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Daily Briefing

05.08.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Democrats seek $500bn in climate damages from big polluting companies
Democrats seek $500bn in climate damages from big polluting companies

News.

Democrats seek $500bn in climate damages from big polluting companies
The New York Times Read Article

The New York Times reports that Democrats are circulating a draft plan that, if enacted, would see the Treasury department “tax a handful of the biggest emitters of planet-warming pollution to pay for climate change”. The newspaper adds: “The draft legislation from Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland directs the Treasury department and the Environmental Protection Agency to identify the companies that released the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from 2000 to 2019 and assess a fee based on the amounts they emitted. That could generate an estimated $500bn over the next decade, according to Mr Van Hollen. The money would pay for clean energy research and development as well as help communities face the flooding, fires and other disasters that scientists say are growing more destructive and frequent because of a warming planet. The bill for the largest polluters could be as much as $6bn annually spread over 10 years, according to a draft of the plan.” It continues: “Mr Van Hollen says he is optimistic that his legislation will find broad support within his party and be attached to the budget reconciliation package, which Democrats hope to pass without Republican votes. But that would require all Democrats in the narrowly divided Senate to back the measure, including Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, who has routinely argued against anti-fossil fuel legislation.” The New York Times also quotes a fossil fuel lobbyist who was part of Donald Trump’s transition team in 2016 describing the plan as “laughable”. Reuters says that plan is “modelled after the 1980 ‘Superfund’ program in which polluters pay the costs of cleaning up hazardous substances from contaminated lands”. The newswire adds: “Next week, Senate Democrats are expected to advance a budget plan that would be the precursor to a $3.5tn ‘human infrastructure’ bill Congress would debate this fall. The bill would include significant investments in programs to tackle climate change by reducing the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Republicans are likely to oppose the effort, prompting Democrats to employ a ‘budget reconciliation’ effort that would let them pass such a bill through the Senate by a simple majority in the 100-member chamber, instead of the 60 votes needed for most legislation.” Another Reuters article says “the US Senate could vote in the next few days on the $1tn infrastructure package”.

In other US news, the Hill says that “the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting an above-normal hurricane season in its mid-season update for the year”. It adds: “NOAA scientists say there is a 65% chance the 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through the end of November, will be above normal.” Another Hill article reports that “nearly 40 youth-led groups are calling on President Biden to ensure ‘bold’ climate investments in a letter released Wednesday”. It continues: “[They] said that Biden should ‘scale up’ funding for the Civilian Climate Corps to at least $60bn – Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for $10bn toward the program. The letter was signed by groups including the Sunrise Movement, the Sierra Student Coalition and NextGen America.”

Mediterranean has become a 'wildfire hotspot', EU scientists say
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that the “Mediterranean has become a wildfire hotspot, with Turkey hit by its most intense blazes on record and a heatwave producing a high risk of further fires and smoke pollution around the region”. This is according to the European Union’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS), says the newswire. It adds: “CAMS said the hot and dry conditions had hiked the danger of further fires, although high temperatures alone do not trigger wildfires because they need a source of ignition. CAMS monitors wildfires through satellites and ground-based observation statements, and said the emissions and intensity of wildfires are rapidly increasing in Turkey and Southern Italy. In Turkey, a key metric of fire intensity – the ‘fire radiative power’, which measures energy produced from burning trees and other matter – reached the highest daily values since data records began in 2003.” Politico also covers the story, saying: “While CAMS said that high temperatures were not the sole trigger for the wildfires, as they require a source of ignition, it noted that the current heat waves “provide the perfect grounds for fires to spread”. Scientists say climate change is making such extreme weather more likely, and a major United Nations report, to be released Monday, is expected to draw even clearer conclusions about the relationship between the two.“ The Independent says the wildfire situation in Greece “has been made worse as temperatures have risen to around 45C as the region experiences some of the hottest conditions in Europe amid one of the longest heatwaves in 30 years”. The Financial Times says that Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been criticised over his government’s response to what he called the worst fires in the nation’s history: “Turkey is the only G20 nation to refuse to ratify the Paris agreement on climate change. ‘The failure to ratify the climate change accords is part of the government’s regard for the environment as something to be exploited, rather than protected,’ said Saruhan Oluc, a lawmaker in parliament’s second-biggest opposition group, the People’s Democratic party. ‘A lack of preparation, including having aircraft, and negligence is to blame for the scale of this disaster.’” The Financial Times has also published a “big read” news feature which includes interviews with a wide range of climate scientists, headlined: “Fires and floods: can science link extreme weather to climate change?”

