Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate crisis: 2020 by far Europe’s hottest year on record, data shows
- US: Schumer says infrastructure bills would cut emissions by 45%
- Australia: Coal will be paid to firm up the grid
- Denmark, Costa Rica seek alliance to speed up the end of oil and gas
- China’s carbon neutral goal: Xi Jinping visits historic tree farm to highlight green targets
- UK: Gatwick’s second runway could increase passengers by 50%
- Extinction Rebellion protesters block Oxford Circus in London
- ‘India on course to exceed Paris Climate Change commitments’
- Boris is right: Britain has a beautiful competitive advantage in ‘blue’ hydrogen
- The South Pacific pressure trend dipole and the Southern Blob
- Accelerating methane growth rate from 2010 to 2017: leading contributions from the tropics and East Asia
Europe experienced its hottest year on record by a significant margin last year, according to data from the American Meteorological Society, reports the Independent, in a story trailed on the paper’s digital frontpage. The organisation’s 31st State of the Climate report shows that all five of the continent’s hottest years on record have occurred since 2014, and that in 2020 temperatures across the continent were 1.9C above the average for 1981 to 2010, according to the news website. It notes that many nations from France to Finland reported their highest national annual average temperatures last year. BBC News notes that reports earlier this year had already confirmed that 2020 was Europe’s warmest on record and one of the three hottest globally. However, it adds that the “new data shows that Europe’s temperature margin over previous years was significantly greater than previously thought” – more than 0.5C greater than the previous record level. The i newspaper says that the UK recorded its third hottest year on record and focuses on the rising numbers of “tropical nights” when temperatures across the nation fail “to fall below 20C and sleep becomes difficult”. It adds that as was the case this year, higher temperatures will lead to more intense rainfall events in the UK. According to CNN, other parts of the world that experienced record-high temperatures last year included Japan, Mexico and the Seychelles. Its coverage also mentions the “climate change-driven extreme weather” that has struck many parts of the northern hemisphere this summer “in the form of heatwaves and wildfires in Greece, Italy, Turkey and France, while Germany and Belgium experienced deadly floods in July”. The Times reports on its frontpage that the average surface temperature over land areas of the Arctic in 2020 was the highest since record began and the “seventh successive year that annual temperatures in the Arctic were more than 1C above the average for 1981-2010”. The Daily Mail print edition (not online) runs under the headline: “Europe records hottest year ever after 2C rise.” Various other publications including the Press Association and MailOnline also carry the results of the new report.
The Democrat Senate majority leader Charles Schumer has said the $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill and Democrats’ $3.5tn budget package would reduce US emissions by 45% by 2030 compared to 2005, according to the Hill. In a letter to fellow lawmakers, he added that when administrative actions planned by the Biden administration and states such as New York, California and Hawaii were included, “we will hit our 50% target by 2030”, the news website continues. It also notes that according to Schumer, the Senate finance committee’s clean energy and vehicle tax plan as well as the clean electricity payment programme would comprise nearly 66% of the total projected emissions reductions. Reuters adds that both of these measures are part of the wider bill that Democrats in the Senate hope to pass over the next few months “using a process called budget reconciliation, which bypasses the chamber’s usual rules requiring 60 votes to pass most legislation”. Politico notes that it is unclear how the analysis described by Schumer “will land with climate hawks” among Democrats, who have previously stated that “they would not bless an infrastructure deal without sufficient climate change provisions”.
Another Hill piece reports that Democrats may try to use the $3.5tn reconciliation bill to push for a reversal of legislation that requires sales of drilling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska. The piece is based on an interview with Democratic congressman Jared Huffman, who tells the news website he is “certainly going to try to push it”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee are pushing for spending of roughly $31.5bn on conservation programmes, environmental analysis and cleanup of abandoned mines as part of the budget reconciliation bill. It adds that under the proposals, the oil and gas industry “would shoulder the burden of paying for much of that spending”, and that there is also a proposal to spend some $3bn on a new “Civilian Climate Corps”.
