Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Cumbria county council to reconsider plans for new coal mine
- Fossil fuel pollution causes one in five premature deaths globally: study
- Total reports $7.2bn loss but keeps dividend
- Despite the massive challenges the climate crisis brings – there is room for hope
- The left should not dominate the conversation on climate change
- The costs of killing Keystone XL
- How tech went big on green energy
- The influence of anthropogenic climate change on wet and dry summers in Europe
- The public health implications of the Paris Agreement: a modelling study
Cumbria county council has announced it will reconsider the planning application for a new coking coal mine near Whitehaven in the north of England after receiving “new information” on its potential climate impact from government advisers, the i newspaper reports. Ministers have “endured a barrage of criticism in recent weeks” from scientists and activists for failing to intervene in the decision to approve the mine, the piece notes. It adds that some ministers are “reportedly furious” the project was approved in such a key year for climate action, with the UK set to host the COP26 climate summit in November. The Times states that experts have warned that the mine is in conflict with the UK’s climate obligations under the Paris Agreement. The Financial Times notes that the Labour-run council said it had decided to reappraise its October decision because the project could breach the UK’s target of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, citing the Climate Change Committee’s (CCC) sixth carbon budget advice issued in December. (See Carbon Brief’s summary.) The newspaper notes that the latest move means that, even if the council approves it again, local government minister Robert Jenrick – who previously gave the project the green light – would be able to block it this time. According to the Independent, “leading climate scientist” James Hansen wrote to prime minister Boris Johnson urging him to intervene in plans for the mine, which would produce coking coal for use in steel production. CCC chair Lord Deben and 80 green and humanitarian charities were also among those criticising the decision, the news website states. A separate piece in the Independent reports that new polling shows 47% of people polled think the mine will have a negative impact on the UK, while just 9% think it will be positive.
A piece in the Conversation by climate scientists Prof Myles Allen and Prof Nathalie Seddon is titled: “Cumbria coal mine could usher in a net-zero-compliant fossil fuel industry – or prove it was always a fantasy.” They write that if the mine were to go ahead “there’s an opportunity to show the world what a net-zero-compliant fossil fuel industry could look like” by adding a stipulation to planning approval that, by 2050, “every tonne of CO2 generated by mining and burning the coal they sell must be disposed of as well, safely and permanently”.
Fossil fuel pollution causes one in five premature deaths globally, suggesting their health impacts “may be far higher than previously thought”, according Reuters. The newswire notes that, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research, China, India, Europe and the northeastern US are among the hardest-hit areas, suffering a disproportionately high share of 8.7m annual deaths attributed to coal, oil and gas. It says the research is the most detailed to date of the impact airborne particulate matter – including dust and smoke from agricultural burns and wildfires – has on people’s health, and compares the results to a previous estimate that found 4.2m deaths could be attributed to it. The Guardian notes that the death toll “exceeds the combined total of people who die globally each year from smoking tobacco plus those who die of malaria”. It also quotes one of the researchers who says they were initially hesitant when they obtained their results “because they are astounding”. The Independent says the scientists used a “high-resolution mathematical model” to study global concentrations of the fine particulate matter, known as PM2.5 particles, specifically from fossil fuel burning, as well as a new health risk assessment model to estimate the total number of premature deaths.
A separate Independent article reports on new analysis in the Lancet Planetary Health journal that finds tougher action to meet the world’s climate goals, particularly shifts towards “climate-friendly” diets that include less meat and dairy, could save millions of lives each year. The news website notes that the results were based on analysis of the current climate plans of nine countries, which together represent half the world’s population and 70% of the greenhouse gas emissions.
The Financial Times reports that Total has joined the “list of oil majors reporting multibillion-dollar full-year losses”, but has also provided a “rare glimmer of hope” during the Covid-19 pandemic by beating fourth-quarter expectations and maintaining its dividend. The article notes that, as well as the impact of the pandemic, the fossil fuel sector is also facing growing pressure from investors and environmentalists to take action against climate change. It adds that European energy majors such as Total have been “re-evaluating their long-term price assumptions to reflect the impact of the pandemic and the energy transition to cleaner fuels”. City AM reports that, in line with this, Total has said it would change its name as to “Total Energies” as “the firm looks to reduce the share of sales it derives from oil products over the next decade”. The Financial Times‘s Lex column says “big corporations rebrand themselves in response to a reputational disaster, boringness or a merger”, adding: “Tedium is rather to Total’s advantage right now. Investors see it as a relatively safe bet in a disrupted sector, providing steady oil volume growth even as it pivots.”
Bloomberg looks at China’s goals to peak fossil fuel demand, noting that consumption bounced back quickly after China contained the coronavirus, “raising concerns about its goal to cap demand”. It states that the comeback complicates efforts by the nation to reach peak fossil energy consumption by 2025 and “turn the country into a nation of net-zero emissions less than 40 years later”.
