Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate finance for poor countries to hit $100bn target by 2023, says report
- Greenhouse gas levels hit new record despite lockdowns, UN reports
- Australia commits to 2050 net zero emissions plan but with no detail and no modelling
- UK: Manchin pushes for more climate cuts from the budget bill
- UK: ‘I’m very worried’ – Boris Johnson admits reaching climate summit deal is ‘touch and go’
- Chair of African Union: We are tired of waiting — Africa must be a priority for COP26
- COP26: Decisions the world takes now will set us on an irreversible path. We must recognise the danger and seize the opportunities
- Impact of high-speed rail on road traffic and greenhouse gas emissions
- Increasing fire and the decline of fire adapted black spruce in the boreal forest
A new climate finance “delivery plan” published yesterday has revealed that the “$100bn a year by 2020” target agreed by wealthy nations in 2009 will not be met until 2023, the Guardian reports. According to the newspaper, experts have called the delay “shameful”. It continues: “No new money is likely to be forthcoming immediately under the delivery plan, though there are expectations of some new pledges by the end of this year. More significantly for the poorest countries, at COP26 there is likely to be a refocus of existing pledges to help them cope with the impacts of extreme weather.” The plan was drawn up by governments from the UK, Canada and Germany, with assistance from the OECD, the i newspaper notes. The Wall Street Journal emphasises that donor nations fell short on their original pledge by $20bn in 2020, and the Washington Post says the findings “threaten to undermine” success at COP26. Climate Home News says that, according to the report, up to $117bn is could be delivered in 2025. Sky News adds that while the gesture could be seen as an “acknowledgement of the previous shortfall”, the report “does not frame it as any form of compensation”. Meanwhile, the New York Times says that the $100bn pledge has been “a widening fault line in climate diplomacy.” It adds: “Some poor and middle-income countries have argued that they should not be expected to slow their emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases if rich countries cannot keep their $100bn promise”. The Press Association quotes Alok Sharma, who said yesterday that the plan “provided clarity, transparency and accountability, was a step towards rebuilding trust and would give developing countries more assurance of predictable support”, but added that “we can and must do more to get finance flowing to developing nations”. BBC News quotes Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, who says: “To provide confidence and momentum going into COP26, the $100bn climate finance goal must be met immediately, not in 2023…I know the UK presidency has worked very hard for this, and I appreciate their efforts, but this is not sufficient to lay the groundwork for a successful outcome at COP26.” Meanwhile, BusinessGreen adds: “Mohamed Adow, director of Nairobi-based think tank Power Shift Africa and a veteran observer of UN climate talks, slammed the announcement as ‘utterly shameful’.” Politico also quotes Adow. BusinessGreen, the Independent, the Hill, Bloomberg and Reuters also cover the report. (See Carbon Brief’s new analysis of climate finance “flows” around the world.)
Meanwhile, the Independent carries a feature entitled, “Paying for pollution: The case for climate reparations”, which explores whether rich countries have a responsibility to compensate those facing the worst impacts of climate change. And EurActiv reports that “campaigners have urged rich nations to take a holistic approach to forestry that considers the environmental and economic interests of communities in the Global South”.
Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels hit a record high in 2020 – despite the economic slowdown driven by the pandemic – the Guardian reports. This is according to the World Meteorological Organization, which found that “all key greenhouse gases rose faster in 2020 than the average for the previous decade and this trend has continued in 2021”, according to the newspaper. It continues: “The data shows the climate crisis continues to worsen and send a ‘stark’ message to the nations meeting at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in a week’s time, according to WMO chief Prof Petteri Taalas.‘” BBC News notes that the pandemic drove a 5.6% decline in emissions, but adds that CO2 still reached 413.2 parts per million in 2020 – 149% of the pre-industrial level. Meanwhile, methane was 262% and nitrous oxide was 123% compared to preindustrial levels, the Hill adds. EurActiv also quotes Taalas, who says levels of emissions will cause a temperature rise “far in excess” of the 1.5C agreed in Paris in 2015, adding: “We are way off track…We need to revisit our industrial, energy and transport systems and whole way of life.” Forbes, the Press Association, Al Jazeera, NBC News, Reuters and MailOnline also cover the findings.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports on a new United National analysis, which finds that the world is on track for 2.7C warming, if countries stick to their existing pledges. It says: “Global climate pledges are drastically off track and could lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions of nearly a fifth by 2030 if countries do not raise their ambitions”. The newspaper quotes Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN’s climate change arm: “We are nowhere near where science says we should be. Parties must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent global temperature increases beyond the Paris agreement’s goal of well below 2C, ideally 1.5C, by the end of the century.” The paper continues: “Total greenhouse gas emissions from the 143 parties that submitted new or updated plans would be about 9 per cent lower in 2030 than they were in 2010, the UN report said.” The Press Association notes that 71 of these countries have goals to reach net zero emissions around mid century. However, Reuters adds: “Under countries’ current pledges, global emissions would be 16% higher in 2030 than they were in 2010, according to an analysis by the UNFCCC.” Bloomberg also covers the analysis.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has announced the government’s plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, adding that the country is on track for a reduction of between 30-35% compared to 2005 levels, the Guardian reports. However, the newspaper continues: “The government has refused to release modelling underpinning the plan and is keeping details of the package – promised to secure Nationals support for the mid-century target – secret.” The paper adds that the plan is underpinned by an updated technology roadmap that prioritises investment in clean hydrogen, energy storage, low-emissions steel and aluminium, carbon capture and storage and “ultra-low cost solar”. BBC News notes that £11bn will be invested over the next 20 years. However, it adds: “Australia will also use more gas, at least in the short term. Most controversially, there is no plan to limit fossil fuels.” The outlet also quotes Morrison, who said in a newspaper column on Tuesday: “We won’t be lectured by others who do not understand Australia. The Australian Way is all about how you do it, and not if you do it. It’s about getting it done…We want our heavy industries, like mining, to stay open, remain competitive and adapt, so they remain viable for as long as global demand allows.” It adds that Australia’s Climate Council thinktank called the pledge “a joke”. The Sydney Morning Herald says that Morrison called the plan “uniquely Australian”. Reuters adds that Australia “will not legislate the goal and instead rely on consumers and companies to drive emission reductions”.
The Washington Post notes that “critics said the announcement still left Australia isolated as allies including the US and the UK have agreed to steeper short-term reductions”. Meanwhile, the New York Times calls the pledge “hard to believe”, adding: “The country’s last-minute commitment before next week’s climate summit is built on hope for new technology, and little else.” And the Guardian has published a piece using interactive graphs to compare the goals of different countries.
Finally, the Conversation has published a piece entitled “Australia’s stumbling, last-minute dash for climate respectability doesn’t negate a decade of abject failure”. And the Daily Telegraph says that plan has “been criticised for being scant on detail and lacking in clear short-term goals”, adding that Australia is one of the world’s largest coal and gas exporters, and is “widely seen as a climate laggard”.
Senator Joe Manchin has pushed Democrats to drop or weaken a second major climate change provision from its policy and environment bill, the New York Times reports. This is “according to two people familiar with the matter”, the newspaper says. It continues: “[Manchin] wants to remove or modify a provision that would impose a fee on emissions of methane, a powerful planet-warming pollutant that leaks from oil and gas wells.” It adds that Biden hopes to use the bill to show that the US is taking action at COP26 and to encourage other countries to do the same. Separately, the same paper says that Manchin has already “effectively killed the most powerful climate change provision in the package, a proposed $150bn program that would replace coal- and gas-fired power plants with wind and solar power, though that money may be repurposed”. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that the methane fee is “expected to be responsible for about 9% of the climate benefits from both the Democratic human and climate infrastructure package and the bipartisan infrastructure bill”. The Financial Times reports that Biden is fighting to “salvage” the deal, but that “some of the most aggressive steps, such as a scheme called the Clean Electricity Performance Program that would force power companies away from fossil fuels” are likely to be cut due to opposition from lawmakers including Manchin. Meanwhile, DeSmog reports that “Biden appointees pushing natural gas are undermining his climate credibility”. Elsewhere, the Washington Post reports on “tension among Biden aides on China policy” ahead of COP26. And Reuters notes that US climate envoy, John Kerry, will travel to London today to continue discussions with counterparts from China ahead of COP26.
