Today's climate and energy headlines:
- COP26: Nearly 100 countries commit to ‘game-changing’ pledge to cut back planet-heating methane
- Johnson ‘cautiously optimistic’ of COP26 deal
- Joe Biden lambasts China for Xi’s absence from climate summit
- US, UK and EU will help fund South Africa's coal phaseout, offering a model for the developing world
- World leaders announce plan to make green tech cheaper than alternatives
- Japan’s Kishida pledges up to $10bn in new climate finance
- A 'Lucifer' style heatwave of nearly 50C will happen every three years in Europe, says Met Office
- The Times view on the deforestation and methane deals at Cop26: Climate Change
- India’s 2070 net zero target is a first step
- Climate change in the High Mountain Asia in CMIP6
- Projected increases in western US forest fire despite growing fuel constraints
Following previews of the pledge yesterday, the Independent reports that close to 100 countries have committed to cutting methane emissions in an announcement at COP26. Nations have agreed to reduce levels of “the potent greenhouse gas” by 30% by 2030, according to the news website. It notes that Brazil is among the new signatories to the Global Methane Pledge, which is spearheaded by the US and the EU, but several other top-five methane emitters, including China, Russia and India, have not yet signed the pledge. Reuters reports that since it was first launched in September, the EU and the US have been working to convince the biggest methane emitters to join the partnership. The newswire adds that while it is not part of the formal negotiations, the pledge “could rank among the most significant outcomes from the COP26 conference”. Other major emitters signing up include Indonesia, Pakistan, Argentina, Mexico, Nigeria, Iraq, Vietnam and Canada, according to the Press Association. The Guardian notes that Australia, which has refused to join the global pledge, has also been criticised for “prominently hosting a fossil fuel company” at its COP26 pavilion. The Hill notes that there is “there is no enforcement mechanism to hold countries to the pledge”, but says advocates “remain optimistic that it will help reduce methane emissions”. Politico also focuses on some of the pledges’s shortcomings, noting that “any country can sign up without drawing up a list of policies and goals,” with “little transparency or detail on how the 30% reduction is meant to be achieved”.
The i newspaper reports that climate scientists have accused world leaders of “overegging” the importance of the new pledge, citing analysis for Carbon Brief by scientists at Leeds University and Imperial College London. Climate scientist Dr Michelle Cain writes for the Conversation that “a global methane pledge is great – but only if it doesn’t distract us from CO2 cuts”.
Separately, the Financial Times reports on another COP26 pledge – namely, a commitment to ending deforestation – stating that “almost immediately” critics had “voiced doubts as to how the plan would be enforced, and whether it would prove more effective than previous commitments to end deforestation”. A New York Times guest essay by economist John Reid and biologist Thomas E Lovejoy argues that similar pledges have been made before and emphasises the importance of supporting Indigenous people’s land rights, as well as preserving forests on public lands. Climate Home News reports that, in a separate development, an alliance of governments, including the UK, and private funders has committed to provide $1.7bn to support Indigenous people advance their land rights by 2025, “in recognition of their critical role in conserving forests”. The New York Times notes that global spending on forests “represent a fraction of spending to support fossil fuels”. Reporting from Pakistan, the Daily Telegraph asks if the nation’s flagship Ten Billion Tree Tsunami is an effective way of tackling climate change. It notes that the forest planting and restoration scheme, particularly the “audacity of the numbers and catchy project name” have caught the attention of the UK government in the run up to COP26.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has said he is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospects for a deal at COP26, following announcements by the assembled leaders on deforestation and emissions, the Press Association reports. However, the piece notes that Johnson “stressed there was still a long way to go if they were to get an agreement that would keep alive the prospect set out in the Paris Agreement of restricting world temperature rises to 1.5C”. According to another Press Association piece, the prime minister’s spokesman acknowledged that there remained some difficult negotiations ahead, “most notably on climate finance”. The Guardian quotes Johnson telling a press conference that talks with China were now focused on trying on persuading its negotiators to bring forward the nation’s pledge for its emissions to peak in 2030 by five years. As Johnson now departs the summit, Politico says negotiations will be led by COP26 president Alok Sharma and UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney.
