Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Crushing climate impacts to hit sooner than feared: draft UN report
- UK prepares to approve oilfield despite Cop26 climate conference
- US: Biden scales down climate spending in search of bipartisan deal
- UK: Set target to cut car use, minister told
- Biden weighs ban on China’s solar material over forced labour
- What if American democracy fails the climate crisis?
- The Green Revolution will only succeed if the Prime Minister goes with the grain of public opinion
- Commercial afforestation can deliver effective climate change mitigation under multiple decarbonisation pathways
- Evaluating the climate impact of aviation emission scenarios towards the Paris agreement including Covid-19 effects
A draft copy of the upcoming Working Group II (WG2) report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the impacts of climate change, has been obtained by Agence-France Presse (AFP), which has published a series of articles on the contents. The newswire notes that the 4,000-page document is “by far the most comprehensive catalogue ever assembled of how climate change is upending our world”. However, it notes that the document, which is designed to inform policymakers, is not scheduled for release until February 2022, “too late for crunch UN summits this year on climate, biodiversity and food systems”. AFP quotes the draft report as saying “life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems… humans cannot”. It highlights four key takeaway messages from the report: the 1.1C of warming that has taken place has already brought profound changes; the world must prepare and adapt to this new reality; “tipping points” in the climate system that could lead to compound and cascading impacts are a threat; and that action can still be taken to avoid worst-case scenarios and prepare for impacts that cannot be prevented. [See Carbon Brief’s explainer for more information on “tipping points”]. Other articles released by AFP focus in on particular aspects of the draft report, including the impacts of climate change on nature, human health and the economy. Further articles in the series examine more specific issues raised by the report. One, for example, is titled “After Covid, could the next big killer be heatwaves?”. While earlier climate models suggested “it would take nearly another century of unabated carbon pollution to spawn heatwaves exceeding the absolute limit of human tolerance”, AFP says of the new draft IPCC report: “updated projections warn of unprecedented killer heatwaves on the near horizon”. Yet another piece in the series is titled “Coastal cities face their mortality on the climate ‘frontline’”. It notes that many of the world’s urban centres, located in coastal areas, are in danger as climate change “swells the oceans, redrawing the map and putting hundreds of millions at risk”. In a statement the IPCC says the AFP articles “appear to be based on the second-order draft” of the WG2 report. A further draft will be produced before the final version is signed off by government representatives. The IPCC statement says: “Draft reports are provided to governments and reviewers as confidential working documents and must not be publicly distributed, quoted or cited. This is out of respect for the authors and to give them the time and space to finish writing before making the work public. For these reasons, the IPCC does not comment on the contents of draft reports while work is still ongoing.”
Meanwhile, the AFP via the Guardian reports that the Russian capital Moscow has experience its hottest June day for 120 years after the temperature hit 34.7C, with the weather service, Roshydromet, blaming climate change for soaring temperatures. In California, Forbes reports that hundreds of firefighters are working to put out a wildfire as the state faces its worst drought in decades.
Separately, there is more coverage of the Unesco recommendation that the Great Barrier Reef be placed on the world heritage “in danger” list, which has received pushback from Australia. The Times notes that Australia has accused China of using its political influence to sway the UN’s world heritage body, amid an ongoing quarrel between the two nations. It quotes Unesco saying Australia needed stronger and clearer commitments to combat global warming, while acknowledging that no “state party on its own” could tackle the climate change which is harming the reef.
UK ministers are set to approve a new oil and gas project in the North Sea, months before the nation hosts the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the Times reports, in a frontpage story. According to the newspaper, the Cambo heavy crude field off the coast of the Shetland Islands will extract 150m barrels of oil and emit more than 3m tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent over its lifetime. It adds that the development is subject to a consultation run by the government’s Oil and Gas Authority, which is expected to give approval. While new fields are meant to be “compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives” under a deal between the government and industry in March, the project is not covered by the new “climate checkpoint” system as it was licensed for exploration in 2001 and 2004, the Times adds. It notes that campaigners criticised the project as going against a recent UK government-commissioned report from the International Energy Agency, ahead of COP26, that called for “no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects”. Meanwhile, as part of the Independent’s “stop fuelling the climate crisis” campaign, it has an “exclusive” story reporting on a survey of 600 offshore oil and gas workers. The survey found that those looking to move from the fossil fuel industry into the renewable power sector “currently face costly training fees, discouraging them from making the transition”, the news website reports. Commissioned by Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace and supported by the trade union RMT and Unite Scotland, the poll revealed that offshore workers currently spend around £1,800 a year on training, it adds. Separately, Reuters reports from its Global Energy Transition conference that BP chief executive Bernard Looney told the newswire his company will continue producing hydrocarbons “for decades to come”.
