Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Climate vulnerability should be factored into debt relief, says IMF head
- US envoy John Kerry says India’s role on climate change crucial
- Unique wildlife species face mass extinction if climate change is not tackled, say researchers
- Saudis plan major solar development in bid to cut emissions
- Anglo American spins out thermal coal assets under climate pressure
- China: The Ministry of Ecology and Environment names and shames multiple coal and petrochemical projects over environmental protection problems
- Climate campaigners call for halt to regional UK airports expansion
- Joe Biden’s climate gamble
- The Guardian view on peat: keep it in the ground
- The anatomy of past abrupt warmings recorded in Greenland ice
Kristalina Georgieva, the head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), has called on rich nations to take climate change vulnerability into account when considering the criteria for developing countries accessing international finance, Climate Home News reports. Speaking at the opening press conference of the IMF’s spring meeting, she also said she was concerned that middle-income countries that entered the crisis with high debt levels had not been able to invest in a resilience and a green economic recovery, the news website reports. It adds that, according to Georgieva, the IMF is working on a proposal for issuing crisis funds and identifying options for supporting vulnerable countries. The news comes after an “exclusive” story by Reuters earlier in the week which said the World Bank and the IMF are “planning to launch a platform to advise poor countries on funding climate and conservation activities, amid a broader push that could link such spending to debt relief”. The newswire notes that the initiative comes amidst recognition that Covid-19 has exacerbated budget constraints and debt challenges, hampering the ability of some countries to transition to clean energy and prepare for climate impacts.
Meanwhile, speaking at the same spring meeting, Prince William told attendees that banks – including the World Bank – should step up investment in reforestation and cleaner oceans, the Guardian reports. The Daily Telegraph also has the story, noting that the prince said such measures currently account for only a fraction of the money spent fighting climate change. The Daily Express reports on the “moving” speech, and features an accompanying editorial that said Prince Charles – who is well-known for his environmentalism – will have “brimmed with pride as his son championed the environment on the world stage”. The Daily Mirror also covers William’s speech, stating that it is evidence of him “emerging as a serious campaigner on the world stage in support of the Prince of Wales”.
Separately, Bloomberg has a story about a new report from the Climate Finance Leadership Initiative, chaired by Michael Bloomberg, which finds that emerging markets are falling further behind in attracting climate-related investments and highlights ways governments in these nations can attract funding.
Speaking to India Today towards the end of a four-day trip to India, US climate envoy John Kerry emphasised the importance of the nation in tackling climate change and said “the challenge is to act fast”. After speaking to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, Kerry told the outlet that the leader was “very enthusiastic and embracing” about the prospect of net-zero. This comes after weeks of speculation about whether India will set a mid-century net-zero target when it comes forward with a new, updated climate pledge. Kerry said: “I think the prime minister has set, knows he has set an important goal [for 2030] and the prime minister would like to achieve that goal. He’s a person of action. He wants not rhetoric but results. So we look forward to trying to fill out this partnership and make things happen and that hopefully could be an example to others in the world.” The Hill picks up on the India Today interview, noting that Kerry said he was “not confident, but hopeful” that China would partner with other countries on meeting emission reduction targets. The Hindu reports that the US representative promised Modi his nation would fulfil earlier funding commitments including $3bn for the Green Climate Fund and restore credibility damaged by the Trump administration. The Washington Post reports on comments from Kerry that, on his trip to India, United Arab Emirates and Bangladesh, he has been delivering a message about climate change with “humility for four years that have been wasted”.
Various publications have covered a new research paper that warns of the impact of climate change on endemic plant and animal species – those that are found only in one specific region. The i newspaper says unique creatures “from the ring-tailed lemur to Peruvian pelican” could disappear if climate change targets are missed and the planet’s temperature increases by 3C above pre-industrial levels. It notes that, in December, the UN warned the world is on course for more than 3C of warming by the end of the century, despite pledges Paris Agreement commitments to hold the rise below 2C or the stretch goal of 1.5C. The Guardian also has the story, noting that the analysis examined 270 biodiversity hotspots and found that almost half of endemic marine species and 84% of endemic mountain species “will face extinction if the planet warms by more than 3C”. It adds that “if the world manages to stick to 1.5C of warming, just 2% of land-based endemic species would be at risk of extinction, compared with 20% at more than 3C”. Carbon Brief has also covered the study.
