Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU commission president nominee backs 50% carbon cut by 2030
- London ‘as hot as Barcelona by 2050’
- EU carbon price soars to 11-year high
- State Department analyst resigns after White House blocked climate change testimony
- National Grid: 'Immediate action' required to ready UK energy system for net-zero target
- The Guardian view on the climate emergency: a dangerous paralysis
- Shipping industry needs to clean up its act on pollution
- Perceived fairness and public acceptability of carbon pricing: a review of the literature
In her pitch for the EU’s top job, Ursula von der Leyen has, reports Climate Home News, said “she supports raising climate targets, making aviation and maritime polluters pay and introducing a carbon border tax to make Europe the first climate neutral continent”. During back-to-back hearings with various European parliamentary political blocs yesterday, von der Leyen said she wants the European Union to “be the first continent that is climate neutral”, Climate Home News adds. She told the Greens that she would introduce legislation to toughen up the EU’s 2030 target of a 40% emissions cut below 1990 levels. “Looking at the facts and the figures I feel confident that we can reach 50% of reduction in the year 2030,” she told the group. Politico says that von der Leyen, who is currently the German defense minister, is “making ambitious climate promises in her push to become European Commission president, and in the process is shifting positions held by her conservative European People’s Party”. It adds that she “also talked about introducing a carbon border tax, in an effort to prevent companies from decamping to more environmentally lax regions and promoting a ‘just transition’ in the bloc’s shift away from fossil fuels”. However, another article by Politico reports that, despite her pitch, Green MEPs will oppose her nomination to be the next European Commission president in a vote next week. “We did not hear any concrete proposal, be it on rule of law or on climate,” said the group’s co-president Ska Keller, from the German Greens, according to Politico. “We have been elected on a mandate for change and we don’t see how change will be possible with this candidate.”
Separately, Politico also reports that “mainstream, pro-EU political parties in the European Parliament moved aggressively to block Euroskeptic and extremist groups from claiming several prominent committee leadership posts”. It adds: “That blocking effort enraged anti-establishment forces and potentially put at risk an overall deal on the EU’s future leadership.”
Many outlets in the UK report a new study that, according to the Times, concludes that “London will be as hot as Barcelona in 30 years, Edinburgh will feel like Paris and Leeds will resemble Melbourne”. The study, which is published in PLOS One and “designed to demystify global warming forecasts”, offers an insight into how individual cities will fare if the average global temperature in 2050 has increased by 2C from pre-industrial levels. The Times continues: “As a rule of thumb, northern hemisphere city climates will change to resemble places about 600 miles to the south, it says, equivalent to them creeping about 20 miles towards the tropics each year.” The Evening Standard says: “Scientists warned that Londoners could be facing the kind of extreme drought conditions that hit the Spanish city in 2008, which had severe implications for its population and major economic costs from importing £20m of drinking water.” The Guardian points out that the study concludes that “nearly eight in 10 cities will experience dramatic changes”. The authors tell the Guardian: “That means there will be new political challenges, new infrastructure challenges, that we have not faced before.” iNews quotes Prof Gabi Hegerl at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research: “What I find most striking are the number of cities that move to unknown climatic conditions, most of them in the tropics. Some of these are large and fast-growing cities, and the new conditions could be harmful or dangerous as they are presently inexperienced in coming with extreme events.”
EU carbon prices “soared to the highest level since before the financial crisis on Wednesday”, reports the FT, moving above €28 a tonne and extending their “record-breaking rally to more than 250% since the start of 2018”. The FT explains that prices have “been on a tear” over the last 19 months since the EU altered the rules governing how many allowances will be given away for free to industry, among other changes: “The move in EU carbon allowances, which are traded under a system designed to ultimately make the cost of polluting more expensive, will increase the cost of doing business for coal plants, steel manufacturers and other industries with large emissions, but should force a faster shift towards cleaner fuels.” See Carbon Brief’s Q&A for more on the reforms.
Meanwhile, Reuters headlines a report: “European airline chiefs push back against flight shaming, carbon taxes.” It adds: “The heads of some of Europe’s largest airlines hit back on Wednesday against efforts to discourage Europeans from flying, arguing the industry was making huge strides in cutting its carbon footprint and that there was no shame in air travel. The share prices of Europe’s largest airlines fell this week when France announced a tax on air travel, the latest move by an EU government to discourage flying, which activists say is a major contributor to climate change.”
A number of US publications report the resignation of Rod Schoonover from the US State Department. The Wall Street Journal says that the “intelligence analyst has resigned in protest after the White House blocked portions of his written testimony to a congressional panel to exclude data and evidence on climate change and its threat to national security”. In June, Schoonover had prepared a written report citing peer-reviewed scientific journal articles and intelligence reports, which, says the WSJ, concluded that climate change could have wide-ranging national security impacts by contributing to increased humanitarian crises, competition for resources and risk of political instability. White House officials had allowed him to speak to the panel in June, but prohibited him from including evidence and data supporting his assessments in written testimony to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence last month. The Washington Post says Schoonover’s decision to resign was voluntary: “Individuals familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity to speak frankly, said Schoonover is leaving voluntarily. But the incident that led to his departure underscores the extent to which climate science has become contested terrain under the current administration.” The New York Times says that “the science cited in Dr. Schoonover’s testimony did not correspond with White House views”.
