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Daily Briefing

27.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Earth will warm by 2.7C under pledges made ahead of COP26
Earth will warm by 2.7C under pledges made ahead of COP26

News.

Earth will warm by 2.7C under pledges made ahead of COP26
New Scientist Read Article

There is extensive coverage across international media of the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) new emissions gap report. New Scientist leads on the key conclusion that the planet will still warm by 2.7C above pre-industrial levels even under the new pledges made by countries ahead of the COP26 climate summit. The science magazine calls this “a disastrous level that would drive devastating flooding, heatwaves and the risk of dangerous tipping points”. It notes that adding up government climate plans and pledges shows they are estimated to reach 4bn fewer tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) from annual emissions in 2030 than the original plans, which date back to the time of the Paris Agreement. However, the article adds that to stand a chance of staying under 1.5C of warming, the stretch goal of the international agreement, would require emissions in 2030 to be 28bn tonnes lower than what current commitment deliver. The Guardian also leads its coverage on the expected temperature rise under current pledges, noting that the world has failed to to “build back better” after Covid-19, with only around a fifth of recovery spending geared to efforts that would cut emissions. The newspaper reports that UN secretary-general António Guterres called the findings a “thundering wake up call” to world leaders, “while experts called for drastic action against fossil fuel companies”. The New York Times notes that the temperature estimate “assumes every country actually follows through on its promises,” noting that “many governments still haven’t put in place policies or laws to achieve their stated near-term goals,” according to the report. Reuters states that G20 countries, which represent 80% of global emissions, “are not on track to achieve their original or new 2030 pledges”. According to BBC News, the report also examines the 50 countries, plus the EU, that have pledged a mid-century net-zero target, concluding that these plans “could shave 0.5C off the temperature rise by 2100”. However, it adds that the problem “is that many of these net-zero goals are ambiguous”. The Financial Times notes that the report coms after “a flurry of new climate pledges in the past week, including from fossil fuel exporters Saudi Arabia and Australia”. Carbon Brief has also covered the report in detail, including a range of interactive charts.

The Financial Times also has an interactive piece looking at “how every country’s emissions and climate pledges compare”.

Separately, according to Reuters, the UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative has issued a report for the G20 group of major economies as it meets ahead of the COP26 summit, urging them to ensure net-zero commitments made by financial institutions are robust, backed by science and include ending financing for new fossil fuel projects. The newswire notes that this is the first time the body has directly given guidance on this issue. Additionally, the Financial Times reports that former US vice-president Al Gore and financier David Blood have set up a new asset manager that they say will prioritise addressing climate change instead of short-term financial returns and therefore turn the traditional investment model “on its head”. The i newspaper has a piece on “why investment giants must get on with making a real difference to the planet”.

Following news from earlier this week about richer nations are failing to meet their pledge to scale up international climate finance to poorer countries, the Guardian reports on a new report that finds lower income countries spend five times more on debt than coping with the impact of climate change and cutting emissions. Carbon Brief‘s analysis published on Monday notes how much of the finance that is given to poorer nations comes in the form of additional loans.

Meanwhile, DeSmog covers a report by a group of NGOs that finds the climate plans set out by a selection of major polluters, including BP and Microsoft, are “lacking because of their heavy reliance on ‘net-zero’ strategies that presume that the institutions can continue emitting greenhouse gases as long as they are someday actively removed from the atmosphere”.

China issues plan for path to peak emissions and carbon neutral goal
South China Morning Post Read Article

China has released a framework for its path towards peak emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060 ahead of COP26, according to the South China Morning Post. The state council issued the action plan, including the share of non-fossil fuels in energy consumption to reaching 25% by 2030, with targeted drop of 65% in carbon intensity from 2005 level, it reports. The piece adds that while this is not China’s new climate pledge under the Paris Agreement, the country is expected to submit its updated nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the UN this week. CNN notes that China also aims to have its total installed capacity of wind and solar power reach more than 1,200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030. Sky News and the Financial Times also have the story.

During a phone call on Tuesday, Reuters reports that French president Emmanuel Macron asked China’s president Xi Jinping to send the world a “decisive signal” on climate change ahead of COP26, including progress toward ending the nation’s reliance on coal. Another Reuters piece states that the EU’s climate policy chief Frans Timmermans will meet China’s top climate envoy Xie Zhenhua face-to-face for the first time on Wednesday “ahead of the COP26 summit, as pressure grows for tougher action to curb global warming”.

Meanwhile, as the summit approaches, news continues to trickle in about other countries making climate commitments, with Reuters reporting that Brazil’s top climate negotiator says his country will bring its net-zero target forward from 2060 to 2050. The newswire notes that Brazil is also expected to raise its target for reducing emissions by 2030, compared to 2005 levels, from 43% to 45%. Another Reuters story reports that Southeast Asian nations are speeding up their plans to transmit renewable energy through a proposed regional power grid, with first trials set for 2022, ahead of COP26. The Guardian has a piece reporting on how the Australian government’s 2050 new net-zero pledge was reported around the world.