Another Press Association article quotes US climate envoy John Kerry, who said that a day and a half into proceedings: “I’ve seen more energy and more commitment and more urgency than I’ve ever seen.” An “exclusive” story from the Guardian notes that the US has rejoined the High Ambition Coalition, a group of developed and developing countries focusing on ensuring that the 1.5C goal remains a key plank of the Paris Agreement. A statement released by the coalition, which includes countries such as Costa Rica, Germany and the Marshall Islands, has called for nations to come “back to the table with fresh climate plans before 2025”, including plans to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century and clear dates for phasing out coal-fired power, according to the i newspaper. Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that US president Joe Biden had set out to COP26 to “reassert America’s ability to lead the world on climate change,” as well as “his own” leadership. A piece in the Hill quotes Biden saying that world leaders had not been enquiring about whether his Build Back Better agenda, still in the pipeline, will pass Congress. The piece adds that instead the president stressed the progress his administration has made so fair on climate. However, Vox notes that “US political polarisation remains one of the biggest obstacles to global action” in a piece titled, “Biden heads into international climate negotiations with a weak hand”.
BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath runs through “five dealmakers who will influence the outcome at COP26,” from China’s Xie Zhenhua to Saudi Arabia’s Ayman Shasly, who Carbon Brief interviewed in 2018 at COP24. Spencer Bokat-Lindell in the New York Times looks at the “three big questions” looming over the event. The Hill reports that representatives of vulnerable nations and communities are calling for a climate “emergency pact” to come out of COP26.
Meanwhile, various news outlets report on goings-on in and around COP26. BBC News has a video with science editor David Shukman going “behind the scenes at COP”. Lisa Freidman at the New York Times also gives a glimpse of what it is like to report on the COP. The Press Association reports that Leonardo DiCaprio has made an appearance at the event and the Scotsman reports that UK environment secretary George Eustice has apologised to Israeli minister Karine Elharrar after she was unable to attend the opening day of COP26 due to a lack of wheelchair accessibility. An analysis piece by Daisy Dunne at the Independent notes the “chaos and confusion” that marked the first 24 hours of the summit as delegates were forced to queue for hours outside the event.
In an unusual twist, the Scotsman reports that the Indonesian COP delegation, including president Joko Widodo, are staying at an international hotel in South Ayrshire owned by climate-sceptic former US president Donald Trump, giving him “at least one reason to be thankful for the COP26 summit taking place in Scotland”.
US president Joe Biden launched “a stinging attack” on China yesterday for Chinese president Xi’s physical absence from COP26 and his “failing to show leadership on the climate crisis”, the Guardian reports. Biden called Xi’s no-show in Glasgow as a “big mistake”, the newspaper says. “They didn’t show up…It is a gigantic issue and they just walked away,” Biden was quoted “criticising” Xi and Russian president Vladimir Putin. BBC News reports that Biden “criticised” Xi and Putin for not showing up at the climate talks. It cites Biden as saying: “The fact that China is trying to assert, understandably, a new role in the world as a world leader – not showing up, come on.” Sky News says that Biden “lashed out” at both his Chinese and Russian counterparts. According to CNN, Biden said: “By showing up we’ve had a profound impact on the way I think the rest of the world is looking at the United States and its leadership role. I think it’s been a big mistake quite frankly for China.” Yahoo News, Al Jazeera and the South China Morning Post have the same story. Reuters reports that the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs told reporters earlier Tuesday that Xi had not been given an option to address COP26 via video link and, therefore, had to send a written statement.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua said that an agreement under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement – which deals with the rules for the voluntary use of international carbon trading – could be reached at COP26, Reuters reports. Xie also said that leaders in discussions at COP26 – including Alok Sharma and John Kerry – had noted that developed countries could fulfil a collective promise of $100bn in annual climate financing to developing countries by 2022 or 2023, Reuters says. Developed countries have missed the original deadline of 2020 for the promise, the newswire adds. CNN focuses on the same comments from Xie. The Daily Telegraph reports (indirectly via BBC News) that Beijing “has called for less ambitious climate change goals aiming to keep warming to 2C – in opposition to the aims of the COP26 climate summit”. Xie said that a 2C target should be the aim, the newspaper writes, adding that the envoy suggested achieving 1.5C was too difficult for many nations. According to AP, Xie said that China is already “making our biggest possible effort to address climate change”. The envoy noted that China was unable to start cutting its dependence on coal-fired power plants any quicker than it already was, the newswire reports. In the Chinese state media, CGTN – the English arm of China’s state broadcaster CCTV – reports that Xie highlighted the significance of putting the Paris Agreement into practice.
