Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Electricity bills could be slashed in green drive to ditch gas boilers
- US: Biden contemplates a climate deal with the ‘Trump of the tropics’
- Thousands march in France demanding real action on climate change
- Asian Development Bank plans exit from coal finance
- Sir David Attenborough to be green poster boy for COP26 climate summit
- China on track to reach peak coal use, coal-fired capacity and emissions by 2025: energy expert
- Australian taxpayers could save $7.8bn a year if diesel fuel rebates scheme was wound back
- Tea-growing areas to be badly hit if global heating intensifies
- Investing in coal power would be an expensive mistake
- All options, not silver bullets, needed to limit global warming to 1.5°C: a scenario appraisal
- Assessing the carbon dioxide balance of a degraded tropical peat swamp forest following multiple fire events of different intensities
The Daily Telegraph reports that the UK government is set to announce “within weeks” that “electricity bills could be slashed to persuade homeowners to abandon gas boilers by 2035 under green plans”. It adds: “Nearly a quarter of consumers’ bills currently cover taxes to pay for policies, including subsidies for renewable energy and fuel vouchers for poorer households. Ministers believe these additional costs are acting as a major barrier to get people to heat their homes on low carbon electricity alternatives such as heat pumps, at a time when gas prices are lower. The government wants heat pumps to replace 600,000 gas boilers every year from 2028, and will announce that costs will be removed from electricity in the coming years in its upcoming heat and buildings strategy…A consultation announced in the strategy will decide how much of the 23% of policy costs will be removed from electricity, and how the £10bn they bring in will be recouped by the Treasury. Options to recover the costs include transferring the levies directly to gas bills, or adding them to general taxation, but the government is likely to be wary of any policy that increases taxes or drives up fuel bills.”
In other UK news, the Sunday Times says that “the biggest tree-planting programme in 50 years is to be announced in an effort to meet climate targets”. In continues: “The plan, due to be published in the next fortnight, will double the planting of woodland within four years to almost 75,000 acres a year, or about 80m trees. By 2035, this will have to rise again to 143m new trees a year, covering almost 125,000 acres, to meet carbon emissions targets. The initial focus is cities and towns, with the government today announcing an ‘urban tree challenge fund’ that will see 44,000 trees planted near schools, hospitals and in deprived areas.” (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A about tree-planting in the UK.)
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that “Drax is poised to begin construction of the first of three new wood pellet plants in North America later this month, as the energy firm pushes forward with its plans to self-supply its biomass power operations in the UK”. The Times says that “offshore wind farm developers will be stripped of subsidy contracts if they fail to deliver on their promises to use British manufacturers, the government has confirmed”. Bloomberg notes that “National Grid is installing new technology on the UK network that will remove bottlenecks of renewable power and free up enough power to supply a million homes that would otherwise be wasted”. MailOnline says that the UK government has confirmed that, “in a step towards cutting down on landfill waste, every household in England will receive weekly food waste collections by 2023”. And the frontcover of the Times’s business section carries the news that “Tesco has been accused of trying to ‘legitimise late payment culture’ via a scheme which links the early settlement of its debts to asking suppliers to improve their green credentials”. It adds: “Britain’s biggest grocer said that suppliers would be offered ‘preferential financing rates’ on getting bills paid early if they reduce their carbon emissions and pursue ‘sustainability goals’.” Separately, ITV News reports that British retailers have halved their emissions since 2005, beating a target of a 25% cut.
Finally, following last Thursday’s election results, the Scottish edition of the Times reports that the “Scottish Greens have urged the SNP to wind down Scotland’s oil and gas sector as they open the door to a coalition government”. it adds: “Lorna Slater, the party’s co-leader, said that she was open to negotiations but that no approach had been made. Their increased number in Holyrood will give the Greens ‘significantly more influence’ over the SNP, she said, but one red line in any coalition would be the accelerated decommissioning of the oil and gas sector.” BBC News says that “Northern Ireland’s first ever climate bill will reach an important milestone on Monday as MLAs decide if it should progress”.
