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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 15.11.2021
COP26: New global climate deal struck in Glasgow

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News.

COP26: New global climate deal struck in Glasgow
BBC News Read Article

There is extensive global coverage of the conclusion to COP26, which finally reached an outcome on Saturday evening in Glasgow after two weeks of fraught negotiation by almost 200 nations. BBC News says: “The Glasgow Climate Pact is the first ever climate deal to explicitly plan to reduce coal, the worst fossil fuel for greenhouse gases. The deal also presses for more urgent emission cuts and promises more money for developing countries – to help them adapt to climate impacts. But the pledges don’t go far enough to limit temperature rise to 1.5C.” The news outlet continues: “A commitment to phase out coal that was included in earlier negotiation drafts led to a dramatic finish after India and China led opposition to it. India’s climate minister Bhupender Yadav asked how developing countries could promise to phase out coal and fossil fuel subsidies when they ‘have still to deal with their development agendas and poverty eradication’. In the end, countries agreed to ‘phase down’ rather than ‘phase out’ coal, amid expressions of disappointment by some. COP26 president Alok Sharma said he was ‘deeply sorry’ for how events had unfolded.”

Much of the reporting focuses on the last-minute drama over the wording relating to coal. The Guardian says: “While it was China that reportedly pushed hard for a softening of the language over coal in the final negotiations, it was India’s environment minister, Bhupender Yadav, who read out a new version of the Glasgow pact that used the watered-down commitment to a ‘phase down’ of coal. Many speculated that it had fallen to India alone to announce the softening of the language over coal because it was seen as more palatable than an intervention by China.” But the Guardian adds: “India was not the first to push for a ‘phase down’ of coal at COP26. The US and China had already used the ‘phase down’ language in the bilateral climate agreement signed on 10 November.” The Washington Post headlines its summary: “After going dark on the climate stage, US reclaims the leadership role at COP26”, adding: “Throughout the closing debates on Saturday, [US climate envoy John] Kerry worked the massive room, his 6-foot-4 figure easy to spot towering over other delegates.”

Another Washington Post article captures the reaction to the deal: “Many world leaders and activists expressed disappointment this weekend with the climate deal that emerged from two weeks of heated negotiations in Glasgow…A senior Biden administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, said in a phone interview on Sunday that the change to the language on fossil fuels shocked most delegates and riled the US delegation. But in the end, the senior official added, ‘phase down is on the route to phasing out. You don’t turn it off tomorrow.’ He said that the fact that the Chinese were willing to accept any language on the future of coal was ‘in no small measure the work that Kerry did with Xie Zhenhua,’ the Chinese climate envoy.” The Guardian quotes Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Commission, who, it says, summed up many countries’ reactions, when he said: “It doesn’t stop here, it only starts…Let’s be clear, I’d rather not have the change [to the wording about coal]. I was very happy with the language we had…[but it is] like going from 24 carat gold to 18 carat, it’s still gold…We are now making concrete steps to eliminate coal…and that countries that are so dependent on coal are willing to be part of that agreement is astonishing.”

A separate Guardian article starts: “Pacific representatives and negotiators have condemned the outcome of the COP26 meeting as ‘watered down’ and a ‘monumental failure’ that puts Pacific nations in severe existential danger, with one saying that Australia’s refusal to support funding for loss and damage suffered by Pacific countries was ‘a deep betrayal’ of the region.” The article goes on to quote Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio, a Pacific senior political adviser to the Fossil Fuels Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, who says: “1.5C is barely alive…The first draft of an otherwise very unambitious text had one notable bright spot in it – the phase-out of coal. This was further watered down. For a planet in crisis, this represents a monumental failure in recognising the clear and imminent danger entire countries are now in, including my own. For all the hoopla and greenwashing…the fundamental fact remains: we are still headed for a two-degree-plus world.“ The Financial Times says that “business groups joined climate activists in expressing frustration that national governments were not moving aggressively enough to tackle climate change, after the COP26 agreement was watered down in the final minutes…While global executives broadly welcomed the deal, many said it did not go far enough. Some complained that companies were showing greater urgency than many governments when it came to global warming.” The Times says “executives and money managers say COP26 has opened their eyes to new perspectives”. Politico quotes UN secretary-general António Guterres: “The approved texts are a compromise. They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.” The outlet also carries the reaction of Mohamed Adow, director of the Power Shift Africa thinktank: “This summit has been a triumph of diplomacy over real substance. The outcome here reflects a COP held in the rich world and the outcome contains the priorities of the rich world.”