Separately, Xinhua reports that Zhao Yingming, the deputy director of the Ministry of the Ecology and Environment and head of the COP26 China delegation, and Xie Zhenhua held talks with UN secretary-general António Guterres at COP26 on Monday. The state news agency mentions Xie’s other title at the Glasgow climate summit: “special representative of China’s President Xi Jinping”. Guterres hoped that the Chinese delegation would contribute towards a successful COP26, the report says. In a separate piece, Xinhua reports that international observers spoke highly of Xi’s statement at COP26, calling Xi’s remarks “significant” to the global response to climate change. Wang Wenbin, a spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry, said on Tuesday that Xi’s COP26 statement had received high praises from the international community, state broadcaster CCTV reports. CGTN, a part of CCTV, reports that China has made “arduous efforts” and “remarkable achievements” in tackling climate change, citing Wang.
Finally, an editorial in the state-backed Economic Daily, which is titled “Major coal power expansion impossible in China”, argues that China wants to accelerate the low-carbon transition despite short-term challenges.
In another announcement made at COP26, plans were revealed for the US, the UK, France, Germany and EU to help fund South Africa’s transition away from coal, according to CNN. The news website reports that the multilateral effort “could serve as a model for other developing nations to ditch the fossil fuel,” noting that it came after the G20 leaders’ summit failed to put an end date on the use of coal. UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the initial $8.5bn partnership would help South Africa to decarbonise, although “details of the specific funding were not announced, and diplomats expect the fine print to be worked out in the months ahead,” it continues. According to the Financial Times, South Africa “faces an uphill battle” to close its ageing coal power station fleet because of the financial straits of Eskom, the nation’s power monopoly. However, the nation’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said the money would help South Africa implement its new climate target of cutting emissions by almost a third over the next decade.
In more African news, Bloomberg reports that the continent’s biggest oil producer, Nigeria, joined other large energy exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia in setting a net-zero pledge for 2060. President Muhammadu Buhari told the COP26 summit that his nation would unconditionally cut emissions by 20% below the “business as usual” levels by 2030, rising to 47% if the country gets “financial assistance, technology transfer and capacity building” from richer nations, the news website adds. Nigeria’s Premium Times notes that Buhari also said this strategy would require financing of projects using “transition fuel” such as gas, which he said could be used “until 2040 without detracting from the goals of the Paris Agreement”. (Like India, Nigeria has yet to register its new targets as detailed plans on the UNFCCC’s official registry for nationally determined contributions – NDCs). Reuters reports that various African leaders have used COP26 to call for wealthy nations to “make good on an earlier pledge to provide $100bn a year to help poorer countries cope” with climate change.
Separately, in its rundown of events from the day, the Press Association notes that Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced $2bn (£1.47bn) for restoring land in Africa. Reporting on Bezos’ arrival at COP26, the i newspaper states that the billionaire told his audience that his flight to space in July has changed his view of the world and made him appreciate its fragility. Forbes reports that another billionaire, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, also appeared at the conference, announcing an additional $315m over the next three years for “climate-smart agriculture”.
More coal pledges came from Indonesia, with Reuters reporting that the nation could phase out coal-fired power plants by 2040 if it gets sufficient financial help from other countries. Finance minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati told the conference that Indonesia would announce detailed plans to move to cleaner energy on Wednesday, the news wire states. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on comments by Gulf state ministers suggesting that while they cut emissions they “want to keep oil flowing to fund the transition”. Following the announcement yesterday, New Scientist has a piece on “why India’s 2070 net-zero pledge is better news than it sounds”.
