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Daily Briefing

12.03.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Electric cars and carbon capture get boost in UK budget
Electric cars and carbon capture get boost in UK budget

News.

Electric cars and carbon capture get boost in UK budget

There is widespread coverage of new UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s first budget. Bloomberg reports that he allocated funds to support electric cars and carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), moves that it says “add[ed] a green theme to a budget that also set out £27bn for building roads”. Bloomberg quotes Sunak saying: “The fourth part of our plan for prosperity, is to create the high skill, high wage, low-carbon jobs of the future.” It lists other measures for green industries as including £800m for CCS, a “green gas levy” to fund use of biomethane in the gas grid, an extension to and then replacement of the “Renewable Heat Incentive” to support heat pumps and biomass boilers, and an extra year of funding for heat networks. The Financial Times describes the funding for CCS as a “green boost”, but notes that it is “less than a previous £1bn pot of money that was suddenly withdrawn by former chancellor George Osborne in 2015”. It adds that the budget included measures to change the way business use of electricity and gas are taxed, favouring cleaner electricity. Another Financial Times piece reports that electric-car subsidies were extended as part of what it calls a “£1.3bn green vehicles drive”. This includes extending purchase-price subsidies for EVs by three years and “a boost for charging stations”, the FT says, adding that the budget also announced a review of using vehicle excise duty (“road tax”) to drive sales of lower-emitting vehicles. The paper notes that Sunak also froze fuel duty for a 10th year.

The Guardian reports that the UK government “took its first small steps towards tackling carbon emissions from the most polluting sectors of the economy”, with measures on CCS, EVs and low-carbon heating. A second Guardian article reports that the chancellor used his budget to say that flood defence spending “will be doubled”. An article for the i newspaper describes the green-gas levy as a “boiler tax” that will “curb carbon emissions [and] make gas bills more expensive”. Another piece in the i newspaper reports that the fuel-duty freeze was accompanied by a move to close the “red diesel tax ‘loophole’”, under which some industries are able to use diesel at a significantly reduced rate of duty. It adds that “farmers will be exempt”. A Reuters news brief notes that the budget froze the UK’s top-up carbon price support for another year, leaving it at £18 per tonne of CO2 during 2021-22. Budget coverage from New Scientist notes the Treasury’s promise yesterday to launch “further climate policy measures” over the coming months ahead of the UK hosting the COP26 UN climate summit in November.

BusinessGreen says the budget promised “green R&D and [an] infrastructure blitz” as part of government attempts to live up to a promise “to be the first in history to leave our natural environment in a better state than we found it”. It reports: “The chancellor also hinted that further green infrastructure and R&D plans would be announced as part of the delayed National Infrastructure Strategy and this autumn’s spending review.” BBC News reports “mixed reaction on environmental issues”, saying that the budget has “simultaneously pleased and infuriated environmentalists by promising long-awaited green measures whilst expanding roads and freezing fuel duty”. It refers to new Carbon Brief analysis showing the decade-long freeze has left UK CO2 emissions as much as 5% higher than they would have been if planned increased had gone ahead. A Times article on the green parts of the budget runs under the headline: “Budget 2020: Sunak fails to lead way on climate change.” It notes that the budget was “touted in advance as the ‘greenest ever’”, but says it “failed to live up to expectations”. The Independent reports under a headline saying the “budget endangers net-zero”. Carbon Brief has an in-depth summary of all the key climate and energy points from the budget. (See below for editorials and op-eds reacting to the budget.)

Bloomberg Read Article
Call to cancel new coal plants worldwide as renewables ‘out-compete’ on cost

The companies developing new coal-fired power stations around the world “risk wasting hundreds of billions of pounds as new renewables are now cheaper”, the Press Association reports, picking up new findings from thinktank Carbon Tracker. The findings show wind and solar are already cheaper “in all major markets from the US to Europe, China, India and Australia”, PA says. It adds: “And it could be cheaper to generate electricity by building new renewable facilities than to run existing coal-fired power stations in all markets by 2030, the researchers predict.” Reuters also reports the findings, saying nearly $640bn of investment in new coal is at risk because it is undercut by cheaper renewables. It continues: “More than 60% of global coal plants are currently generating electricity at a higher cost than could be produced by building new renewables. By 2030 at the latest, it will be cheaper to build new wind or solar capacity than continue operating coal in all markets, the report said.” The Guardian also reports the findings, saying they “rais[e] fresh doubt about viability of Australia’s thermal coal export industry”. A related comment for Bloomberg Opinion by Clara Ferreira Marques points to Vietnam, seen as a key growth market for coal, but now “turning away from the fossil fuel”. She writes: “Battered in green-minded Europe, thermal coal producers have been leaning instead on appetite from fast-expanding emerging economies, particularly in Southeast Asia. A change of direction in Vietnam suggests that support may be fading.”

