Today's climate and energy headlines:
- COP26: Greta Thunberg says Glasgow summit should be postponed
- US: Biden budget's $14bn hike for climate includes big boosts for EPA, science
- US: Kerry plans China climate talks in first visit by top Biden official
- China's 'carbon intensity' had dropped 48.4% compared to 2005 as of the end of 2020
- Emerging economies share 'grave concern' over EU plans for a carbon border tax
- Australia: Power grid can be rid of coal ‘without price rises, outages’
- Most European city-dwellers support 2030 ban on combustion car sales, survey finds
- Stability in the Middle East now depends on how serious we are about tackling climate change
- Out of Trump’s shadow, World Bank president embraces climate fight
- Pathways and modification of warm water flowing beneath Thwaites Ice Shelf, West Antarctica
- Ocean eddies strongly affect global mean sea-level projections
There is widespread coverage of a BBC News interview with climate activist Greta Thunberg in which, the broadcaster reports: “She was clear what she thought the COP26 team should do, saying she thought the summit should be postponed again.” It adds: “Greta Thunberg has told the BBC she does not plan to attend.” She is also quoted saying: “This needs to happen in the right way. Of course, the best thing to do would be to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible so that everyone could take part on the same terms.” Writing up the interview, the broadcaster’s chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt says that the decision from Thunberg “is likely to be a significant blow for the UK government…[she] would not play a formal role at the conference but her decision not to attend is a significant symbolic moment.” Agence France-Presse via the Guardian is among the outlets following the BBC News interview by picking up Thunberg’s comments on Twitter, in which, it reports, she wrote: “With the extremely inequitable vaccine distribution I will not attend the COP26 conference if the development continues as it is now.” Reuters reports her tweeting: “Inequality and climate injustice is already the heart of the climate crisis…If people can’t be vaccinated and travel to be represented equally, that’s undemocratic and would worsen the problem.” BusinessGreen and Indian publication the Wire pick out Thunberg’s word “undemocratic” in their headlines. The New York Times, Press Association Scotland, the Daily Telegraph and the Independent all have the story. The BBC News interview with Thunberg was timed to coincide with the release of a new BBC1 documentary titled: “Greta Thunberg: A Year to Change the World.” A review in the Financial Times says the three-part series “recording the year she took off from schooling to commit to full-time activism, is bolstered by ranks of international scientific experts”.
Separately, Politico reports on what it calls “growing concerns over whether the Glasgow climate summit can be held in-person”. It explains: “There are three bodies involved in deciding how and when to host the COP: the UK government, the UN climate secretariat and a group of 12 diplomats known as the Bureau of the Subsidiary Bodies representing the 197 parties to the [UN climate] convention.” It adds: “Despite reports hinting a decision on whether to go ahead is imminent, there is no reason for the UK to rush. The progress of the vaccines and virus is the critical factor and things could still turn in favour of being able to hold at least part of the talks in-person in November.”
Numerous US publications cover President Biden’s initial proposals for his first annual budget, for 2022, which according to Reuters would include “$14bn in spending on initiatives to fight climate change…including large cash injections for environmental regulation and science research”. The newswire says the preliminary budget proposal “calls for a $1.2bn contribution to the Green Climate Fund, a downpayment of the remaining $2bn [the US] owes”. Reuters adds: “An administration official told reporters that the infusion of funding would help restore the federal government’s ability to respond to climate change after the previous administration slashed funding for scientific and regulatory agencies.” USA Today says the budget proposal “sheds light on [Biden’s] upcoming agenda”. Bloomberg says the outline budget request to Congress “provides the most detailed picture yet of his priorities”. It adds: “Biden’s budget will face a tough road in a Congress with narrow Democratic majorities.” The New York Times says the president’s $1.5tn budget proposal “includes increases in funding to address climate change”, worth $14bn in 2022, and that the formal budget document will be released this spring. The paper says that the budget outline “comes on top of Mr Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus package and a separate plan to spend $2.3tn on the nation’s infrastructure”. It adds: “Mr Biden also used the spending outline to show how he would achieve his vision of having every cabinet chief, whether they are military leaders, diplomats, fiscal regulators or federal housing planners, charged with incorporating climate change into their missions.” A second New York Times piece lays out the details of the $14bn in proposed additional climate spending across US government agencies including a $4.3bn increase for the Energy Department, a $1.4bn programme on environmental justice and $2bn more for the Environmental Protection Agency. The Washington Post, two articles from the Hill, Al Jazeera, City AM and S&P Global all cover the budget proposal.