Meanwhile, in South Korea, Reuters reports that the nation’s three major non-life insurers have said they will no longer cover new coal power projects, including their construction and operation.
Finally, another Reuters story reports that electric car manufacturer Tesla says it has opened its first charging station in China that includes its own solar and energy storage facilities.
The climate ambition of US president Joe Biden’s $2tn American Jobs Plan risks being “significantly downgraded” as he seeks Republican support to pass the flagship infrastructure bill, Climate Home News reports. The piece notes that Democrats such as West Virginia’s Joe Manchin are withholding support for the bill and a cross-party group of senators is working on a “scaled down” version to bring Manchin on board, as well as the ten Republican votes needed to get it past the Senate without risking a filibuster. It adds that the bipartisan package is worth just $1.2tn – of which just $579bn is new spending – and would involve cutting considerable measures to support clean energy. In response, the piece states that at least four “climate-conscious” Democratic senators are threatening to revolt, including Bernie Sanders, Ed Markey and Sheldon Whitehouse. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that leaders of environmental and labour groups making up the BlueGreen Alliance have “urged the White House and Democratic congressional leaders to reject any bipartisan infrastructure deal that lacks strong provisions to fight climate change and strengthen unions”.
Elsewhere, the Hill reports that House Republicans are launching a caucus aimed at educating their members about climate change. While Republicans are still not “backing measures with as significant an impact on limiting climate-warming emissions as endorsed by their Democratic counterparts and many scientists”, they are moving “away from explicitly denying that climate change is occurring”, the piece notes.
Moving to electric vehicles will not prevent rising numbers of cars on the road, leading to congestion and harm to the economy, according to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) thinktank, which is covered by BBC News. IPPR said that while emissions will fall in the coming years, it anticipated a 28% increase in car ownership by 2050, meaning higher demand for power and raw materials as well as social impacts, the news article states. It calls for the government’s “long-awaited” transport decarbonisation strategy to commit to peak car ownership by 2030 to avoid this growth, BBC News states. It adds that a government spokesman responded by pointing to a recent £2bn spending package promoting “active travel” such as walking and cycling. In its coverage of the report, the Times notes that the IPPR study concluded there was “no such thing as a zero-emissions vehicle” due to emissions from the manufacturing process and the concrete laid for new roads and car parks. Among the thinktank’s proposals are a £6bn investment to help people buy bikes and e-scooters, new targets to reallocate road space to cycling, walking and green space, a seven-day public transport network in rural areas and a national road pricing scheme to replace fuel duty. Meanwhile, in Wales the Labour-led government is freezing new road-building projects “as part of its plans to tackle the climate emergency”, with an external panel set to review all proposed schemes, according to the Guardian. Separately, a BusinessGreen article reports on a “blistering attack” on the government’s green public transport agenda from Labour. The opposition party has revealed that none of the 4,000 zero-emission buses that ministers announced more than a year ago have materialised, the news website states.
The Guardian also has continued coverage of the UK aviation industry’s climate targets, which it notes will allow emissions from planes to increase into the mid-2030s, adding that buying carbon offsets will cut overall emissions compared with 2019 levels. It quotes Dr Simon Evans, Carbon Brief’s policy editor, who notes that compared with the 1990 emissions baseline used in UK climate targets, the level of future emissions targeted by the aviation industry equates to an increase of approximately 105% in 2030 and 45% in 2040.
The Biden administration is considering banning imports of polysilicon – a critical solar panel material – from China’s Xinjiang province, over forced labour allegations, reports Politico. The news site cites “four people familiar with the administration’s plans”. It says the move “would assuage bipartisan pressure to crack down on human rights abuses but could undermine the White House’s aggressive climate change goals.” Xinjiang currently supplies about half the world’s polysilicon, it adds. [China has firmly denied forced labour allegations in Xinjiang. Last month, a Nasdaq-listed polysilicon factory in Xinjiang allowed foreign journalists to visit for the first time in a bid to reject the accusation.]