Meanwhile, Reuters highlights that Chinese President Xi Jinping will not attend COP in person, saying that “hopes dim” for the conference. And William Hague – former conservative MP – has penned a comment piece for the Times entitled “Xi is revealing his own weakness by missing Cop26”. (See Comment section below for more.) However, in an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald, climate policy researcher Sam Geall says that Xi’s absence is not a “snub”, or a “blow” for international diplomacy, noting that Xi has not travelled abroad since January 2020.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that China “is considering setting new limits on movements in coal prices that could help ease the nation’s energy crisis, though would threaten to curb profits in the sector”. Reuters adds that China will investigate energy index providers in a “bid to tame coal prices”. And CCTV, the state broadcaster, outlines a new guiding document released on Sunday – which discusses “the country’s work to achieve carbon peaking and carbon neutrality goals under the new development philosophy, laying out key specific targets and measures for the coming decades”. Elsewhere, the Hindu outlines India’s expectations ahead of COP. Meanwhile, the South China Morning Post says that “China’s power crisis may cast a shadow over its new climate commitments expected to be announced at COP26 in Glasgow”. Elsewhere, China Dialogue reports that the Asian Development Bank “plans to buy out and retire coal plants”.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has admitted that he is “very worried” about COP26 at a children’s “press conference”, the Independent reports. It continues: “The downbeat comments represent a major shift gear from Mr Johnson, who has often boasted optimistically about the summit and told the UN general assembly just last month it was ‘easy to be green’ in a call to action.” Sky News quotes Johnson: “It is going to be very, very tough this summit. I am very worried because it might go wrong and we might not get the agreements that we need and it is touch and go, it is very, very difficult, but I think it can be done.” The Belfast Telegraph says that Johnson praised Australia for the “heroic” decision to commit to net zero by 2050. Johnson’s comments are also covered in MailOnline and Reuters. Meanwhile, there is widespread coverage, from outlets including the Guardian, BBC News, the i newspaper and the Times, that Johnson called plastic recycling a “red herring”, encouraging the reduction of single-use plastics instead.
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that MPs have said the UK government “should stop using aid cash to invest in fossil fuels abroad if it wants to be taken seriously on climate matters”. The outlet continues: “Currently the CDC, the government’s development finance arm, invests in fossil fuels projects – an approach aid charities have described as ‘mind boggling’ and said is ‘undermining efforts’ to tackle the climate crisis. According to figures collated by the group Tearfund, the CDC’s fossil fuel portfolio, is worth at least £700m.” Elsewhere, the Times reports that Nicola Sturgeon has called for an end to oil and gas exploration ahead of COP26 – in a speech that “marked her most significant shift away from fossil fuels”. The Press Association adds that Sturgeon said failing to act on climate change would be a “betrayal of young people around the world”. It notes that she used the speed to challenge countries including China, Russia, India and the US to do more to tackle the emergency. This is her third of four “major interventions” ahead of COP, the Scotsman reports.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that “British authorities obtained a High Court injunction on Monday to stop climate change activists blockading major roads, after protesters resumed a campaign to disrupt traffic following a 10-day hiatus”. And the Independent reports that 53 people were arrested yesterday as Insulate Britain restarted protests in London. BBC News adds that some protestors glued themselves to the ground, and had to be removed by the police, and the i newspaper adds that nine activists face an upcoming court date for breaking an injunction. Elsewhere, the Scotsman reports that Greta Thunberg will join the climate strike in Glasgow during the conference, and the Express and Star adds that she has invited striking workers to join her. The Daily Telegraph also covers the protests.
Meanwhile, UN secretary general António Guterres has told the Washington Post that COP26 could “become a missed opportunity”. The newspaper outlines Guterres’ “relentless, frustrating pursuit to bring the world together on climate change”, including “chiding” leaders of rich nations for not living up to their promises, serving as “a megaphone for scientists” and highlighting “the grievances of young activists”. Separately, the Washington Post adds that Guterres “doesn’t want his grandkids to say that the planet is hell’”. Similarly, David Attenborough has warned that “if we don’t act now, it’ll be too late”, according to BBC News. Meanwhile, the Times reports that COP26 delegated could face “transport chaos”, after the rail union rejected a proposed pay deal, and may join cleaners, refuse collectors and recycling workers in striking during COP. The Scotsman specifies that Unite will not be striking, after reaching an agreement with ScotRail. Meanwhile, the i newspaper outlines how travel will be affected and the Herald adds that up to 200,000 Scottish council workers will be striking for five days during COP. Meanwhile, the Scotsman notes that thousands of delegates yet to secure accommodation in Glasgow are facing an “accommodation crisis”. And BBC News adds: “Glasgow’s council leader has insisted the city is ready for the COP26 conference – but ‘with caveats’”. Meanwhile, New Scientist ask what we can expect from COP26 and Bloomberg has published a list of “little things to keep climate negotiators happy at COP”. Nature has a lengthy piece explaining entitled, “COP26 climate summit: A scientists’ guide to a momentous meeting”.