UK: Government’s net-zero strategy ‘major step forward’ on climate action – advisers
Press Association Read Article

The UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) has called the UK government’s net-zero plan a “major step forward”, the Press Association reports via the Belfast Telegraph. The CCC has released an assessment of the government’s strategy, calling it an “achievable and affordable plan that would bring jobs, investment and wider benefits to the UK”, according to the newspaper. The newswire adds: “The committee said the net zero strategy put the UK on a pathway to meet its commitment under the global Paris climate treaty to cut emissions by 68% by 2030, and was arguably the world’s most comprehensive plan to reach net zero emissions – representing a positive example to bring to COP26.” BusinessGreen adds that the CCC has called the plan a “genuine step forward”, but has urged ministers “to bridge gaps on behaviour change, agriculture, tax reform and public engagement”. The Guardian says that CCC chief executive Chris Stark called the plan “a big step forward”, but noted that it is “very market-led”. It adds that, according to the CCC, “much more action was needed to protect those on low incomes from the costs of going green”. It continues: “The CCC also said the strategy had ‘nothing to say’ on reducing the amount of meat and dairy people eat or on limiting growth in flying, which made hitting the climate targets more difficult and riskier…There is no specific plan for farming and land, which produces 10% of UK emissions, the CCC said. It said action was urgently needed, for example immediately ramping up woodland creation, which needs to triple to meet government targets.” BBC News quotes the CCC’s warning that “a ‘techno-centric’ approach to cutting emissions adopted by the prime minister has a high risk of failure” and that “many experts agree technology is needed but say behaviour must change too”. The Daily Telegraph also emphasises behaviour change, saying that according to the CCC, “persuading people to cut down on meat and flying should have been included in the Government’s climate change strategy”. Separately, the Press Association reports that SNP MP Alan Brown has said the UK government “should review energy grid charges in Scotland if it does not want to jeopardise its own net zero plans”.

UK to shut out China with revamped nuclear funding model
Financial Times Read Article

The UK’s “floundering” nuclear-power programme will see a new funding model employed that allows costs to be front-loaded onto consumer bills “as ministers look to bring in new investors and shut out Chinese companies to replace its ageing nuclear facilities,” the Financial Times reports. Following the cancellation of recent projects, the newspaper says that the government is hoping to attract investors from the UK, US and elsewhere before existing reactors go out of service by 2035. It notes that the new nuclear energy financing bill will use a model known as the regulated asset base (RAB), already used for other infrastructure projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Thames Tideway tunnel. The Times also has the story, focusing on efforts to “force out” the Chinese state-owned CGN group from its involvement in the £20bn Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk. The Guardian reports that the government said households “would not have to pay more than a few pounds a year extra on its bills,” but the proposed Sizewell C nuclear facility could save households more than £30bn over the facility’s lifetime. According to Bloomberg, nuclear power is far more expensive than offshore wind, but “having nuclear plants on the grid reduces the risk that the UK will burn fossil fuels when the wind doesn’t blow”. However, it adds that “construction of new nuclear power plants routinely run behind schedule, leaving consumers footing the bill even without the clean power”.

Ahead of today’s spending review, BusinessGreen has a piece by Heather McKay, a policy advisor at the environmental think tank E3G, in which she says that “a poor performance at the spending review by the chancellor will risk jeopardising COP26”. She notes that some business groups have called the “fundamental inconsistency” between the government’s net-zero promises and their spending commitments.

US: White House sets climate spending at up to $555bn
Politico Read Article

The White House has told its allies in the US Congress that climate change programmes in Democrats’ spending bill will range between $500-555bn, according to Politico, which cites “four sources familiar with the negotiations”. The news website states that while the “Democrats’ proposed system of payments and penalties to push power companies to increase renewable energy” will be left out, the plan will allow president Joe Biden to head to COP26 “with a framework for the largest-ever US investment in fighting climate change”. Passing legislation would also help the president meet his pledge to cut emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels this decade, it adds. Bloomberg notes that such an amount of money would make this “one of the biggest portions of a bill likely to top $1.5tn”. A Hill article includes some of the measures in the spending package, including grants, loans and tax credits for industrial decarbonisation, rooftop solar and electrification for houses, grants and loans for clean energy and efficiency at rural electric co-ops, and expanded grants and loans to help agriculture shift toward clean energy. Meanwhile, Reuters has an explainer on how Democratic senator Joe Manchin “has leveraged his party’s slim majority in Congress to reshape President Joe Biden’s spending bill, slashing its initial price tag of $3.5tn and blocking policy proposals on climate and social programmes”.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau has carried out a major cabinet shuffle, appointing long-time green activist Steven Guilbeault as the environment minister.

