Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Environmental experts dismayed by details of Johnson's 'New Deal'
- South pole warmed three times the global rate in last 30 years: study
- BP agrees $5bn sale of petrochemicals business to Ineos
- Ireland to set annual emissions goals to reach 2050 carbon neutrality
- Let’s build back green, not grey
- Climate change is a racial justice problem
- The EU needs a €5tn tech and green investment plan
- Amplified Madden–Julian oscillation impacts in the Pacific–North America region
- Environmental destruction not avoided with the Sustainable Development Goals
- Emissions benefits of electric vehicles in Uber and Lyft ride-hailing services
- The appropriate use of reference scenarios in mitigation analysis
The Guardian reports that the UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to set out a “new deal” for jobs and infrastructure today. He is expected to say: “We will build build build. Build back better, build back greener, build back faster, and to do that at the pace that this moment requires.“ The Guardian says: “Most of the spending announcements will focus on the NHS, education and improvements for town centres. There will be £100m for roads and £10m for rail in Manchester, as well as £900m on unspecified “shovel-ready” local growth projects in England. Tree-planting is set for a boost, with Johnson re-affirming plans to plant more than 75,000 acres a year by 2025, with £40m for local conservation projects creating 3,000 jobs and safeguarding 2,000.” The Guardian says his plans were “greeted with dismay by environmental experts, who were concerned that the climate crisis receives scant attention in what the government is revealing so far of its plans”. Ed Matthew, of the Climate Coalition, tells the Guardian: “The only thing Rooseveltian about this plan is that it belongs in the fossil fuel age. There is very little announced today which will do anything to accelerate the transition to a zero carbon economy. The prime minister has to back up his rhetoric on a green recovery with action to prioritise green investment.” The Independent also reports on “anger” over a “lack of vital environmental measures” in Johnson’s new proposal. The Independent says: “He had been urged to seize the moment to ensure the UK is not ‘locked further into the climate crisis’ – with the commitment of net zero emissions by 2050 in deep trouble. Instead, the only fresh environmental measure is a hint of a future £40m to boost local conservation projects that would recruit new ‘conservation rangers’.” Bloomberg reports that Johnson will also announce new funds for infrastructure, including new flood defences. In its coverage of Johnson’s planned announced, the Daily Mail notes: “The green agenda could also be ramped up using tax incentives to encourage private contractors.” Ahead of the announcement, MPs will take part in more than 100 digital meetings with constituents to discuss plans for a green recovery, BusinessGreen reports. BusinessGreen says: “The Time is Now campaign, which last year organised a mass lobby event that saw constituents from across the UK travel to Westminster to lobby their MPs on the need to step up the UK’s response to the ‘climate emergency’, has co-ordinated a virtual update to the 2019 event that allows constituents to talk to MPs without jeopardising social distancing guidelines.”
Elsewhere, the i newspaper reports that Johnson is facing calls to bolster his government’s plans for making homes more energy efficient “amid concerns the government’s manifesto pledge to invest heavily in green homes has stalled”. The newspaper says: “A coalition of 10 organisations have written to the Prime Minister calling for a mass rollout of insulation and green heating technologies in all UK homes.” BusinessGreen reports that the government did announce £80m for energy efficiency yesterday, but that “fears are growing over a promised home upgrade plan”. The Independent also reports on growing calls for Johnson to address energy efficiency in homes. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the head of the UK’s largest fund manager has criticised the UK government for creating “confusion” around the country’s climate commitments by prioritising projects such as expanding Heathrow airport and pushing ahead with HS2. It reports: “Nigel Wilson said government priorities were ‘not necessarily consistent’ with climate crisis objectives and sending mixed messages to investors and the financial services industry.” Additionally, Renews reports that business secretary Alok Sharma has said the UK government’s recent delay on final planning decisions for two offshore wind farms was made to “allow further consideration” of environmental issues.