In other European news, the Guardian reports that UK petrol prices have hit an “all-time high” amid oil market pressure. Oil hit $85 per barrel and “keeps ticking up”, according to the Financial Times. Meanwhile, Reuters say that the high energy prices “put [a] spotlight on Europe’s draughty buildings”. Elsewhere, Reuters says: “Divisions have deepened among European Union countries ahead of an emergency meeting of ministers on Tuesday on their response to a spike in energy prices, with some countries seeking a regulatory overhaul and others firmly opposed.” Separately, Reuters reports that Germany, Denmark, Ireland and six other European countries said on Monday they would not support a reform of the EU electricity market. Similarly, Bloomberg reports that energy ministers are set for a “spat” over gas prices. Politico also covers the upcoming meeting.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US global energy security adviser has said that Russian President Vladimir Putin is “getting close to using natural gas as a political tool” by withholding gas exports from Europe. The Financial Times reports that in his first newspaper interview as prime minister, Norway’s new prime minister “defended his country’s oil and gas industry by emphasising its shutdown would scupper the transition to greener industries such as renewable energy”. And the Financial Times reports that the UK’s emission trading scheme “plans to adopt credits for direct air capture”.
“Africa is tired of waiting”, writes Félix Tshisekedi – president of the Democratic Republic of Congo and chair of the African Union – in an opinion piece for the Financial Times. Tshisekedi says that climate change could eliminate 15% of Africa’s GDP by 2030, in what he calls “a cruel fate for a continent that contributes so little to global warming”. He outlines the African Adaptation Acceleration Program, which “aims to spend $12.5bn over five years, in addition to the $12.5bn already pledged by the African Development Bank, on climate-proofing, creating new jobs and modernising key economic sectors to support upstream efforts to integrate climate adaptation investments at the national level”. Tshisekedi adds that digital technologies and services for farmers show “great potential” for allowing Africa to feed its population, and “could transform Africa’s agriculture and agribusiness sectors, currently worth $300bn, into a $1tn market by 2030”. He notes that rich countries have pledged £100bn to developing nations, and says that the African Union is urging the money to be used on the adaptation programme because its aims are “realistic, necessary and achievable”. He continues: “Twenty-five billion dollars over five years is a drop in the ocean compared to the challenges we face. But we believe it is the floor, not a ceiling, for adaptation finance… Let us remember that Africa’s ecosystems provide free crucial services to the world. African forests and oceans serve as natural carbon sinks. It is time for Africa to be compensated — for the good of the continent and the planet. We have waited long enough.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian carries a comment piece from Laurent Fabius – a former prime minister of France and chair of COP21 – entitled: “I chaired COP21 when we delivered the Paris agreement. We must go further in Glasgow.“Fabius writes that the success of COP21 was “made possible by a strong process of environmental diplomacy that required the alignment of three ‘planets’: science, societies and states”. Since COP21, he says that “science planet” and “societies planet” have made progress, but that “states planet” is “still lacking”. He continues: “The Paris agreement clearly provides in its Article 4 that each country must present a ‘nationally determined contribution’, updated at least every five years. Yet as I write these lines – although many countries, and the European Union have presented a national contribution in line with the agreement – some have backslid, and some have simply not submitted anything at all… Clearly, there is more work to be done. The rise in temperatures from pre-industrial levels, which was supposed to be maintained well below 2C and if possible at 1.5C, is currently on track to 2.7C or more. The UN secretary general rightly called this trajectory ‘catastrophic’.” For COP26 to succeed, Fabius says that four objectives are needed – adopting the Paris agreement rulebook, moving forward with the $100bn pledge to developing nations, closing the gaps between commitments and action using “clear indicators and metrics”, and a coordinated approach on tackling climate change and biodiversity loss. He concludes: “We have an immense responsibility towards future generations. Climate scepticism has receded. Now, through action and results, we must also tackle climate fatalism – the belief that it is too late to do anything.”