Separately, BBC News covers a new study published in Nature which “shows that the percentage of the global population at risk from flooding has risen by almost a quarter since the year 2000”. The broadcaster adds: “Satellite images were used to document the rise, which is far greater than had been predicted by computer models. The analysis shows that migration and a growing number of flood events are behind the rapid increase. By 2030, millions more will experience increased flooding due to climate and demographic change, the authors say.” The Guardian also covers the study. And NK News reports that “major flooding washed away homes, roads and bridges along North Korea’s east coast in recent days, according to NK News analysis of satellite imagery, as DPRK state television said that some areas have already seen over 580mm of rain (23 inches)”.

UK: Labour calls for ‘hard-edged’ end date for oil and gas exploration
The Guardian Read Article

There is continuing coverage across the UK media of parallel trips to Scotland by both the prime minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Kier Starmer. The Guardian quotes Starmer telling journalists in Glasgow: “We’ve got to try to create a timetable for [the cessation of oil and gas exploration in the North Sea]. It’s got to be subject to consensus and agreement, and we have got to bring communities with us. Otherwise there’ll be a disconnect between the obligations that we’ve got to fulfil in order to deal with the climate crisis and the communities that are going to be most deeply affected.” He revealed that Labour would not support the proposed Cambo oilfield development 77 miles north-west of Shetland. The Guardian adds: “[The] comments came as the Labour party laid out plans for £30bn in green spending to support as many as 400,000 new jobs which would help tackle the climate emergency and boost economic growth.” The Daily Record quotes Starmer saying: “[COP26] is probably one of the most critical conferences I think we’ve seen in a very, very long time. We need leadership like never before. It’s national diplomacy, the ability to bring countries together in a coalition, which are characteristics and skills I don’t see in our prime minister, who’s got the opposite reputation.” BBC News reports that Starmer says the government’s record on creating green jobs shows a “chasm between soundbites and action”. Starmer is quoted as also saying: “They have quietly been unpicking and dropping critical commitments when it comes to the climate crisis and the future economy. It’s particularly concerning when it comes to COP26.”

Meanwhile, BBC Scotland carries the video of a 19-minute interview with Johnson in which he says that both Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon and Wales’s first minister Mark Drakeford would be involved in COP26 and will have a “huge role” to play. He did not specify what the roles would be. The Times picks up the story saying that “Johnson has extended an olive branch to Nicola Sturgeon by offering her a role in COP26, after having said that the first minister should be barred from the climate conference”. It quotes him telling BBC Scotland: “Every part of the UK is now working together. What we’ve got to do is, we’ve got to lead the world to get everybody to commit to net-zero by 2050. I hope very much that the first minister, along with all her colleagues around the UK, at whatever level in government, will evangelise, will exhort everybody that she represents and they represent to do the needful.” Former UK chief climate negotiator and scientific advisor Sir David King tells the i newspaper that COP26 should “continue without the public present” to prevent Glasgow becoming “a global spreader of Covid-19”. The Press Association reports that “the head of Scotland’s police force has welcomed confirmation from Boris Johnson that the Government will cover the cost of policing the COP26 climate”. And another Press Association article says that Johnson and Starmer will separately visit renewable energy projects in Scotland today.

UK's last coal-fired power plant to close in September 2024

Edie reports that “Uniper has announced plans to end generation at its coal-fired Ratcliffe-on-Soar power plant in September 2024, a month before the UK government’s legal requirement to do so”. It adds: “The Nottinghamshire-based plant has four 500MW units. Under Uniper’s plans, one will come offline in September 2022 and the remaining three will be taken offline two years later. Ratcliffe-on-Soar will be the UK’s last coal-fired power plant. EDF, which owns and operates the West Burton A plant in Nottinghamshire, is planning to close the facility by September 2022, while coal generation at Drax’s facility in Selby, North Yorkshire, will be closed by the same date but sooner if possible. These, at present, are the UK’s last three coal plants.”

In other UK news, BBC News reports that petrol prices have reached an eight-year high after nine straight months of rises, according to the RAC. The broadcaster adds: “The [motoring] group said the average price of a litre of petrol is now 135.13p, a level not seen since September 2013, as rising oil prices push up fuel costs.” It quotes RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams: “Prices really are only going one way at the moment – and that’s not the way drivers want to see them going.” The Daily Telegraph also covers the story: “Brent crude stands at just under $72 a barrel after having touched $78 in recent weeks. At the start of the year, oil was just above $50 and was even lower for much of 2020.”