In Australia, energy minister Angus Taylor is “increasingly confident he has won the backing of state and territory counterparts for a series of reforms that could keep coal and gas plants alive to ensure reliable electricity supply and boost investment in firming power”, according to the Australian Financial Review. It adds that ministers have agreed to release an Energy Security Board report arguing that expansion of low-cost renewables in Australia must be matched with “sufficient investment in reliable generation”. This is a frontpage story in the Australian, under the headline “Grid and bear it: subsidise coal” and there is also commentary from the right-wing newspaper’s environment editor Graham Lloyd who says the Energy Security Board has “pulled no punches detailing the highwire act being performed as Australia makes the rapid transition to renewable energy”. The Guardian strikes a different tone, noting that criticism from the renewable energy sector over the proposed market rules has led the board to “vow to work with industry players and all tiers of government to design a new system by 2023”. According to the newspaper, the board is proposing a capacity market in which “power generators are paid when they can guarantee they can dispatch power at specific times”, which some think will “artificially prolong the life of coal generators”. It says that Taylor “contends that a high penetration of renewables is a significant problem in the energy market and reliability obligations should be beefed up to ensure the system is not plagued by blackouts”. The newspaper also quotes a copy of the statement Taylor is releasing to accompany the final board advice, which says the capacity market will provide “a clear, long-term signal to invest in dispatchable generation in the future”. [The UK, several other European countries and some US power markets also have capacity markets. This Carbon Brief guest post explains the UK scheme.]
Separately, the Guardian quotes former EU trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, telling a webinar hosted by the progressive thinktank the Australia Institute that the nation is becoming “more and more isolated” on climate action.
Denmark and Costa Rica are trying to create an alliance of nations willing to set a date to phase out oil and gas production and to stop giving permits for new exploration, according to Reuters. The piece cites documents and government ministers discussing the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), which suggest a core task would be to establish a deadline for a production phaseout that would align them with the goals of the Paris Agreement. It notes that the draft text could change ahead of the COP26 climate summit later this year, where it is expected to be launched.
Meanwhile, DeSmog covers a new report concluding that central banks are continuing to help “channel trillions of dollars into fossil fuels through policy decisions and direct financing, with overall sums rising in recent years”. Environmental organisation Oil Change International found that none of the twelve banks examined are on track to meet Paris Agreement targets “despite many of them recently pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2050”, the website notes. A separate piece in DeSmog reports on analysis by environmental campaign group Market Forces that it says shows UK banks HSBC and Standard Chartered have financed over £5bn worth of fossil fuel developments in the first half of this year.
South China Morning Post reports that China’s president Xi Jinping visited an “award-winning forest farm” known as the “Green Lung of Beijing” on Monday as the leader “urg[ed] the country to embrace environmentally friendly development”. The publication says that Xi’s visit to Moon Mountain at the Saihanba Mechanical Forest Farm was his first stop during an inspection trip to Hebei province. It explains that China’s Communist Party started an “ambitious forest farm project” in the Saihanba area in 1962 in a bid to prevent sandstorms from affecting Beijing and its surrounding region. State news agency Xinhua reports that Xi called on the country to “carry forward the Saihanba spirit” during his visit. The official outlet also publishes a series of photos showing Xi inspecting the tree farm. CCTV, the state broadcaster, runs a 16-minute news clip on Xi’s visit to Hebei. The clip includes footage of Xi looking at the forest and speaking with its rangers – as well as historical shots of workers building the forest farm in the 60s. CCTV has a separate post explaining the history of the Saihanba farm and the definition of the “Saihanba spirit”.
In other news, the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, says that China’s 2030/2060 climate goals “have brought new opportunities”. The outlet explains that “society’s enthusiasm for the goals can boost innovation and help to foster talent in this area”, citing “a top Chinese researcher”. Meanwhile, People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China, runs a column written by Tang Dengjie, deputy party secretary of the National Development and Reform Commission. Tang explains how the country should pursue its goal of peaking emissions and achieving carbon neutrality. (Hongqiao Liu, Carbon Brief’s China specialist, analyses the key messages of Tang’s article in her tweets.)