Guardian article based on a new YouGov poll commissioned by the Guardian, Vice News and Covering Climate Now finds that nearly two in three US Republicans believe oil and gas companies “are at least somewhat responsible for the climate crisis – but they don’t want to keep these companies accountable”.

Separately, a Financial Times article examines how rising energy prices in the US are creating a “dilemma” for the Biden administration. It notes that, on Thursday, chief executives of large oil companies are scheduled to testify before Congress “in a hearing at which Democratic lawmakers will grill them about climate change”. However, the newspaper notes that Republican lawmakers “will use the virtual hearing as an opportunity to criticise what they contend is the Biden administration’s hostility to the domestic oil and gas industry — and responsibility for rising prices”.

Finally, Bloomberg reports that “the Western world’s biggest oil companies likely just generated more cash than at any time since the Great Recession” – with strong demand for crude oil, surging prices for natural gas and chemicals, and a rebound in the refining business all contributing.

Greta Thunberg to address climate campaigners at COP26 rally
Evening Standard Read Article

With less than a week to go until COP26, details continue to emerge about the event itself, with the Evening Standard among the publications reporting that Greta Thunberg will speak to tens thousands of climate campaigners at a rally in Glasgow during the summit. It notes that she will join Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines, Vanessa Nakate from Uganda and Scottish activist Darren McGarvey in addressing the rally on Saturday, 6 November – the middle weekend of the conference. Press Association also has the story.

Many publications, in the UK and abroad, including the Press Association, report the news that the Queen will be missing COP26, and has pulled out of hosting a major reception for world leaders for the event. New York Times and BBC News also have the story.

In an interview with BBC News that has been widely reported elsewhere, David Attenborough has said that when it comes to climate change, “every day that goes by in which we don’t do something about it is a day wasted”. As COP26 approaches, Reuters notes that the naturalist added it would be “really catastrophic” if richer nations failed to support poorer ones.

The Scotsman reports that, according to Scotland’s transport minister, the “signs are not optimistic” in preventing ScotRail staff from going on strike during COP26. Finally, the Press Association reports on comments from Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, who has said that COP26 in Glasgow “inevitably” poses a risk of increased coronavirus transmission.

In terms of the actual negotiations that the world is gathering in Glasgow for, Climate Home News reports that it “remains touch-and-go whether countries will be able to finalise rules for a new global carbon market”. The article notes that several experts told the news outlet that the chances of a deal on this issue at COP26 were 50-50, adding that carbon markets – which dominated the last climate talks in Madrid – have been highlighted as a priority by the UK presidency.

Climate activists 'occupy' London Science Museum over fossil fuel sponsorship
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Youth climate activists have “occupied” London’s Science Museum to protest its sponsorship deals with fossil fuel companies, the Daily Telegraph reports. UK Student Climate Network members said they were holding a candlelight vigil for “the victims of the museum’s fossil fuel sponsors: Shell, BP, Equinor and Adani”, the newspaper states. Press Association notes that the protest comes after the museum announced a new gallery – Energy Revolution: The Adani Green Energy Gallery – which is supported by a subsidiary of the Adani Group, a company involved in coal extraction and coal-fired power stations. BBC News also has the story, including interviews with some of the protesters.

Elsewhere, activists have disrupted a green finance summit in Paris, saying that French president Emmanuel Macron has failed to invest sufficiently in combating climate change and holding a banner reading “Macron: champion of fossil fuel finance”, according to Reuters. Finally, a piece in the Conversation is titled “young climate activists have far more power than they realise”.

Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that two Indigenous Torres Strait community leaders are taking the Australian government to the federal court, “alleging it failed to protect First Nations traditional owners living on the front line of catastrophic climate change”.

India's climate destiny depends upon negotiations in Glasgow
Business Standard Read Article

Business Standard in India reports that “so far, Indian ministers and officials have made it clear that the country cannot declare net zero, given the country’s development needs”, pointing out “it is not mandatory for India to update its NDCs till 2023”. It reports that India, “leading the group of Like-Minded Developing Countries, [is] planning to pursue the developed world to set up a fund for loss and damage caused due to the climate crisis”, and while historic polluters should lead financing, senior officials said “if we are asked to contribute, we will”. It quotes Harjeet Singh, climate impact expert and advisor at CAN International, who says “India should be more specific about the $2.5tn figure” mentioned in its 2030 pledge and “detail how much money is needed for mitigation, adaptation and addressing loss and damage”, as well as how much it will mobilise on its own versus international sources.

