, which will use electricity from a wind turbine to split water into hydrogen and oxygen” and that “the project will involve construction of a storage facility that can hold about five tonnes of hydrogen, or enough to supply the 300 homes for five days with no wind generation.” The Guardian also runs the story under the headline, “Scottish homes to be first in world to use 100% green hydrogen”. Yesterday, Carbon Brief published an in-depth explainer on hydrogen.
Some of the UK’s most well-known carmakers are facing questions over their role in a report which tried to pour doubt over the green credentials of electric vehicles, says the i newspaper. The analysis, which received widespread coverage at the end of last week, claimed an electric vehicle would need to be driven for almost 50,000 miles before it gained a CO2 advantage over a conventional petrol car. This figure has been dismissed as “misleading propaganda” by EV experts, says the i newspaper. The paper continues: “Backed by industry associations and auto firms, including McLaren, Aston Martin and Honda, the study argued there is no ‘silver bullet’ for decarbonising transport. It promoted the role of biofuels and synthetic fuels alongside battery electric cars. However, when experts had a closer look, the report underestimated combustion engine emissions and cherry-picked data to make biofuels appear more climate-friendly than EVs, the paper says. It adds: “Questions have been raised over the relationship between Aston Martin and PR firm Clarendon Communications, which was hired to distribute the report. Clean energy entrepreneur Michael Liebreich spent the weekend investigating Clarendon. According to Companies House, Rebecca Stephens is Clarendon’s sole director. Land Registry information confirms the firm’s registered address is co-owned by Ms Stephens alongside James Stephens, a senior executive at Aston Martin…Aston Martin said it did not contract Clarendon Communications to distribute the report. It claimed it has ‘no formal links’ with the PR firm but refused to comment further on whether governance rules had been breached.” Unearthed has been digging into the story, too.
In other EV news, the Daily Telegraph reports that the UK’s first electric forecourt will open next Monday as part of the £1bn rollout of a nationwide network. The paper adds: “The site in Braintree, Essex, is the first of 100 electric charging stations that will be opened over the next five years…The station boasts 24 charging points that recharge electric cars within half an hour. A further six “superchargers” have been dedicated for Tesla owners.” And the Hill reports that General Motors (GM) announced yesterday that it would not be buying into the electric vehicle company Nikola and it would be ending development of an electric and hydrogen powered vehicle. Shares of Nikola “plunged 24%” as a result, says the Associated Press.
A court in The Hague will hear a case against Royal Dutch Shell today. According to the paper, lawyers will argue that “Shell has been aware for decades of the damage it has inflicted and is acting unlawfully by expanding its fossil fuel operations.” The paper adds that “Shell’s activities and products are responsible for about 1% of global emissions every year but the company is investing billions more in oil and gas, according to the legal claim.” Reuters also reports on this story, adding that the lawsuit was filed in April by seven activist groups, “including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth Netherlands” on behalf of over 17,000 Dutch citizens, with the demand that Shell “cuts its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050”.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that “the European court of human rights has ordered 33 European governments to respond to a landmark climate lawsuit lodged by six youth campaigners”. According to the paper, the case was crowdfunded and filed two months ago, and will now be “fast-tracked”. DeSmog UK reports on this story under the headline, “‘Major hurdle’ cleared as youth activists advance historic climate case”.
In other oil news, the Times reports that oil prices fell yesterday amid uncertainty over whether the group of oil-producing nations, known as Opec, and other producers would agree to continue curbing their output to help to rebalance the market. The paper continues: “The energy minister of Algeria, an Opec member, said that the cartel had reached ‘consensus’ during virtual meetings yesterday on continuing existing cuts, but would need to convince allies in the wider ‘Opec+’ group, such as Russia, at a delayed meeting on Thursday. The existing curbs have removed about 7.7m barrels per day from the market, but these restrictions were due to be eased, with producers lifting their output by about two million barrels a day from January.” Bloomberg reports that “Exxon faces historic write down after energy markets implode”. A Reuters poll of 40 economists and analysts forecast Brent crude oil would average $49.35 a barrel next year, which suggests “that prices would have some trouble sustaining a rally”. And, finally, a piece in the Financial Times asks whether Europe’s major oil companies can win back investors.
The Sydney Morning Herald runs an opinion piece by Anote Tong, former president of Kiribati, elaborating on an open letter that Tong and 14 other Pacific leaders sent to Australian prime minister Scott Morrison ahead of the annual United Nations Climate Ambition Summit on December 12th. Tong urges Australia to “honour its international climate commitments and take urgent climate action”. He outlines the dangers of climate change for the Pacific islands, emphasising that “the fate of Kiribati will only be a small part of the wider global apocalyptic disaster that other parts of the world will also face – if we do not act in time”. It is “most regrettable” that the recent federal budget in Australia focusses on a “gas-led recovery”, Tong says, adding that “Australia is now lagging behind the rest of the world on climate action”. The Guardian also covers the open letter from Pacific leaders to Scott Morrison, reporting that the letter “urges Australia to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 and to develop a long-term low greenhouse gas emissions strategy by 2021” and condemns Australia’s use of “Kyoto protocol carryover credits”, which it claims “legally cannot, and morally should not, be used to meet Australia’s 2030 Paris Agreement target.”
The Guardian publishes results from a survey of 1034 voters, finding “81% support for the Morrison government adopting a net-zero emissions target by 2050”. The survey also finds that “a majority of voters would favour stronger climate action earlier, with 75% of the sample supportive of setting a net zero target by 2030 rather than mid-century, which is an 11 point increase since January.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has published a lengthy feature under the headline: “Peak oil is suddenly upon us”.
A new “perspective” paper explores the scientific and socioeconomic uncertainties affecting the size of the remaining carbon budgets for particular temperature limits. Understanding these uncertainties is “essential before applying them as a policy tool”, the researchers say, noting that “uncertainty can be used to either trivialise the most ambitious mitigation targets by characterising them as impossible, or to argue that there is ample time to allow for a gradual transition to a low-carbon economy”. The paper provides “recommendations on how to calculate remaining carbon budgets in a traceable and transparent way”.
The “destruction potential” of cyclones has doubled over the last 40 years as a result of warming in the southern Indian Ocean, a new study suggests. The researchers use the “power dissipation Index” (PDI) to assess how the destruction potential of category 3 and higher cyclones have changed between 1980-98 and 1999-2016. The increasing PDI is “associated with a sea surface temperature warming and an upper ocean heat content increase as well as a significant slowdown in translation speeds”, the researchers say. They warn that “any continued increase in PDI will cause more loss of life and socioeconomic damage to the island countries such as Mozambique, Mauritius, Mascarene Islands and Madagascar, as well as the coastal inhabitants along East Africa”.
New research estimates the contribution to global sea level rise by the end of the century from the thermal expansion of the oceans as they warm. Using simulations from 15 climate models in the sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase (CMIP6), the authors calculate a global mean thermosteric sea level rise of 18.8cm and 26.8cm for the period 2081–2100, relative to 1995-2014, for the SSP245 and SSP585 scenarios, respectively. (See Carbon Brief’s explainer for more on the SSPs.) The study adds: “In a comparison with a 20 model ensemble from CMIP5, the CMIP6 ensemble mean of future global mean thermosteric sea level rise (2014-2100) is higher for both scenarios and shows a larger variance.”
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