Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Cumbria coal mine: Climate tsar urged to quit over 'reckless' plan
- Climate change behind Uttarakhand glacier burst, experts feel
- China aluminium sector must shut inefficient coal power to meet climate goals – report
- House Democrats reintroduce green energy tax package
- Could the climate crisis have played a role in the emergence of Covid-19?
- Boris Johnson is ignoring the climate crisis by opening the Cumbria coal mine
- The influence of climate change advisory bodies on political debates: evidence from the UK Committee on Climate Change
- Communicating potentially large but non‐robust changes in multi‐model projections of future climate
The political row over the granting of planning permission to a coking coal mine in Cumbria continues, with BBC News reporting that “the UK’s climate tsar, Alok Sharma, has been urged to resign unless the prime minister scraps [the] plans”. The news outlet continues: “Mr Sharma, who will lead a vital UN climate conference in Glasgow in November, is said to be ‘apoplectic’ over the decision to approve the mine. The Lib Dems say the project, earmarked for a site near Whitehaven, undermines Mr Sharma’s position. They have called for him to tender his resignation over the issue.” The Guardian says that “pressure is growing on the government over its support for a new coal mine”, adding: “Developing country experts, scientists, green campaigners and government advisers are increasingly concerned about the seeming contradiction of ministers backing the new mine.” The Sunday Telegraph carries an interview with the new energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan who supports the mine, saying: “This is coal for the steel industry which we need and for national security reasons we want to be able to maintain that supply.” [See “Climate and energy comment” below.]
In other UK news, the Daily Mail reports that the “Welsh government is in talks to buy the Horizon nuclear power plant site from Hitachi in a last-ditch effort to secure the future of the project”. It adds: “The Labour-led administration has approached Hitachi about buying the site – and keeping on staff – to safeguard it until a new developer can be found. The Japanese group scrapped plans to build a £20bn power station at Wylfa, on the island of Anglesey, last year. The Horizon project is due to close next month.” Meanwhile, the Guardian says that “Labour is calling for the government’s green homes grant scheme to be extended by at least a year after revealing that less than 5% of the allocated budget has been given to householders.” The newspaper continues: “Nearly five months in, only £71m of the allocated £1.5bn budget for householders has been awarded to those seeking help to move from fossil fuel heating to renewable alternatives.” The i newspaper adds that the Environment Audit Committee of MPs has warned that the green homes grant vouchers for home retrofits are being issued to homeowners at a “snail’s pace”.
The Times reports that Scottish Widows, one of Britain’s largest pensions and insurance groups, will today pledge net-zero carbon emissions across its entire portfolio of investments by 2050. It adds: “Scottish Widows also will outline plans to halve emissions from its £170bn portfolio by 2030 as an interim measure.” The Guardian has a story about how “hundreds of hills across the UK could be transformed into renewable energy ‘batteries’ through a pioneering hydropower system embedded underground”. DeSmog UK has published analysis showing “how the agribusiness lobby mobilised against a UK carbon tax”. Finally, BBC News asks: “How will we heat homes in zero carbon Britain?” It adds: “There are two main contenders for the £28bn market to heat our homes – hydrogen and heat pumps.”
The Times of India reports that, “according to experts”, a “burst glacier” in India’s Uttarakhand state is “an outcome of climate change”. The paper says that, yesterday, the collapsed glacial lake led to “a massive flood in the Dhauli Ganga river and caused large-scale devastation in the upper reaches of the ecologically fragile Himalayas”. It notes that “there are over 8,000 glacial lakes in the Himalayas, of which 200 are classified as dangerous”. The glacial melt resulted in a deluge which flooded the Rishiganga river, the Hindu states, and “washed away at least two hydroelectric power projects”. Reuters adds that around 125 people are missing and that evacuations were forced further downstream. The Tribune says that the “rare incident” is due to rising temperatures in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region. It adds that, even if the world keeps temperature rise below 1.5C, the Hindu-Kush region will see warming of at least 1.8C – and 2.2C in some regions. In other coverage of the glacier burst, the New Indian Times states “the jury is still out on how and why it happened”, and APB News runs a “debate” about the impact of climate change on the event. Meanwhile, the Hindustani Times reports that an “unusually warm January’‘ in India this year saw temperatures 1.09C above the month’s normal temperatures. The paper states that this could be an “indirect result of global warming”. (Carbon Brief has previously published guest posts on how climate change is turning glaciers into lakes and how an expanding glacial lake threatens a community in the Peruvian Andes.)