More than 40 nations have agreed to align standards and coordinate investments in order to bring forward a “tipping point” at which “green technologies are more affordable and accessible than fossil-fuelled alternatives,” according to the Guardian. Signatories of the “Breakthrough Agenda”, announced at the COP26 climate summit, include the UK, US, China, India, the EU and Australia, and in total represent two-thirds of the world’s economy, the newspaper adds. BBC News also has the story, stating that the plan to “turbo-charge the uptake of clean technologies by imposing worldwide standards and policies” would aim to encourage global private investment in low-carbon technologies. The piece adds that the key sectors initially covered by the agenda would be steel, road transport, agriculture, hydrogen and electricity. In its coverage, Reuters focuses on the commitment to green steel. According to the i newspaper, Downing Street said that these “Glasgow Breakthroughs” could create 20m new jobs globally and add over $16tn across both emerging and advanced economies. According to BusinessGreen, countries signing up to the scheme have also agreed to report on progress towards the goals every year from 2022, adding that they will be supported by annual reports from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Renewable energy Agency (IRENA).
Reuters also reports that the UK and India has launched the “Green Grids Initiative” at the climate talks, a plan to improve connections between the world’s power grids in order to accelerate the transition to greener energy. The plan, backed by more than 80 nations, could see excess renewable power being send it to areas with deficits, the news wires notes.
Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida has pledged up to $10bn in additional climate finance for developing countries in a speech in Glasgow, Bloomberg reports. The news website states that the funding would come over the next five years and comes on top of the roughly $60bn already announced by Kishida’s predecessor at the Group of Seven summit in June. The Hill reports that, according to US climate envoy John Kerry, the new commitment from Japan could mean that the rich nations’ target of raising $100bn in annual climate financing for the developing world is met earlier than planned. The article notes that Kerry suggests the target could be met in 2022 rather than 2023, although this is still two years beyond the actual deadline of 2020. According to the New York Times, Kerry also said that he was optimistic that private banks would mobilise far larger pots of money for countries trying to shift away from fossil fuels, noting that “$100bn doesn’t do it…The only way we’re going to get it done is if trillions of dollars are forthcoming, and they are”.
The New York Times’ liveblog states that now world leaders have left the summit, the focus will turn to climate finance. BusinessGreen reports that “COP26 finance day” is expected to secure net-zero commitments from companies with over $120tr of assets under management. It adds that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to set out plans to establish the UK as “the world’s first net zero aligned financial centre”.
In his speech, Irish leader Micheal Martin said Ireland will double its contribution to climate finance for developing countries from around €93m to €225m by 2025, according to the Press Association. According to Reuters, Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen said Nordic and UK pension funds would invest $130bn by 2030 to fight climate change, of which $75bn were new commitments. A New York Times piece explains why the $3bn each year, by 2024, that US president Joe Biden committed to help developing countries adapt to climate change is “not as much as it seems”.
Meanwhile, Nikkei has a story that states the Japan Bank for International Cooperation is “looking to play a leading role in mobilising private finance to support Asia’s energy supply decarbonisation, even as its legacy of coal financing persists in Southeast Asia”.
The Financial Times reports that the Mark Carney-led Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz), a coalition of international financial companies signed up to address climate change, has up to $130tn of private capital committed to hitting net-zero emissions targets by 2050
Finally, the Financial Times has a “big read” asking: “Where does all the climate finance money go?”
Near-50C-heatwaves are likely to hit Europe once every three years at present, and could become an annual occurrence if action is not taken to mitigate climate change, the i newspaper reports. This is according to an analysis by the UK Met Office that is due to be broadcast on BBC Panorama tonight, the newspaper notes. It continues: “The summer of 2021 was Europe’s hottest on record, with a mean summer temperature of 20.6C, almost 1C higher than the 1991-2020 average – a level that would have been ‘impossible without human induced climate change,’ the Met Office says. In August, during this year’s record-breaking hot spell – which became known as the ‘Lucifer’ heatwave – a new European temperature record of 48.8C was set in Syracuse, Sicily. This beat the previous European high of 48C recorded in Athens in 1977, and would be expected to happen only once in 10,000 years in the absence of climate change, the Met Office said.” Prof Peter Stott – analysis author from the Met Office – told the Independent: “Dangerous climate change is already with us…If you look at 48.8C in Europe and 49.6C in Canada and what’s come with that – fires, the impacts on people’s health, agriculture – this is now at just over 1C of global warming. With further warming, it will only get worse.” Meanwhile, Dr Nikos Christidis, also from the Met Office, tells the Guardian that these results are “no longer surprising”. And Prof Petteri Taals – head of the World Meteorological Organisation – adds that “extreme events are the new norm”. The Daily Mail also covers the analysis.
