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Daily Briefing

20.07.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Emissions will hit record high by 2023 if green recovery fails, says IEA
Emissions will hit record high by 2023 if green recovery fails, says IEA

News.

Emissions will hit record high by 2023 if green recovery fails, says IEA
The Guardian Read Article

New forecasts from the International Energy Agency show that 2023 is on track for “the highest levels of carbon dioxide output in human history, equalling or surpassing the record set in 2018”, the Guardian reports. It adds: “The reason for the sharp rise is that governments have failed to invest in green energy as they have sought to rebuild their economies from the Covid-19 pandemic.” The Financial Times notes that only 2% of pandemic recovery is going towards clean energy. (See Carbon Brief’s “green recovery” tracker.) The newspaper carries quotes from Fatih Birol, IEA executive director, who says that, even if all these measures were implemented on time, they would be “still far from what’s needed to put the world on a path to reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century…It’s not even enough to prevent global emissions from surging to a new record.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that, according to the IEA, “less than 15% of the $2.4tn in government spending to support the post-pandemic economic recovery has gone to investments in clean energy”. It also carries quotes from Birol: “‘It’s a good start,’ said [Birol], ‘but the money is not sufficient’ to the put the world on a path to net-zero emissions by 2050. The majority of the $380bn in green spending is happening in advanced economies, when it should be helping accelerate the transition to clean energy in emerging countries.” BusinessGreen also covers the IEA’s findings.

US: Oregon Bootleg Fire: Evacuations as largest US fire burns 300,000 acres
BBC News Read Article

The “bootleg fire” in Oregon has burned more than 300,000 acres, prompting thousands of evacuations and drawing more than 2,000 firefighters to the scene, according to BBC News. The outlet reports that the fire has been burning since 6 July, adding that it has already destroyed more than 160 buildings and is threatening thousands of others, it continues. It adds: “This week’s forecast is unlikely to help efforts to control the fire. Temperatures are expected to be between 10C and 15C above normal and there is drought too.” The Times notes that the fire “has grown so powerful that it is producing ‘fire clouds’ — dangerous columns of smoke and ash that can reach six miles into the sky.” It adds that the fire can now create its own weather, including “terrifying fire tornadoes”. The New York Times carries a piece entitled, “How bad is the bootleg fire? It’s generating its own weather”. A spokesperson for the firefighting effort tells the Washington Post that they will “need Mother Nature’s help” – through rain or snow – to extinguish the fire. However, Reuters reports that on Monday, firefighters “gained additional ground against the blaze.” According to the Hill, the bootleg fire is just one of 80 fires burning across 13 US states.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that “dry thunderstorms” predicted in Montana and other parts of the region early this week will increase the risk of wildfires. According to the newspaper, a dry thunderstorm can produce rain, but it evaporates before reaching the ground because the air is so dry. “The lack of rain means any blazes sparked by lightning strikes can spread more easily”, it notes. Meanwhile, both the New York Times and Washington Post report on how the extreme heat is affecting the northern Rockies amid the high fire danger. “The hot, dry conditions are intensifying a busy and unusually early fire season,” the latter reports. And the Hill reports that hundreds of flights were delated on Monday due to smoke from the fires.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph carries a piece entitled, “Extreme weather emerges worldwide as floods burst dams and fires ravage forests”. The opening paragraph states:“Catastrophic outbreaks of extreme weather were reported on four continents on Monday, as record floods and forest fires caused emergencies everywhere from the US and Russia to China and New Zealand.”

