Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Countries’ new climate targets curb global warming to 2.4C – analysis
- Cost of polluting in EU soars as carbon price hits record €50
- Top airlines’ promises to offset flights rely on ‘phantom credits’
- UK: Supermarkets threaten Brazil boycott over Amazon rainforest destruction
- Australia: Coalition allocates $600m for new ‘resilience’ agency to help combat threat of natural disasters
- China's push to cut carbon emissions boosts risks for part of the country
- High commodity prices could delay energy transition, says IEA
- UK: Wind power hits new British record on blustery bank holiday
- Action must replace talk on climate change
- Fewer deep cyclones projected for the midlatitudes in a warming climate, but with more intense rainfall
New climate targets announced by countries to drive down emissions are projected to curb global warming to 2.4C by 2100, according to new analysis reported by the Press Association. Among the new “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) considered were those announced at a virtual summit hosted by Joe Biden last month, including new pledges by the US and the UK, the newswire notes. It adds that, collectively, they served to knock an extra 0.2C from end-of-century warming projections made by Climate Action Tracker (CAT)), an independent analysis of climate pledges produced by three research organisations. According to Bloomberg, “global warming could be as low as 2C, according to CAT’s most optimistic scenario” in which all nations, including the US and China, fully deliver on what they have promised so far. However, it notes that, despite the improvement on past CAT projections, the results are “well above the 1.5C of warming that countries agreed to strive for when they signed the Paris Agreement in 2015”. In its coverage, BBC News notes that the new analysis also comes with a warning about “the potential gap between aspiration and achievement”, as under current national policies the estimated warming is 2.9C. While major emitters including Canada and Japan also came forward with new plans at Biden’s summit, the Guardian says that there remain many significant nations including India, South Korea, New Zealand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia that have yet to submit new NDCs.
Separately, the Conversation has a comment piece written by four researchers, including Dr Bill Hare and Dr Carl-Friedrich Schleussner from CAT, titled: “The 1.5C global warming limit is not impossible – but without political action it soon will be.” They write that while some climate experts and others have suggested that the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement cannot be achieved, “scientifically speaking, humanity can still limit global warming to 1.5C this century”. The Associated Press quotes climate activist Greta Thunberg at a virtual press conference with Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven where she said the younger generation “will not accept” leaders giving up on the 1.5C target.
In the UK, the Times reports that environment secretary George Eustice is “under pressure from Downing Street” after a leaked memo revealed that his department has no strategy to cut emissions in their sectors as part of the nation’s goal to reach net-zero by 2050. The newspaper notes that the department has not agreed on emissions-cutting policies despite being responsible for agriculture and a tenth of all UK emissions.
The carbon price in the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) has exceeded €50 a tonne for the first time, pushing up the cost of polluting in the region to more than double its pre-pandemic level, the Financial Times reports. The EU ETS places a cost on carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by some of the most highly polluting industries including power generation to aviation, the newspaper notes. Only a few months ago in December, it was trading at €30 a tonne, but “prices have surged as traders bet the availability of carbon allowances will need to tighten in the coming years if the EU is to meet aggressive climate targets”, the article adds. According to BusinessGreen, as recently as 2018 the price was around the €10 per tonne, but subsequent reforms to the trading scheme have turned its CO2 allowances into “one of the world’s best performing traded commodities”. Reuters describes the rise in price as a “key milestone in what analysts say is likely a long-term climb towards the price levels needed to trigger investments in innovative clean technologies”. The newswire notes that the bloc’s leaders are expected to present a package of policies to cut emissions this summer to meet its 55% reductions by 2030 target, including reforms to the carbon market that may lead to greater demand for CO2 permits. A Bloomberg piece on the topic notes that the unprecedented surge is “helping fill national coffers with cash”, with at least half of the carbon revenue set to be used for climate- or energy-related purposes under EU law.