Climate Home News provides a wider overview of what was agreed in Glasgow: “The Glasgow climate pact refers to coal for the first time in the UN process. It asks countries come back with stronger climate plans in 2022. And it finalises the most contentious elements of the Paris Agreement rulebook, six years after the landmark deal was done. What it doesn’t do is meet calls for climate reparations, to the dismay of developing countries. A proposal for a finance facility to help victims of the climate crisis was quashed by the US and other rich nations, as was a call to earmark a share of carbon trading revenues to fund adaptation.” The New York Times says: “After two weeks of lofty speeches and bitter negotiations among nearly 200 nations, the question of whether the world will make significant progress to slow global warming still comes down to the actions of a handful of powerful nations that remain at odds over how best to address climate change.”

Associated Press, via the Independent, carries the reaction of various scientists. “The 1.5C goal was already on life support before Glasgow and now it’s about time to declare it dead,” says Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer. AP adds: “A few of the 13 scientists the AP interviewed about the Glasgow pact said they see just enough progress to keep alive the 1.5C limit – and with it, some hope. But barely.” The Conversation also carries a broad range of reaction on what the deal means for various sectors and thematics such as “nature”, “transport”, “science and innovation” and the “energy transition”. The Independent carries the reaction of climate activist Greta Thunberg, who “dismisse[d] COP26 as more ‘blah, blah, blah’”.

COP26: Climate deal sounds the death knell for coal power – PM
BBC News Read Article

Many outlets focus on the reaction to the COP26 by its host government in the UK. BBC News notes the view of UK prime minister Boris Johnson who said yesterday that the deal is a “game-changing agreement” which sounds “the death knell for coal power”. The news outlet sums up Johnson’s other key remarks during a Downing Street news conference: “We can lobby, we can cajole, we can encourage, but we cannot force sovereign nations to do what they do not wish to do”; “For all our disagreements, the world is undeniably heading in the right direction”; “[The] tipping point has been reached in people’s attitudes” [with leaders] galvanised and propelled by their electorates”; “The fatal mistake now would be to think that we in any way cracked this thing.” BBC News also notes that Johnson said his reaction to the outcome was “tinged with disappointment”. The Times picks up on the fact the Johnson rated the event “more than six out of ten” for success.

The reaction of Alok Sharma, the COP26 president, is also widely reported. The Guardian notes that he said that India and China will “have to explain themselves to poor nations” after watering down the wording on coal. He told the newspaper: “We are on the way to consigning coal to history. This is an agreement we can build on. But in the case of China and India, they will have to explain to climate-vulnerable countries why they did what they did.” The Times reports Sharma’s comments to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday: “In terms of what happened yesterday, we managed to get an enormous amount over the line…On a personal level, I have invested enormous amounts of the last two years into this…I wouldn’t describe what we did yesterday as a failure – it is a historic achievement.” (The Sunday Times reports that a Whitehall “power struggle has broken out” over proposals to set up a government department, possibly led by Sharma, to work towards net-zero emissions.”)

The Sun quotes Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: “Glasgow has been a missed opportunity – a summit too often of climate delay not climate delivery.” Labour’s Ed Miliband tells Sky News that the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5C is in “intensive care” after the conclusion of COP26.

Six takeaways from COP26, the UN climate summit
The New York Times Read Article

Several outlets have published their “takeaways” from COP26, including the New York Times which lists six in total, one of which was: “There was a clear gender and generation gap at the Glasgow talks. Those with the power to make decisions about how much the world warms in the coming decades are mostly old and male. Those who are angriest about the pace of climate action are mostly young and female.” The Independent lists 10 “key takeaways”, which include: “Developed countries agree to double funds for adaptation”; “Mention of ‘nature-based solutions’ deleted”; and “Paris rulebook finalised”. Bloomberg has a “scorecard” which notes that “new rules were agreed that will allow for greater scrutiny on emissions reporting”. Fiona Harvey in the Guardian lists the “key points” from the Glasgow climate pact which include: “Many developing countries were hoping that COP26 could provide a further step, towards some form of funding mechanism for loss and damage. That has not happened, and the issue will return to the talks next year.” In the Conversation, scientists Prof Simon Lewis and Prof Mark Maslin, both based at UCL, list “five things you need to know about the Glasgow climate pact”, which include “the door is ajar for further cuts in the near future”, “loopholes in carbon market rules could undermine progress” and “thank climate activists for the progress – their next moves will be decisive”.