In a comment in the Hindu, T Jayaraman writes that “reaching net zero by itself is irrelevant to forestalling dangerous warming” and that “this is no more rocket science than saying the promise of when you will turn off the tap does not guarantee that you will draw only a specified quantity of water.” He points out that China, US and the EU “alone will exceed the limit of about 500bn tonnes from 2020 onwards, for even odds of keeping global temperature increase below 1.5C. With these committed emissions, there is no hope of ‘keeping 1.5C alive.’ The target is dead-on-arrival.” He continues to say that net-zero pledges “front-load emission reduction requirements on developing countries…to allow the developed world to backload its own, buying time for its own transition” and India pledging a net-zero target “would be to accede to further over-appropriation of the global carbon budget by a few”.

Writing in the New Yorker, author Raghu Karnad says that “if India’s call to leadership in the 20th century was decolonisation, in this century it is decarbonisation”. He writes about a “vexing policy landscape…beyond expanding solar farms…in which forest protections are being axed, new coalfields are opened to mining…a burgeoning clean-energy fund goes mostly unspent”, “college-age climate activists are jailed for sedition” and while “billionaire industrialists close to Modi speak ardently about green energy”, they “are regional fossil-fuel giants, with planned coal projects that threaten ecosystems as far away as the Great Barrier Reef.” Modi’s challenge, he writes, is to “turn the country’s hollow, histrionic debates over nationalism toward the real end of advancing national interest, survival, and renewal in ecological terms.”

Comment.

China will honour its climate pledges – look at the changes we have already made
Zheng Zeguang, The Guardian Read Article

Chinese ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian in which he says that “anxiety” over whether China will honour its pledges is “unnecessary”, adding: “Anyone who knows China well is sure that my country is serious about reducing carbon emissions and pursuing green development, and that we mean what we say.” He highlights the “lucid waters and lush mountains are mountains of gold and silver” idea proposed by president Xi Jinping [see Carbon Brief’s new analysis on nine key moments from the past two decades that have changed China’s mind on climate change], and adds that ecological conservation has been one of the “five prongs” of the country’s development since 2012. He also highlights China’s 2060 net-zero goal, the announcement that China will not build any more coal-fired power stations overseas and this month’s UN biodiversity conference in Kunming. Zenguang continues: “Something that the international community should recognise is that, for a developing country with a population of over 1.4 billion that has not completed industrialisation or urbanisation, the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the supporting policy measures that China has adopted voluntarily have not been easy. Developed countries with a couple of hundred years of industrialisation behind them and historical environmental debts should make bigger contributions to tackling pollution and protecting the environment, instead of pinning the responsibility on China and other developing countries.” He concludes that China and the UK should work together, saying: “The people in both countries stand to gain. So will all life on Earth.”

Separately, the Financial Times’ Latin America editor, Michael Stott, writes that “Mexico and Brazil have gone backwards on climate and energy policies at a crucial time”. He notes that the presidents of both countries will be absent from COP26, adding: “Deforestation in Brazil surged last year to its highest level in over a decade as Bolsonaro slashed environmental enforcement and encouraged development in the Amazon…In Mexico, López Obrador has spent billions of dollars building a giant oil refinery and boosting oil production.” However, he says the news from Latin America is “not all gloomy”, highlighting that Chile “stands out in particular” for its strong winds and its ambition to become a leading exporter of green hydrogen.

Meanwhile, Tristan Edis – the director of analysis and advisory at Green Energy Markets – has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian, calling the Australian government’s recent net-zero pledge “a plan to freeload off the rest of the world”. Edis says that although Morrison has confirmed a net zero pledge for 2050, the government “believes we’ll manage to reduce emissions to zero without implementing any legislation that either requires businesses to reduce their emissions or that of their products; or provides funding to pay these businesses to reduce their emissions at mass scale”, instead relying on households to reduce emissions as a result of their own “voluntary initiative” under the “technology not taxes” plan. He concludes: “The Morrison government is correct that even if they do nothing, Australia will still significantly reduce emissions from electricity and transport thanks to technological advancements driven by other nations. But for these technological advancements to transpire will require substantial investments and policies that will impose additional costs on these nations, at least in the short term.”

Finally, Martin Wolf – chief economics commentator at the Financial Times – discusses the Energy Transitions Commission’s report “Keeping 1.5C Alive: Closing the Gap in the 2020s”, which was published last month.

Science.

Increasing large wildfires over the western United States linked to diminishing sea ice in the Arctic
Nature Communications Read Article

A new study finds that declining Arctic sea ice could lead to more fire-favourable weather in the western US, driving an increase in autumn wildfires in the region. The authors use ​​observations, climate model sensitivity experiments and a multi-model ensemble of climate simulations to demonstrate “the Arctic-driven teleconnection through regional circulation changes with the poleward-shifted polar jet stream”. They conclude that declining Arctic sea ice over the past four decades has affected fire weather in the western US to a “similar magnitude” as “other leading modes of climate variability”, such as the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

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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.