Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Concern over climate crisis at highest level in 30 years in wake of IPCC report
- Southern Blob of unusual Pacific heat blamed for creating megadrought
- Lib Dems propose ban on new listings of fossil fuel companies on London Stock Exchange
- China’s Covid lockdown led to earlier, greener spring, study suggests
- Extinction Rebellion target Buckingham Palace and fill fountain with fake blood
- Control methane to slow global warming — fast
- The fires in Greece are a terrifying warning
- Future high-resolution El Niño/Southern Oscillation dynamics
- Late Holocene climate anomaly concurrent with fire activity and ecosystem shifts in the eastern Australian Highlands
Concern over climate change in the UK is at a 30-year high with nearly a third of the public reporting that they view “the climate and environmental crises” as a big issue for the country in a monthly survey conducted in August, the Independent reports. The Ipsos Mori results show environmental concerns rising by 16 percentage points since July and the article notes that the polling was conducted around the time of the release of the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change. The piece notes that this is the second-highest level of concern ever recorded, with the top spot taken by a poll in 1989 which coincided with a wave of environmentalism. It quotes polling expert Leo Barasi, who called the findings “remarkable” and added that “only three years ago the environment wasn’t even a top 10 issue with the public, with less than 10% of people naming it as a priority”. The Times also covers the polling, leading on the generational divide demonstrated by the results, with younger people [contrary to widely held perceptions] less likely than middle-aged and older people to list it as a concern. The paper adds: “[F]ears about climate change overtook the economy, the NHS and Brexit.” It also notes that concern seems to be roughly evenly split between the two major political parties, with 33% of Labour supporters reporting climate change as a worry and 30% of Conservative voters. The Daily Telegraph also has the story (not yet online).
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that according to the Met Office, while summer 2021 “may have felt like a washout” it is in fact on track to be one of the UK’s hottest on record. It notes that while London and the southeast had “a much wetter and duller summer than usual,” high temperatures in Northern Ireland and Scotland have resulted in the mean temperature rising to around a degree above average to hit 15.4C. The piece adds that while the Met Office said it was unclear where this summer would sit in the rankings, the current top 10 hottest summers have all occurring since 2002, “with expected trends as a result of climate change”.
A huge region of the South Pacific east of New Zealand is warming “unusually fast”, disrupting rainfall and contributing to a lengthy “megadrought” that is currently affecting parts of South America, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Scientists have dubbed the region, which covers around 8m square km, the “Southern Blob”, and a new paper argues that “the phenomenon had a natural origin but the build-up of heat over the past four decades has been exacerbated by global warming”, according to the newspaper. The decade-long event is driving “hot and dry conditions in Chile, with snow caps melting on the Andes, reservoirs running low and once-lush landscapes withered”, according to Reuters. The researchers say while such “blobs” occur regularly and usually dissipate within a couple of years, the Southern blob’s lengthy and pronounced rate of warming is beyond what might occur naturally, the newswire adds. The Guardian notes that the study’s models found that the blob produced a dry ridge of high pressure in the South Pacific that blocked storms from reaching central Chile and pushed them towards west Antarctica.
Separately, the Times reports that the rapidly melting ice sheets in the Arctic could bring lucrative commercial shipping along the Northern Sea Route, a passageway from northern Europe to Asia that Russia “is touting as a faster alternative to the Suez Canal”. Elsewhere, a MailOnline story states that a new study predicts up to 95% of Earth’s oceans surfaces will be changed by the end of the century due to climate change, becoming hotter and more acidic.
An “exclusive” story in the Guardian reports that new listings of fossil fuel companies on the London Stock Exchange would be immediately banned as part of a proposal by the Liberal Democrats. Another immediate policy outlined to the newspaper by the Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey, would be to stop new bonds being issued in London to finance oil, coal or gas exploration. Under the plans, any fossil fuel companies already listed would have two years to produce a plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2045 or risk being struck off the stock exchange, the piece adds. It adds that ultimately pension funds would also have to disinvest from fossil fuels by 2035 and any remaining companies with fossil fuel assets would be removed from the exchange by 2045. Davey told the newspaper that such plans could achieve more than the UK’s own move to net-zero emissions.