In US environmental news, the Guardian reports that the US is to join with other major powers including China, India and the EU in formulating plans for a global green recovery from the coronavirus crisis. Dan Brouillette, the US secretary of state for energy, will attend, along with China’s energy minister, Zhang Jianhua, the EU commission’s vice-president, Frans Timmermans, and the UK’s business secretary, Alok Sharma, the Guardian says. “Key to success will be that governments can sign up to green recovery plans even if – like the US – they are sceptical on the climate crisis.” A second Guardian story reports that Democrats will unveil an “aggressive action plan” today to “nearly eliminate US emissions by 2050”. The two-page document “calls for interim targets to assess progress and make sure fossil fuel pollution is declining, particularly in communities of colour that have suffered environmental injustices”, the Guardian says. The New York Times also carries the story under the headline: “Democrats detail a climate agenda tying environment to racial justice.”
Many publications report on a new study finding the south pole – the world’s coldest and most remote location – has warmed at three times the global rate over the past 30 years. The research, published in Nature Climate Change, also finds that 2018 was the south pole’s warmest year on record. Reuters adds: “Looking at data from 20 weather stations across Antarctica, the South Pole warming rate was seven times higher than the overall average for the continent.” The New York Times reports that “while the warming could be the result of natural climate change alone…it is likely that the effects of human-caused warming contributed to it”. The Amundsen-Scott station, a US research station based at the south pole, warmed by about 0.6C per decade over the past 30 years, the New York Times says. It adds: “Although parts of coastal Antarctica are losing ice, which contributes to sea level rise, the pole is in no danger of melting, as the year-round average temperature is still about minus-50 degrees Celsius. But the finding shows that no place is unaffected by change on a warming planet.” Writing on his own research for the Conversation, lead author and polar researcher Dr Kyle Clem says: “One of the reasons for the south pole warming was stronger low-pressure systems and stormier weather east of the Antarctic Peninsula in the Weddell Sea. With clockwise flow around the low-pressure systems, this has been transporting warm, moist air on to the Antarctic plateau.” The study is also covered by the i newspaper, CNN, MailOnline and the Sydney Morning Herald, among others. Carbon Brief also takes an in-depth look at the study’s findings.
Many publications report that the oil major BP has agreed to sell its petrochemicals business to Ineos for $5bn. The FT says: “Ineos, controlled by Jim Ratcliffe, one of the UK’s richest men, will pay a deposit of $400m and a further $3.6bn when the deal is expected to complete by the end of this year, BP said in a statement on Monday.” It adds: “The sale will mark BP’s departure from chemicals just as rivals see it as a lower-carbon alternative to sustain their companies through the energy transition.” BBC News reports, however, that the deal is a “move designed to help it become a lower carbon firm”. It says: “The $5bn (£4.1bn) deal with Ineos will see BP all but pull out of a sector expected to contribute to demand for oil over the coming decades…BP is in the process of mapping out a major shift in direction it announced in February, when it said it planned to sharply cut carbon emissions by 2050.” In response to the news, campaign group Greenpeace UK said the sale money “must be invested in a transition to renewable energy”, BBC News adds. The Times reports that the move came after BP concluded that “making plastics would not play a key part in its new green energy strategy”. The Times adds: “While plastics may have a bad reputation environmentally, they are seen as an area that is likely to drive continued demand for oil even as electric vehicles erode demand for fuel.” A second Times story says the deal “raises dividend hopes”. The deal is also reported on by CNN, the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph, among others.
Climate Home News reports that Ireland’s new coalition government has set itself an ambitious goal to deliver steep greenhouse gas emissions cuts every year to “reach carbon neutrality by 2050”. CHN says: “Under the coalition agreement, the three parties committed to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by an average 7% per year, adding up to 51% by 2030. They promised to enshrine in law a target to reach net zero emissions by 2050, in the government’s first 100 days in office, and deliver a ‘green’ economic recovery to the Covid-19 crisis.”
Elsewhere, Reuters and the Guardian report that French President Emmanuel Macron promised €15bn of new funding on Monday to speed up moves to a greener economy, “a day after the Greens trounced his party and took control of big cities in local elections”. Meanwhile, Spain is laying out “detailed plans to shift toward a greener economic model and ease its reliance on outdated manufacturing sectors like gas- and diesel-powered autos” using new EU money for a green recovery, Bloomberg says. In addition, German chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government has agreed on a compensation package for utilities operating hard coal power stations as part of Germany’s plans to phase out coal by 2038 at the latest to meet climate goals, Reuters reports.
