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Daily Briefing

16.12.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Climate talks break up with no agreement on carbon trading
Climate talks break up with no agreement on carbon trading

News.

Climate talks break up with no agreement on carbon trading

There is extensive global media coverage of the conclusion of COP25 in Madrid after the annual UN climate talks ran over by two days due to a record-breaking delay. The Financial Times says the talks “ended in stalemate…as countries squabbled over rules for a new global carbon trading market”. Reuters says that “a handful of major states resisted pressure on Sunday to ramp up efforts to combat global warming…angering smaller countries and a growing protest movement that is pushing for emergency action”. The newswire adds that “the conference, in its concluding draft, endorsed only a declaration on the ‘urgent need’ to close the gap between existing emissions pledges and the temperature goals of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement – an outcome UN secretary general Antonio Guterres called disappointing”. In a separate article, Reuters reports on the “total disconnect” between the calls of climate protestors and the lack of action by leaders. Associated Press says the talks broke up with a “slim deal” and “compromise that sparked widespread disappointment, after major polluters resisted calls for ramping up efforts to keep global warming at bay and negotiators postponed debate about rules for international carbon markets for another year”. In analysis within the BBC News coverage, environment analyst Roger Harrabin writes that the outcome “heaps enormous pressure on UK prime minister Boris Johnson”, with the UK hosting next year’s COP26 in Glasgow, which will have to pick up the pieces left unfinished in Madrid. In a separate article for the Financial Times, environment correspondent Leslie Hook says that the talks “were haunted by the legacy of old carbon credits created under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol”. The Washington Post observes that “negotiators barely mustered enthusiasm for the compromise they had patched together, while raising grievances about the issues that remain unresolved”. Chloé Farand for Climate Home News writes that “the rift between a growing climate vanguard and a handful of countries obstructing progress meant countries failed to finalise the rules of the Paris Agreement”. She adds: “Invigorated by the US withdrawal and rising nationalism at home, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, defended loopholes and opposed commitments to enhance climate action. Other big emitters such as China and India insisted on the delivery of finance and support promised by rich countries before 2020 as a precondition to any discussion on enhancing their current targets.” The New York Times says COP25 provided “what was widely denounced as one of the worst outcomes in a quarter-century of climate negotiations”. It adds: “Because the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement, it was the last chance, at least for some time, for American delegates to sit at the negotiating table at the annual talks – and perhaps a turning point in global climate negotiations, given the influence that Washington has long wielded, for better or worse, in the discussions. The Trump administration used the meeting to push back on a range of proposals, including a mechanism to compensate developing countries for losses that were the result of more intense storms, droughts, rising seas and other effects of global warming.” The Irish Times joins many publications in highlighting the reaction of NGOs: “Many participants expressed outrage at the unwillingness of major polluters to show ambition commensurate with the gravity of the climate crisis following a year of record temperatures, wildfires, cyclones, droughts and extreme floods.” It quotes Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, who says: “What we have here in Madrid is a betrayal of people across the world.” Several publications focus on Australia’s role at the talks. The Guardian says that “Australia was accused of ‘cheating’ and named by other countries and conference observers as one of a handful of nations that thwarted a deal on the rulebook for the Paris climate agreement”. Climate Home News reports on the 31 countries, led by Costa Rica and including the UK and Germany, who broke from the discussions over the weekend to publish a “set of 11 benchmarks they said represented the ‘minimum’ standard to ensure integrity of the global carbon trading system due to come into effect next year”. [Since discussions on the Article 6 rules for carbon trading failed to reach consensus, no such mechanisms will come into effect for now.]

Meanwhile, in other COP25-related news, the Independent reports that Greta Thunberg, who addressed the leaders in Madrid, has said she now “needs a rest” following months of travelling and campaigning. The Sunday Times reports that “plans emerged” at COP25 meaning that “[UK] homeowners needing a mortgage on a draughty home, or a loan for a car using petrol or diesel, could be forced to pay higher interest rates as part of government plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050”. DeSmog UK analysis reveals that “Gulf states have sent at least 42 current or former employees of the fossil fuel industry to the UN climate summit in Madrid as part of their official delegations”.