Writing in the Scotsman, former UK energy and climate minister Amber Rudd argues that “no country is yet doing enough” ahead of COP26. She continues: “All nations must use COP26 as a springboard to set the course for deep and meaningful emissions reductions to happen in order to get to net zero. Scientists, business leaders and people from all around the world – many of whom are being impacted by severe weather events right now – are united in calling for swift action. Politics must not get in the way.”
In the Times, former Conservative party leader and UK foreign secretary William Hague focuses on the apparent decision by China’s Xi Jinping not to attend COP26. He writes: “this will have been based on a calculation in Beijing: the absence of China’s leader keeps the pressure on his western counterparts to come up with the promised climate finance for developing countries and to solve the many knotty issues concerning international definitions and comparisons. It leaves China able to announce its own initiatives without having to fit in or do deals with a hostile United States, and Xi will not be breaching China’s own policy of pursuing zero Covid and avoiding travel.” He goes on to reference recent Carbon Brief analysis: “Yet there is a defensiveness about this as well. If he came, Xi would soon be in a room with Joe Biden and Boris Johnson, being asked to do more. His country is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases, and it is impossible to cut them sufficiently without his cooperation. China can no longer hide behind the notion that it is only catching up with all emissions of Britain and others in the Industrial Revolution: the latest analysis, going back to 1850, shows that it has the second largest cumulative emissions (after the US) of all countries on the planet.” Yet another former Conservative minister, Iain Duncan Smith, argues in the Daily Telegraph that “our commitment to net zero has become quasi-religious”. He adds: “The ultimate effect of this rushed strategy could be to push political and economic power East, into the hands of Beijing.”
Meanwhile, in other UK comment, the Financial Times interviews the economist Jeffrey Sachs, who says: “China, I’m confident, will move its [climate] target up. I don’t know whether it will happen at COP26, but it should. China has the capacity to reach net zero by 2050 because it’s going to be a crucial provider of all of the key technologies needed: the zero-carbon power, the long-distance transmission, the electric vehicles, the hydrogen economy.” In the Guardian, Max Wakefield, the director of campaigns for the climate action group Possible, says: “The transition to heat pumps will affect almost every household in the UK, but it won’t work without public support…Carefully designed programmes to actively recruit the public to – and involve us in – the nuts and bolts of the zero carbon transition are no longer negotiable.”
Separately, an editorial in the Scotsman says that “Boris Johnson’s decision to state publicly that he fears the [COP26] talks ‘might go wrong’ is a worrying sign”. An editorial in the Daily Mail (not online) also picks up on the same comment, saying: “Isn’t it time for the foolery to stop? Or world leaders might get the idea he’s not really serious about anything.” Finally, in the Financial Times Sarah O’Connor makes the point that “regulators must recognise that some work involved in greening the economy is dirty, dangerous and in need of reform”.
Expansion of high-speed rail (HSR) routes in China since 2008 has saved almost 15m tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year, a new study says – equivalent to 1.75% of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the country’s transport sector. This mitigation effect “mainly comes from the substitution of highway goods transport with the conventional railway instead of the direct replacement of highway passenger transport with HSRs”, the paper notes. An accompanying News & Views article says the study “appears to be the first contribution identifying GHG-reduction effects of high-speed rail systems – previous work in Italy has not found any effect”.
A warming climate and more frequent and severe wildfires are causing a shift from the dominance of black spruce trees in boreal North America to broadleaf and pine species, a new study says. Using data from more than 1,500 sites across North America after 58 recent fires (1989 to 2014), the researchers found that black spruce was resilient following most fires (62%), but “loss of resilience was common, and spruce regeneration failed completely in 18% of 1,140 black spruce sites”. While there is still “considerable” resilience in black spruce forests, the authors warn that “predicted increases in climate moisture deficits and fire activity will erode this resilience, pushing the system toward a tipping point that has not been crossed in several thousand years”.
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