Press Association via ITV News Read Article
Polar ice caps melting six times faster than in 1990s

Ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica are melting six times faster than in the 1990s, the Guardian says, reporting the findings of what it calls “the most complete analysis to date”. It adds: “The ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica is tracking the worst-case climate warming scenario set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists say.” BBC News also has the story, which it says is based on “a comprehensive review of satellite data acquired at both poles”. It adds that the review is “unequivocal in its assessment of accelerating trends”, noting: “Between them, Greenland and Antarctica lost 6.4 trillion tonnes of ice in the period from 1992 to 2017. This was sufficient to push up global sea-levels up by 17.8mm.” BBC News quotes one of the scientists behind the study explaining: “Today, the ice sheets contribute about a third of all sea-level rise, whereas in the 1990s, their contribution was actually pretty small at about 5%.” The i newspaper and MailOnline also have the story.

The Guardian Read Article
'We will not fight climate change with a virus': UN chief warns both climate and coronavirus emergencies 'must be defeated'

Climate change poses a greater long-term threat than the coronavirus pandemic and leaders should not be “diverted away from climate action” by the crisis, UN secretary general has warned at the launch of the World Meteorological Organization’s latest statement on the state of the global climate, BusinessGreen reports. However, it adds that Guterres “rejected suggestions the escalating coronavirus outbreak could provide a silver lining for the climate in the form of lower greenhouse gas emissions this year”. It quotes him saying: “We will not fight climate change with a virus.” USA Today also reports on the launch. Separately, Reuters reports that the coronavirus outbreak is “making already complex efforts to speed up action on climate change more challenging”, according to the UK’s Prince Charles.

Meanwhile, there is continued coverage of the coronavirus pandemic and what it might mean for climate change, including via the related collapse in oil prices, with Reuters reporting that the US Energy Information Administration has “slashe[d] global oil demand outlook as virus spreads”. InsideClimate News says the coronavirus outbreak is “really not the way you want to decrease emissions”. Another article for Reuters says that climate commitments from banks, pension funds and asset managers “face their first major test as markets reel from the twin shocks of coronavirus and a sliding oil price”. It continues: “When the 2008 financial crisis tipped the world into recession, carbon emissions fell. But as economies grew again, governments proved unable to halt an emissions rebound.” Axios asks what the oil market’s collapse means for the climate, noting how the economic fallout is “slashing CO2 emissions over the near term but for tragic reasons”. It adds: “There’s also reason to think the price crash could be irrelevant or even supportive of clean energy, in part because it’s part of a wider economic shock.” Writing for Bloomberg Opinion, David Fickling says cheap oil “won’t reverse decarbonisation, but a lot depends on what kind of stimulus China deploys”. Another Axios piece says the White House is considering financial support for shale firms struggling due to the oil price collapse. (Politico reports that this move is facing “political headwinds”.)

Separately, another Reuters article says the coronavirus crisis has prompted climate campaigner Greta Thunberg to call for the weekly “Fridays for Future” rallies to move online, rather than gathering in person. Climate Home News says the UN has delayed talks on a global treaty to protect ocean biodiversity. And the New York Times reports that an Arctic research voyage has been affected by coronavirus, after a team member that had been scheduled to fly to the vessel tested positive. And Sky News carries an “exclusive” interview with Sir David Attenborough where he speaks of his “desperate hopes” that COP26 in Glasgow is not blown off course by the coronavirus crisis.

BusinessGreen Read Article
Weakened Amazon rainforest facing collapse within 50 years

The Times reports that “the Amazon rainforest could collapse within 50 years because it has been weakened by deforestation and fires, scientists say”. It adds that other natural systems such as coral reefs “are much more vulnerable to rapid decline when placed under stress than previously thought”. The Daily Mirror also reports on what it describes as a “crucial tipping point” for the Amazon. It adds: “The 2.1 million square mile Amazon rainforest could shift to ‘a savannah-type ecosystem with a mix of trees and grass’ in just 49 years.” Carbon Brief published a detailed explainer on such climate “tipping points” last month.

The Times Read Article
Dead meat: Industry faces 'ruin' if slow on adapting to climate change

Investors are calling for the world’s meat industry to adapt to the challenges posed by climate change and growing demand for plant-based alternatives, Reuters reports. It says the FAIRR Initiative investor group, with $20tn in assets under management, found only two of 43 listed meat companies had “publicly disclosed a climate-related scenario analysis”. BusinessGreen also reports the news, saying the meat industry has its “head in the sand” over climate risks.

Reuters Read Article

Comment.

The UK budget missed a critical opportunity to go green

A number of commentators and editorials pass judgement on the UK’s first budget since the country committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Writing in the Financial Times, Sarah Gordon, chief executive of the Impact Investing Institute, says the budget “was not a sustainable one”, adding that it “missed an opportunity to address other areas critical to UK wellbeing”. Gordon points to measures the chancellor could have introduced, such as making it compulsory for companies “to report on the social and environmental impact in areas material to their business”. She also argues the government should have issued a “‘transition’ sovereign bond” to fund the shift to a net-zero economy. An editorial in the Times points to various climate measures, but adds: “this budget had little to say on the tough decisions facing the government on how to achieve its legally mandated target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050”. In the Financial Times, columnist Martin Wolf says: “[P]erhaps the striking feature of the budget is its timidity on carbon taxation and indeed any other important aspect of fiscal reform. One must hope that Mr Sunak bends his mind to these crucial issues more boldly in his second budget, in the autumn.”