Finally, the Washington Post has published a fully annotated version of the pact’s text.

The last minute coal demand that almost sunk the Glasgow climate deal
Politico Read Article

Several outlets have published “inside the room” accounts of pivotal moments from COP26. Politico’s Karl Mathiesen begins: “In a room behind the plenary hall at COP26 in Glasgow, the four biggest greenhouse gas emitters on the planet sat in a circle on Saturday evening and brokered a last minute deal to weaken a global pact to phase out coal power. US climate envoy John Kerry, his Chinese counterpart Xie Zhenhua, EU Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans and Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav sat on chairs facing one another, with Alok Sharma, the UK minister in charge of the UM climate talks…The atmosphere was tense. The Chinese were willing to put the whole conference on the line. ‘We will break the whole thing down,’ said one Chinese delegate, according to the EU official.” Additionally, Politico‘s Esther Webber looks at the “best and worst of the two-week conference in Glasgow”.

Bloomberg looks at “how China’s deal with the US helped avert COP26’s collapse”. It starts: “It was Day 13 of the COP26 summit, and even the trees inside the Glasgow venue were beginning to wilt. With the meeting running almost 24 hours over its scheduled time and the final outcome hanging in the balance, US climate envoy John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, huddled together deep in conversation. At one point Kerry grasped Xie’s shoulder, while China’s lead negotiator nodded and smiled as he enumerated points on his fingers. It was a candid moment between two longtime climate diplomats that belied the global rivalry.”

In the i newspaper, Madeleine Cuff has a piece headlined: “Inside the room where the final deal was struck.” An analysis piece by Ben Spencer in the Sunday Times is headlined: “40,000 attendees, 15 days – but was it all a waste of time?” He adds: “Three years ago, 30% of the global economy was covered by targets to reduce emissions to net-zero by mid-century. Now, after a flurry of pledges in the lead-up to the Glasgow conference, 90% of the world is covered.”

Finally, BBC News’s Helen Briggs looks at “how might decisions at the climate summit change our lives?”. And, similarly, Olivia Rudgard in the Daily Telegraph has an article headlined: “What do the COP26 deals mean for you?”

Comment.

COP26 has achieved more than expected but less than hoped
Editorial, Financial Times Read Article

