Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate scientists shocked by scale of floods in Germany
- China's national carbon emission trading opens at 48 yuan/T – Chinese media
- EU climate plans provoke national opposition over rising emissions costs
- US and Germany launch climate partnership
- Europe sets pace for global climate policy
- The flimsy case for cutting UK foreign aid
- Observation-based selection of climate models projects Arctic ice-free summers around 2035
- Intensified soil moisture extremes decrease soil organic carbon decomposition: a mechanistic modelling analysis
There is extensive media coverage of the extreme flooding that has affected large of areas of western Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Guardian says that “the intensity and scale of the floods in Germany this week have shocked climate scientists, who did not expect records to be broken this much, over such a wide area or this soon”. BBC News says “at least 70 people have died in Germany and Belgium after record rainfall caused rivers to burst their banks”. The news broadcaster adds: “The German states of Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia were worst hit, but the Netherlands is also badly affected. More heavy rain is forecast across the region on Friday, while local officials have blamed climate change. Armin Laschet, the premier of North Rhine-Westphalia [and current favourite to succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor], blamed the extreme weather on global warming during a visit to a hard-hit area. ‘We will be faced with such events over and over, and that means we need to speed up climate protection measures… because climate change isn’t confined to one state,’ he said. Experts say that climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, but linking any single event to global warming is complicated.”
The Guardian adds: “After the deadly heatwave in the US and Canada, where temperatures rose above 49.6C two weeks ago, the deluge in central Europe has raised fears that human-caused climate disruption is making extreme weather even worse than predicted. Precipitation records were smashed across a wide area of the Rhine basin on Wednesday, with devastating consequences…Climate scientists have long predicted that human emissions would cause more floods, heatwaves, droughts, storms and other forms of extreme weather, but the latest spikes have surpassed many expectations. ‘I am surprised by how far it is above the previous record,’ Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said. ‘We seem to be not just above normal but in domains we didn’t expect in terms of spatial extent and the speed it developed.’” Politico says “the catastrophic flooding has pushed climate change back up Germany’s election campaign agenda”. (Germany goes to the polls in a national election in the autumn.) The outlet also quotes Dr Friederike Otto, associate director of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, who says climate change is “one driver, [but] not the only one”. It adds: “The floods have had an immediate impact on Germany’s election campaign, bringing the debate on climate protection back to the fore. The issue is a perceived weak spot for Laschet, who is leading in the polls. Speaking in Hagen, he attempted to get ahead of an issue that has so far been dominated by the Greens.” A separate Guardian article says: “The storms have put climate change back at the centre of Germany’s election campaign ahead of a 26 September parliamentary poll marking the end of Merkel’s 16 years in power.” Reuters says: “Climate and the environment are central themes in the election campaign, in which Laschet is going head-to-head with Social Democrat candidate Olaf Scholz and Annalena Baerbock of the Greens.”
The Daily Telegraph says: “A low-pressure vortex circling over Europe and hemmed in by other weather fronts has triggered the catastrophic flooding in Germany and neighbouring countries…Extreme weather events are hitting Europe more frequently as climate change warms the continent, experts agree…The German interior minister on Thursday blamed global warming for the floods. Speaking with German tabloid Bild, Horst Seehofer said preparation for such events needed to be better as they were likely to be more frequent in future. ‘These extreme weather conditions are the consequences of climate change,’ Mr Seehofer said. ‘We have to prepare much better for this, including when it comes to flood protection.’”
Meanwhile, other outlets continue to cover the extreme weather affecting areas of North America. The Guardian says “the fourth searing heatwave in five weeks is set to strike the west of the US and Canada this weekend, aggravating wildfires that are already ravaging an area larger than Rhode Island as drought and record-breaking temperatures tied to the climate crisis pummel the region”. The Independent says: “More than 1,300 firefighters are tackling the Bootleg Fire in Oregon, currently the largest fire in the US, after reports that more than a million acres across 12 states have been razed by fires.” Slate has a news feature headlined: “What climate scientists are saying about this catastrophic summer.”
Reuters says that “China’s long-awaited national carbon emission trading scheme (ETS) opened at 48 yuan ($7.42) per tonne on Friday, according to reports from Chinese media”. The newswire continues: “There was a ‘soft launch’ of the scheme in late 2017, but no transactions took place, and plans for a full launch were put back several times before it finally opened for trading at 9:30 a.m. (0130 GMT).” It quotes Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, who says: “China has reached an important milestone in its progress on climate action, putting the last puzzle piece in place for the largest carbon market in the world.” (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A about China’s ETS.)