“Can [US president Joe Biden] cut a deal with the Brazilian leader whose allies are slashing and burning the Amazon?” So asks Politico in a feature which concludes that “Biden may have little choice but to try – despite warnings from US allies and activists inside and outside of Brazil that he cannot trust the ‘Trump of the tropics’.” The article continues: “Cutting a climate bargain with Bolsonaro is a politically and ethically fraught bargain for any American president to contemplate. Still, Bolsonaro holds the keys to 60% of the Amazon, a crucial resource that absorbs 5% of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. Unless Kerry can find a way to save the Amazon, whose forests shrank 4,000 square miles between August 2019 and July 2020 in Brazil alone, there may be little chance that the world will reach the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement and avoid disaster. In an interview with Politico, Brazilian environment minister Ricardo Salles rebuked the sceptics he accused of trying to derail the US-Brazil talks.”
In other US news, the Guardian reports that in Louisiana “Republicans and Democrats are introducing bills to push against Biden’s new restrictions on oil and gas companies”. It adds: “[A Republican] introduced a bill at the Louisiana capitol last week that would protect oil companies and not residents in his district who have to breathe in that air. The bill would establish Louisiana as a ‘fossil fuel sanctuary state’ and ban local and state employees from enforcing federal laws and regulations that negatively impact petrochemical companies.” Another Guardian article says that “a new state law has created a $1.2m fund to be used by Wyoming’s governor to take legal action against other states that opt to power themselves with clean energy such as solar and wind, in order to meet targets to tackle the climate crisis, rather than burn Wyoming’s coal”. Climate Home News looks at California’s plans to phase out oil and gas production by 2045″. And the Financial Times has analysis on how “US climate targets show not all pledges are created equal”.
Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Paris and other French cities yesterday to call for more ambitious measures in the fight against climate change, reports Associated Press via France 24. It continues: “The nationwide protests come after the lower house of parliament this week approved a climate bill aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions that environment activists say doesn’t go far or fast enough…Activists blame president Emmanuel Macron, who has been very vocal about his support for climate change action, for having ‘weakened’ a set of measures initially proposed by a panel of 150 citizens who had worked for months on the issue.” On Friday, Euronews reported that “France wants to spend €30bn on decarbonising its economy, speeding up its target of becoming Europe’s first major country to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050”. it adds: “The money is part of the so-called ‘France Relance’ recovery plan, which is designed to address the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole investment plan is worth €100bn, representing the equivalent of one-third of the annual state budget.”
In other news from across Europe, Reuters reports that “the European Union’s head of climate change policy on Friday warned against policymakers intervening in the carbon market, after the price of EU carbon permits soared this week to record highs”. ChinaDialogue carries a feature on why “the EU’s emissions trading system is designed to transform the European economy but has global implications”. Politico has a feature on trams, saying “many EU countries – including Portugal – are making decarbonised urban transport a central pillar of their pandemic recovery fund spending plans, now being sent for approval to the European Commission”. EurActiv reports that the Dutch government has granted subsidies worth around €2bn to a carbon capture project at the port of Rotterdam, adding that the scheme is due to become operational in 2024 and is “set to become one of the largest” in the world. And, finally, the Guardian reports from Athens on how the mayor is “overseeing a green regeneration in a city where temperatures can already surpass 40C”.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) will end all financing for coal mining and power plants and ban support for oil and gas production, under a draft energy policy released late last week, reports Climate Home News, which says the move is “the latest in a series of shifts away from coal in Asia’s major economies”. The report adds: “The Philippines-based bank said there had been ‘profound changes in the energy landscape’ since it last updated its energy policy in 2009 and that the document ‘is no longer adequately aligned with the global consensus on climate change’. By supporting coal exit across Asia, ADB said it would ‘support new job creation in cooperation with local communities and stakeholders’.” Reuters also covers the story.
Meanwhile, the Jakarta Post says that Indonesia’s “state-owned electricity monopolist PLN has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050 with a plan to phase out fossil fuel-fired power plants and use more renewable energy in its networks”. The firm is the country’s largest electricity generator.
In other international energy news, EnergyMonitor has a feature on “how oil and gas extraction undercuts the climate policies of rich nations”. The Financial Times reports on how “a difficult quarter for the world’s biggest wind companies [in 2021] has taken the shine off several renewables darlings amid an accelerating sell-off in clean energy shares”. It continues: “Wind and solar companies were among the best stock market performers last year, defying pandemic turmoil in the broader energy market thanks in part to government climate pledges and big inflows into new clean energy exchange traded funds. Observers say the sector is normalising after steep gains last year.” Another story in the Financial Times says that “Standard Chartered has been accused of hypocrisy on climate change by an influential pressure group, which warned the bank will be the target of shareholder action unless it tightens its fossil-fuel lending policies”.