UK: National Grid to lose Great Britain electricity role to independent operator
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports that the UK government “plans to strip National Grid of its role keeping Great Britain’s lights on as part of a proposed ‘revolution’ in the electricity network”. According to the newspaper, National Grid will “lose its place at the heart of the [electricity] industry after government officials put forward plans to replace it with an independent ‘future system operator’”. It continues: “The new system controller would help steer the country towards its climate targets, at the lowest cost to energy bill payers, by providing impartial data and advice after an overhaul of the rules governing the energy system to make it ‘fit for the future’. The plans are part of a string of new proposals to help connect millions of electric cars, smart appliances and other green technologies to the energy system”. The Financial Times notes that recommendations to this effect were made by Ofgem earlier this year. And the Times notes that the decision aims to “tackle concerns over conflicts of interest.”It adds that the new “future system operator” will “take on real-time running of the electricity system and enhanced planning functions for both electricity and gas systems.” Reuters also covers the story. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports on government estimates that “the introduction of cutting-edge smart technologies could slash the costs of managing the energy system by up to £10bn a year by 2050, and generate up to 10,000 jobs for system installers, electricians, data scientists and engineers.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that “there are concerns of a looming gap as the supply of renewables grows much faster than the very early stage energy storage market”. Separately, the Times reports that BP is promising £10bn to make Aberdeen its “global hub for offshore wind”, if it secures seabed licences around Scotland. “For BP to win in Scotland it will have to beat out competitors such as France’s TotalEnergies SE and Royal Dutch Shell Plc as well as renewable specialists and utilities such as Orsted A/S and SSE Plc”, Bloomberg notes. “Bids flood in for offshore wind farms in Scottish waters”, the Scotsman reports. And the Independent reports that Britain has just 15% of the electric car charging points that it needs.

UK: Met Office issues first UK extreme heat warning
BBC News Read Article

The UK Met Office has issued an amber weather warming for heat for the first time, BBC News reports. The warning covers “large parts of Wales, all of south-west England and parts of southern and central England” and will be in place until Thursday, according to the outlet. It continues: “The Met Office launched its new extreme heat warning at the start of June 2021 to highlight potential widespread disruption and adverse health effects…The Met Office warning advises that people vulnerable to extreme heat are likely to experience ‘adverse health effects’, while the rest of the population could suffer heat exhaustion and other heat-related illnesses.” The Independent notes that Saturday was the hottest day of the year for Scotland and Northern Ireland, while Sunday was the hottest day for England and Wales. And i newspaper carries a quote from Dr Will Lang, head of civil contingencies at the Met Office: “The extreme heat warning joins our other warnings to ensure that no matter what the weather conditions, we at the Met Office have a method of communicating these impacts to the public in as efficient a way as possible.” The Daily TelegraphReuters and ITV news also cover the new warning. And BBC News reports that six people drowned in English lakes and rivers over the weekend.

Global meat industry ‘using tobacco company tactics’ to downplay role in driving climate crisis, investigation claims
The Independent Read Article

An investigation by DeSmog, which is picked up by the Independent, finds that the global meat industry is “borrowing tactics from tobacco companies” to downplay its role in driving climate change. The investigation examines the “climate washing” tactics of “10 of the world’s largest meat companies and their representative industry groups”, the newspaper reports. The newspaper unpacks the main findings of the investigation, highlighting that meat companies are trying to “confuse and delay regulation” of their planet-harming activities by downplaying their emissions, “attacking established science” on the role of livestock farming in climate change and “casting doubt over the benefits of plant-based alternatives to meat”. The paper notes that producing meat and dairy accounts for 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions. It also carries comments from Dr Jennifer Jacquet, an associate professor of environmental studies at New York University, who says: “Tobacco didn’t challenge the existence of lung cancer, but they kept denying and deflecting the causal link [with smoking] – and that’s what we’re seeing with beef and dairy…Beef and dairy don’t deny that climate change exists, but they are carrying out actions to try to convince us that the causal chain isn’t there.”

How a powerful US lobby group helps big oil to block climate action
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian has published a new piece in its “climate crimes” series – a set of articles investigating how the fossil fuel industry “contributed to the climate crisis and lied to the American public”. According to the article, the American Petroleum Institute – “one of the US’s most powerful trade organisations, which drives the oil industry’s relationship with Congress” – receives “millions” of dollars from oil companies and “works behinds the scenes” to oppose climate legislation. The piece notes that SPI’s chief executive has “pledged to resist a raft of Joe Biden’s environmental measures”, claiming that “a ‘rushed transition’ to electric vehicles is part of ‘government action to limit Americans’ transportation choice’. The piece continues: “Critics accuse Shell and other major oil firms of using API as cover for the industry. While companies run publicity campaigns claiming to take the climate emergency seriously, the trade group works behind the scenes in Congress to stall or weaken environmental legislation…API is also fighting a growing number of lawsuits, led by the state of Minnesota, alleging that the trade group was at the heart of a decades-long ‘disinformation campaign’ on behalf of big oil to deny the threat from fossil fuels…But despite threats to API’s lasting influence, Whitehouse argues the trade organisation represents the true face of the industry.”