In other news, Reuters reports that advocacy group Oil Change International has released a legal opinion stating that export credit agencies should stop lending to fossil fuel infrastructure and activities overseas. According to the piece, governments that do not make an effort to stop this from happening could face litigation.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the Guardian reports that “prominent climate campaigners” including former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres and Nigel Topping, the UK government’s business champion for COP26, have written to the newspaper urging pension funds to set a target of net-zero emissions for their investments to help the UK meet its climate goals.
Claims by airlines including British Airways and easyJet that by supporting forest conservation projects that they can offset emissions from their flights “can’t be verified”, according to a new investigation carried out by Unearthed and the Guardian, alongside the investigative journalism platform SourceMaterial. According to Unearthed, a journalism initiative supported by Greenpeace, analysis of 10 reduced deforestation offsetting projects has revealed evidence that “raises serious doubts about the ability of these projects to offset emissions in line with the claims of major airlines”. It adds that the current “flagship system” for offsetting emissions through avoided deforestation certified by Verra, an NGO which is also the biggest issuer of carbon credits in the world, “may not be fit for purpose”. The Guardian also has a full write-up of the story, including input from academics and pushback from Verra itself, which states the investigation is “profoundly flawed”. The Guardian has also published a separate piece titled “What is carbon offsetting and how does it work?”.
Meanwhile, in light of France moving to ban short-haul flights where train routes are available (as reported by the Daily Telegraph), the Independent’s travel correspondent Simon Calder has a piece titled: “Are the days of short-haul flights in Europe numbered?”
A group of British supermarkets which includes 40 members has repeated a threat to boycott products from Brazil if its national congress votes in favour of a bill that could lead to faster destruction of the Amazon rainforest, the Times reports. It states that the threat was initially made a year ago although the proposal by the Brazilian government, which would give farmers legal rights over land occupied without authorisation, was withdrawn before it was brought to a vote. The newspaper notes that while environmental groups are “encouraging retailers to take a firm line with Brazil”, it quotes Robin Willoughby, the UK director of anti-deforestation group Mighty Earth, who says “we don’t believe that the Brazilian government or businesses actually buy this threat”. BBC News also has the story, noting that a vote in the Brazilian Senate on the bill is expected later on Wednesday or Thursday.
In other news, the i newspaper reports that in the UK the Co-op has set out “ambitious new climate goals” and called on the government to make businesses disclose their carbon effects publicly. According to the piece, the supermarket plans to offset emissions from Co-op products and services, including its food and drink, “to achieve carbon neutral status by 2025”. In its coverage, the Daily Telegraph focuses on the supermarket’s plan to make its vegan “meat” cost the same as the real thing.
In next week’s budget, the Australian government plans to establish a national recovery and resilience agency and create a new climate service to help tackle natural disasters, such as fires and floods, the Guardian reports. The newspaper says that AUD$600m (£333m) will be allocated to the agency to support resilience projects such as fire- and cyclone-proofing houses, levees for flood control and provision of improved telecommunications and essential supplies. In more spending news, Reuters reports that the Australian government has awarded AUS$103m (£57m) to support three “green” hydrogen projects. It notes that this is an increase of almost 50% in planned funding as the government seeks to speed up commercial production of hydrogen using electrolysers powered by renewable electricity.
Meanwhile, another Guardian piece reports that a AUS$10bn reinsurance pool set out by the government, which is aimed at reducing expensive premiums in cyclone-prone north Queensland, “will leave the government wide open for unexpected cost blowouts as climate change catastrophes increase”.
China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 could bring economic risks to part of the country, reports CNBC. The news outlet quotes findings from Nomura, a Japanese financial services group. The group warns that 15 regions in northern China accounted for 63.4% of the number of national bond defaults last year, the report says. Nomura is quoted: “The new environmental campaign has the potential to hit North China — where a majority of steel, aluminum, and other raw materials are produced and processed — especially hard.”
An article in the state-run Chinese newspaper Beijing Youth Daily highlights the significance of a recent speech from president Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader last week instructed the country’s senior officials that “high energy consumption and high-emission projects that don’t meet requirements should be resolutely taken down”, the publication reports. It states that the order “once more” sent out a “strong signal” of “strictly controlling” the construction of “dual high” projects. Xi also demanded “party committees and governments of all levels” clarify their “timetables, roadmaps and blueprints” to help the country hit its climate goals, the article adds.
