Today's climate and energy headlines:
- COP24: Emphasis on urgency as climate talks begin in coal city Katowice
- France and China declare joint climate commitment at G20
- France fuel protests: Macron holds urgent security meeting
- Trump officials argue climate change warnings based on ‘worst-case scenario'
- Trump allows oil surveys that conservationists say harm whales, dolphins
- Christmas tree growers urgently prepare for climate change after summer heatwaves wipe out a third of new crop
- Climate change: populism vs Paris
- Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe
- Global emergence of anthropogenic climate change in fire weather indices
- Spatiotemporal changes in snow cover over China during 1960–2013
Delegates from nearly 200 nations have arrived in Katowice in Poland to begin two weeks of talks for this year’s Conference of the Parties (COP24). The talks precede an end-of-year deadline to produce a “rule book” to flesh out the broad details that were agreed in Paris on limiting the rise in global temperatures to between 1.5C and 2C. Katowice’s position in the heart of Poland’s coal country gets considerable attention. The Financial Times reports that “a state-owned coal company is one of the official sponsor of the talks”, while the Guardiannotes that “Poland generates 80% of its electricity from coal”. The Associated Press says that Poland “plans to use Monday’s official opening event to promote a declaration calling for a ‘just transition’ for fossil-fuel industries that face cuts and closures amid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”. As the talks opened yesterday – a day early – four former COP presidents warned that the planet “is at a crossroads”, reports BBC News. In a statement, Frank Bainimarama of Fiji, Salaheddine Mezouar of Morocco, Laurent Fabius of France and Manuel Pulgar Vidal of Peru said: “What ministers and other leaders say and do in Katowice at COP24 will help determine efforts for years to come and either bring the world closer to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement – including protecting those most vulnerable to climate change – or push action further down the road.” However, BuzzFeed News warns that “expectations are lacklustre”, noting that the talks are starting with “minimal fanfare…at a time when climate change is not a priority on the global stage”. And Axios reports that the “White House is making the case that several big countries are having doubts about the Paris climate deal”. Climate Home News has a closer look at the job facing Patricia Espinosa, the head of the UN’s climate change secretariat, who is “one of the few people at these crucial talks with the potential to break a gridlock”. Climate Home News also has preview piece, which notes that Turkey kicked off the talks yesterday, “in a bid to change its anomalous status under the UN climate convention as a developed country”. And Karl Mathiesen, the editor of Climate Home News, has an article in the Guardian on the ‘climate diaspora’ trying to save the Paris agreement from Trump”. BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath reports from Katowice on a new study that shows the US’s intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement has created the political cover for others to go slow on their commitments.
Announcements have already started coming from the talks. Reuters reports that Germany will unveil an initiative to attract more private investment in projects in Africa and elsewhere, pledging to spend an additional 1.5bn euros on climate protection. While AFP, via Yahoo, reports that the World Bank has unveiled $200bn in climate action investment for 2021-25 – doubling its current five-year funding. Ahead of the talks, China’s top climate envoy called on participants of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – China’s ambitious overseas infrastructure development plan – to employ the highest environmental standards to reduce emissions from infrastructure projects, reports Chinese outlet Caixin Global. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that 65,000 people participated in a “Claim The Climate” march in Belgium yesterday. The Independent unpacks why COP24 is “so important”, while Politico has five factors “that will make or break” the talks. BBC News has an article on “where we are in seven charts and what you can do to help”. Climate Home News has a handy “climate diplomacy glossary” and the Conversation looks at “what to expect” from COP24. Finally, the Independentwill be live-blogging the talks.
Leaders from the G20 group of countries met in Argentina’s capital over the weekend, with much of the media coverage focusing on how the topic of climate change was handled. Climate Home News reports that on the sidelines of the summit China and France expressed their “highest political commitment” to implementing the Paris Agreement. However, this could not disguise the fact that the US, as it did last year, refused to add its name to the climate statement within the main communique published at the summit’s conclusion. Axiosreports that the US insisted on its own paragraph, which states that it “reiterates its decision to withdraw from [Paris], and affirms its strong commitment to economic growth and energy access and security, utilising all sources and technologies, while protecting the environment”. The Financial Times says the summit “exposed deep divisions over climate, migration and the rules of global commerce”. However, Politico says that Trump was isolated over his stance on climate: “Rather than argue the point, 19 of the G20 leaders used the document to reaffirm their commitment to fight global warming, and a separate paragraph was written laying out Trump’s singular opposition.” Last night, according to UN News, UN secretary general António Guterres released a statement welcoming the G20’s “very strong support” for Paris.
French president Emmanuel Macron has held an urgent security meeting after protests over fuel tax escalated into a day of riots about general higher living costs, reports BBC News. France’s interior ministry says about 136,000 people took part in the protests nationwide – centred on Paris – showing widespread support for the movement known as the “gilets jaunes” (yellow vests). Three people have been killed and more than 110 people injured, says the Independent. Police chiefs have called for a state of emergency to be declared, reports the Sun. Returning from the G20 meeting, Macron visited the Arc de Triomphe to assess the damage after rioters defaced the landmark, says the New York Times. The issue at the core of the national yellow-vest movement – which has produced marches and roadblocks throughout France in recent weeks – is frustration with rising diesel prices and a new petrol tax, explains the Washington Post. Politico notes that the French fuel tax was a Macron campaign promise aimed at “taking into account the hidden cost of damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions” in the price at the pump. Reuters energy correspondent Bate Felix says the riots illustrate a conundrum: “How do political leaders’ introduce policies that will do long-term good for the environment without inflicting extra costs on voters that may damage their chances of re-election?”