Many outlets in the UK report that Sir David Attenborough has been made an official “people’s advocate” for the COP26 climate talks scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November. The Sun says the celebrated TV naturalist “will drum up global support for COP26” and that he is also “set to attend June’s G7 meeting in Cornwall where PM Boris Johnson is hosting US president Joe Biden and other world leaders”. Sky News says Attenborough “will try again to convince world leaders of the urgency of climate action”. The Times notes that Boris Johnson praises Attenborough for inspiring millions with his natural history documentaries. It quotes Johnson saying: “There is no better person to build momentum for further change as we approach the COP26 climate summit.”. An editorial in the Daily Mirror says that Attenborough is a “brilliant choice to represent us at this autumn’s eco summit”. It adds: “The appeal and knowledge of the presenter is why the COP26 gathering of world leaders in Scotland should ask him now for a communique and sign up to it immediately.” Meanwhile, Associated Press via the Independent reports comments from COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma saying he is planning for an in-person summit but is also discussing contingencies due to the ongoing global pandemic.
The South China Morning Post reports that, according to a leading energy researcher, China is on track to reach peak coal consumption, coal-fired capacity and emissions from the power sector by 2025 in line with Beijing’s climate targets. It quotes Kang Junjie, deputy director of the climate change and energy transition programme at Peking University’s Institute of Energy, saying he expects China’s peak installed coal-fired power capacity to hit 1,150 gigawatts (GW) by 2025, up from 1,095GW last year.
Meanwhile, 21st Century Business Herald reports that China intends to impose measures in various fields, including oil and gas, coal and waste, to cut methane emissions. “As the ‘dual carbon’ goals have been put on the agenda, China’s focus of tackling climate change is also shifting from carbon dioxide (CO2) to other greenhouse gases (GHG),” the outlet says. The report starts by citing a new assessment on global methane emissions released by the United Nations last week. It then quotes senior Chinese climate officials, such as the special climate envoy Xie Zhenghua, to illustrate the nation’s determination to curb the emissions of non-CO2 GHGs, particularly those of methane. “The carbon market will also become a key sector in controlling methane emission,” it adds.
Separately, a report by state-run chinanews.com
Another article published by chinanews.com focuses on a new study which explores China’s pathways to reduce its PM2.5 air pollution while striving towards “carbon neutrality”. The paper, published by the National Science Review, finds that China could achieve a “synergy effect” of peaking carbon emissions and improving air quality simultaneously, according to the report. To achieve this, China would need to tackle emission issues “at its source” – namely energy-intensive industries such as cement and iron and steel – increase the share of renewable energy and promote the “pollution-control works” of non-electricity sectors, it adds.
Finally, the financial media outlet Caijing 11 carries an opinion piece penned by anonymous Greenpeace workers. The column lists the “five misunderstandings” Chinese companies currently have about “carbon neutrality”. The authors point out that many firms have been purely talking about “the idea” without establishing any concrete timelines or roadmaps. Besides, they say that the majority does not clearly define “carbon emissions” and avoid talking about slashing emission levels directly. The piece also warns businesses against treating carbon neutrality as the “ultimate goal” of fighting against climate change. And China’s government-linked Global Times has an opinion piece by Lu Xue which criticises Greta Thunberg for tweeting about the news that China’s emissions now add up to more than all the OECD countries added together: “She is short of sufficient academic knowledge study and lack of sound self-judgment capability. Girl like her is prone to be affected or even manipulated by some political forces.”
The Guardian quotes the views of Tony Wood, director of the energy and climate change program at the Grattan Institute, who says that “winding back old schemes like the diesel excise rebate was the next best measure should Australia fail to develop a carbon price policy”. Energy experts agree, says the newspaper, that this would accelerate heavy industry’s pivot towards using renewables and “could save Australian taxpayers $7.8bn a year”.