A Times editorial on recent announcements at COP26 say that “breakthroughs” on deforestation and methane are “welcome”, but that a deal on funding for poorer countries “remains crucial”. The piece notes that Boris Johnson has four priorities for COP26 – “coal, cash, cars and trees” – and that following the Declaration on Forest and Land Use, he can now “point to a clear success” on trees. “There is no question that if this deforestation target is met it would play a meaningful role in reducing the pace of global warming”, the paper says, adding that the pledge from Brazil to end illegal deforestation is “particularly welcome”. The paper also highlights the deal, signed by 100 countries, to cut global methane emissions by 30% by the end of the decade, noting that hitting the target would reduce global warming by 0.2C by 2050. However, it adds: “Of course, there must be doubt whether either of these pledges will be met. After all, governments failed to deliver on the 2014 pledge to halve deforestation by 2020…Success on trees should not obscure the fact that COP26 looks unlikely to deliver on at least two of Mr Johnson’s four goals. Hopes of a deal to accelerate the phase-out of coal, the single biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, have been dashed by China’s refusal to make new commitments and India’s decision to achieve net zero only by 2070. And despite some new funding commitments yesterday, there is still a significant shortfall to the $100 billion a year long-promised by rich countries to help poorer countries cope with climate change. The reality is that unless and until this pledge is delivered, there must be some question whether any other deal will be honoured.”
Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph’s international business editor, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, also highlights the deforestation and methane pledges. “There may yet be a North-South bust-up over financing, but right now COP26 is going almost as well as it possibly could”, reads the subheading. He says that although “one can be cynical” about the deforestation pledge, noting the failure of the 2014 deal, the difference this time is that “high finance has been recruited as the enforcer”. He adds: “Long despairing conservationists – usually hard to please – are positively purring with delight.”
An editorial in the Independent says that “business holds the key to tackling the climate crisis”. The Independent also carries a comment piece from Mary Robinson – former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and current chair of The Elders – with the subheading: “Radical climate action is urgently needed. Leaders must step up and face their responsibilities in Glasgow.“ She writes that climate summits “are a test of leaders’ mettle’” and that “radical climate action is urgently needed”. She says that industrialised countries such as the UK “need to repair the trust deficit that has been worsened by the lack of solidarity and vaccine inequity that has characterised the rich world’s response to Covid-19”, adding: “There are still worrying signs that rich countries have not grasped the seriousness of what is at stake… This is a climate justice issue.” Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, has penned a comment piece for the Guardian titled: “COP26’s worst outcome would be giving the green light to carbon offsetting.”
Meanwhile a Daily Mirror editorial says that if a breakthrough deal on global heating is not on the table, then “we are all losers”. An editorial in the Sun asks, “How can Jeff “Amazon” Bezos and other jet-setters be so blind to the damage their hypocrisies do to the eco revolution?”, and an opinion piece by Sun journalist Jane Moore highlights the private jets and “convoy of official vehicles” at COP, saying “that’s not a very green message”. Similarly, Daily Telegraph writer Tim Stanley asks: “If Cop26 was one minute to midnight, why did so many delegates arrive on private jets?” And Daily Telegraph journalist Allison Pearson has penned an opinion piece entitled “I refuse to be lectured on climate change by the Keystone Cop26 brigade”.