Separately, the Guardian, New Scientist, Hindu and Daily Express all pick up on a the paper covered by today’s Carbon Brief guest post, looking at the impact of global warming on Antarctic ice shelves.
Saudi Arabia has announced a major development plan for solar energy including seven agreements to produce electricity from solar power across the oil-rich country, Bloomberg reports. It notes that so far the state has been “slow to move away from fossil fuels in favour of clean energy”, comparing the 3,670MW (megawatts) of capacity in the deal just signed and less than 1GW (gigawatts) of all renewable power in Saudi Arabia to the UK’s 38GW of wind and solar installed by the end of last year. However, it quotes energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman who says there is a “huge economic case” for an energy transition, and the piece also notes that the nation wants to become leading clean hydrogen producer. Reuters also has the story, which notes that Sakaka Solar, Saudi Arabia’s first renewables project, was launched on Thursday. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that BlackRock has raised $4.8bn for a new fund to invest in renewable power around the world, which is “almost double its initial target”.
The mining group Anglo American is to spin out its South African thermal coal operations into a new company, dubbed Thungela Resources, “that will test the appetite of London investors to own a miner dedicated to the polluting fuel”, the Times reports. The group, which also mines copper, iron ore, diamonds and coking coal, has been under pressure from investors to stop producing thermal coal, the newspaper reports. It notes that opinion in the mining industry is divided over separating out coal assets in this way, with Glencore arguing that it simply transfers emissions to another, “potentially less scrupulous”, owner. The Financial Times says that the move will allow the company to “to focus on producing metals that will be in demand during the transition away from fossil fuels towards clean energy such as copper and platinum”.
Separately, the Financial Times reports that expectations for growth in nuclear power as nations prepare for a transition to cleaner energy mean shares in uranium miners are reaching their highest level in more than six years.
China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment has publicly criticised several major energy projects for failing to carry out relevant environmental protection procedures, reports Chinese energy news portal International Energy Net. The ministry last year inspected 35 “key” projects it had approved since 2016 and found 25 of them to have violated laws or regulations, reports state-run Legal Daily. The outlet says that the “problematic” operations include a coal mine in northern China’s Shaanxi Province, which had expanded its annual production capacity from 8m to 13m tonnes without permission. The ministry exposed and criticised the relevant entities in an announcement late last month. It has ordered local authorities to punish and continue inspecting those projects in questions, state broadcaster CCTV says.
Meanwhile, Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, has explained how the government plans to promote the nation’s “green transformation” to state-run current affairs magazine Outlook. Among other things, Huang calls for the country to “deepen” its “tough fight” against pollution, improve low-carbon policies and market systems and “widely cultivate a green and low-carbon lifestyle”. In other news, China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has urged relevant sectors to “vigorously promote” the research and development of low-carbon, zero-carbon and negative-carbon technologies, reports state-controlled 21st Century Business Herald. The ministry also calls for the research and development of “pioneering” and “disruptive” technologies and enhance the promotion and application of existing low-carbon technologies, the report says, citing an official release. It adds that the ministry is evaluating an industry action plan to support the nation to peak carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060.
Elsewhere, China’s non-ferrous metals industry is assessing its plan to peak carbon emissions by 2025 – five years earlier than the national timeline – reports the Economic Observer. The Chinese financial news outlet says “relevant authorities” are collecting feedback from the sector and companies on a draft of the action plan, which also requires the industry to “strive towards” cutting its emissions by 40% by 2040. The report cites Ge Honglin, the newly appointed president of China Non-ferrous Metals Industry Association.
Campaigners are calling on the government to intervene and stop the planned expansion of a number of small airports around the country if it is to meet legally binding climate targets and avoid the worst impacts of global warming, the Guardian reports. It notes that this comes after the expansion of Leeds Bradford airport was put on hold, with the government pausing plans to build a new terminal building on the green belt. Tim Johnson from the Aviation Environment Federation told the newspaper that the government “must take a strategic overview of the climate impact of the proposals rather than leave it up to individual local authorities”.