Reuters covers a new report by emissions analysts Ember which concludes, says the newswire, that “China’s aluminium sector must shut dedicated power capacity equivalent to more than Germany’s entire coal fleet over the next decade to keep Beijing on track to meet its carbon pledges”. It continues: “China accounts for more than half of global aluminium production, churning out 37m tonnes in 2020…Ember…says China’s record aluminium output last year emitted more CO2 than some entire countries, including Indonesia and Brazil. China will need to shut around 47 gigawatts (GW) of inefficient, subcritical coal power capacity dedicated for aluminium over the next 10 years or so if it wants to be carbon-neutral by mid-century, the report’s author, Muyi Yang, told Reuters. Germany’s total coal power capacity is 42 GW.”
Separately, another Reuters article says that China’s environment ministry “will set up a new information platform to allow the public to track the emissions of polluting enterprises and help authorities prosecute those that break the rules or try to ‘evade supervision’”. [Last Friday, Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A on why a critical inspection report by China’s Central Environmental Inspection Team could prove to be pivotal for the nation’s climate policies.] Meanwhile, China’s Global Times reports that the “first batch of 160,000 tonnes of seaborne coal from South Africa” has been sent to China as part of the nation’s diplomatic spat with Australia. China is currently blocking imports of Australian coal. The state-run news outlet claims China can “easily replace Australian imports”. However, Bloomberg reports that “China is set to allow some stranded Australian coal cargoes to unload, although it’s unclear if the deliveries will be cleared by customs, according to a person familiar with the situation”. It adds: “The measure doesn’t mean China is loosening its ban on Australian coal imports, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Some ships may be allowed to change crews and the move may be viewed as a humanitarian gesture intended to show goodwill to countries including India, which have seafarers stranded on the vessels, said the person. China’s customs administration didn’t immediately respond to a fax seeking comment.”
The Hill reports that US Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee on have put forward a “sweeping green energy bill that would extend several clean energy tax credits, expand electric vehicle tax credits and set the stage for putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions”. It adds: “The bill, called the Green Act, was first introduced last year but is being put forward again with Democrats now controlling both chambers of Congress and the White House.” However, the Financial Times says that “US president Joe Biden’s moratorium on drilling on federal lands has prompted lawmakers within his own party to warn that the policy threatens jobs and local budgets in states dependent on fossil fuels”. It continues: “The opposition in states such as Texas and New Mexico presages what is likely to be a big issue in the 2022 midterm elections, where Democrats will have to defend or contest seats in moderate congressional districts that rely on oil and gas.” Politico has a feature on why “Biden’s climate spending pledge faces [an] early test”. Meanwhile, the FT has a news feature on the US oil majors and says the “finances of the supermajors…are in tatters, just as the rise of clean energy and doubts about long-term oil demand force another existential reckoning – and the prospect of megamergers is on the cards again”.
Finally, an editorial in the New York Times says: “Put simply, the richest and most powerful nation in the world is back in the fight to rescue the planet from the fires, floods, famines, rising sea levels, human dislocations and other consequences of a warming globe…The president’s pitch to Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, is that a credible climate plan will create the jobs the pandemic has destroyed, and many more. Let’s hope it works. In the meantime, it seems enough to celebrate what, as if in a fairy tale, has appeared in the White House: a president who cares about the climate and other environmental issues, who has gathered around him serious people, who has determined to follow science where it leads and who will try to do good and useful things.”