In other Australia news, a separate piece in the Guardian looks at how “Scott Morrison’s recent speech to a Christian conference draws fresh attention to Pentecostal churches’ lack of climate evangelism”. The Sydney Morning Herald carries the findings of a wide-ranging report on Generation Z by research organisation Millennial Future which shows that “more 16- and 17-year-olds believe the media has exaggerated the issue of climate change than recent school leavers and scepticism in this age group has grown in the past two years”. It adds: “However, four out of five 16- and 17-year-olds in a recent survey do not believe the issue is exaggerated, while most polls show young people generally are overwhelmingly concerned about climate change.”
Several UK newspapers – including the frontpage of the Daily Star – cover a new report by Christian Aid warning that some of the world’s biggest tea-growing areas will be among the worst hit by extreme weather. The Guardian says “your morning cup of tea may never taste the same again if global heating increases and the climate crisis intensifies”. It adds: “In Kenya, which produces close to half of all the tea consumed in the UK, the area of optimal tea-growing conditions will be reduced by more than a quarter by 2050, while about 39% of areas with medium-quality growing conditions are facing destruction, according to the report…Tea-growing areas in India, China and Sri Lanka are also likely to be affected.” The Daily Telegraph and MailOnline also cover the story.
Trent Zimmerman, an Australian MP who is the Liberal federal member for North Sydney, and Philip Dunne, the UK Conservative MP for Ludlow and chair of the House of Commons environmental audit committee, have penned a joint opinion piece for the Guardian arguing against the continued use of coal: “As well as being environmentally damaging, coal is no longer the energy panacea that it used to be. Indeed, rapid growth of renewable energy sources has rendered coal uncompetitive and expensive. Alternative, cleaner options for generating electricity such as solar and wind have plummeted in cost over the past decade, whereas the price of coal has stayed flat. If – as expected – these trends continue then it will not be long until coal is the most expensive mainstream power option. Relying on coal means not just higher electricity costs at home, but drastically reduced international trade potential with key export markets now committed to phasing it out altogether.” They add: “New investment in the coal industry will leave investors, including taxpayers, with vast stranded assets and a missed opportunity to invest in the high growth technologies of the future. Those nations which continue to evade the opportunity to clean up their power generation are risking not just reputational damage on the international stage, but the very real prospect of carbon taxes hitting their exports as other countries seek to drive down carbon emissions beyond their own borders.”
In other comment, Peter Hain, the former Labour minister and anti-apartheid campaigner, argues in the Guardian that “putting Extinction Rebellion activists on trial isn’t in the public interest, so let’s stop”. He concludes: “It’s time for [home secretary] Priti Patel, the director of public prosecutions and the police to halt these XR prosecutions on the grounds that the law readily provides – that they are ‘not in the public interest’. This would save a pile of money and leave the courts free to prioritise real criminals, not those seeking to save our planet.” Meanwhile, in the Daily Telegraph, columnist Julie Burchill claims that “cultish eco-nuts are letting down environmentalism”. And in the Financial Times, Roger Pielke Jr argues that “the [European Central Bank]’s climate models are built on obsolete scenarios”.
Using a range of “mitigation levers” provides the best chance of limiting warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, new research shows. The authors use the 414 emission scenarios from the IPCC’s 1.5C report, of which 50 are classified as 1.5C scenarios with “no or low temperature overshoot”. They group “mitigation levers” – such as reducing global energy demand, deploying CO2 removal techniques and decarbonising energy production – into five categories, and define “medium” and “high” bounds for each. The authors “do not find any 1.5C scenarios that stay within all medium upper bounds on the five mitigation levers”. However, they find 22 such scenarios if mitigation levers can be employed up to the “high upper bounds”. CO2 removal is the most frequently “over use[d]” lever, the authors note, while reductions of energy demand and carbon intensity of energy production are over used “less frequently”.
A fire in 2019 “unexpectedly” changed a former peat swamp forest in the tropics from a source to a sink of carbon, according to a new paper. The authors measured CO2 above a “repeatedly burned degraded peat forest” in the Central Kalimantan province of Indonesia over 2004-17. They find that the switch from source to sink was “caused by a large decrease in the decomposition of plant debris, which had accumulated since the 2002 fire but was burned by the 2009 fire”. However, the authors add that CO2 uptake after the 2009 fire was “insufficient to recover a large amount of fire CO2 emissions”. The study adds that when counting emissions from the 1999, 2002, 2009 and 2014 fires in the area, the region “owe[s]” a carbon “debt” of 25kg of carbon per square metre.
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