In more UK politics news, the Scotsman reports that Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater will serve as ministers in Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon’s government as part of a power sharing agreement. It adds that they “will hold broad portfolios, with one position responsible for decarbonising homes and transport and the rental sector, while the other will focus on green skills, the energy industry and the natural environment”. The Guardian reports that former leader of the Scottish Greens Robin Harper has attacked the deal struck with Sturgeon’s government “for failing to take tougher action on North Sea oil, marine protection and taxation”. An opinion piece in the Guardian by columnist Andy Beckett notes that with Greens “on the brink of power”, as other parties get more serious about tackling climate change it could be harder for party members to “differentiate themselves”. Meanwhile, in France the Economist reports that the national Green party is preparing to pick a presidential candidate.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on new analysis by thinktank InfluenceMap which has found that 72 of the 130 climate-focused funds the group examined “were found to be misaligned with the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to well below 2C” despite claiming to be “aligned” with it. The piece notes that these funds, which collectively hold more than $67bn in assets, often hold shares in large polluters including big oil companies. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that a shareholder activist group is taking Australian oil company Santos to court over its claims that it produces “clean fuel” and plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2040.
New research has indicated that China’s Covid-19 lockdown at the beginning of 2020 “contributed to an earlier, brighter and greener spring in the country”, the Washington Post reports. The paper found that there was a reduction in nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is released during the burning of fossil fuels, during the mandatory quarantine period, the report says. It adds that researchers also observed lower aerosol optical depth, a measure of the degree to which smog and dust impede radiant heat. Sixth Tone, a Shanghai-based English-language news site, also picks up the study. It quotes the paper as saying: “Reducing human activity not only affects climate change over the long term but may also have a more short-term impact that, with appropriate public education, can help to raise awareness of the positive effects of pollution control.”
Meanwhile, South China Morning Post reports that PetroChina, China’s largest oil and gas producer, has said that it “expects investments on low-carbon energy projects to account for one-third of its overall spending by 2035”. The publication notes that the announcement “underpin[s] the state-backed company’s efforts to help the country achieve net-zero emission by 2060”. Separately, China Dialogue focuses on how nature-based solutions – “actions to protect, restore and manage ecosystems in ways that also benefit humans” – may help China tackle climate change.
In other news, China’s Science and Technology Daily features remarks made by Zhang Zhifeng, deputy director of the department of the marine ecological environment at the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. Zhang said that using the ocean as a “blue carbon sink” steadily and progressively was “an important task in helping [China] realise its emission-peaking and carbon neutrality goals”. Elsewhere, Sichuan province released the country’s “first inventory and research report on carbon neutrality social activities” on Wednesday, according to Sichuan Online reports. The website explains that the report analysed actions taken by individuals or organisations to offset the greenhouse gases (GHGs) they have emitted directly and indirectly while conducting business in a certain period by carrying out activities such as planting trees and purchasing carbon credits.
The Wall Street Journal reports that with US special climate envoy John Kerry planning another trip to China next week, he plans to press Chinese leaders to declare a moratorium on financing international coal power plants. However, the newspaper adds that “Beijing doesn’t want to be seen as caving to Western pressure”. According to the South China Morning Post, both the US and China “are expected to announce further specific actions to reduce carbon emissions” following the visit.
Finally, Reuters reports that a draft declaration submitted to the UN this week shows that China will “urge countries to recognise the importance of biodiversity in human health and endorse key Chinese Communist Party slogans about protecting natural ecosystems” when it hosts virtual COP 15 biodiversity talks in October. The aim will be to build a consensus behind a more detailed global treaty that can be finalised in person next May, it adds.