Meanwhile, the Financial Times notes that, according to a new report, “chief executives at US shale companies are continuing to receive bumper pay packets despite years of dismal returns”.

Wind energy CEOs warn G20 leaders over climate targets
Financial Times Read Article

The heads of many of the world’s biggest wind energy companies have told global leaders that efforts to meet global climate goals are “condemned to fail” if they do not urgently step up turbine installation, reports the Financial Times. In an open letter to the G20 heads of state, the chief executives of Vestas, Orsted, Siemens Gamesa, SSE and others warn that they would “fall short of the wind capacity required for carbon neutrality by 2050 by 43%” based on current growth forecasts, the paper explains. It continues: “A record 93 gigawatts was installed in 2020 despite the global pandemic, largely in China and the US, but annual deployment will have to quadruple in the next decade to set big economies on the path to reach climate targets. However, this will be ‘unachievable without decisive and urgent policy change across the G20 countries’, the chief executives warn in the letter, which was co-ordinated by the Global Wind Energy Council.” Mary Quaney, chief executive officer of Dublin-based Mainstream Renewable Power, tells Bloomberg that “the challenge isn’t a shortage of capital…It’s enabling the capital to be deployed at a far more rapid pace than what it is today”.

US: Democrats propose a border tax based on countries’ greenhouse gas emissions
The New York Times Read Article

Two Democratic lawmakers have proposed a tax on certain imports from countries without ambitious climate laws, which could raise up to $16bn annually, the New York Times reports. The tax would be “approximately equivalent to the costs faced by American companies under state and federal environmental regulations”, the newspaper notes. However, it adds: “Experts said a border carbon tax would almost certainly provoke America’s trading partners and could create serious diplomatic challenges ahead of United Nations climate negotiations set for November in Glasgow.” Reuters notes that imports such as steel, natural gas, petroleum, and coal would be affected by the tax. The pair hope to “tack [the tax] onto Democrats’ massive $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill”, Forbes adds. The Hill adds that the tax would start in 2024, if approved.

In other US news, the Hill reports that some climate activists are “expressing disappointment” with the $3.5tn budget resolution, arguing that it does not do enough to address climate change. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that extreme temperatures across the West coast are posing a threat to outdoor workers, adding that “the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has put a new heat illness rule on a list of agenda items for the Biden administration to consider, calling it a top priority”.

Separately, Michael Regan, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, tells the Financial Times he believes that Biden “would not let his climate agenda be derailed by some of the moderate Democrats in Congress.” Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Biden plans to nominate Graham Steele as assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions – “a move that would put a long-time congressional staffer with ties to progressives at the centre of efforts to refocus financial rules on issues such as climate change and racial equity.” Meanwhile, the Hill finds that the jobs in the energy sector dropped in 2020, but there was “a slight increase in some renewable energy jobs”. And Reuters reports that Biden’s clean energy plan is “key to restoring industry job losses”.

Comment.

The Amazon is now a net carbon producer, but there’s still time to reverse the damage
Ane Alencar and Adriane Esquivel Muelbert, The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian carries a comment piece by Ane Alencar, the science director of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute in Brazil, and Dr Adriane Esquivel Muelbert, a lecturer in global forest ecology at the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Institute of Forest Research. The authors call the Amazon “a vital organ for our entire planet”, noting that the region has historically been seen as an “important” carbon sink. However, a study published last week found that the Amazon is now a net carbon emitter, and so the authors discuss the “so-called Amazon tipping point hypothesis” – which suggests that once deforestation levels hit 20%, the system would shift from a carbon sink to a source. The authors continue: “The chances of reversing this situation are becoming more distant by the day. There has been no investment in restoration by the federal government – and the rates of deforestation and fires have been reaching new heights month after month. This situation has been aggravated since Jair Bolsonaro took over the presidency.” They conclude: “From individuals to large organisations, we must boycott the products and initiatives that drive deforestation, and instead consume products and fund initiatives that keep the forest standing. If both the Brazilian and global societies don’t wake up to the importance of a healthy Amazon to the fight against the pervasive effects of climate change in the region, we will all lose out.”

