Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Davos 2020: Ursula von der Leyen warns China to price carbon or face tax
- Climate adviser calls for overhaul of UK agriculture and food
- Bushfire crisis: more than half of all Australians found to have been directly affected
- How populism will heat up the climate fight
- Our elites need a dose of reality on how to tackle global warming
- What does ‘dangerous’ climate change really mean?
- Global-scale human impact on delta morphology has led to net land area gain
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has used her appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos to call for carbon pricing by China and other large emitters, who will otherwise face a planned EU carbon tax on imports, the Financial Times reports. The proposed carbon border adjustment “would hit importers from countries that do not respect international climate goals”, the FT says, adding that a final proposal from Brussels on how to implement the idea is not expected until “late this year”. The paper continues by noting that Prince Charles, heir to the UK throne, also backed higher carbon taxes in his speech at Davos. Politico also has coverage of von der Leyen’s speech. According to Sky News, Prince Charles told the Davos summit: “Global warming, climate change and the devastating loss of biodiversity are the greatest threats humanity has ever faced.” It says he continued: “Do we want to go down in history as the people who did nothing to bring the world back from the brink, in trying to restore the balance, when we could have done? I don’t want to.” Reuters also covers the prince’s comments, saying he called on everyone in a leadership role to take action “at revolutionary levels and pace”. The Guardian hosts a Reuters video of the prince’s speech and BBC News also has a video topped with text saying: “Prince Charles offers stark warning over ‘approaching catastrophe’”. The Guardian reports the prince telling delegates: “What good is all the extra wealth in the world gained from business as usual if you can do nothing with it except watch it burn in catastrophic conditions?” BBC News, the Daily Telegraph and Press Association report that the prince met climate campaigner Greta Thunberg for the first time in Davos. The Hill reports that former US vice president Al Gore “praised teen climate activist Greta Thunberg on Wednesday after meeting her at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland”. The Guardian reports that Gore “implore[d] Davos to tackle [the] climate crisis”, a challenge he compared to “some of history’s greatest battles, from Agincourt to Dunkirk”. Another Guardian article reports that Bank of England governor Mark Carney “sides with Greta Thunberg against Trump over climate”. It explains: “Speaking at an event hosted by Bloomberg in Davos, the Bank of England governor said Thunberg was correct to point out that the world was rapidly using up its remaining carbon budget and that the US stance made tackling global heating more difficult.” Reuters reports that Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser “advised Trump to talk to young climate activists”, over dinner in Davos. Separately, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith discusses the “Trillion Trees Initiative” launched in Davos in an article headed: “Global elites have found a way to do the absolute minimum for the climate.” Finally, Daily Telegraph climate-sceptic columnist Sherelle Jacobs writes under a headline saying: “Davos Doom-mongers herald a new dark age for climate science.” She says: “Global warming is happening, but the climate science itself is messy, mystifying and ambivalent; the certainty with which eco-warriors present their case is thus disgracefully dishonest.”
The UK needs to “overhaul” its agriculture, the way it uses land and people’s diets, the Financial Times says, reporting a widely covered new report from government climate adviser the Committee on Climate Change (CCC). The FT quotes CCC chair Lord Deben saying: “This is one of the most important reports we have ever produced because a change in land use is absolutely essential if we’re going to meet our now statutory requirement of net zero by 2050.” It adds that agriculture and the land-use sector accounted for 12% of UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2017 and that the CCC suggests ways to cut the total by two-thirds, with measures including tree planting, low-carbon farming and plant-based diets. The FT also reports that the changes would cost some £1.4bn per year, according to the CCC, with the figure compared to the £3.3bn currently spent on farm subsidies each year. Several outlets, including the Daily Telegraph, the Times, the Guardian and New Scientist, lead their coverage with the CCC suggestion that a new levy on major polluters, such as airlines, could pay for expanding forest cover to 17-19% of the UK, up from the current level of 13%. Press Association also highlights the CCC recommendation of a ban on the rotational burning of peatland that is currently used by grouse-shooting estates. BBC News and MailOnline lead on the CCC recommendation that red meat and dairy intake be cut by a fifth by 2050. BBC News adds: “The farming union NFU welcomed much of the report – but some environmentalists believe it’s too timid.” Coverage from Reuters notes that the shift in diet would translate into a 10% cut in UK cattle and sheep numbers by 2050, according to the CCC. FarmingUK picks out the CCC recommendation that trade policy be used to limit imports of food with a higher carbon footprint, to complement domestic policy changes. Climate Home News reports the CCC advice suggesting a fifth of agricultural land should be released from its current use and turned over to climate mitigation via tree planting, peatland restoration or bioenergy crops. Sky News says the CCC advice would bring about “radical changes” in the way UK farmland is used. Bloomberg also has the story. Carbon Brief has in-depth coverage of the CCC’s recommendations.