In more UK news, Reuters reports that EDF Energy is “exploring a range of scenarios” for its Dungeness B nuclear plant in the UK – which has been offline since 2018 – including bringing forward its decommissioning date of 2028. The plant is currently set to return to service in August following a period in which the company has carried out inspections, maintenance and repair work on corrosion.
President Biden’s $2tn infrastructure plan “bristles with support for electric vehicles and renewable energy”, says an Economist editorial, which notes the “ambition, breadth and generosity” of the proposals. The plan “would see about $1trn over eight years spent on climate-related projects, or about 0.6% of GDP a year”, the outlet says, which is “if anything, a little on the low side of most estimates for the costs of rethinking and largely recreating an industrial civilisation. But if the public investments spur private ones, as they should, it is in the right ballpark”. However, the editorial criticises Biden for not pursuing a price on carbon: “Such a measure would reveal the costs of different technologies and apply to far more industrial processes than a clean-electricity standard ever could. It could also help pay for some of the costs involved. And because it is unarguably budgetary it would stand a much better chance of getting through the Senate without the need for a supermajority.” The plan will still “do some good”, the article concludes, but “they will be hard put to achieve the complete electricity decarbonisation by 2035 that the clean-electricity standard might manage, let alone the broader push towards emissions reduction a proper carbon tax could bring about”.
Meanwhile, a piece in the US edition of the Economist picks through the details of Biden’s plan, and also notes the lack of a carbon price, saying the decision “could dent the plan’s prospects”. This is “because the package is unlikely to attract the 10 Republican senators needed to surmount a filibuster, it is almost certain to be pushed through using ‘reconciliation’, a filibuster-free budgetary process”, the outlet explains. It adds: “Reconciliation rules require that provisions be mainly budgetary and not merely regulatory. Some argue that the clean-electricity standard can be written in such a way as to pass this restriction, though it is not certain. If the linchpin of Mr Biden’s plans were ruled inadmissible, a scramble to replace it would ensue.”
Also in US-related comment, Politico’s energy reporter Eric Wolff warns that “Biden’s dream of a climate-friendly electric grid hangs on a slender wire: his administration’s ability to speed the construction of thousands of miles of power lines”. Biden will “have to contend with a major obstacle: Americans who hate seeing these kinds of projects anywhere near their backyards”, Wolff says, adding: “Power companies’ efforts to build long-range transmission lines have failed repeatedly in recent decades, mired in legal and political fights from Maine to Arkansas, because of opposition from states and communities along the projects’ paths.” And finally, Bloomberg opinion columnist David Fickling says that if the US wants to “transform America’s infrastructure”, then it “could do worse than learn from China”. He notes that China’s “spending on roads, rails, bridges, metro systems and telecommunications and new cities since the 2008 financial crisis has transformed the country”.
After a target for phasing out peat in gardens was missed last year, the Guardian has an editorial about the growing momentum from environmental groups to discourage peat use. The piece notes that peatlands around the world contain 42% of all carbon sequestered in the ground, “yet public awareness of peat’s environmental importance is much lower than, for example, the level of interest in trees”. With the UK government’s voluntary target of phasing out peat sales in garden centres by 2020 set almost a decade ago, and commercial growers given until 2030, “progress has been far too slow”, the editorial says. “Old habits die hard. But die they must, as one of the main Irish peat producers decided in January when it announced an end to all harvesting. Now policymakers must follow. Sometimes a nudge is not enough – growers of all kinds need a big push towards greener gardening,” it concludes.
Abrupt climate changes during the last glacial period are of great interest to scientists, as they may inform our understanding of possible future changes. However, our understanding of these events has been limited by both data availability and the temporal resolution of climate “proxy” studies. This paper uses sub-decadal-scale records from Greenland ice cores to provide a new detailed analysis of these events. They find that the diversity of abrupt warming transitions represents variability inherent to the climate system, and that during these abrupt events it may not be possible to infer statistically-robust leads and lags between the different components of the climate system because of their tight coupling. (Carbon Brief recently published an interactive explainer on proxy data.)
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