An editorial in the Observer reflects on Biden’s “audacious spending plans”, from the budget proposal to his Covid recovery and infrastructure bills. It adds: “If Biden pulls off only half of what he plans, it will be a remarkable achievement.” [Reuters reports that Biden is to meet with lawmakers today to discuss his proposed infrastructure plan.] A comment piece in the Daily Telegraph by Tom Stevenson, an investment director at finance firm Fidelity, says Biden has a chance to be “one of a handful of transformative US leaders” in the face of the “existential threat” of climate change. For Bloomberg, columnist Kate Mackenzie writes: “There are steps the US can take to support developing countries so they can do more to slow global warming.” These include, she explains: “supporting developing countries by enabling immediate economic relief from Covid-19, improving support for sustainable development, and making the financial architecture more equitable for debtor countries”.
US climate envoy John Kerry is to visit China this week, reports the Washington Post, adding that the trip is “an attempt to carve out climate change as an area of closer collaboration amid deepening tensions between the two countries”. A comment for the South China Morning Post reflects on a US-China meeting held in Alaska in March, saying that summit “shows [the] road to fighting climate change is paved with political minefields”. The piece, by Christine Loh of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, asks: “Is it possible for diplomats on the one hand to fervently criticise their counterparts and on the other hand, drop the animosity when it comes to dealing with climate change?”
In related developments, the Guardian reports on President Biden’s “risky talks to pay Brazil to save [the] Amazon”. It says: “The US is negotiating a multi-billion dollar climate deal with Brazil that observers fear could help the reelection of president Jair Bolsonaro and reward illegal forest clearance in the Amazon.” Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports: “A private jet belonging to the family of President Biden’s climate czar John Kerry has flown more than 2,200 miles from Massachusetts to Idaho.”
China’s “carbon intensity” had decreased by about 48% compared to its 2005 level as of the end of 2020, reports Economic Daily. The state-run website quotes Huang Runqiu, the minister of ecology and environment, who released the figure at the 30th BASIC ministerial meeting on climate change last week. Huang stated that non-fossil fuels accounted for 15.9% of China’s total consumption of primary energy at the end of last year, the report says. People’s Daily Online, the official news outlet of the Communist Party of China, also covers the conference. It cites Xie Zhenhua, China’s special climate envoy, who urged “all parties” to work together to push forward and complete the negotiation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. Xie said this could “lay the foundation” for a global carbon trading market, according to People’s Daily Online.
Meanwhile, China’s has launched its first provincial-level “carbon neutrality promotional plan”, reports International Energy Net. The scheme, introduced by Sichuan Province in south-western China, will guide all kinds of social activity to reach the climate target in a “phased” and “step-by-step” manner, the report says. China National Radio says that the province intends to rate companies by their “green influence” as part of the plan. The region is also mulling incorporating low-carbon performance into a broader social rating system, establishing the carbon-neutral “green list” and “blacklist” to monitor and restrict businesses’ behaviour, the report says.
Separately, China News reports that the nation’s construction industry will explore new pathways towards peaking emissions and carbon neutrality. The article features several companies’ efforts in pursuing “green development”. Finally, a new mega hydropower station in southern China has started to store water in its dam, reports state news agency Xinhua. With a total installed capacity of 16 gigawatts (GW) making it the world’s second-largest, the Baihetan Hydropower Station on the border of Sichuan and Yunnan provinces is preparing to put its first group of units into operation in July, Xinhua says.
The Basic group of Brazil, South Africa, India and China has released a joint statement saying EU plans for a carbon border tax would be “‘discriminatory’ and unfair to developing nations”, reports Climate Home News. It quotes the statement saying the four nations “expressed grave concern regarding the proposal for introducing trade barriers such as unilateral carbon border adjustment”. The outlet quotes a German researcher saying the Basic group statement is “based on speculation”, given the EU’s plans are yet to be finalised.
In a comment for the Guardian, climate research Simone Tagliapietra points to a carbon border tax as one area that highlights the need for justice and equity during the green transition. He explains that the absence of a “green social contract” is now the “biggest obstacle to decarbonisation”. With a “green revolution” already unfolding, Tagliapietra says it “raises questions about who should bear the cost of climate action, both within and between countries”. He adds: “As developed countries scale up domestic climate actions, they will probably introduce measures – such as carbon border taxes – to ensure that their industries are not undercut by competitors based in countries with weak climate policies…However, carbon border taxes could affect the economies of the poorest countries…As with domestic carbon taxes, this problem can be prevented by factoring equity and fairness into the design of the measures. The poorest countries could be exempted from border charges for example.” A comment for the Financial Times Alphaville argues that a “green new deal must put people first” in order to avoid “a socioeconomic fallout akin to the 1980s, when [Margaret] Thatcher upended the coal industry”.
Australia could phase out its coal power plants within 20 years without risking blackouts or price rises, according to a new study picked up by the Sydney Morning Herald. The modelling “counters the claim that coal-fired generation is key to ensuring affordable and reliable electricity”, the paper says, adding that gas will “play a role in supporting renewable energy by providing on-demand power, but it would ‘not have an expanded role’, the modelling found”. In the Conversation, one of the study authors writes: “Some say coal-fired power will be needed. Others say 100% renewable electricity is the way to go. But our new report released today argues neither path is wise in the medium term.”
