Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Ending UK’s climate emissions ‘affordable’, say official advisers
- Arctic warming cascades through ocean and over land, US report says
- Many countries to miss Paris climate plan deadline due to Covid-19 delays: UN
- Poland, Hungary threaten to derail EU plans to raise 2030 climate ambition
- Shell executives quit amid discord over green push
- UK energy networks get go-ahead to invest in green revolution
- When Covid and Brexit are over, the climate crisis will again be our biggest challenge
- Dynamic symbioses reveal pathways to coral survival through prolonged heatwaves
- Anthropogenic modification of forests means only 40% of remaining forests have high ecosystem integrity
The UK government’s advisors on climate change say a route map to ending the nation’s use of fossil fuels is both “ambitious and affordable”, reports the Guardian, and would see half of the cars on the road being electric by 2030 and 10,000 giant wind turbines in the North Sea. The Climate Change Committee’s report finds that the future cost savings from no longer having to buy oil and gas almost offsets the £50bn-a-year investment needed in low-carbon power, transport and home heating across the next three decades, the paper explains. It continues: “The CCC route map forecast people’s energy bills remaining level, before falling after 2030 as cheap renewable energy expands. Electric cars will also save drivers money, but a phase-out of gas boilers will mean some households will require government help to install more expensive low-carbon heating systems.”
The CCC says that, for less than 1% of national wealth, the UK can reduce 78% of emissions by 2035, based on 1990 levels, reports BBC News, adding: “CCC members say the targets proposed for the UK’s ‘carbon budget’ period of 2033-2035 are definitely achievable, so long as the government moves urgently.” The advice of the CCC is “not legally binding, but has exerted a strong influence on the decisions of the UK government, which has always followed its advice when setting the five-year ‘carbon budgets’ required under the Climate Change Act”, says the Financial Times. It adds that for the interim goal – the sixth carbon budget – “emissions will have to fall at a faster pace in the next 30 years than the UK has achieved in the past three decades”. The newspaper reports CCC chief executive Chris Stark saying: “It’s ambitious. It’s very challenging. It’s also, we think, entirely feasible.“
The CCC report indicates that “almost every aspect of British life will need a complete overhaul, from the cars we drive to what we eat and the products we buy, if we are to meet the target of net-zero emissions by 2050”, says the Independent. It explains: “Within just five years, the UK will need to turn its back on coal-fired power, eat 10% less meat and plant 30,000 hectares of new forest every year in order to be in line with the net-zero goal, the report says. In addition, all new homes built by 2025 will need to be ‘carbon-neutral’ – meaning they must make use of low-carbon heating such as electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas boilers.” The Daily Telegraph focuses on the future of boilers, noting that the CCC recommends that the “sale of gas boilers should be banned by 2033” and “any replacement boilers from 2025 [should] be ‘hydrogen-ready’, likely to make them around £100 more expensive”. The i newspaper notes that “this is a much lower cost than had been expected” and that the “government could choose to subsidise much of that so it doesn’t all go onto energy bills”. The Times also focuses on the potential costs for homeowners in its coverage, which is trailed on the frontpage. It says: “Eliminating household emissions by 2050 is expected to cost £250bn or an average of £8,000 per home. That includes about £2,000 on insulation and other efficiency measures and £6,000 on installing alternatives to gas boilers, such as electric heat pumps.” [The report notes that “63% of homes need spend no more than £1,000 on retrofitting energy efficiency measures”.] MailOnline picks up on the Times’ reporting. The Times also has another article on how the CCC says oil and gas companies must accept the “realities of life” and become “wholly different businesses”, if they are to maintain their position in the economy.
In other reporting, the New Scientist says: “Airport capacity shouldn’t be expanded and the government should implement policies to curb flights, which could take the form of a frequent flyer levy, the CCC said.” The outlet reports the comments of the CCC’s director of analysis Mike Thompson, who says that flights “are one of the most carbon intensive things that we can do and they are largely done by a very small, largely richer part of the population”. The Guardian has a separate article looking at the CCC’s recommendations for each area of life, while the Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne looks at “how our lives will need to change to hit net-zero emissions by 2050”. Finally, BusinessGreen has collected responses from across the green economy, and – of course – Carbon Brief has published a deep-dive into the report.