In other China news, Caixin reports that the nation will turn its focus from building wind and solar farms to developing a new generation of battery-based energy storage systems (ESS) over the next five years. The financial publication says the move will complete a network to support the rapidly expanding renewable power generating capacity. It states that the “centre of the blueprint” is a plan to install 30 gigawatts (GW) or more of next-generation ESS capacity by 2025. Reuters says that “China plans to boost its capacity to store national coal reserves to around 600m tonnes, approximately 15% of annual coal consumption, the country’s state planner said on Friday”. And another Reuters reports says that “the Chinese provinces of Henan and Yunnan have failed to meet public expectations when it comes to tackling pollution and cleaning up their air, rivers and soil, the environment ministry said after the completion of inspections”. The report continues: “Henan’s Anyang, which ranked as China’s smoggiest city in 2020, failed to meet a requirement to close 6.6m tonnes of inefficient coking capacity last year, the ministry said. It also did not meet a target to cut the amount of coking coal used to produce steel, it added.”
Separately, a recent study has assessed how climate change affected the northern limit of China’s paddy rice between 1984 and 2013, reports China Daily. The paper says that the northern boundary of the country’s rice fields moved “northwards” and towards a higher altitude during the period mainly due to climate warming, the publication says.
Meanwhile, Xinhua reports that China has accelerated its development of a so-called “1+N” policy framework to help it reach its 2030/2060 climate goals. Under the guidance of the new “leaders group” for climate, the state macroeconomic planner is “hastening” the formulation of an action plan for the peaking of carbon emissions before 2030, says the state news agency. Sectoral and regional execution plans are also being drafted, the official outlet states. The report cites Zhao Penggao, an official at the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). Separately, China’s electricity consumption hit 3.93tn kilowatt hours (kwh) in the first half of 2021, rising 16.2% year on year, the Global Times reports. The state-run newspaper adds that the country’s electricity consumption for June increased 9.8% compared to the same period last year, reaching 703bn kwh.
Also, China’s Statistics Bureau said yesterday that China, as a developing country, faces “arduous” tasks and “high” pressure to fulfil its climate pledges while still undergoing its industrialisation process, reports China Economic Net. The authority also urged traditional industries to seize the “immense opportunity” brought by the country’s “green transition” to ensure the stable and long-term growth of the country’s economy, the website says.
Finally, Bloomberg reports that “a heatwave across some of China’s biggest industrial provinces has pushed local electricity consumption to unprecedented levels, sending thermal coal futures toward record highs”.
The Financial Times says that “Brussels’ historic attempt to tackle climate change faces a wall of opposition from governments in the bloc on the ground that its plans would hit their households with higher energy costs”. The newspaper continues: “EU legislators told the Financial Times that the European Commission’s attempts to expand carbon pricing to the biggest polluting sectors of the economy such as cars and buildings are at risk, as member states object that it will force its poorest to pay…France, Spain, Italy, Hungary, Latvia, Ireland and Bulgaria all raised concerns about the impact on citizens at a meeting of EU ambassadors on Wednesday when they were briefed following the release of the plans, diplomats told the FT. Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also faced down a revolt among at least seven of her 26 commissioners before presenting the plans. The reforms will need the support of a qualified majority of EU governments and the European parliament to come into force. A senior EU diplomat said the ETS expansion could be abandoned, despite being positioned alongside a proposed €72bn fund to help alleviate energy poverty. Tortuous negotiations are promised over the package, starting in coming months and expected to continue to 2023. The contentious policies include a ban on the sale of new diesel and petrol cars from 2035, the introduction of a kerosene tax for aviation, and a border levy on imports based on their carbon content. The so-called social climate fund also met with resistance from “frugal” northern countries such as the Netherlands where there is opposition to the greater redistribution of funds in the bloc. ‘If the fund is scrapped, the logic behind the new ETS disappears,’ said the diplomat.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “climate-focused investors give warm welcome to EU masterplan”, adding: “The [carbon border adjustment mechanism] could be especially contentious, but the debate already helps to establish that the polluter should pay for their emissions.” Bloomberg has a news feature on “how the world’s first carbon border tax may play out”. An analysis piece by Reuters says “the question now is whether the EU gambit becomes an established benchmark upon which investors and sectors like the auto industry set transition strategies and how big emitters like the US and China respond ahead of UN climate talks later this year”. (See Comment below.)
Separately, the Guardian reports that “Australia is facing growing pressure over its climate policies as the US edges closer to following the European Union in imposing new charges on imports of emissions-intensive products”.
The US and Germany have launched a partnership to collaborate on climate issues, reports the Hill, following a meeting yesterday at the White House between US president Joe Biden and German chancellor Angela Merkel. The news website adds: “A fact sheet released by the White House said that the countries will work together to raise global climate ambition, collaborate on developing and deploying energy technologies and boost clean energy in developing countries…The news from the countries also comes after a Berlin pursued a Russian natural gas pipeline, a point of contention between the allies.”
In other US news, Reuters says that the Biden administration has “roll[ed] out a tool that enables instant local permitting of rooftop solar installations, addressing a major source of industry delays and possibly lowering costs for homeowners”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg says that “environmentalists are increasingly worried the Biden administration will yield in coming days to automaker pressure and adopt modest limits on greenhouse gas emissions from cars, instead of the strict standards they say are necessary to combat climate change”.