Finally, Carbon Brief has published an in-depth summary of the Madrid talks, which includes an interactive grid showing “who wanted what at COP25”.

Financial Times Read Article
Boris Johnson plans new department to battle against climate change

As the new Conservative government take its place in the House of Commons today, the Daily Mail reports that “Boris Johnson is to create a new Whitehall department to tackle climate change as part of his post-election shake-up”. It adds: “He will reverse Theresa May’s 2016 decision to fold the Department for Energy and Climate Change into the Department for Business after vowing to make Britain the ‘greenest country on Earth’…A wider reshuffle, involving the scrapping or merging of some departments, is expected after Britain leaves the EU next month. Michael Gove could be installed as the head of a new trade ‘super-department’ to oversee Britain’s future relationship with the EU. It would incorporate the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the Department for International Trade and the Department for Exiting the EU. Mr Johnson could also axe the Department for International Development and hand control of Britain’s £14bn aid budget to a beefed up Foreign Office. The plan to create a new department to tackle climate change comes after Mr Johnson pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2050. He promised ‘colossal new investments in infrastructure, in science, using our incredible technological advantages to make this country the cleanest, greenest on Earth with the most far-reaching environmental programme’.”

Meanwhile, other publications continue to cover the potential ramifications of the Conservatives landslide victory last week. BusinessGreen explains who it thinks will be the “green winners and losers of the 2019 general election”. In a piece for EurActiv, the Club of Rome’s Sandrine Dixson-Declève says that with Brexit now virtually guaranteed and “Germany’s leadership on climate fading”, the EU will have “one less pro-climate voice”. The Guardian reports that groups have warned that the new Conservative government “must urgently bring forward plans to fulfil its pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 or risk losing the fight against climate breakdown”. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, business commentator Jeremy Warner says that Johnson must “not blow his gifted opportunity”: “Climate change…provides unparalleled scope for reinvigorating the regions by putting them centre stage in the required energy transition.”
Separately, the Times reports that “portable homes could be built on land [in the UK] due to slip into the sea to allow people to continue to inhabit the area, according to a senior official managing some the country’s most rapidly eroding coastline”.

Daily Mail Read Article
Bloomberg calls for closing all coal-fired power plants to combat climate change

Several US publications cover the announcement by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg that, if elected, he would, close all 251 remaining coal plants in the US by 2030 and replace them all with clean energy. “He would also phase out gas-fired power plants,” reports Fox News, adding that his aim would be to help the world cut CO2 emissions in half by 2030. The Hill says Bloomberg’s plan for the US includes ending “all subsidies for fossil fuels and…a moratorium on all new fossil fuel leases on federal lands”. The New York Post says that plan would also put “the country on course to get 80% of its electricity generated from green energy sources, like wind and solar, by 2028”.

Meanwhile, the Hill reports that former US vice-president Al Gore has said that Democratic presidential candidates should run on promoting a “green new deal” for the US.

Fox News Read Article
Goldman Sachs to stop financing new drilling for oil in the Arctic

Goldman Sachs has ruled out any future financing of oil drilling or exploration in the Arctic and said it would not invest in new thermal coal mines anywhere in the world, reports the Guardian. It adds: “The new environmental policy, which was released by the US bank on Sunday, was praised by environmentalists, though many warned that it was only a first step. In its statement, Goldman Sachs also ‘acknowledged’ the scientific consensus on the climate crisis, which it said was one of the ‘most significant environmental challenges of the 21st century’ and said it planned to more effectively help its client manage climate impacts, including through the sale of weather-related catastrophe bonds.”