The Arctic region has had its second-warmest year since 1900, reports Reuters, “continuing a pattern of extreme heat, ice melt and environmental transformation at the top of the world”. The findings, released as part of the 15th annual Arctic Report Card by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), show that sea ice is “thinner, younger and more fragile” and that “vanishing sea ice is leading to warmer Arctic waters”, the newswire says. Alaska-based climate scientist Rick Thoman, one of the report’s editors, says in a statement: “Taken as a whole, the story is unambiguous…The transformation of the Arctic to a warmer, less frozen and biologically changed region is well underway.“ This rapid warming is “largely the result of increased emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas”, says the Washington Post. It adds: “This year, the biggest Arctic climate extremes were the persistent, dramatically warmer than average conditions in the Siberian Arctic, which had a domino effect that led to record-low sea ice in the adjacent Kara and Laptev Seas, a wildfire season that defied historical norms, melting permafrost and changes in wildlife populations.” This year, the minimum extent of Arctic sea ice, reached at the end of the melt season in September, was the second-lowest in the satellite record, the New York Times says. [See Carbon Brief’s coverage of the summer minimum.] It adds: “On land, the huge Greenland ice sheet and glaciers in Alaska and elsewhere lost mass at above-average rates, although the rate in Greenland slowed from last year.” Bloomberg, the Guardian, Inside Climate News and the Hill all have the story.
In other ice news, BBC News reports that climate change threatens “most glaciers” in the Alps and, via another report, that the Royal Air Force has released footage from its low-level flight over A68a, the world’s biggest iceberg.
A UN report has warned that many countries will miss a deadline to submit updated climate action plans by 2020 as mandated by the Paris Agreement, Reuters reports. The newswire continues: “The UN Development Programme supports 115 of the 197 countries that signed the 2015 Paris deal through its ‘Climate Promise’ programme which includes many of the world’s poorest nations. They collectively account for nearly a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and include some high emitters like Nigeria and Mexico.” The report says: “According to the latest intelligence from UNDP’s Climate Promise, countries continue to grapple with the timing of their NDC [nationally determined contributions] submissions as the Covid-19 crisis and political shifts in many countries continue to unfold.“ The report notes that just eight of the countries the UNDP programme assists – including Mongolia and Rwanda – have submitted revised climate plans and about 30 are expected to do so by year-end, Reuters explains. It adds: “In January, more than 100 were aiming for the 2020 deadline. However, the report showed that 70% of countries indicated that they are likely to increase their ambition versus just over 50% in March.”
Meanwhile, Climate Home News has a preview of this weekend’s virtual climate summit on 12 December, which marks, what it calls, the five-year “Parisversaire” of the Paris Agreement. As of Monday, only 16 countries representing 4.6% of global emissions had formally submitted a new or updated 2030 target to the UN, the outlet explains. But, it notes, “a number of countries are expected to come forward with enhanced climate ambition at the summit and edge the world closer to its climate goals” and “formal submissions to the UN could follow in the next few weeks”. Climate Home News also has a piece on “five things the Paris Agreement has achieved – and five things still to work for”.
Poland and Hungary could block efforts to strengthen the EU’s 2030 climate goal over a separate dispute on democratic standards, reports Climate Home News. EU leaders are expected to agree on cutting collective emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels – up from 40% currently – at a two-day Council meeting starting tomorrow, the outlet explains: “While the proposed climate target is relatively uncontroversial, it risks becoming a victim of heated negotiations over a €1.8tn financial package, which includes €750bn in coronavirus recovery funds. The European Commission has proposed making access to the funds conditional on respecting the EU’s rule of law principles. The clause could cost Poland and Hungary billions of euros, with both countries accused of backsliding on democratic standards enshrined in the EU’s founding treaties, including on the independence of the judicial system, the media and other institutions. They have threatened to veto the budget, which would hold up funds to support countries meet the enhanced 2030 climate target. This includes support for communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry to transition to new sectors of employment, which would benefit workers in both countries.” Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said Hungary and Poland have a “good chance” of getting their way in the EU budget fight, reports Politico, which adds: “But the other 25 countries show little sign of giving way to demands from Warsaw and Budapest.” If leaders can’t reach an agreement this week, “Europe risks being embarrassed” at this weekend’s virtual UN climate summit, the outlet adds: “‘We would be caught with our trousers down,’ said an official from one Western European country.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports on a survey from the European Investment Bank that shows a majority of Europeans want the economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic to promote growth that prevents climate change.