Extinction Rebellion activists have dyed the Queen Victoria Memorial fountain by Buckingham Palace “blood red in a protest against use of crown land for hunting and animal agriculture”, according to the Daily Mirror. The newspaper reports that protesters from the group’s “Animal Rebellion” faction “scaled the landmark and held up placards reading ‘royal bloodbath’ as they took their demonstration to the Queen’s residence”. It adds that the movement is staging two weeks of protests in capital with the aim of pressuring the government to end investment in the fossil fuels that are driving climate change. In its coverage, the Daily Telegraph quotes Harley McDonald-Eckersall, who represents the group, stating that they are also “demanding that the Queen end the use of crown land for industries which are contributing to the climate and ecological emergency and the death of animals”. The newspaper notes that after the protest turned the water crimson and left “bloody handprints on the 100-year-old white marble monument” police arrested several of the activists. The Metro quotes a Met Police statement noting that a “significant” operation would be in place for the protests over the bank holiday weekend while also acknowledging the activists’ “important cause”. In the Times coverage of the events near Buckingham Palace, the newspaper also alludes to a story from yesterday about the amount of litter left by Extinction Rebellion during previous protests, based on claims by Conservative MPs. A spokesman for the group said there was “no additional money spent by the council and no additional cost to the taxpayer,“ adding that they were “scrupulous about clearing up after ourselves”. A short editorial in the Daily Express (not online) refers to this story, calling the protesters “selfish” and “green extremists”, and saying they should be forced to clean up the mess they leave. The Evening Standard also has the story.
An editorial in Nature states that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) “highlights the problem – and opportunity – posed by methane” when it comes to climate change. The gas has contributed as much as 0.5 C of warming since pre-industrial times, second only to CO2, it notes, and it has “an outsized impact on the climate” with only a relatively small presence in the atmosphere. “This means that curbing methane emissions could provide short-term relief while governments and businesses negotiate the more difficult transition from fossil fuels to clean energy,” the editorial says. While curbing methane from livestock is relatively hard it “should be easier to curb emissions from other sectors”, such as the oil and gas industry, it continues. “The world will continue to warm as long as CO2 is being pumped into the atmosphere. But curbing emissions of methane and other powerful greenhouse gases might reduce the sting. That is why governments and businesses should seize the opportunity, buying humanity a bit more time to do what needs to be done.”
An essay by Athens-based journalist Alexander Clapp reflects on the devastating fires that have torn through Greece in recent weeks. He says that what sets these fires apart compared to previous events is the Greek state’s explanation of why they are happening, with prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pointing to “the climate crisis”. “But after decades of privatisation, austerity and boundless military spending, the state is in no position to combat it. In places like Evia, Greeks have been largely left to fend for themselves,” he adds. The piece continues by noting that in Greece, as in many other parts of the world, “to have any chance of mitigating climate catastrophe, the state must reverse much of what it has done for the last 30 years – and commit to the patient, long-term task of investing in environmental resilience”. Clapp concludes that while it is not within the Greek state’s power to stop climate change, a “state that radically reallocates existing resources and puts itself on a war footing against the climate threat…could set an example for the rest of the Mediterranean, and beyond”. A piece in EurActiv by Jonathan Gant, senior gas campaigner at Global Witness, emphasises the role that Greece can play in averting climate change. “This summer’s wildfires and floods have shown what Greece, and much of Europe, will have to face as the climate crisis worsens. Now the Greek government can show the world what true climate leadership means, turning rhetoric into reality and ending its support for fossil fuel projects,” he writes.
El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – a large-scale climate pattern that affects weather all over the world – is likely to weaken as the globe continues to warm, according to new research. Using an ultra-high-resolution climate model, researchers simulate the next century under current CO2 levels, as well as a doubling and a quadrupling of present-day concentrations. They find that ENSO is “suppressed” in the doubled CO2 scenario – a result that “becomes robust” in the CO2 quadrupling simulations. The authors write that lower-resolution models do “not adequately simulate” important processes influencing ENSO, and thus ENSO may be more sensitive to climate change than previously thought. (For more on ENSO, read Carbon Brief’s explainer on its effects on global temperatures.)
A new study shows that a centuries-long warm period in the Australian Alps occurred alongside increased fire activity and changes in vegetation. Researchers use several types of proxy data to reconstruct the temperature and indicators of fire activity, such as charcoal and mercury, over the past 3500 years. For the period from 1000 to 1600 years ago, they find a “pronounced” increase in temperatures, accompanied by an increase in fire-activity indicators and changes in the types of vegetation in the area. The authors conclude: “future warming has the potential to result in the extinction of alpine species, including several endemic to the area”.
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