Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU countries agree their green transition fund will not pay for move to nuclear or fossil gas
- Renewables generated 47% of UK’s electricity in first three months of 2020
- Cost of new Sizewell nuclear plant put at £20bn
- Australia: Morrison government has failed in its duty to protect environment, auditor general finds
- The Arctic heatwave: here's what we know
- The Guardian view on Covid-19 and the climate: take back control
- Clean coal is essential to America
- Long-term trends in Arctic surface temperature and potential causality over the last 100 years
EU countries have said that the flagship fund to “wean regions off fossil fuels” should not finance nuclear or natural gas projects, going against pro-gas calls from some Eastern countries, according to Reuters. The European Commission has put forward its proposal for incorporating elements of its “green deal” into its €750bn coronavirus recovery package. (Carbon Brief has more information about the commission’s plans so far in its “green recovery” tracker.) Part of the commission’s recovery proposal is a €40bn Just Transition Fund, aiming to encourage a shift from high-polluting industries that would help coal miners to retrain and find new jobs, as well as support coal-dependent regions. Nations have now agreed this fund should not go to any nuclear or fossil fuel projects, in line with the commission’s position. Separately, the Financial Times reports that Europe’s biggest steelmaker ArcelorMittal says decarbonising its operations in line with the EU’s “green deal” goals would cost up to €65bn, and has asked for public funding and policy support to help. Reuters also reports on division over whether to support hydrogen fuel produced using fossil fuels in the EU, ahead of a new strategy next month.
In more green recovery news, a piece in Reuters notes that Afghanistan is joining a “growing global trend of countries”, including neighbouring Pakistan, using “green stimulus” projects to help economies recovery after the pandemic.
BusinessGreen reports that Greenpeace activists have delivered a letter to the UK Treasury backed by 167,000 signatures calling on the government to ensure any airline bailout packaged includes climate-related conditions. In the US, six aviation unions have requested another $32bn bailout following the impact of the pandemic, according to Reuters. In the EU, airlines have called for a suspension of rules that force empty “ghost flights” to take off , warning their enforcement would be “environmentally and financially reckless”, according to the Times.
The share of electricity in the UK generated by renewables, such as wind, biomass, solar and hydro, climbed to a record high in the first quarter of this year, according to official figures reported by the Press Association. Hitting 47% of the mix marks the first time that renewables have contributed more than 40% of generation in any quarter, according to the newswire, based on data from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It notes that, overall, low-carbon electricity, which also includes nuclear power, made up a record 62% of generation and, therefore, the contribution from fossil fuels fell below 40% for the first time. According to the Guardian, the “substantial increase” in renewable energy output was largely driven by a surge in wind power generation, resulting from new windfarms coming online and the UK’s “unusually wet and windy weather at the start of the year”.
On the other side of the Atlantic, prospects for renewable energy are not as positive. A report by liberal thinktank the Center for American Progress, covered by Reuters, finds that president Donald Trump’s administration has approved about half as many federal wind and solar projects as the Obama administration had by the same point. Elsewhere, Axios reports that the US Bureau of Land Management has proposed an expansion of oil and gas drilling to over two-thirds of the nation’s “largest stretch of public land” in Alaska.
Finally, according to DeSmog, Washington DC has become the latest entity to sue the four largest investor-owned oil and gas companies – BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Shell – for “allegedly misleading consumers about climate change, including historically undermining climate science”.
French energy company EDF has stated that its proposed nuclear plant at the Sizewell C site in Suffolk will cost £20bn, “far more than had been anticipated”, according to the Times. Nuclear costs are “under intense scrutiny” after other projects in the UK have seen huge increases in price, and the government is considering a new funding model for Sizewell where consumers would start paying for the plant while under construction and share in the cost overruns, the newspaper reports. The company has stated the new site should be “substantially cheaper” than the controversial Hinkley Point C site, which has been afflicted by delays and cost increases, because “it can benefit from being able to copy the design and use the same employees and equipment”. The Financial Times quotes Greenpeace UK’s chief scientist Doug Parr, who said the claim by industry that the next power plant would be cheaper was “just never true”.
The Guardian reports on a “scathing” review by the Australian National Audit Office, which found the government has been “ineffective in managing risks to the environment, that its management of assessments and approvals is not effective, and that it is not managing conflicts of interest in the work it undertakes”.
Separately, an “exclusive” for the Guardian Australia reports that shareholders have claimed the nation’s Commonwealth Bank has “breached its own climate policies” by providing loans to projects that expand the global gas sector. Finally, more than 60 central banks, including the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Bank of England, have “warned that global GDP could fall by 25% by 2100 if the world does not act to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions”, according to the Guardian.