Meanwhile, another Daily Telegraph article reports that “hydrogen for home heating could cause four times as many explosions and injuries than gas boilers, according to a government-backed study”. And another Daily Telegraph article claims that a gas boiler ban would be “bad news for households who [would] face higher costs”. The Guardian says that “national parks supposedly at the heart of efforts to tackle the climate crisis and boost nature are dominated by intensively managed grouse moors, according to new research”. It quotes Guy Shrubsole, policy and campaigns coordinator for Rewilding Britain, which produced the research: “With over three-quarters of a million acres of our national parks devoted to driven grouse moors, the parks are being held back from tackling Britain’s collapsing biodiversity and the climate emergency.” And, finally, BBC Wales reports that “plans to build 20,000 low-carbon social homes for rent in Wales by 2026 have been set out by the Welsh government’s climate change minister”.

Zhang Xiliang: Future scale of China’s carbon market may exceed 7bn tonnes; carbon price still has room to grow
China News Service Read Article

An expert on China’s carbon market says he expected the national emission trading scheme (ETS) – which regulates only the electricity industry now – to cover more than 7bn tonnes of CO2 emissions every year when it finishes expanding. Prof Zhang Xiliang, who led the overall technical design of the national ETS, made the comments to China News Agency, a state-run newswire. He told the newswire that the ETS would eventually extend to cover other industries, such as iron and steel, construction materials, petroleum, chemical and non-ferrous metals. He also said that the country’s current carbon pricing was “effective”, the outlet says.

Meanwhile, state-run China Energy News reports that China’s social and economic development will be “inseparable” from coal for “quite a long time in the future” due to the country’s “endowment of resources” and “the stage” of its development. The outlet cites Prof Xie Heping from the Chinese Academy of Engineering. S&P Global Platts reports that China’s cuts on steel output are expected to continue in the second half of 2021 and even into 2022. It comes after CNBC reported on Monday that China’s steel production was “likely to be lower” in the second half of 2021, but pushing it below 2020 levels might be “a challenge”, according to “analysts”.

Moreover, Shanghai-based the Paper reports that the National Forestry and Grassland Administration (NFGA) has established a 15-member expert advisory committee to guide its work on climate change. Finally, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reports that a hydrogen tank exploded in the courtyard of a “speciality enterprise” in Shenyang in eastern China’s Liaoning province yesterday. The official outlet says that the blast caused “thick smoke”. The report does not mention any casualties.

Comment.

Political inaction is dragging the UK deeper into the climate crisis
Henry Mance, Financial Times Read Article

Financial Times columnist Henry Mance says the contrast between the words of politicians about the need to tackle climate change and their actual actions is “infuriating”. He continues: “In what sense is the UK government, or any other government, treating climate as an emergency? Where are the stark press conferences, the appeals to solidarity? Imagine calling out the fire brigade to a blaze, then watching them sit around discussing how first to rescue a cat from a nearby rooftop. That is where we are…Johnson’s ambivalence explains the hesitancy of the Treasury, which wants to know how net-zero will be paid for. Economists can come up with neat environmental incentives, but politicians need to buy into them. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is a fiscal conservative inclined to limit borrowing after the coronavirus splurge. At least a few Tory MPs want to go even slower. Steve Baker, the backbencher who helped to scupper Theresa May’s Brexit deal, rails against the ‘cost of net-zero’. This ignores the cost of inaction, and so is just the latest variant of climate denialism. The risk is that Johnson becomes intimidated by a guerrilla campaign, even though it’s out of tune with the public. Before the pandemic, and again now, the environment is among British voters’ top three concerns, above immigration…Our best hope is that the pandemic and climate action become part of the same story – of how our ingenuity overcame prevarication. But that won’t happen if politicians keep treating the climate as just one more policy silo.”

