Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Democrat Warnock wins in Georgia; second runoff and US Senate control undecided
- British summer temperatures and heatwave spikes set to rise faster than global average
- Norway first to reach over 50% electric in 2020 new car sales
- Trump auctions Arctic refuge to oil drillers in last strike against US wilderness
- Trump told us himself: He’s lost the war on climate change
- Why we need a ‘just transition’ for reaching net zero in the UK
- Climate warming from managed grasslands cancels the cooling effect of carbon sinks in sparsely grazed and natural grasslands
- Evaluating heat extremes in the UK climate projections (UKCP18)
Democratic challenger Raphael Warnock has emerged as the projected winner in a tight US Senate race in the state of Georgia over Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler, Reuters reports. It is an election that has considerable significance for the nation’s future climate action. The newswire notes that Democrats must win both of the two seats being contested to take control of the Senate, a move that would make it far easier for president-elect Joe Biden to carry out his programme of climate policies. Conversely, “if Republicans hold the second seat, they would effectively wield veto power over Biden’s political and judicial appointees as well as many of his legislative initiatives in areas such as…climate change,” adds Reuters. While the second Democrat Jon Ossoff is currently leading over Republican David Perdue, the race is “still too close to call”, Reuters notes. The Guardian emphasises that control of the Senate “would give Biden his best shot at signing major new legislation on key issues such as the climate emergency”.
In an article profiling the candidates in the Georgia race, the Guardian notes that “Warnock is known for campaigning [for] tackling the climate crisis and taking strong action to address economic inequalities”, while Ossoff’s Republican opponent Perdue is known for “denying climate change”. A similar piece in Grist asks “what the Georgia Senate candidates think about climate change”. The piece notes that with only a “slim majority” of Georgians accepting the scientific consensus on climate change, candidates “have largely trained their attention elsewhere”. Nevertheless, it states that Ossoff “may have the most ambitious climate agenda of the bunch”, noting his support for “a sweeping infrastructure plan that includes funding for clean energy, energy efficiency, and jobs in the renewable energy sector”.
The UK’s summer temperatures are set to rise faster than the global average in the coming years, according to a new study reported by the Daily Telegraph. The research concludes that for every half degree that global temperatures rise, UK temperatures are likely to rise by 0.75C in the summer months, according to the newspaper. It notes that the scientists behind the study have analysed a Met Office simulation and compared it to recent summers, “concluding that it was a reliable indicator of future UK temperatures”. The piece adds that the reason for the discrepancy between global temperature change and the UK is because “global average warming models include figures for many oceanic areas, which are not warming as quickly as land areas”. The i newspaper reports that the research shows “heatwaves in the UK are likely to intensify far more than many other parts of the world”. A separate study reported by the Independent found that cities across the world will see a “near-universal drop in humidity by the end of the century”. The piece describes the “urban heat island” effect that means cities are “almost always warmer than in rural areas”, quoting a Carbon Brief guest post on the topic from last year. Reuters reports that, over the course of 2020, Ukraine’s average annual air temperature reached a record high of 10.7C.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post warns of two weeks of “wild winter weather” in the northern hemisphere due to a dramatic spike in temperatures occurring at high altitudes above the North Pole and its impact on the polar vortex. Carbon Brief published a piece in 2019 looking at how Arctic warming is linked to the polar vortex and other extreme weather.
Finally, the Guardian reports that “plunging temperatures and a drop in wind turbine power generation” have pushed UK electricity market prices to a new high and led to an urgent call from the National Grid for suppliers to provide extra capacity.
Norway became the first country in the world where electric vehicles made up more than half of new car sales in 2020, according to Agence France-Presse. Figures published by national industry group the Information Council for Road Traffic showed 54.3% of new registrations were electric last year, up from 42.4% a year earlier, the news agency reports. The piece notes that Norway, a major oil producer, is making fast progress in electric mobility thanks to heavy subsidies and is aiming for all new cars be “zero emission” by 2025. CNN reports that the Nordic nations “appears to be gaining momentum”, with battery electric vehicles accounting for two thirds of sales in December. Its coverage adds that “oil revenue helped build the country’s $1.3tn sovereign wealth fund, which is now embracing renewable energy and dumping oil and gas stocks”.
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that the American state of Massachusetts is “following California’s lead” and planning to end the sale of new fossil fuel-powered vehicles by 2035. The states’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs released a plan which concluded to achieve net-zero “fossil fuel use must be all but completely eliminated in on-road vehicles by 2050”.