In other US-related news, the Hill reports that “Republicans [have] launched an environment-minded conservation caucus aimed at battling the perception that their party doesn’t care about climate change”. It adds: “Republicans, alongside Democrats, have introduced a number of bills this year that would fund research and development for battery storage, carbon capture technology and other energy needs. But the caucus members on Wednesday stressed that traditional energy sources like coal, oil and gas would remain a part of the mix.”
Axios focuses on the entry of Tom Steyer into the race to be the Democratic presidential candidate for 2020: “The conversation about climate change picked up steam in the 2020 election when billionaire Democratic activist and environmentalist Tom Steyer launched his White House run yesterday with an emphasis on climate change…Steyer has lots of money to throw around. He’s reportedly planning to spend $100m on the race.” The New York Times runs an opinion piece by David Leonhardt with “some ideas for Tom Steyer” on better ways to spend his $100m: “Steyer could help Democrats retake control of the Senate, which they’ll need to do in order to pass any of their priorities.”
BusinessGreen reports that National Grid has published its latest Future Energy Scenarios analysis, which argues that the UK will only be able to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 if “immediate action” is taken to overhaul transport, heating, and electricity systems in the UK. BusinessGreen adds: “That is the stark assessment offered today by National Grid, as the company becomes the latest influential organisation to warn that reaching net-zero emissions will require large swathes of the UK’s industrial and commercial energy demand to electrify, at the same time as millions of electric cars and electric heat pumps are deployed across the country. Such a drastic overhaul of the UK’s energy system could push up electricity demand from 348TWh [terawatt hours] per year today to 491TWh in 2050, significantly above the 422TWh a year National Grid believes will be needed under a 2C warming trajectory.” The Daily Telegraph also covers the report: “The widespread use of electric cars in the UK and the end of gas boilers in homes will cause the country to reach its target of zero emissions of greenhouse gases, a new report says. The National Grid’s Electricity System Operator said on Thursday that it would be possible to reach the goal by 2050 if there were no conventional or hybrid cars on British roads.”
An editorial in the Guardian reacts to the Committee on Climate Change’s latest annual progress report (covered in detail by Carbon Brief yesterday), which “makes it clear that the government’s commitment to mitigating the effects of the climate emergency is still very much at the stage of announcing speed limits”. The editorial continues: “The inaction and frivolity of the state’s response is breathtaking. It is now 11 years since the then chief scientific adviser to Defra, Professor Bob Watson, warned about the prospect of a 4C rise, which in those relatively optimistic days looked like a worst case scenario. It is past time to plan seriously and to act on these plans. Dad’s Army won’t muddle through this global emergency. However painful real change may be politically and economically, waiting for the inevitable will be worse.”
Also in the Guardian, the climate scientist Anders Levermann writes that “governments need to step up” because “personal sacrifice alone cannot be the solution to tackling the climate crisis”. He continues: There’s no other area in which the individual is held so responsible for what’s going wrong. And it’s true: people drive too much, eat too much meat, and fly too often. But reaching zero emissions requires very fundamental changes. Individual sacrifice alone will not bring us to zero. It can be achieved only by real structural change; by a new industrial revolution.”
In the Conversation, Rebecca Willis, who is a research fellow at the University of Exeter and professor in practice at Lancaster University, argues that “the stark truth is that no one is in charge” when it comes to implementing the UK’s climate policies. Willis continues: “Under the UK’s Climate Change Act, there is a statutory requirement on the government as a whole to meet targets. This leaves the prime minister with ultimate authority, but no clarity about which department should do what. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) oversees progress, but other departments have no carbon targets or responsibilities, and BEIS cannot tell them what to do. Neither are there targets or responsibilities for local areas. The Committee on Climate Change can offer advice, but the route between this advice and policy delivery is, to put it politely, unclear. This results in some serious contradictions.”
In contrast, Quartz’s Akshat Rathi has a piece on why “when it comes to cutting emissions, the United Kingdom leads the pack among rich countries”. A key reason for its success, he argues, “is the Climate Change Act of 2008, which sets out a legally binding emissions target to meet by 2050”. He suggests that other countries should set up copies of the Committee on Climate Change.
Writing in the Times, Jawad Iqbal, who is a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics’s Institute of Global Affairs, says that “the shipping industry is estimated to account for just over 2% of CO2 emissions contributing to global warming, equivalent to the total emissions of Germany, the world’s fourth biggest economy”. He adds: “Until now, scandalously little has been done to tackle this growing problem, but at last moves are under way to clean up shipping.…[and] there are encouraging signs. Some companies are starting to switch to lower-sulphur fuel oil, while others are installing exhaust scrubbers to remove sulphur from their vessels’ emissions. Electric-powered ships could be a useful option on short journeys, as well as cruise ships sailing at slower speeds to help reduce emissions. Rules are all well and good but enforcing them requires co-operation in a cut-throat industry. It’s time for consumers to force the pace of change by asking questions about the shipping policies of the companies whose products they are buying.”
A new paper reviews the literature around the public acceptability of implementing a price on carbon. The findings indicate that concern over the impacts on poorer people reduces acceptability, as does a lack of “trust in the capacities of governments to put the revenues of carbon pricing to good use”. However, the researchers find the “somewhat surprising” result that “most studies do not indicate clear public preferences for using revenues to ensure fairer policy outcomes, notably by reducing its regressive effects. Instead, many people prefer using revenues for ‘environmental projects’ of various kinds.”
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