Almost all of the UK national newspapers carry editorials reacting to the COP26 outcome. An editorial in the Financial Times says: “COP26 was always going to struggle to meet the world’s expectations…This COP has nonetheless left the door open, if only an inch, to restraining the overall rise in temperature to 1.5C – provided countries heed a call to come back a year from now with more ambitious carbon reduction plans for the rest of what is a pivotal decade. The Times uses the headline “Good COP” for its editorial, saying: “[COP president Alok] Sharma deserves credit for the unassuming but effective way in which he steered the summit. He will remain COP26 president for another year until COP27. During that time it is essential not only that Britain continues to push for more ambitious global deals but continues to lead by example with its own commitment to net zero. One way that Boris Johnson could demonstrate that his government remains serious about this challenge would be to create a new department to lead the effort with a seat for Sharma in his cabinet.” The Guardian says COP26 leaves “unfinished business”, but adds: “That India and China are both actively engaged in the COP process, alongside Joe Biden’s White House, is heartening, despite Xi Jinping’s absence. The new commitment to joint working by China and the US, and deal struck on methane, are tangible advances. But India’s last-minute insistence that a reference to ‘phasing out’ coal be changed to ‘phasing down’ was disappointing.” The Observer, the Guardian’s sister Sunday paper, says “this accord goes nowhere near far enough”. An editorial in the Independent argues that “the final text could go further but some significant achievements have been locked in”.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Mail says: “The world’s most powerful nations put aside their differences and came together in a genuine attempt to tackle a climate crisis that affects us all. For the first time, there is a global pledge to slash fossil fuel burning and, over the next year, to devise a concrete plan for how the reduction will be delivered…Yes, some nations whose economies and people are heavily reliant on coal want more time to adjust, but they have at least promised to accelerate the weaning process. And though eco-zealots may call COP26 a sell-out and continue glueing themselves to motorways in fatuous protest, significant real-world progress has been made. Glasgow delivered less than hoped, perhaps – but more than expected. Whether it proves to be the ‘game-changing’ event Johnson wants, only time will tell.” The Sun says: “If India and China – the countries that objected – do nevertheless meaningfully and swiftly reduce coal use, that would be significant progress, regardless of whether they’ve vowed to snuff it out altogether. But that is a big if – and the fact they chose to haggle over the wording should be a source of shame to both. Summit president Alok Sharma is right to say both mega-polluters will have to explain their heel-dragging to poorer nations bearing the brunt of climate change.” The Sun on Sunday, its sister paper, takes a different angle: “Tearful COP26 President Alok Sharma has played a blinder. He has proved that true progress on climate change results from realistic debate between grown-up politicians. Not from a Leftie rabble gluing their body parts to the M25.” An editorial in the Daily Express says: “We may be travelling too fast, but we are going in the right direction – towards the end of fossil fuel use – and we are applying the brakes. The dream of keeping global warming to 1.5C remains alive. Just. Climate change undoubtedly still threatens humanity’s future, but a ‘fragile win’ is still a win. We just have to keep pushing, showing the rest of the world the way. The alternative is unthinkable.” And, finally, the Daily Telegraph says: “Given the scientific consensus that action to reduce CO2 is urgent and existential, people in this country are willing to play their part. But when they see the biggest polluters are not prepared to do the same, or not to the same extent, they will start to question the government’s approach more critically.”

Hot and coal: COP26 wraps up short of climate target but high on blame games
Editorial, The Times of India Read Article

International reaction to the COP26 outcome includes an editorial in the Times of India which says: “Overall, COP26 has failed to live up to its billing as the ‘last, best hope’ to limit this century’s global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The blame games being played against this backdrop are poor in climate finance and rich in hypocrisies…That rich countries continue to go slow on the Paris finance commitment bodes ill for the bigger ask being put up by developing countries now. But as climate change manifests around us from the seas to the sky, we don’t really have the luxury of waiting around for outside help. India’s Glasgow commitments, including meeting 50% of the electricity requirement through renewable sources by 2030 [the target is for 50% of generating capacity to be renewable], already reflect one of the most rapid decarbonisations of the sector in the world, but we can and should do much more, for our own sake. Nuclear energy is one cost-effective alternative that we should optimise…As for how much COP26 finally delivers, it completely depends on how different governments finally finesse their pledges. The goal of ending coal will depend on sincerity in phasing it down first.”

An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald says: “It is easy to point out the holes in the deal struck in Glasgow on climate change, but the outcome offers at least a glimmer of hope and keeps the pressure on both political parties to revise Australia’s weak emissions reduction targets for 2030…The big disappointment is that many important countries, including Australia, have resisted calls to dramatically strengthen their emissions reduction targets for 2030…The language on coal is weak but it is still the first time countries have accepted that coal is on the way out. There has also been a sea change in the attitude of business, which is now leading rather than delaying emissions reduction.” The Washington Post describes the COP process as “cumbersome and chaotic – and the world’s best hope”, adding: “That is no basis for fatalism. Every fraction of a degree rise avoided translates into a substantial amount of human suffering forgone.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which has long promoted climate-sceptic talking points, says: “In the real world, China will continue to build more coal plants, though it said it will begin to reduce emissions before its previous promise of 2030. That’s the same year that Biden wants the US to have reduced its emissions by half, no matter the cost. The Chinese know they can exploit America’s climate obsessions by making promises they may or may not keep in return for US concessions on economics or national security.”