The Guardian Read Article
Converting coal plants to biomass could fuel climate crisis, scientists warn

The Guardian covers a report by the thinktank Sandbag which argues that plans to shift Europe’s coal plants, including Drax in the UK, to burn wood pellets could accelerate rather than combat climate change and “lay waste to forests equal to half the size of Germany’s Black Forest per year”. The Guardian continues: “Sandbag found that Europe’s 10 largest biomass conversion projects will alone require 36m tonnes of wood pellets every year, equal to the entire current global wood pellet production. This would require forests covering 2,700 sq km to be cut down every year…The planned biomass conversions – with Finland, Germany and Netherlands leading the way – would emit 67m tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere which would be unlikely to be reabsorbed by growing trees over the timescales relevant to meeting the Paris agreement, warned Sandbag. In return, the forest-hungry power plants would produce less than 2% of the EU’s electricity needs, the same generation capacity built in Europe every year by wind and solar farm developers.” Carbon Brief has covered the debate about the carbon accounting of burning biomass in earlier articles.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Cop out

An editorial in the Times says that, following the weak outcomes at COP25 in Madrid, it “is now up to Britain to rescue the UN’s climate agenda”. It continues: “It will now fall to Britain, as the host of the COP26 in Glasgow in November next year, to find a way forward. Further evidence of the high costs of climate change should spur ministers to make this a priority. We report today how the increased pace of coastal erosion in Suffolk and Norfolk has prompted calls for changes to planning rules to require buildings in vulnerable areas to be portable. The newly elected Conservative government has rightly committed to tough binding targets to reduce Britain’s carbon emissions. Boris Johnson also says that he wants a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’ to play a leading role on the world stage. He should make it his mission that when the delegates leave Glasgow they’re talking about him and not Ms Thunberg.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph says that “multilateralism is no closer to tackling climate change” following COP25. It adds: “Many extreme campaigners have argued for carbon neutral economies by 2025, which are completely unrealistic. The most likely solutions will be found not by slamming the brakes on economic growth but by encouraging accelerated investment in the green technologies that will take the place of the polluters.”

Writing in the New York Times, David G Victor from the University of California, San Diego, says that “it has become clear that climate summits are stuck in a rut”. His remedy is simple, he says: “By contrast, demonstrating how to solve hard problems, like decarbonising high-heat applications in refining, steel and cement production, and other processes at reasonable cost, passes the followership test…Leaders can also work directly with followers to help speed the diffusion of ideas – as Denmark has done, for example, by passing on to China’s electric grid operators what it has learned about how to operate a grid with lots of variable wind power.”

In other COP25 reaction pieces, Julie-Anne Richards of Climate Action Network Australia writes in the Guardian: “This is the first annual climate summit where the general mood was panic and climate grief. It’s the first COP where I’ve seen tears in meetings and the corridors at the terrible impotence of not knowing how to grasp the power back from the big polluters [such as Australia].” Politico has published “six takeaways from COP25”, which include that the global climate system is now “on life support”. It adds: “It’s the second year in a row that countries failed to agree on carbon market rules. Whether a breakthrough can occur next year in Glasgow is uncertain. A lot also depends on whether the EU can convince China, in the middle of a five-year planning process and under economic pressure at home, to go along with more ambitious climate plans next year.” In an analysis piece for the Independent, Isabella Kaminski says: “While business organisations were disappointed not to have a clearer idea of how carbon markets would work, some observers welcomed the postponement on the basis that no rules were better than bad ones.” In the Guardian, Fiona Harvey asks whether anything was achieved at COP25: “Most of the technical details were carried over to be discussed again next year. There was a recognition that tougher carbon targets are needed globally, but few countries came up with any and the resolve to come back next year with more ambitious plans was worded too weakly to satisfy most campaigners…Based on the squabbling and blocking tactics used by many countries at COP25, [COP26 in Glasgow] will face an uphill struggle.”

Editorial, The Times Read Article

Science.

Greenland ice sheet response to stratospheric aerosol injection geoengineering

Sea level rise from greenland ice sheet loss could be 15-20% lower if solar geoengineering is used, when compared to a scenario of “moderately high” emissions known as “RCP4.5”, a new study finds. “Solar geoengineering” is a term used to describe a range of hypothetical techniques that would aim to lower global temperature rise by reflecting more sunlight away from the Earth. In this study, the type of solar geoengineering simulated is “stratospheric aerosol injection” – which involves the release of reflective aerosols into the stratosphere. These reflect aerosols shield the Earth from incoming sunlight and so have a cooling effect. However, releasing aerosols could also impact large scale climate drivers such as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), the authors say, which, also affects greenland ice sheet loss.

Earth's Future Read Article

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.