In a government press release timed to coincide with the CCC report, the chairs of England’s three environmental bodies the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Forestry Commission outline “a shared vision and practical actions to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies”. Separately, the Press Association reports that the British public are “not aware of the changes that will be needed to cut the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, polling suggests”. The article continues: “Consumer watchdog Citizens Advice is warning the government it risks ‘fatally undermining’ the country’s ability to reach the net-zero goal if it does not get public buy-in for the changes that need to be made.” It explains that some 82% of respondents in the poll backed the net-zero target, but that, for example, only 38% were aware they would need to change the way their home is heated.
A new survey suggests more than half of Australians have been directly affected by the country’s bushfire crisis, the Guardian reports. It says that the most commonly cited self-reported impacts included in the survey were health effects, changes to daily routines to avoid smoke, changes to travel plans and closure of work or leisure venues as a result of the fires. Meanwhile, a separate Guardian article reports that former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has criticised the incumbent Scott Morrison for “downplaying” the bushfire crisis. The paper explains: “Turnbull made the extraordinary criticism of Morrison during an interview with the BBC on Wednesday, in which he also blamed News Corp and rightwing thinktanks in Australia for promoting climate change denialism.” The Guardian carries a number of comment articles on the ongoing bushfires, with pieces by Greg Jericho, Jeff Sparrow, Amy Coopes and Imogen West-Knights.
“Politicians know what they have to do, but must beware the ‘gilets jaunes’,” writes Philip Stephens in a comment for the Financial Times. He says the austerity response to the global financial crisis is at the root of the “populist movements that have destabilised Europe’s ancien regimes”, with “left-behinds rather than the bankers [bearing] the brunt of austerity”. He continues that when it comes to cutting carbon emissions: “The same group – low earners living in provincial towns and villages – are first in the line of fire.” He concludes by saying that a “large swath of voters look at green policies through the same prism as Trump” and by asking “whether the liberals leading the decarbonisation charge are ready to finance the big income transfers needed to make it politically sustainable”.
The WEF in Davos has “this year been dominated by climate change”, says an editorial in the Daily Telegraph. It notes how US president Donald Trump described activist Greta Thunberg and her followers as “false prophets of doom” and adds: “He may or may not be right, but he is like Canute seeking to turn back the tide.” The editorial continues: “The anti-carbon forces are now unstoppable whether or not Mr Trump trusts the science.” However, the paper also says it is “disappointing” to see “world leaders lined up to make apocalyptic predictions of imminent disaster without focusing on practical measures to bring about a low or zero-carbon future”. It adds: “The very people who will be making the business and investment decisions to meet the various environmental targets should stop the talking and concentrate on the realities of fulfilling this policy.”
A feature responding to questions from readers in the Washington Post looks at the history of global climate goals, based on the loose concept of avoiding “dangerous” climate change. It explains: “Climate change is not pass/fail, scientists like to say. Crossing warming thresholds doesn’t mean that Earth collapses into climate oblivion. And meeting these targets doesn’t guarantee humanity will avoid climate change’s dangerous consequences.”
A new study finds that river deltas around the world have seen an average land gain of 54km2 per year over the past 30 years, despite rising sea levels. Assessing 11,000 coastal deltas worldwide, the researchers finds that “humans are a considerable driver of these net land gains”, with a quarter of delta growth “attributed to deforestation-induced increases in fluvial sediment supply”. This growth is focused in mega-deltas, the study finds, with “the largest 1% of deltas being responsible for 30% of all net land area gains”. However, the researchers warn that “with expected accelerated sea level rise…recent land gains are unlikely to be sustained throughout the twenty-first century”.
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