An article by Dr Tamsin Edwards, a climate scientist at King’s College London, looks at the heatwave that has struck the Arctic in recent days. It begins by considering some key points, including the 38C temperatures in Siberia, Arctic sea ice being at its the second lowest on record and 2020 being on course for the hottest year since records began. Edwards says this news may trigger “a lurch of fear, or avoidance” in people reading further, and explores both the potential contribution of climate change to such an event and the role such polar heatwaves could have in leading to “runaway” warming from methane release. She says that climate change could exacerbate high-pressure “blocking” weather systems that lead to events like this, linking to a recent Carbon Brief explainer on this topic. (Carbon Brief also recently posted a thread on Twitter explaining the situation in the Arctic.) Ultimately, she concludes that there are “few simple stories in climate change”, and there is “always a mix of natural and human influence, bad news and slightly-less-bad news, and occasionally even hopeful news”.
Separately, an article by Dr Jonathan Bamber from the University of Bristol in the Conversation also examines the Arctic heatwave and its causes. He concludes that the record-breaking Arctic temperatures this summer are not a “one-off”, but “part of a long-term trend that was predicted by climate models decades ago”. He adds: “The Arctic has sometimes been described as the canary in the coal mine for climate breakdown. Well it’s singing pretty loudly right now and it will get louder and louder in years to come.”
There is also continuing coverage of the events in the Arctic in the New York Times and the Associated Press, with the latter featuring comments from various scientists – including Carbon Brief contributor Zeke Hausfather – who are “alarmed” by the soaring temperatures and fires striking Siberia.
An editorial in the Guardian considers climate action in the age of coronavirus, noting that “the climate emergency has been knocked off the top of world leaders’ to-do list by the more immediate threat of the virus”. However, in response, it notes that , the environmental movement has proposed the “excellent idea” of a “green recovery”, pointing to this week’s report by government advisers the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), which focuses heavily on using green measures to help the UK recover from the pandemic. (Carbon Brief published its analysis of the CCC’s advice yesterday). The editorial looks at the practical proposals being suggested, while questioning the UK government’s ability to take on the advice. It notes that prime minister Boris Johnson “has only chaired one meeting of the cabinet committee on climate change set up last October. This fact on its own is dismal”. However, the article says “opportunity remains” as the government is soon expected to lay out its plans for post-pandemic recovery, and will also have to prepare for the postponed COP26 climate summit in the coming months. “Can Mr Johnson show more effective leadership in the climate crisis than he has during the pandemic? For the UK in 2020 there are few more important questions,” it concludes.
Meanwhile, another piece in the Guardian by global environment editor Jonathan Watts consider plans to build back the UK cleaner, specifically considering how a shift towards renewable energy could lead to “intergenerational injustice” in the oil rig-dependent city of Aberdeen.
For more information on global plans for a green recovery, see Carbon Brief’s tracker of the latest announcements from world government on their plans to rebuild their economies with green stimulus packages.
The Trump administration’s energy secretary Dan Brouillette, writing in the Pennsylvania Patriot-News, lays out a very different strategy for building back the economy after the coronavirus pandemic. “As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic and reopen our economy, we must apply our ingenuity to expand the use of American coal, while making it cleaner, to ensure its viability for generations to come,” he writes. Brouillette says that coal is “essential to this nation”, pointing to Pennsylvania’s inclusion of coal mining among its key industries as the pandemic took hold. While noting that renewables also play an important role in the US, he asks what happens “when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine”. Meanwhile, as a recent piece in Carbon Brief noted, in the UK the combination of coronavirus lockdowns and a stretch of sunny weather brought the country’s longest every coal-free stretch for power generation.
Another take on green recovery comes from City AM, in which Extinction Rebellion member-turned-nuclear power lobbyist Zion Lights writes an explanation for her journey from one section of the environmental movement to another. She says she is “sticking [her] head above the parapet and making the case for nuclear power in the UK”, concluding with: “Fellow environmentalists, I need you to look over the facts, accept the science, and commit to helping me to radically decarbonise the UK. Covid-19 has led us to a crossroads and we now have a unique opportunity to build a green future that involves clean energy.”
The rate of warming of the Arctic surface temperature has exceeded that of the global surface temperature in recent decades. However, the underlying process and causes of the long-term warming remain uncertain. This paper explores the factors underlying variation in Arctic mean surface temperature anomalies (AMTA) for 1920–2018. It finds that the change in AMTA during the study period could be divided into three segments, with AMTA increasing from 1920 to 1938, declining from 1939 to 1976, and finally increasing rapidly after 1977. The AMTA evolution can mainly be attributed to a combined effect of anthropogenic and natural factors (e.g., CO2, aerosol, and PDO). During the first warming stage (1920–1938), the PDO and aerosols are the main factors determining the change in AMTA. During the second warming stage (1977–2018), greenhouse gases, dominated by CO2, are the major factors accounting for the Arctic warming. In 1939–1976, the observed cooling may be associated with aerosols, clouds, and land use.