China Energy News discusses the challenges China’s state grid could face once the ratio of renewable energy becomes higher. The state-run outlet quotes Rao Hong, chief technician expert of China Southern Power Grid (CSPG), who points out the “random, volatile and intermittent” nature of renewable energy. Rao says these characters would pose difficulties to “the baseline supply and fast recovery capabilities” of the power system, the report says. Wu Anping, deputy chief engineer of CSPG, tells the publication renewable energy could bring “major challenges” to the technology of the current state grid.
There is some coverage of the new International Energy Agency (IEA) report on critical minerals required for the clean energy transition. The Financial Times carries the agency’s warning that high commodity prices could delay such a transition owing to the amount of metals needed for batteries, solar panels and wind turbines, and says a lack of investment in new mines “risks substantially raising the costs of clean energy technologies”. This sentiment is echoed in the Independent’s coverage, which leads on the IEA’s statement that current investment in critical minerals, including copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt and rare-earth elements is currently falling “well short” of what is needed. It notes that a typical electric car requires six times the amount of critical minerals as a petrol car, largely due to their use in batteries. Carbon Brief also has an in-depth summary of the IEA’s report.
Separately, the Times reports on industry estimates that suggest operators of the UK’s van fleets will spend nearly £16bn on zero-emission vehicles this year. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports on a hearing of the UK’s Environmental Audit Committee in which MPs were told that the nation’s car industry will suffer a “devastating blow” if the country fails to build “gigafactories” for battery construction ahead of the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicles.
Britain’s wind farms have set a new clean power record, making up almost half of the electricity system on Monday, according to Sky News. It adds that more than 17.6 gigawatts (GW) of electricity was generated by offshore and onshore wind turbines in the middle of the afternoon, according to data from operator National Grid ESO. This edges out the previous record for England, Scotland and Wales of 17.5GW, which was set on 13 February. The news has been widely reported, including by the Press Association and the Guardian. The Daily Telegraph notes that while the high winds brought a new renewable power record they also led to power outages in some parts of the nation.
Separately, the Times reports that British company Tekmar, which is involved in the manufacture of undersea cables, is working to resolve issues that risk failures at up to ten offshore wind farms run by Orsted. This comes after the Danish renewables firm discovered last week that cables connecting its turbines were being worn away by rubbing against rocks installed to protect their foundations from seabed erosion, the newspaper adds.
A comment piece by Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, sets out what in his view needs to happen if the COP26 climate summit is “to be the decisive moment it should be”. Wolf says that while the recent shift in the US position on climate change was a necessary condition for global action, “everybody knows that US policy could again reverse, because Republicans remain fiercely opposed to decisive action”. Therefore, he emphasises the importance of China and India as “decisive countries” and sets out three things that need to happen for COP26 to be a success: “First, the high-income countries must mark themselves as credible leaders by committing to huge reductions in net emissions from their own output over the decade. Second, all parties must agree decarbonisation of all relevant systems by 2050, with significant progress by the 2030s. Finally, they must also agree to a package of incentives, disincentives and international assistance that will make achieving these ambitious goals feasible”. He notes that the world is still very far from achieving these goals, and examines what can happen to edge closer towards them, adding that this will be a programme of action that takes place across decades. “This then will be the biggest effort at co-operation among countries, between private and public sectors, and across entire economies in history,” he concludes.
A new study projects that “deep” cyclones – those found at multiple levels of the atmosphere – will become less frequent in a warmer climate but will drive heavier rainfall. The authors run 10 models from the fifth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5) over 1979-2005 and 2070-99, using the very high emission scenario RCP8.5. They find a “robust decrease” in the frequency of deep cyclones by the end of the 21st century and “an increase in the number of extreme rainfall events caused by deep cyclones”. However, they project that “shallow cyclones” – those identified only at the surface of the Earth – will become more frequent and produce less rainfall as the climate warms.
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