Meanwhile, in the Evening Standard, former political editor of the Sun Tom Newton Dunn argues that COP26 is “already in deep trouble”. He explains: “From deciding the date on which to close all coal-fired power stations to determining when petrol and diesel vehicles must be replaced, every attempt this year to pin something down [as something to be agreed at COP26] has failed. The G7 summit in June, also hosted by Johnson, did not change matters. World leaders’ eyes are elsewhere as they battle their own Covid pandemics and spiralling deficits…Johnson is still unable to show a strong enough lead on these matters in Britain for the rest of the world to follow. His heat and buildings strategy to replace 25m gas boilers, his hydrogen strategy and the plan to build an electric car-charging network are all many months late. As the delay goes on, more unconvinced Tory MPs whip themselves into a lather about how much this will all cost consumers…I understand an intense debate is now raging within No 10 on what to do about all this, and how high a bar should the PM set for COP26.”

In the Daily Mail, columnist Stephen Glover spends a full page raging about “Boris Johnson’s green guru Allegra Stratton and the hypocrisy of her sermons about our dishwashers”. He says: “I believe almost everyone accepts the reality of climate change, though there is room for discussion about whether all of it is attributable to man-made emissions. The evidence of rising temperatures and more frequent flooding is overwhelming. But most people don’t want to be panicked into an instant and expensive upheaval in their lives by a government that hasn’t properly considered the consequences.” In the i newspaper, housing correspondent Vicky Spratt has a feature headlined: “UK flooding and extreme weather show our homes will need to change to withstand climate change.” And the Guardian has published a letter by Mel Evans, head of oil and gas transition at Greenpeace UK, who says: “The oil industry is blocking climate action. The government has failed to set a clear path for the phasedown of oil and gas production.”

The era of loss and damage from climate change is upon us
Dr Saleemul Huq, The Bangladesh Daily Star Read Article

Writing in the Bangladesh Daily Star, Dr Saleemul Huq, who is the director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the Independent University, says: “At the global level, although there has been some progress on discussing the topic of loss and damage from climate change in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – such as the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) on Loss and Damage set up in COP19 and the inclusion of loss and damage in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement – there has not been sufficient actions to assist countries to deal with the reality of human-induced climate change impacts…[But] waiting until COP26 will be too late – there are a few ideas that all countries must consider now and take forward seriously over the remaining months until COP26…One way to take this issue forward seriously, up to and beyond COP26, would be for the UK to appoint a special envoy for loss and damage who could talk to all parties prior to the COP in order to find practical ways forward.”

In the Guardian, writer Hamilton Nolan argues: “Of course we need a price on carbon. Of course we need extremely strict emissions regulations, massive green energy investments, and a maniacal focus on sustainability fierce enough to radically change a society that is built to promote unlimited consumption. But, to be honest, there is little indication that we will get those things any time soon. The path we are on, still, is not one that leads to a happy ending. Rather, it is one that leads to the last billionaire standing on dry land blasting off in his private rocket as the rest of us drown in rising seas. Capitalism is a machine made to squeeze every last cent out of this planet until there is nothing left. We can either fool ourselves about that until it kills us, or we can change it.”

Finally, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal argues that “the Senate’s 2,700-page infrastructure bill is a major step toward climate central planning”. It adds: “The Senate bill is a great leap forward for progressive ambitions to use central planning to re-engineer the electrical grid and banish carbon from the US economy. The bill helps this political medicine go down by offering large subsidies that have co-opted the business lobbies…The political genius of this bill is that it uses the label of ‘infrastructure’, which is popular, to disguise its much larger ambition of transforming the US energy economy. With the help of Senate Republicans, the green new deal is well underway.”

Science.

Thresholds of temperature change for mass extinctions
Nature Communications Read Article

Global warming of 5.2C above pre-industrial levels “would likely result in mass extinction” of marine animals, a new study suggests, even without other human-caused impacts. The researchers analyse magnitudes and rates of temperature change and extinction rates of marine fossils through the past 450m years. They find that major mass extinctions “can be linked to thresholds in climate change (warming or cooling) that equate to magnitudes >5.2C and rates >10C” per million years.

Satellite imaging reveals increased proportion of population exposed to floods
Nature Read Article

The proportion of the global population exposed to floods increased by 20-24% over 2000-15, a new study says – “10 times higher than previous estimates”. The researchers use daily satellite imagery at 250-metre resolution to estimate flood extent and population exposure for 913 large flood events from 2000 to 2018. The study finds that the total population in locations with satellite-observed flooding grew by 58-86m from 2000 to 2015. An accompanying News & Views notes that “the number of people exposed to floods is likely to continue to increase more quickly than the overall population in 59 countries, mostly in Asia and Africa”. The study also features in a Nature podcast.

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.