Royal Dutch Shell “has been hit by the departure of several clean energy executives amid a split over how far and fast the oil giant should shift towards greener fuels”, reports the Financial Times. It continues: “The wave of resignations comes just weeks before Shell is set to announce its strategy for the energy transition. Some executives have pushed for a more aggressive shift from oil, but top management is more inclined to stick closer to the company’s current path, according to four people familiar with the matter.” The head of the solar, storage and onshore wind businesses has left, as well as a leader in Shell’s energy transition strategy team, the paper says: “Shell’s vice-president for offshore wind, is also due to leave the company. Several other top executives in the clean energy part of the business also plan to exit in the coming months.” Not every move is known to be linked to frustration about the pace of change, the FT explains, but “people familiar with the internal debate said there were deep divisions over the timeframe for reducing the company’s dependence on oil and gas revenues, which had influenced at least some of the departing executives”. One person familiar with the “internal tensions” tells the paper: “People are really questioning if there will be any change at all…Part of the frustration is that you see the potential, but the mindset isn’t there among senior leaders for anything radical.” Meanwhile, DeSmog UK reports that Shell has appeared in court in the Netherlands accused of breaching its duty of care obligations and human rights law by failing to take strong action on climate change.
In other oil news, Bloomberg reports that “Iraq is poised to sign a multibillion-dollar contract with China ZhenHua Oil Co, a bailout from Beijing for the cash-strapped government which will receive money upfront in exchange for long-term oil supplies”. It adds: “The deal is the latest example of China, via state-controlled trading companies and banks, lending to struggling oil producers such as Angola, Venezuela and Ecuador, with repayment in the form of oil barrels rather than cash. This year’s crash in oil prices has hammered Iraq’s budget and the government has failed to pay teachers and civil servants on time.”
Elsewhere, the Financial Times “Energy Source” column looks at how “US oil producers are beginning to talk the talk on tackling emissions”. And Reuters reports that the US oilfield services sector lost 91,680 jobs due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on oil demand.
The industry regulator Ofgem will allow energy networks to plough at least £40bn into the green revolution and make higher returns on their investments, the Guardian reports, “after companies threatened an unprecedented rebellion against its plans to save homes £20 a year on their bills”. The paper says that Ofgem’s plans will “halve the savings energy bill payers can expect over the next five years to £10 a year after softening the crackdown on company profits it proposed over the summer”. The paper adds: “The regulator has given the green light for investments in electricity grid upgrades, which are paid for through energy bills, to climb by a fifth compared with its earlier proposals, which sought to limit spending to £25bn. Ofgem will also allow the companies to make returns of 4.3% on their energy network investments, up from its early plan to cut them to a record low of 3.9% but still well below the returns of 7-8% allowed over recent years.” The proposed 3.9% returns were “met with howls of protest” when they were mooted in July, says the Evening Standard. Energy firms said they still feared that cutting returns would damage its ability to find investors willing to finance green energy projects, the paper adds. The Financial Times Lex column says “official timidity was apparent” in the new guidelines. It adds: “This reduction in charges seems curious when the UK government is promising to speed up energy transition. Transmission groups such as National Grid and SSE need more renewable assets and should make reasonable returns from them. Ofgem tries to limit unnecessary investment. Had it done nothing, energy bills would have risen by an average of £18 a year. That looks like small change compared with what households might pay in other areas.” The Daily Telegraph also has the story.
While climate change “has, necessarily, been neglected in past months”, the new report from the CCC “reminds us, it has not gone away”, says an editorial in the Independent. It adds: “In recent years there has been much to be pessimistic about…Yet times have changed. We do not hear as much as we once did from the climate deniers. There is a wider global acceptance of the problem, if not the solutions. More and more countries and cities are setting ambitious goals for emissions reductions.” The public is also coming to terms with change, the paper says: “Gradually – none of this will be sudden – more of us will be getting around in electric vehicles, using alternatives to the gas boiler to heat homes, eating less red meat and living in a wilder, more forested landscape. None of this need be onerous, though, and that very fact is the best hope of reaching the carbon-neutral target date of 2050.” The article concludes: “One of the few opportunities left to the UK to exercise some global leadership is by making the country an exemplar of sustainable living – and enjoying it, saving money along the way and boosting our standards of living…It won’t be easy, and will require substantial public investment, but it need not hurt. ”
New research identifies corals with a symbiotic relationship with heat-sensitive algal communities that were able to recover from a bleaching event even in persisting high temperatures. However, this was only the case when there were no other “strong local stressors”, the authors note. This paper tracks coral colonies at sites, “spanning a gradient of local anthropogenic disturbance through a tropical heatwave of unprecedented duration”, revealing multiple pathways of coral survival through prolonged heatwaves.
In a new study, authors generate a “consistent, continuous index of forest condition as determined by the degree of anthropogenic modification” to determine the global “scale and degree of forest modification”. It finds that only 41% of forest currently has high landscape-level integrity – mostly in Canada, Russia, the Amazon, Central Africa and New Guinea – and only 27% of this area is found in nationally designated protected areas. The authors emphasise the need for ambitious policies to prioritise the retention of forest integrity alongside efforts to halt deforestation.
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