Elsewhere, Caixin, a Chinese financial outlet, examines why China’s coal prices “are still at high levels” despite “frequent” government policies to ensure the supply of the commodity. Finally, a new round of China’s central ecological and environmental inspection works has officially begun, reports state-run newswire China News Service. This is the fourth batch of the second round of such inspections since 2015 – with each round lasting four years – and will see five provinces and two party-run enterprises undergo a month of investigation, the outlet says. (This Carbon Brief Q&A explains the significance of such inspections.)
Passenger numbers at Gatwick airport in the UK could increase by more than 50% compared with its pre-pandemic peak under plans for a second runway, according to the Times. Rather than requiring a new runway to be constructed, the airport owner wants to allow the northern runway – currently brought into operation only when the main runway is unavailable – to be brought into routine use, the newspaper reports. It states that flight numbers would increase by up to 100,000 a year compared with the previous peak of 283,000 in 2019, noting that the development “could provide the first major airport expansion in the southeast of England for several decades”. Sky News reports that the plans will be subject to consultation and that Gatwick said they would be “delivered in a sustainable way which helps to achieve the government’s overall goal of net-zero emissions by 2050”. However, the Independent reports that opponents of Gatwick’s proposals said they “fly in the face of the climate emergency”. The Guardian quotes figures from campaigners at the Aviation Environment Federation that suggest the “runway and passenger growth would add about 1m tonnes of CO2 per annum by 2050, putting climate commitments in doubt”.
In more UK transport news, the Daily Telegraph reports that amid a shortage of long-haul drivers, extra-long “eco-friendly” lorries which cut down on the overall number of freight journeys could be on the nation’s roads next year. The newspaper states that according to a government trial, the trailers, which are up to 2.05m longer than the current maximum limit, “could save up to one in eight journeys by fitting more freight in”.
Finally, a Times piece reporting on a collapse in UK car manufacturing also includes a quote noting that more than a quarter of all cars made in July were hybrid or fully electric.
As Extinction Rebellion protests continue in London, the Guardian reports that on Wednesday the group blocked Oxford Circus, the site of one of its “most famous occupations”. According to the newspaper, “women took the lead on the third day of its latest campaign of disobedience”, with protesters swarming into the busy shopping district and erecting “a pink structure and sound system”. The piece notes that the group has explained the rationale behind a specifically female-led action by pointing to research “showing women are especially vulnerable to the effects of a worsening climate, but are also in many cases leading the fight against the climate crisis”. According to BBC News nearly 200 people have now been arrested at the demonstrations in London over the course of four days. It notes that protesters had glued themselves to the giant pink table and formed a human chain around the area cordoned off by police, with dozens subsequently carried to police vans by officers. The news website adds that Piccadilly Circus, the Department for International Trade and the Brazilian embassy were also targeted, the latter “to show solidarity with indigenous people in the Amazon rainforest”. The Independent has a live blog detailing how events unfolded at the protests yesterday. The Daily Telegraph, on the other hand, has a piece reporting that Conservative MP Nickie Aiken has said that Extinction Rebellion left behind 120 tonnes of rubbish during their October 2019 protests. The story made the newspaper’s frontpage.
Separately, the Independent reports that young climate activists from around the world “are calling on leaders to urgently act on the killing and harassment of environmental defenders”. With a record 212 environmental activists murdered in 2019, a group led by Kenyan activist Elizabeth Wathuti has called on UN chief Antonio Guterres and UK minister Alok Sharma to use “all the tools at their disposal to protect environmentalists from harm”, the news website states.