An editorial in the Independent says: “The Tories have recognised the public spending crisis – and ignored the climate crisis.” It argues: “[T]he chancellor could not disguise his failure to deal with the transcendent question of climate change.” An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says of the tenth year of frozen fuel duty: “The freeze in duties on spirits, beer and – yet again – fuel is welcome, though at some point the government will have to say how it plans to reach its carbon targets without increasing taxes on petrol and diesel.” The Sun editorial says: “New roads and cheaper petrol won’t please eco campaigners, but there was also major investment in electric vehicle grants and charging, a plastic packaging tax and a big tree-planting programme.” An editorial in the Daily Express (not yet online) says: “[Sunak] was right too not to be lured by the climate change fanatics into raising that most pernicious of taxes by unfreezing fuel duty which would hurt families.” Writing for the Times Red Box, Rachel Reeves, Labour chair of parliament’s business select committee, says the budget was a “missed opportunity” on climate change. She says: “Ahead of the COP26 conference later this year, the chancellor should have seized the chance for Britain to take a leading global role in fighting the climate emergency. Instead, he showed this is still a greenwash government when it comes to the environment as he unveiled plans to spend £27bn on building 4,000 miles of roads and £2.7bn on another fuel duty freeze.”

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Freddie Sayers, executive editor of website Unherd, says: “More than any other area, the environmental measures [in the budget] showcased the Johnsonian delight in facing both ways. Viewed from one angle, it was an unimpeachably green agenda – a promised tax hike on gas, an end to the red-diesel rebate (except for farmers of course, who get special treatment) and masses of spending on new green technologies like carbon capture. But not only does fuel remain frozen for a tenth consecutive year, money will pour into roads at such a rate that Britain begins to sound like one big American-style superhighway.” Another Daily Telegraph comment from climate sceptic Sherelle Jacobs argues: “We need to redirect university financing away from climate change predictive modelling, into the scientifically uncontested problem of pandemics.” BusinessGreen editor James Murray argues the budget “provides a down payment on a net-zero future”, saying “critics are right to highlight the many gaps”, but that “the budget needs to be seen as part of an evolving and genuinely ambitious strategy”.

Guardian environment editor Damian Carrington writes under the headline: “Road to hell: budget tarmacs over climate ambition.” He says chancellor Rishi Sunak “fail[ed] to even mention energy efficiency, the no-brainer climate policy” and points to plans for a major road-building programme, arguing: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and in his budget the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, headed off down the motorway towards climate catastrophe, all the while proclaiming his intention to protect the environment.” Carrington also writes: “Worse, Sunak flunked a golden opportunity to end the decade-long freeze on fuel duty that has pushed up traffic and pollution and suppressed bus and train travel. The oil price is now plummeting; even if the duty had been raised, drivers might not have seen any change in the price at the pump.” Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey says the budget is a “missed chance to lead on [the] climate crisis”, pointing to a lack of measures to address the energy efficiency of the UK’s “heat-leaking housing”. In the Independent, Luke Murphy says in his budget “Sunak has pulled his punches over the climate crisis”. Writing in the i newspaper, James Dyke says: “From the fuel-duty freeze to roads investment, Rishi Sunak prioritised the economy over climate change.” Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit head of analysis Jonathan Marshall writes that the budget “[got] stuff done, except net-zero”, adding that “all focus is now on the impending [national] infrastructure plan”. Writing in BusinessGreen, the Aldersgate Group’s Nick Molho says UK innovation policy “must match the scale of the net-zero challenge”. BusinessGreen carries reaction to the budget from the “green economy”.

Sarah Gordon, Financial Times Read Article

Science.

The fate of tropical forest fragments

New research into forest fragmentation suggests that smaller fragments of old-growth forests and protected areas experience greater tree loss than larger fragments. The findings, collected over 2001-18, reflect “higher land use pressures and improved access for resource extraction and/or conversion in smaller fragments”, the authors say. They also note: “Large remaining forest fragments are found in the Amazon and Congo Basins and Insular Southeast Asia, with the majority of large extent/low loss fragments located in the Amazon. Tropical areas without large fragments, including Central America, West Africa, and mainland Southeast Asia, have higher loss within and outside of protected areas.”

Science Advances Read Article
Ten years after Copenhagen: Reimagining climate change governance in urban areas

A new review paper takes stock “of the last decade of research on climate change governance in urban areas since the 2009 conference in Copenhagen”. Systematically evaluating academic publications in the field, the researchers argue that current research has been shaped by two recent waves of thought – “urban optimism” and “urban pragmatism”. The researchers identify four themes that “dominate the debate”, including: “Why there is climate action, how climate action is delivered, how it is articulated in relation to internationally reaching networks, and what implications it has to understand environmental or climate justice within urban settings.”

WIREs Climate Change Read Article

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