In a week that has seen several major UK news organisations announced major new initiatives and campaigns focused on covering climate change, the Independent has an editorial launching its own efforts: “The climate crisis is both the transcendent issue of our times, but also one where there is some of the greatest grounds for hope…Independent Climate is our latest contribution to promoting that understanding and catalysing change, at the level of international organisations, governments, corporations and households.” It notes the influence of figures such as Greta Thunberg and David Attenborough and says the “climate of public opinion has shifted dramatically in recent times”, with more people wanting to make changes to their lifestyles like buying an electric car or eating less meat. The editorial also welcomes changes within governments: “The great industrial blocs in North America, Europe and East Asia are committed to the targets set in the Paris accords five years ago. The proportion of energy now produced by wind and solar technologies would have been thought impossible, not so long ago”. Finally, it looks ahead to the COP26 summit in Glasgow at the end of the year and concludes “it deserves to succeed, and The Independent is proudly a part of that movement”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Express enters the third day of its new “Green Britain Needs You” drive, including a double-page spread (not yet online) that addresses chancellor Rishi Sunak and says “families shouldn’t be taxed for choosing [a] green option”.
A piece written jointly for the Times Red Box by Alicia Kearns, a UK Conservative MP on the foreign affairs select committee and the national security strategy joint committee, and US Republican congressman John R Curtis bemoans the fact that left-wing players, including Extinction Rebellion and “green new deal” advocates, have dominated the climate conversation. “In recent years, conservatives have crafted new ideas that will allow us to be better stewards of the environment, create new good-paying jobs, and ensure energy security for future generations,” they write. They say the left’s approach “would put our countries at an international competitive disadvantage, which neither country can afford” and call instead for “pragmatic solutions that empower individuals and businesses to innovate and invest in clean technologies”. They say their commitment to the environment should not be doubted: “True conservatives value conservation and the environment, it is in our name after all”.
Meanwhile, in Australia, the Guardian Australia’s political editor Katharine Murphy has a comment piece about the nation’s “climate wars”, stating that “they’ve got even dumber”. She writes: “Given Australian politics has transited back to climate change, stupid isn’t really a shock. Stupid is the default. But even though stupid is to be expected – and stupid always gets supercharged when the Coalition fuses its climate change ‘debates’ with internal leadership tension – I’m still gobsmacked that somehow, over the past 72 hours, we have managed to move to somewhere even dumber”. Murphy says that the issue is politicians are currently arguing about a hypothetical net-zero target that as yet does not exist.
Columnist Owen Jones in the Guardian says the UK’s Labour party is “creating an opening” for the Green Party by failing to appeal to young people and their desire for a transition to a greener economy.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal says that while US president Joe Biden “may not have buyers’ remorse” over his decision to cancel the Keystone XL oil pipeline, many others including some of his allies are challenging the move. It notes that the Democrat West Virginia senator Joe Manchin, who introduced the first Keystone XL bill in 2012, has written to Biden asking him “to reconsider” his executive order. The editorial also cites criticism from 14 Republican state attorneys and union chief Richard Trumka. The Hill reports that the Biden administration will get more time to decide the fate of the pipeline after the government asked a court to postpone a conference on the status of the pipeline for 58 days “while it gets new officials up to speed on the case”.
Separately, a piece in Foresight Climate & Energy by Wisconsin lieutenant governor Mandela Barnes warns that “the environmental movement rarely reflects the communities most impacted by climate change” and states that lawmakers “need to consider those that are impacted by climate change the most”. The piece notes that environmental inequalities “are not a result of personal failings, but rather because those in power throughout history have made policy decisions that, at best, failed to include people of colour and low-income people, and at worst, knowingly harmed them”. The article emphasises the importance of including “people of colour, low-income communities and rural communities” in decision making on these issues: “Anything less will further current climate and environmental injustices and fail to address the gravity of this crisis.”
A “big read” in the Financial Times looks at how big tech companies, including Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, have become “the dominant buyers of clean power”. The piece notes that tech companies are big electricity consumers because of their data centres, which need large amounts of power to keep servers cool. “That amount will grow, as the rise of artificial intelligence and machine learning demands more computing power,” it says, adding that “clean energy deals and climate goals are now a source of rivalry between the tech companies, with significant implications for the planet”. The article examines these trends in depths, with data visualisations showing the location of companies’ renewable power projects and their rising use of clean energy.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has a piece looking at “why oil giants are swapping oil rigs for offshore windfarms” noting that BP has “already made a splash” by making a record-breaking bid to build two large windfarms in the Irish Sea. The piece says this marks a “new battleground” between fossil fuel companies and “the traditional energy utilities they hope to emulate and usurp”. The piece includes criticism from renewables companies saying that the price being paid by BP is too high and will ultimately be bad for both the industry and consumers. A separate piece in the Guardian has a profile of a young wind turbine technician apprentice with SSE Renewables, who explains how he secured the role and the long-term appeal of working in green energy.
European summers will become drier throughout the century due to climate change, new research suggests. The study by UK Met Office scientists investigates how climate change has influenced past wet and dry summers in Europe, and analyses how future water availability and rainfall across Europe will change under human-caused warming. Under a moderate emission scenario, the paper finds that there will be a move to a new climatic regime across northern and southern Europe, where both regions would see several extremely dry summers per decade. This number of extremely dry summers in a single decade would be rare in the pre-industrial world, the authors note.
New research finds that adopting policies that are consistent with achieving the Paris Agreement – and also prioritise health – could save 6.4m lives due to better diet, 1.6m lives due to cleaner air and 2.1m lives due to increased exercise every year by 2040. The research considers nine countries that together contain 50% of the world’s population and produce 70% of its emissions. It then compares two future scenarios – both see countries adopt policies that are consistent with the Paris Agreement and sustainable development goals, but the second scenario also places health at the centre of policy decisions. The researchers find that all countries benefit the most from improvements in diet as a result of health-related policies.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.