Elsewhere, the South China Morning Post reports: “A super power grid connecting all the countries of northeast Asia would make renewable energy as cheap and available as coal, according to a new study by Chinese scientists.” It says the region, comprising China, Russia, Mongolia, South Korea, North Korea and Japan, “consumes about a third of the world’s energy”.
A poll of more than 10,000 people, carried out for environmental campaigners, found most residents of European cities support a continent-wide ban on combustion engine car sales from 2030, Reuters reports. Meanwhile, the Times reports that oil major Shell has plans to install 5,000 rapid electric vehicle chargers in Britain by 2025. And BusinessGreen reports that electric trucks are close to a “tipping point” where they become cost competitive with diesels.
In a comment for the Independent, Michael Fallon, Britain’s former secretary of state for defence and energy minister, points to the recent meeting between US climate envoy John Kerry and the UK’s COP26 president Alok Sharma and argues that when it comes to the Middle East, the “new common interest is climate change, and especially its link to security”. During his time in government, the linkage between his two former roles – defence and energy – became, he writes, “very clear to me”. He continues: “Countries without regular power and sufficient water were prone to shortages, droughts and crop failures that fostered instability and insurgency: man-made climate change was itself becoming a key driver of that instability.” Fallon concludes: “The US has always been committed to the stability of the Middle East. Of course, the new nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna are important. But it is striking that the first formal engagement of senior officials of the Biden administration in the Middle East wasn’t about hard power at all. It shows how, for Joe Biden and Kerry and their teams, climate change and regional security are now two sides of the same coin.”
In related news from the Middle East, the Financial Times reports on the “solar energy push” of state-owned energy firm Taqa in the United Arab Emirates. The firm owns Noor Abu Dhabi – recently visited by Kerry – which the paper says is the world’s largest single-site solar plant at 1.2 gigawatts (GW). The FT says Taqa plans another 2GW scheme, with the projects “emblematic of the company’s ambitions to recast itself as a force in clean energy”. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has a feature under the headline: “For Mexico’s president, the future isn’t renewable energy – it’s coal.”
An article for the New York Times looks at how David Malpass, the World Bank president selected by former President Trump, has “refashioned himself as an environmentalist, giving speeches about ‘green growth’ and a net-zero carbon future”. The paper says: “The transformation reflects the changing political winds in Washington – one that could have important consequences if the World Bank can resume its central role in the fight against climate change, which stalled during the Trump years.” The bank launched its climate action plan last week, the New York Times notes, committing to “fully aligning its financing objectives with the 2015 Paris climate agreement by 2023”.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that former Bank of England governor Mark Carney is to launch a “Glasgow Finance Alliance for Net-Zero” at a climate summit being hosted by President Biden on 22-23 April. The website says the alliance is expected to initially include “about 30 banks pledging to reach net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, according to two people familiar with the matter”. It adds: “Discussions with the banks over the terms of the alliance are still ongoing. While the lenders will commit to eliminate emissions from their own portfolios, talks have centred around whether the agreement will extend to their financing activities, such as underwriting.” An analysis piece for City AM asks: “Is the City [of London financial centre] ready for its leading role in the fight against climate change?” BusinessGreen reports on a “green finance wave…as reports suggest leading banks are poised to beef up their decarbonisation strategies”. It adds: “The wave of net-zero pledges delivered by many of the world’s top financial firms over the past 12 months has been met with a decidedly mixed welcome. Sustainable investors and environmental campaigners have broadly praised the renewed focus…But they have also voiced growing frustration at the failure of many banks and asset managers to pull their short term investment activities into line with their new net-zero emission ambitions.” The Daily Telegraph reports that banks are facing an “investor backlash over ‘greenwashing’ claims”.
New observations from beneath the Thwaites Ice Shelf show that warm water is “impinging from all sides on pinning points critical to ice-shelf stability”. The study presents the first direct observations of ocean temperature, salinity, and oxygen beneath the Thwaites Ice Shelf – taken using an “autonomous underwater vehicle”. The authors find that deep water under the central ice comes from a “previously underestimated” branch of warm water from Pine Island Bay, and highlight a ”previously unknown convergence zone” in which different water masses meet and mix. They add that Thwaites Glacier is “the most rapidly changing outlet of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and adds large uncertainty to 21st century sea-level rise predictions.”
Projections of global mean sea level rise are 25% lower by the end of the century in models that can capture the behaviour of ocean eddies than in models that cannot, according to new research. The study finds that high resolution “eddy-permitting” climate models represent “temperature distribution and volume transport” in the southern ocean more realistically than lower resolution models, leading to a smaller Antarctic contribution to global mean sea level rise. “Relatively small-scale ocean eddies can hence have profound large-scale effects and consequently affect global mean sea level rise projections,” the authors conclude.
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