In the Times, former UK prime minister has co-authored an article about the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet: “This partnership with national development authorities, multinational development banks, and others aims to leverage advances in renewable energy technologies to transition dozens of emerging and developing economies off coal and other fossil fuel-powered systems.” Also in the Times, Claire O’Neill, a former UK climate minister, says: “It is utterly illogical that global energy companies have been ‘de-platformed’ at this Cop, while fossil-fuel dependent national governments are welcome at the negotiation table.”
An editorial in the Financial Times says that India’s 2070 net-zero goal is “an example of heartening progress and a cause for rueful disappointment at the same time”, calling the target “a diplomatic coup for the British hosts and a landmark moment in India setting itself on a path, eventually, to a green economy”. It says that the late target “will provide ammunition for climate sceptics in the rich world to ask why they should go faster when others are dragging their feet”, but that it should instead be seen as “a first step that trust-building and technological progress should bring forward”. It continues: “Prime minister Narendra Modi’s reluctance to embrace a shorter timetable to reach net zero is understandable…Not only is India’s contribution to historic emissions much less than other countries but its high ranking on aggregate emissions reflects a much bigger population. On a per head basis its emissions are towards the bottom of the table, thanks to its relative poverty. It would be churlish to say that Indians have less entitlement to a high-carbon lifestyle than those living elsewhere… Genuine allocations of climate finance from the west to poorer countries, previous versions of which Modi described not entirely unfairly as ‘empty’, will build trust and encourage India, and the other developing countries for which Modi said he had a ‘duty to raise my voice’, to go further.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian has penned an editorial entitled: “China and COP26: do not despair”. The piece says that President Xi Jinping’s decision to stay away from COP26 is “unsurprising”, given his lack of travel abroad since the pandemic hit. However, it adds that “the reduction of the Chinese leader’s contribution to a written statement, making no new commitments, has highlighted concern about Beijing’s recent decisions”. It concludes: “The real issue is less that China came to Glasgow without a new commitment, but that it is better at unilateral declarations than multilateral engagement. Doing it all on its own terms makes the global progress needed far harder to achieve. At COP26, China could have positioned itself as a world leader…China can and must do more. It should seek to do it hand in hand with other nations.”
Meanwhile, Guardian columnist George Monbiot has penned an opinion piece entitled: “COP26 has to be about keeping fossil fuels in the ground. All else is distraction”. He says that “the extravagant promises and detailed mechanisms discussed in Glasgow this week amount to nothing” if countries keep extracting fossil fuels, adding that “most governments with major reserves are determined to make the wrong choice”. He continues: “Even nations that claim to be leading the transition mean to keep drilling…Every speech and pledge and gesture at Glasgow this week is thistledown, by comparison to the hard facts of new coalmines, oil and gas fields. It’s the mining and drilling that counts: the rest is distraction.”
Finally, Guardian political sketch writer John Crace says that COP26 is “all about optics”. He writes that “just like so many others at COP26, it’s the illusion of having made a difference that counts”. And Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee has a piece under the subheading, “A personal carbon allowance was first proposed a decade ago – but leaders haven’t been brave enough to take up this idea”, saying that carbon taxes will be necessary for tackling climate change.
High mountain Asia could warm by between 1.9-6.5C compared to 1995-2014 temperatures by the end of the century, according to a new study. The authors investigate changes in near-surface air temperature, snow cover extent and total precipitation in high mountain Asia, using models from the sixth coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP6) under four shared socioeconomic pathways (SSPs). They find that, as with past CMIPs, many CMIP6 models overestimate snow cover extent over the region, leading predictions to be too cold. Across all four SSPs, the models project a decrease in snow cover of 9-32% and an increase in precipitation of 9-25%. “The models with the best performance for temperature are not necessarily the most skillful for the other variables”, the authors note.
A new paper finds that “fire fuel feedbacks” – where fires use up fuel, resulting in less fuel for subsequent fires – are unlikely to reduce the projected increase in forest fires in the western US over the coming decades. The authors run models of near-term (2021-50) climate-driven increases in forest fire area in the western US, including different strengths of forest fire feedback. They find that without the feedback, forest fire area by mid-century will double compared to 1991-2020 levels. However, they add that even “strong” feedbacks only “modestly attenuate” the projected increase.
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