Meanwhile, reports of the launch date of China’s national emissions trading scheme (ETS) have caused confusion. Xinhua Finance reported on Saturday that the national carbon market would go online on 25 June, citing multiple authorities including the Ministry of Ecology and Environment. But on Tuesday, Shanghai-based Yicai.com called the news “inauthentic”. Yicai wrote that the launch date of the programme was “yet to be decided”, citing “authoritative people”. Separately, World Nuclear News reports that China has begun constructing a research laboratory under the Gobi desert to “test the suitability of the area for the long-term storage of the high-level radioactive waste”. China’s Science and Technology Daily – the official newspaper of the Ministry of Science – says the underground lab will have two test platforms at 280 metres and 560 metres deep, respectively.
Elsewhere, China’s Shandong Province has launched a “comprehensive clean-up” against “dual-high” projects, reports Da Zhong Net, citing an instruction from the Shandong Provincial People’s Government. Reuters says the province, an industrial hub in eastern China, pledged to tighten its control over industries with high energy use and high emissions, such as oil refining and aluminium smelting. State-run People’s Daily reports that there are about 5.8m “new energy” vehicles on the Chinese market currently – around half of the global total. Finally, Science and Technology Daily reports that China will “vigorously promote” low-emission buildings. One official told the newspaper that the country was planning to draft mandatory standards to improve buildings’ energy-saving levels.
This week’s New York Times Magazine focuses on climate change and includes a feature from the newspaper’s opinion writer Ezra Klein, discussing the limits of politics in addressing the issue. In the article, Klein convenes a panel of four climate experts from technological, literary, political and academic backgrounds to “try to reconcile the reality of our political progress with the scale of the emergency”, including Rhiana Gunn-Wright, climate-policy director at the Roosevelt Institute and an author of the Green New Deal and Prof Sheila Jasanoff, a professor of science and technology studies at the Harvard Kennedy School. Klein asks the panel how effective the American Jobs Act, president Joe Biden’s infrastructure bill, would be even if it did manage to pass through the US political system unscathed. They also discuss the impact Covid-19 has had on changing people’s models “of how societies will envision and then respond to true catastrophe” as well as what will happen “if politics fails”.
Conservative MP John Redwood writes in the Daily Telegraph that the recent byelection in Chesham and Amersham, in which his party lost to the Liberal Democrats, sent a message to the Conservative party. People “want a green Conservative policy that is relevant to their lives, landscape and locality”, he says, adding that “as Conservatives we all wish to conserve and look after the best of our local natural world”. The piece notes that in Chesham and Amersham, residents have long fought against the HS2 high-speed rail development, which will run through the area. Redwood argues that the UK’s “electric revolution” can only proceed “with popular consent” and calls for “more hydro and pump storage to smooth out interruptible power and more biomass for baseload based on UK wood pellets”. He also warns against leaving fossil fuel workers behind in a green transition: “An opposition party can demand the closure of all traditional vehicle factories and the end of North Sea oil and gas. Government has to decide what happens to replace them and what happens to all the people who would lose their jobs by being on the wrong side of change.” In the Times, former government official and public policy adviser at Global Counsel Joe Armitage discusses the importance of examining the cost of the government’s net-zero target: “Whilst net-zero’s headline cost of £700bn to £1tn between 2020 and 2050 is important, it should be noted that this accounts for just 1% of the UK’s estimated GDP of £90tn over the same period. What is of far greater importance is the distributional impact of these costs and the extent to which the poorest in society – such as those who cannot afford a more environmentally friendly car or higher food prices – are affected”. He says the Treasury’s review into the costs of net-zero “should be mindful of this”.
Finally, a piece by Prince Charles in the Financial Times says that “young people must be at the heart of the global recovery” and that private sector innovation “can be truly harnessed to create millions of net-zero, green jobs that can benefit today’s young people”.
A new paper finds that the UK could mitigate 1.64bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) by 2120 using a national planning strategy of commercial forests. The authors assess the greenhouse gas mitigation potential of a 300,000ha per year nationwide planting strategy over 2020-50, using a “dynamic life cycle assessment”. They find that forest growth rate is the most important determinant of emissions, “irrespective of whether trees are harvested”. The study adds that planting only conservation forests would mitigate 0.54-1.72bn tonnes of CO2e.
“Although the emissions targets for aviation are in line with the overall goals of the Paris Agreement, there is a high likelihood that the climate impact of aviation will not meet these goals,” a new study finds. The authors model a range of warming scenarios over the 21st century, including changes to the aviation sector, such as technological advancements, use of sustainable fuels and changes in individuals’ travel behaviour. They find that, if the aviation industry stages a recovery, the restrictions placed on global air travel in response to the Covid-19 lockdowns will only have a temporary effect on the overall climate impact of aviation.
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