Meanwhile, the Independent covers a study which finds that “droughts and fires in the Amazon continue to cause CO2 emissions for years after they first occur”. The Financial Times also covers the study, adding that “increasingly severe climate conditions threaten to accelerate a ‘large scale dieback’ of the Amazon rainforest”. And the Evening Standard notes that 2.5bn trees were killed in Brazil as a result the strong 2015-16 El Nine event.

The Guardian view on Germany’s floods: another wake-up call
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

As the aftermath of Germany’s flooding becomes apparent, the Guardian has published an editorial under the subheading, “The lethal destruction in western states will frame the debate ahead of September’s vital election”. The piece notes that the German Greens unveiled an election poster with the slogan “Economy and climate without crisis” earlier this month – “suggesting that ambitious carbon reduction targets could be met without undue pain for jobs and industry”. The piece concludes: “Though they remain on course to finish second to the CDU, the Greens have so far failed to seize the moment to make the case for a step change in levels of green investment in Germany, and at EU level. Meanwhile, the CDU’s manifesto, published last month, shows little sign of the economic radicalism necessary to deal with the climate emergency… In the autumn, Germany has an opportunity to give a lead.” Separately, CNBC reports that the floods “could be a political game-changer”.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the German officials “rejected suggestions that they had done too little to prepare for last week’s floods and said warning systems had worked”, but adds that the death toll has risen above 160 people – the country’s worst death toll from a natural disaster in almost six decades. The New York Times notes that more than 700 people are still thought to be missing. “If the floods were caused by climate change, as some experts claim, that is hardly the fault of one country,” writes Matthew Lynn in the Daily Telegraph. “But it is hard to escape the fact that Germany has one of the worst records in the developed world for combating climate change.” The Wall Street Journal carries a piece explaining the drivers of the flood. And Reuters reports that the floods show the “gigantic task” that Europe faces in “averting future climate change”. Similarly, the Independent carries a piece entitled, “Germany floods and UK extreme heat show no country is safe from the climate crisis”. And a separate Reuters piece quotes British hydrology professor, Prof Hannah Cloke, who says: “I was very surprised really at the scale of the deaths and destruction because from my point of view it looked like we could forecast this event coming…we all need to work very much harder to make sure this never happens again.”

Separately, a Washington Post carries an analysis piece entitled, “You should not be surprised that climate predictions may have been too conservative”. And Axios reports that the summer of “apocalyptic weather” is prompting some scientists to question whether extreme weather events are worsening faster than expected.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that heavy rain has “crippled” Indian cities, killing at least 35 people. It notes that the heavy rainfall triggered landslides and housing collapses, adding: “Mumbai’s water treatment plant in the suburbs was flooded on Sunday forcing the municipal council to impose water cuts in some parts of the city.”

The real danger is insurgency on the right
William Hague, The Times Read Article

William Hague, the former leader of the UK’s Conservative party, warns in the Times about “an emerging ‘NewKip’” within his party. He explains: “Governments [are] facing massive new problems that open markets and individual freedom cannot resolve without state intervention. Free market philosophy triumphed in showing how to create prosperity but it struggles with how to make that prosperity more equitable, sustainable or resilient. Without government intervention, a globalised economy leads to clusters of great wealth while other places decline. In the absence of laws on climate change, humanity will destroy the natural world on which it depends…And so British conservatism, that most adaptable of political philosophies, is redefining itself to create a more interventionist state and it is feeling the internal tension of doing so.” He continues: “The Heat and Buildings Strategy on the decarbonisation of homes was meant to be published around now but there is disagreement over where the cost falls. The government appears undecided on how to promote electric cars without raising fuel duty…These are intrinsically difficult issues, but they are also hard to resolve because effective answers mainly suggest a bigger government in the daily lives of citizens…Unless great care is taken, the danger will emerge of a ‘NewKip’: a libertarian, low-tax, small state insurgency on the right, fracturing the broad conservative coalition over which Boris Johnson has so far, skilfully, presided.” He concludes: “The answer can only lie in a more active and more effective state, rather than a more bloated one. That means having the discipline to hold down government spending…It calls for fairness in new environmental policies, such as consistent carbon pricing across the economy and carbon adjustment taxes to treat imports and domestic production equally.”