An editorial in the Financial Times applauds the publication of the European Union’s “Fit for 55” package of climate policies: “It is to Brussels’ credit to have put together the first policy package by a large jurisdiction that measures up to the scale of the challenge.” It continues: “This kind of comprehensive approach is the only one with a hope of success. It has predictably raised hackles among many business lobbies. But addressing climate change requires a transformation of our productive structure. Economically and politically, that is better done by acting on many fronts at once – making all interest groups jump together – rather than one step at a time. The loudest business critics are those who have failed to prepare for the transition that must come. In contrast, leaders with the foresight to position themselves for change largely welcome the plans…Politics, however, remains the Achilles heel of these commendable plans. So far they are just that: proposals that will be intensely haggled over before they can become commitments with legal force.”
The editorial concludes: “Addressing the global side of climate politics is vital. The carbon tariffs, in particular, will be badly received by non-EU exporters of carbon-intensive goods. The EU is right to be wary of third countries, without equally ambitious policies of their own, seeking to undercut its industry. But the best strategy will be to get others on board so such tariffs never need to be imposed. Ahead of November’s COP26 climate conference much diplomatic work must be done. The recent EU-US rapprochement on climate policy must be deepened, and the large emerging economies brought on board – including through rich countries finally fulfilling their promises on climate financing for poor ones. If Europe succeeds with this initiative, it can hope to see others follow its ambitious lead – and in the meantime its industry should be rewarded with a first-mover advantage in a greener world.”
An editorial in the Economist says: “There are sound reasons for applying carbon prices to imports. But working out how to go about it without causing a cycle of damaging protectionism is a conundrum…Free traders like the Economist typically reject tariffs on principle…Carbon tariffs, however, would not be inherently protectionist. They are an attempt to expand the reach of market forces rather than to limit them. The opportunity to pollute the atmosphere without penalty is itself a kind of distorting subsidy; more so if it exists unevenly across borders. Preventing climate change is a global public good, meaning every country’s citizens have a direct interest in reducing emissions wherever they happen. Pricing carbon at the border should therefore be viewed as a special case, and not as a precedent for using tariffs as a bludgeon with which to impose local regulations or standards abroad. The problems with carbon tariffs are thus not moral or economic but practical and political…It is just about possible to imagine a successful path to a global carbon price that involves tariffs. But any such plan is fraught with the risk of capture and protectionism. Governments must tread with care – while also recognising that failing to price carbon adequately may be the greatest danger of all.”
Finally, a Financial Times comment piece by European economics commentator Martin Sandbu says “it’s been a good week for carbon pricing”.
Another editorial in the Financial Times focuses on the UK government’s abandoning of its manifesto commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid. The FT says: “This unfortunate timing is made even worse as the UK will play host to the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow later this year. Key to the process will be to persuade developed countries to cut emissions in exchange for promises of financial support and to persuade rich countries to provide it. While Britain’s aid for climate change mitigation and adaptation is ringfenced, cutting other parts of the budget – despite a promise to the public not to do so – will make the already challenging diplomatic efforts of the UK even harder.”
In other UK comment, a news feature in the Economist runs under the headline: “Pain now, gain later: Achieving net-zero carbon emissions will be eye-wateringly expensive.” It says: “Amid the uncertainty, one thing is clear: the spending [on reaching net-zero] comes long before the benefits…So far public opinion has been strongly in favour of the net-zero target. Indeed, several polls have found support for aiming to achieve it sooner than 2050…More ominously for a prime minister keen to trumpet green credentials, they are less keen once the specifics are made clear.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Guardian reacts to the new national food strategy published yesterday by food-chain entrepreneur Henry Dimbleby: “The facts about the environmental damage caused by food production are…not new, although since there has been no progress in reducing greenhouse emissions from farming in a decade, they urgently need restating. Around 20% of the UK’s emissions come from food; when imports are added, the total is a great deal more. Where Mr Dimbleby and his team break new ground is in synthesising all this information into a manifesto for change. The health of the population and the planet, they argue, must be viewed as a whole, with trade policy part of the picture too.”
Current projections may be underestimating future loss of Arctic sea ice, according to new research. Scientists examined projections of sea-ice loss from 33 global climate models that, on average, project a near-ice-free Arctic by mid-century. But when they selected only the models that best reproduced the observations of sea ice volume and extent, as well as northward heat transport in the ocean, they found a lower future ice area and volume than when all the models were considered. Under a high-emissions scenario, the authors write, the ice-free Arctic is “advanced by up to 29 years”, and could happen as early as 2035.
A new study finds that stronger and more frequent moisture extremes – that is, drought and floods – under a warming climate will reduce the amount of CO2 emitted from soils due to microbial activity. Using a microbial model calibrated to a temperate forest, researchers examine how CO2 emissions from soil changed under both low- and high-change scenarios. They find that while stronger floods lower microbial emissions of CO2 from soils, the microbial response to low-moisture extremes is much stronger, resulting in a net lowering of CO2 emissions. These differential responses have a strong impact under the high-change scenario, but do not “significantly affect” emissions under a lower change one, the authors say.
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