After the failure of COP26, there’s only one last hope for our survival
George Monbiot, The Guardian Read Article

A wide range of columnists and commentators have reacted to the conclusion of COP26. Writing in the Guardian, George Monbiot says that “the Glasgow Climate Pact, for all its restrained and diplomatic language, looks like a suicide pact”. He continues: “What we needed at the COP26 climate conference was a decision to burn no more fossil fuels after 2030. [Pathways to 1.5C considered by the IPCC are not so dramatic as this.] Instead, powerful governments sought a compromise between our prospects of survival and the interests of the fossil fuel industry. But there was no room for compromise…Our survival depends on raising the scale of civil disobedience until we build the greatest mass movement in history, mobilising the 25% who can flip the system. We do not consent to the destruction of life on Earth.” Also in the Guardian, John Vidal writes that “it could have been worse, but our leaders failed us at COP26”. He continues: “The shameful refusal of the rich to keep their promise to the world’s poor poisoned climate negotiations for a decade and may go down in history as one of the biggest diplomatic blunders of the age.” And the Guardian carries a comment piece by Tishiko King under the headline: “Empty words, no action: COP26 has failed First Nations people.”

James Dyke in the i newspaper says the “final agreement is a failure and a betrayal of those most vulnerable to climate change”. In the Economist, Catherine Brahic and Guy Scriven write: “It is hard to come away from a meeting where such minor verbal manoeuvring matters so much, and when countries can hold the whole process to ransom in order to get their way, with a terribly good opinion of the COP process. It is even harder to believe that such shenanigans will see the world cut its emissions far deeper by 2030 than is now planned…But there is still some cause for hope. The UN process does not deliver much, but it delivers some things – and the multilateral agreements which have begun to cluster around it can deliver more…Every fraction of a degree that is shaved off future temperature projections can be interpreted as the result of such efforts. In that sense, at least, 1.5C remains alive.” In the Independent, Andrew Grice says: “Boris Johnson’s spin did not live up to reality at COP26 – this was no triumph for ‘global Britain’.”

An analysis piece by Ben Webster, the Times‘s environment editor, concludes that the “climate deal has plenty of loopholes but few commitments”. Annabel Denham in the Daily Telegraph writes: “It is always unedifying to witness politicians’ grandstanding at these affairs, and even worse when the Hollywood elite or former leaders jet in to moralise on decarbonisation. But self-aggrandisement or hypocrisy are no more maddening than antipathy towards proper market pricing, deregulation or open markets as a solution to this problem.” In the Australian (not yet online), the climate-sceptic environment editor Graham Lloyd, says: “The world remains far away from meeting its targets and light years away from satisfying the demands being made for compensation to developing nations. The onus really is on the corporate world to deliver the solutions to both of these problems. Carbon capture and use or storage (CCUS) and direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere are both still in the COP26 agreement and on the table.”

Tom Bawden, the i newspaper’s science and environment correspondent, argues that “while disputes over coal power have put a cloud over the outcome for many countries it is hard to deny that significant progress has been made”. Kate Abnett and Valerie Volcovici writing an analysis piece for Reuters say “the agreement was packed with compromises, leaving all sides – from wealthy nations seeking faster action, to resource-rich developing countries and low-lying island states – dissatisfied”.

Finally, in the Conversation, Prof Lisa Vanhala, a professor of political science at UCL, says: “COP26 marked a critical turning point in global politics. From now on, the issue of climate justice will be unavoidable for rich countries…One surprise in Glasgow was the symbolic and material support for loss and damage which came from those outside the negotiating room.”

Science.

Morphological consequences of climate change for resident birds in intact Amazonian rainforest
Science Advances Read Article

A new study finds that 77 bird communities in the Amazonian rainforest have decreased in mass since the early 1980s – due to “pressures to increase resource economy under warming”. The authors investigate changes in the mass and wing span of 77 species of nonmigratory understory birds since the early 1980s. They find that one-third of species saw an increase in wing-span over this time, driving a decrease in mass to wing ratio for 69% of species. Seasonal precipitation patterns were better at explaining variations in mass and wing span than temperature patterns, the study adds.

Climate change, social vulnerability and child nutrition in South Asia
Global Environmental Change Read Article

New research finds that in South Asia, precipitation extremes in the first year of a child’s life can decrease their “height for age” measurement. The authors combine high-resolution temperature and precipitation data with a survey on household demographics and data on child weight and height. The study concludes that “nutritional status in South Asia is highly responsive to climate exposures, and that addressing sanitation infrastructure and other development priorities is a pathway towards reducing this vulnerability”.

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