New research identifies a “possible role” for climate change in the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, reports the Independent. The paper explains: “Researchers suspect that the virus initially ‘spilled over’ from bats to humans through an unknown intermediary animal, possibly a pangolin. A study published today finds that changing climate conditions could be linked to a greater diversity of bat species in Yunnan, a province of southwestern China, and its surrounding regions. Early research suggests that the virus causing Covid-19, which is called SARS-CoV-2, could have arisen in this area.” The change in conditions has seen a shift in vegetation, creating more habitat suitable for bat species, the paper says – potentially bringing 40 bat species to the region and around 100 coronaviruses with them. The lead author tells Agence France-Presse: “Our paper is a long way away from saying the pandemic would not have happened without climate change…But I find it difficult to see that this climate-driven increase in bats and bat-borne coronaviruses make something like this less likely to happen.” However, experts commenting on the research said factors other than climate change were also likely to play a role in the virus, notes the Daily Telegraph. And a number of scientists tell Carbon Brief that they have concerns about the study. MailOnline and CBS News also cover the research.
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that Mark Carney – the former Bank of England governor and current UN envoy for climate action and finance – has warned that mortality rates from the impacts of climate change could be equivalent to the Covid pandemic every year by mid-century unless action is taken.
There is continuing commentary reacting to the news that the UK government will not block a new coking coal mine in the year it hosts the COP26 climate conference. In the Daily Mirror, environment editor Nada Farhoud writes: “How will we be able to ask China and Russia about their emission reduction when we are opening a new coal mine? Allowing this will leave a thick coating of black coal dust to hang over the UK’s presidency of a crucial climate conference.” In the Sunday Times, a news feature by deputy business editor John Collingridge examines why “how coal mining’s rebirth turned toxic”. Likewise, a feature in Vox asks: “The UK ended deep coal production in 2016. So why is it opening a new coal mine in 2021?” In the Daily Mail, the climate sceptic columnist Dominic Lawson says that it is “sheer madness” to import coal “when we can produce it ourselves”.
Meanwhile, in other UK-focused comment, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard – international business editor at the Daily Telegraph – argues that the “possibilities for the UK’s net-zero drive are tantalising”. He continues: “What is clear is that there are countless technologies emerging across the world that are changing the calculus on CO2 abatement faster than governments, economists, and commentators can keep up. Britain is the crucible where so many breakthroughs are happening, perhaps because the country never succumbed to the technology luddism of the precautionary principle, and perhaps because the grip of vested interests is relatively weak (the same thing). The UK may achieve net-zero much sooner than widely-supposed, and at a nice profit.”
Separately, the Daily Express devotes several pages to the launch of its new “Green Britain Revolution”. It has published several comment pieces, including environment editor John Ingham explaining, “Why the Daily Express has decided now is the time to go green”. Dale Vince, owner of electricity company Ecotricity, is given a spot to say why the “Green Industrial Revolution is our future, our heritage”. And columnist Leo McKinstry, a long-time climate sceptic, is now arguing that is “our patriotic duty to go green and rebuild Britain”. An editorial in the paper says: “Our government must lead the way by promoting green policies, including tax incentives and subsidies to support carbon reductions”.
The influence of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC) – recently renamed as the Climate Change Committee – on political proceedings has grown over time, and most politicians have been supportive of it, a new study finds. The research investigates how bodies such as the CCC have influenced the political debate on climate change by analysing all mentions of the CCC in parliamentary proceedings from 2008-18. The paper finds that CCC’s influence on political proceedings has grown over time, “both within its statutory remit and more broadly”. It adds that the CCC “functions primarily as a knowledge broker, offering trusted information to policymakers” and finds little evidence that CCC analysis is “politicised”.
The graphical communication of climate projections in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports “may fail to recognise the risk of large changes in regions where the uncertainty is large and the response is not robust”, according to a new study. Maps are often used in IPCC reports to communicate the average response of climate models to a range of future socioeconomic scenarios. The maps typically use a “stippling” pattern over areas where the climate response (the “signal”) is large compared to natural variability (the “noise”), the researchers say, , and a “hatching” pattern for regions with a small multi-model change. As an alternative, the authors present “a more informative diagnostic to support risk assessment that is obtained by quantifying the mean forced signal‐to‐noise ratio of the individual model responses, rather than the signal‐to‐noise ratio of the mean response”.
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