The Hindu’s BusinessLine reports the comments of Indian power minister RK Singh, who it says claims the country will exceed its Paris climate pledge (NDC). The publication reports: “India has already achieved emission reduction of 28% over 2005 levels, against the target of 35% by 2030 committed in its NDC power minister RK Singh said on Tuesday.” [India’s target is to cut the carbon intensity of GDP rather than actual emissions.] According to the newspaper, the minister said this made India one of the few countries globally that has kept to its Paris Agreement targets. Mint also has the story, noting that this “may strengthen India’s climate commitment credentials” in the run up to COP26. [India is one of a handful of G20 major economies yet to update its 2015 NDC ahead of COP26.]
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that a draft Russian climate plan would see the country’s emissions rising by 8% over the next three decades to more than 2bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2050. It continues: “The plan says the growth will be more than compensated for by doubling the estimated absorption capacity of Russia’s forests thanks to planting trees, reducing the number of fires and restoring wetlands.” The publication adds: “There is little reliable data on forests’ carbon sequestration.”
A piece by international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Daily Telegraph wades into the ongoing debate about the future of hydrogen production in the UK. Last week the government released its hydrogen strategy, covered by Carbon Brief, which suggested a “twin track” approach that would support both “green” (100% renewable) and “blue” (made using fossil fuels with carbon capture and storage, and not zero-emissions) hydrogen. Pritchard says the green movement is in “uproar over this perfectly sensible compromise”, but notes that both the International Energy Agency and the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) endorse blue hydrogen as a “bridge fuel” out to the 2030s due to its relatively low price. “You need scale to create the ecosystem of a plausible hydrogen economy,” he notes, adding that “absolutism is a dangerous thing. There is a loose parallel with the vilification of nuclear power in Germany after Fukushima”. He also states that “Britain has a beautiful competitive advantage in carbon capture, as Boris Johnson has spotted”, specifically “a network of pipelines and disused fields in the North Sea, along with half a century of offshore engineering skills, and an oil and gas industry seeking a new purpose in life”. (Pritchard also notes, for disclosure, that he owns shares in BP and Shell, “precisely because I view them as clean hydrogen companies”.) Finally, he concludes: “Britain’s twin-pronged blue and green strategy is a calibrated hedge that plays to this island’s North Sea strengths. It is well-judged and legitimate. To cast it as a green-washing is defamation.”
Taking a rather less positive tone in the same newspaper, Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath describes “net-zero” as one of the “four mega-trends” (alongside “wokery”) that “condemn the West to irreversible decline”. “America and Europe’s embrace of net-zero is largely driven by altruism: its proponents believe that poorer countries will suffer greater harm from climate change than wealthier nations. Yet many of these same nations are planning to make the most of the West’s green turn to reinforce their own rise,” he writes.
Finally, a Times editorial on the need for the UK to reshape its overseas policy highlights the upcoming COP26 summit as “an opportunity to exercise global leadership in a crucial issue of security and development”. However, on this theme it says there is a “worrying lack of dynamism emanating from the government”.
Persistent warm temperatures in the southwestern Pacific Ocean – stretching back to 1979 – can have far-reaching effects, according to new research. Scientists use models and observations to track how the atmospheric circulation changes in response to the ongoing warm patch; then, they simulate the region both with and without human emissions. They find that this “Southern Blob” of unusually warm ocean temperatures was a significant contributor to the development of the decade-long Chilean “megadrought” that continues to this day. Although the pre-industrial model runs reveal that a similar pattern of ocean temperatures is naturally occurring, the unusually high rate of ocean warming implies a “likely additional” contribution from human-caused climate change, the authors say.
According to a new study, tropical wetlands are the biggest driver of accelerating methane emissions since 2014 – acting as a positive feedback on the warming climate. Using several different atmospheric models and both ground-based and satellite observations, researchers calculate regional changes in methane emissions and attribute them to different sources. They find that just over one-third of the emissions over the time period can be traced back to tropical wetlands, with human-driven emissions from China contributing an additional 20%. Such high, sustained growth of methane increase “has not been observed since the 1980s”, the authors write, resulting in “unprecedented” global emissions.
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