Also in the Times, Rachel Wolf, a founding partner at the thinktank Public First, warns: “Tread carefully, chancellor, or net zero will crash and burn.” She adds: “Climate change is the policy area which makes Rishi Sunak most visibly uncomfortable – but with COP26 around the corner he has little choice but to talk about it. The questions of how to pay for it, and who will pay for it, grow. The approach of the past decade – charging people for renewable energy through electricity bills but not talking about it – will not work for the scale of transformation now required. In autumn, the chancellor will have to offer some answers. There will finally be, after six years of delay, a full comprehensive spending review…The spending review is, then, the last opportunity to explain how we will manage trade-offs for people and for companies, and still lead the world with our climate ambition. The Treasury’s preferred instrument seems to be carbon prices on heating and heavy industry. This makes sense.

Finally, writing for BusinessGreen, Labour MP Alan Whitehead argues that the UK government’s looming hydrogen strategy will be a “bit off-colour” if support goes to “blue-grey projects” rather than “green” hydrogen made from renewable sources.

China's new carbon emissions scheme is big, but ineffective
Clyde Russell, Reuters Read Article

China’s newly launched national carbon emissions trading scheme (ETS) “looks impressive”, write Reuters columnist Clyde Russell, but “may do little to reduce China’s carbon pollution, at least in the short to medium term”. In its first phase, the scheme will cover “some 2,000 power plants responsible for more than 4bn tonnes of carbon emissions”, explains Russell, while “other industries are scheduled to be included at yet-to-be determined intervals, such as petrochemicals, steel, paper-making and aviation”. Whether the ETS “eventually does help China meet its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2060 will largely depend on how it develops”, writes Russell, “and whether the authorities in Beijing change its parameters in order to put a price on carbon high enough to incentivise changes in behaviour and investment decisions”. A gap in carbon prices and the difference in the way permits are allocated to polluters means that “the Chinese system is currently very different to the EU’s, and likely to be ineffective without significant changes”, Russell warns, adding: “Of course, the way China’s system works now and what it may evolve into are two different matters. But the point is that currently China’s emissions trading scheme looks outwardly better than it actually is, and isn’t exactly being set up as the main tool to reduce emissions in the world’s biggest polluter.” Nature News also has a piece on whether China’s ETS is “ambitious enough”. For more on China’s ETS, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer.

Science.

Brief communication: Thwaites Glacier cavity evolution
The Cryosphere Read Article

In a “brief communication” paper, researchers report on the condition of a “large cavity beneath and along the western margin of the fast-flowing core of Thwaites glacier”, which was eroded by warm ocean water between 2014 and 2017. From 2017 to 2020, the cavity “persisted but did not expand”, the authors say, which “fits with prior observations and modelling studies”. The paper also shows that “acceleration and thinning of Thwaites glacier grounded ice continued, with an increase in speed of 400 metres per year and a thinning rate of at least 1.5 metres per year between 2012 and 2020”.

Changes in climate drive recent monarch butterfly dynamics
Nature Ecology & Evolution Read Article

If the observed changes in spring and summer climate in North America continue, portions of the current breeding range for monarch butterflies “may become inhospitable”, a new study warns. Using data from >18,000 systematic surveys and a “hierarchical modelling approach”, the researchers find that “breeding-season weather was nearly seven times more important than other factors in explaining variation in summer population size”. Overall, “the results support climate being a key driver of monarch population size”, says an accompanying News & Views piece, which notes that “numbers of monarch butterflies have plummeted over the past decades”.

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Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

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.