Several outlets pick up on the continued US government response to the fourth US National Climate Assessment report, which was published the day after Thanksgiving. The “Trump administration has a new strategy for deflecting concerns about the warming planet”, reports the Guardian, by arguing they are exaggerated and based on the worst-case scenario. “If you take the extreme case, you’re right, it’s dire,” Trump’s interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, told Fox News after the report’s publication. “If you take the best case, it’s not much.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that: “We think that this is the most extreme version and it’s not based on facts…it’s not data-driven,” notes the Independent. The report “actually reflects a broad range of possible future outcomes – along with an enormity of direct, present-day observations of the impacts of global warming”, says InsideClimate News. Axios looks at the “small but influential set of organisations and people [that] have been pushing misinformation for years” that Trump has been listening to. Writing for New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, Andrew Sullivan discusses the Republican response to climate change and how the party is “not just sceptical of climate science and dragging its feet on doing anything about climate change. It is actively pursuing policies aimed at intensifying environmental devastation”. Finally, in the last of a series delving into the report, the Guardian looks at “why no US region is safe from climate change”.
The Trump administration has given five companies initial permission to conduct surveys of oil and gas deposits off the US East Coast using sound-wave blasts, reports Reuters. The process “uses powerful air-gun blasts”, says Axios, which “could harm whales, dolphins and other marine life”. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced approvals for the companies to “incidentally harass” marine mammals in a region that spans from Delaware to Cape Canaveral, Florida. A NOAA spokeswoman said they “do not expect mortality to occur as a result of these surveys”, reports the Washington Post. It is the first time since the 1980s that the federal government has allowed seismic testing with airguns in the Atlantic Ocean, notes the Hill.
In other oil news, the Financial Times reports that Qatar has said it will leave Opec (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) from next year. Energy minister Saad al-Kaabi said the decision to leave the group came after Qatar reviewed the ways it can enhance its role abroad. Reuters reports that the Canadian state of Alberta has decided to rein in production to end the glut of oil in storage that has driven down the price of Canadian crude oil. A Reuters explainer article notes that “Alberta’s oil sands is expanding faster than pipeline capacity, creating a bottleneck and leading to a buildup of product in storage”. Reuters also reports that the US State Department will conduct another environmental review of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, in a move that could lead to additional delays of the project. And Axios looks at how President Trump is shifting US oil policy towards a “consumer first” approach. The Financial Timesreports that US oil production hit record levels in September. In comment, financial markets commentator Neil Collins writes for the FT on why “oil forecasts will continue to be wildly off the mark” – and Nick Butler writes in his FT column that the “next move on the oil price depends on Iran”. And, finally, the FT and Reuters also report that Shell will set carbon emissions targets next year and link these to executive pay, reversing its chief executive’s opposition and following intense pressure from shareholders.
Around a third of freshly planted Christmas trees in the UK were wiped out during the extended heatwave this summer, the Independent reports. “Trees planted in the last two years have suffered significant losses”, says Adrian Morgan from the British Christmas Tree Growers Association, “because the weather was unseasonably dry and hot”. For the rest of Europe – which provides up to a fifth of the UK’s Christmas trees – as many as 70% of trees planted in the spring perished in the heat. “I’m in the height of tree-cutting season at the moment, but in the back of my mind is global warming,” one farmer tells the Indy.
The FT’s “Big Read” examines how “Mr Trump and other populist leaders like him have become the single biggest threat to the climate pact”. Across the world, says the article, there are examples of right-wing populists having electoral success and pledging to ignore or actively undermine international action on climate change. Lord Stern is quoted as saying “Brazil will be a good test” of how the supporters of the Paris Agreement deal with this threat. He adds: “The next 20 years are arguably more important than any in history.” But Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, says there are signs of hope: “Yes, it’s getting harder, that is true. But so what?…We’re closing coal-fired power plants in the US at the same rate under Trump as we did under Obama.” Meanwhile, writing in Climate Home News, COP22 president Salaheddine Mezouar says the world must move “better, faster and together” on climate change: “The cost of…inaction is very high and our human societies cannot bear it. The time for optimised, fast and collective action has come.”
As a preview for COP24, the Observer’s science editor Robin McKie assesses humanity’s current chances of tackling climate change and comes to a bleak conclusion: “Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers…Prospects of reaching global deals to halt emissions have been weakened by the spread of rightwing populism. Not much to smile about in Katowice.” The feature then looks in particular at climate impacts in locations such as Madagascar, Florida, Antarctica and the Great Barrier Reef.
Increases in the frequency and severity of fire weather have been observed across much of the globe over the past half century. The paper uses climate models to identify where and when anthropogenic climate change causes fire weather to be discernible from natural variability. They find that a human signal is detectable for fire weather for a sizeable portion of the globe, including much of southern Europe and the Amazon, and with an expansion of this area with continued warming over the 21st century. These findings suggest substantial increases in fire potential in regions where vegetation abundance and ignitions are not limiting.
Snow cover is highly sensitive to global warming, and has huge impacts on global and regional climate change. Only a few studies have analysed changes in snow cover across the whole of China. This study used data from 201 Chinese meteorological stations in China during 1960–2013. Results showed that the trend of snow depth and the number of snow-cover days varied among different regions. Snow depth recorded at 34.3% of the stations showed an increasing trend during the study period. There were increasing trends of the snow-cover days at 40.8% of stations. Snow cover in China varied with various climate factors like precipitation or temperature.
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