In City AM, Conservative MP Alex Stafford argues the UK must “build back green” after coronavirus, echoing the words expected in a speech by UK prime minister Boris Johnson later today. Stafford says: “Although environmental issues have rightly taken a backseat for the last few months, the clock is still ticking down on the climate crisis. The key challenge of the decade remains: to reverse the catastrophic losses in precious habits and species and to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, with all the polluting impacts associated with them.” In the Times, Rachel Wolf, a founding partner at Public First and the secretariat for the Zero Carbon Commission, argues that “people want a green recovery from coronavirus”. She says: “There is an assumption that in the wake of Covid-19, every decision must be about no holds-barred economic growth. But that is not what our recent polling and focus groups found. Despite an unprecedented health pandemic and the consequent economic fallout, people want a recovery that is environmentally-friendly – even if that means it’s a little slower. Yes, they want growth, but they also want to look after future generations.”
In the Washington Post, climate reporter Sarah Kaplan uses her “Curious Climate” column to discuss what “racism means for climate change – and vice versa”. Kaplan quotes research that shows, for example, “that black and Hispanic communities in the US are exposed to far more air pollution than they produce through actions like driving and using electricity” and that “racial inequality also means that the people most at risk from climate change have the fewest resources to cope”. Kaplan also says that “kids of colour are spearheading America’s youth climate movement”, noting that “at least twice as many black and Hispanic teens participated in school walkouts on climate change than their white counterparts; they were also more likely to say people need to take action in the next year or two”. In the world of climate activism that “historically been dominated by white men”, Kaplan says “those numbers are shifting. And with more diversity has come an increased focus on issues of environmental justice”.
Corrado Passera, the CEO of illimity bank and Italy’s former minister of economic development, infrastructure and transport, writes in the FT that the European Union must quickly agree Covid-19 recovery fund. A key aim, he argues, is that “Europe becomes a world leader in technology”. He adds: “The funds raised should be aimed at developing critical physical and digital infrastructure, such as high-speed rail and a pan-EU data cloud; targeting projects to create sector champions like Airbus in other industries such as microelectronics and telecommunications; and speeding up the transition to green energy.”
The impact of climate change on the Madden–Julian Oscillation (MJO) could have knock-on impacts that increase rainfall variability over the northeast Pacific and North American west coast, a new study suggests. The MJO is a “slow-moving tropical mode that produces a planetary-scale envelope of convective storms”, the researchers say, and its wider impacts – known as “teleconnections” – have “far-reaching impacts on extratropical circulation and weather”. As an accompanying News & Views article explains, the study “predicts dramatic eastward shifts of these impacts in the Pacific–North America region as the climate warms, leading to higher winter rainfall variability along the US West Coast and California in particular”.
In a “brief communication” paper, a group of researchers warn that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) risk serving as a “smokescreen for further environmental destruction throughout the decade”. The SDGs were “designed to reconcile environmental protection with socioeconomic development”, the authors say, and their analysis compares “SDG indicators to a suite of external measures”. However, they find that “while most countries are progressing well towards environmental SDGs, this has little relationship with actual biodiversity conservation, and instead better represents socioeconomic development”.
Using of electric vehicles (EVs) for ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft has potential emissions reduction benefits that are around three times higher than for regular vehicle usage, a new study says. Focusing on the “rapid” growth in electric vehicle use in California, the study says that “concerns about the ability of electric vehicles to provide the same level of service as gasoline vehicles has been overstated”. The researchers find “no statistical difference between the two technologies for services provided to ride-hailing companies”. Also in Nature Energy, a separate study finds that the added weight of technology to make EVs automated will likely reduce their range “by 5–10% for suburban driving and by 10–15% for city driving”.
A new “perspective” paper assesses the use of reference scenarios in climate change mitigation analysis. Typically, a central reference scenario “acts as a point of comparison”, the authors say, and “often this has been a no policy baseline with no explicit mitigative action taken”. The use of such baselines is “under increasing scrutiny”, the authors note, and they outline “three critical issues relevant to the use of reference scenarios, demonstrating how different policy contexts merit the use of different scenarios”. They also “provide recommendations to the modelling community on best practice in the creation, use and communication of reference scenarios”.
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