In the UK, amidst the on-going Covid-19 pandemic, the Times reports that industry figures show sales of new cars of all varieties fell by nearly 30% to 1.63m last year, marking a year-on-year percentage fall that is “the biggest drop in sales since the second world war”. It quotes the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders who criticises the relative lack of government financial support and subsidy for zero-emission vehicles, in particular. The piece notes the “£3,000 on offer to the buyers of zero-emission cars in Britain is lower than in European markets, such as Germany, France and Spain”.
Today, US president Donald Trump’s administration will auction off portions of the Arctic national wildlife refuge to oil drillers, the Guardian reports. Describing the move as “one of [the administration’s] last strikes against the American wilderness”, the newspaper says this marks “the climax to one of the nation’s highest-profile environmental battles”. It notes that once the leases in the region are sold to energy companies “they would be difficult to claw back”, but adds that the incoming president, Joe Biden, could “discourage development in the refuge by putting regulatory hurdles in the way of drillers”. Reuters reports that officials from the US Bureau of Land Management are scheduled to open and read bids received since late December on more than 1m acres (4,000 square km) of the refuge on Alaska’s North Slope during a live video broadcast on Wednesday morning. Bloomberg notes that the auction is going ahead after a federal judge rejected a last-minute request by environmentalists to block it.
Elsewhere, the Washington Post reports that a proposal to build a liquefied natural gas export terminal on the Delaware River “could pose early test for the Biden administration” and its climate ambitions, noting that the project has been backed by labour unions who “argue it will bring jobs to a distressed area”.
Former Democrat presidential candidate Tom Steyer writes in the Independent that “we’ve won the messaging war on climate”. He notes that after years of climate change denial from current US president Donald Trump, he appears to have conceded that it exists and is caused by humans. In a debate during his re-election campaign, “when asked whether greenhouse gas emissions made by humans contribute to climate change, Trump replied with a reluctant yes,” Steyer writes. “When even the most corrupt, deceitful president in our nation’s history – a man who still refuses to acknowledge president-elect Biden’s victory – concedes that climate change is driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions, the debate over climate change’s existence and causes is over.” He adds that with this point sorted, the remaining question is “no longer whether, but how, we address this crisis”. Steyer says that the US can still catch up and lead on climate action, but notes that action will have to be rapid. “It’s time for Republicans to read the tea leaves and see that there is no stopping the transition of the world or the economy to a clean energy future. It’s time for Democrats to build big, coalition-driven solutions, and show that we can take yes for an answer,” he concludes.
Meanwhile, a piece in Bloomberg looks at how, despite the pandemic, the world made progress on climate last year, noting that “some positive developments in recent months set us up for a stronger 2021”. Specifically, it mentions net-zero announcements from China, Japan and South Korea, the European Union’s Green Deal, the UK’s climate-disclosures mandate, and the election of Joe Biden as the next US president.
Elsewhere, a Wall Street Journal editorial looks at how US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi is “already taking steps to make sure she can still roll over the opposition” with a narrow majority in the new house. Among other things, the piece mentions a “climate exception to ‘paygo’” (a rule requiring that new legislation not increase the federal budget deficit or reduce the surplus). The piece states that “Democrats talk up ‘paygo’ every election year”, but says Pelosi “lets paygo lapse when convenient, and her new rules give the House Budget Chairman unilateral authority to exempt from paygo any spending on Covid-19 or climate change”.
Following a report by Onward, a centre-right think tank, on how many people in the UK are currently employed by highly polluting industries, and where in the country they are most likely to live, the Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne has an analysis piece looking at the need for a “just transition” in the UK. The piece includes comments from various experts and notes that when setting out on the path to net-zero the “right policies will be needed to ensure this change is for the better”.
New research estimating “the full greenhouse gas balance of grasslands” analyses changes in carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) from grassland soils from 1750 to 2012. The researchers use a land surface model to separate out the “direct effects” of land management, and the “indirect effects” of climate change and regional changes in nitrogen deposition. The study concludes that, overall, emissions of CH4 and N2O from grasslands have increased by a factor of 2.5 since 1750 due to increased emissions from livestock, and have more than compensated for reduced emissions from the shrinking number of wild grazing animals.
A new study on UK summer heatwaves finds that UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18) models generally capture heat-related spatial patterns of UK climate better than fifth coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP5) models. Researchers find that projections of average summer temperatures and extreme temperatures increase faster in the UK than the global mean. Furthermore, extreme UK summer temperatures were shown to have “~60% greater interannual variability than the summer mean over the recent past (1981–2000)”. Read more about UKCP18 in Carbon Brief’s explainer.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.