Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU member states call for 2030 climate target
- Rishi Sunak ready to end freeze on fuel duty in Budget
- UN aviation agency weighs restrictions on carbon credits under fire by climate activists
- Boris Johnson urged to speak out against climate deniers
- Chris Packham launches legal action against UK’s HS2 project
- Energy groups urged to step up as net zero champions
- Britain’s carbon emissions fall faster than any other big economy
- Climate change: The stakes are too high not to speed up the push for net zero carbon emissions
- The decade-long inside story behind an onshore wind revival
- New energy watchdog boss vows to get tough on rip-off tariffs
- The role of northern peatlands in the global carbon cycle for the 21st century
A dozen EU member states, but not including Germany, have called for a tougher 2030 climate target for the bloc “as soon as possible”, the Guardian reports. According to the paper, the states say in a letter to the European Commission that setting a new target early – and by June 2020 at the latest – would mean that “the EU can lead by example and contribute to creating the international momentum needed for all parties to scale up their ambition”. The Guardian says the letter “piles pressure on [EU climate lead Frans] Timmermans, who is due to unveil the EU’s long-awaited climate law on Wednesday”. Climate Home News also covers the member state letter. Separately, Politico and the Associated Press report on an open letter to European leaders, from climate strikers including Greta Thunberg, published exclusively yesterday by Carbon Brief. Politico reports: “Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg has slammed the EU’s efforts on climate a day ahead of the publication of the bloc’s flagship law.” It quotes the letter saying: “Net zero emissions by 2050’ for the EU equals surrender. It means giving up. We don’t just need goals for just 2030 or 2050. We, above all, need them for 2020 and every following month and year to come.” [The Guardian has a book review of “Our house is on fire”, which it describes as “a portrait of crisis by Greta Thunberg and her family”.] Another Politico article covers the “political battles” surrounding EU climate plans, in a piece about “the five fights facing the commission in the wake of legislating for climate neutrality by 2050”. Separately, the Guardian reports on the “fossil fuel firms…making good use of the many revolving doors available to them in Brussels”.
Recently appointed UK chancellor Rishi Sunak will use his budget next week to “signal the end” to a decade of freezes on fuel duty, the Financial Times reports in a frontpage article. The paper says the move is one of “a raft of measures intended to help Britain meet its climate change targets”. It says Sunak’s budget “will also refer to a Treasury review into how Britain can fund its transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, which will be concluded by the end of the year”. The Sun reports the story, saying that “fears escalated last night” over an increase in fuel duty going ahead.
Meanwhile, several outlets – including a frontpage story for the Times – report that the Department for Transport is to publish plans today on introducing petrol blended with 10% biofuel as the new UK standard, up from 5%. The Times says the move could cut emissions from road transport by 0.75 million tonnes of CO2 (MtCO2) per year, according to the department. [Transport is the largest emitting sector in the UK, with road transport alone responsible for some 113MtCO2 each year.] Analysis for the paper says that the bioethanol blended into petrol in the UK is “largely from domestically grown wheat that might otherwise be used to feed livestock”. The Times adds: “Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is expected to update Boris Johnson today on his department’s efforts to meet green targets at the first meeting of the government’s cabinet committee on climate change.” The Daily Mail, BBC News and Press Association all report the biofuel story. A news brief from Reuters reports on today’s first meeting of the cross-government climate change committee chaired by prime minister Boris Johnson, which was first announced by Number 10 in October 2019.
BusinessGreen reports how: “British businesses are being urged by the government to ramp up their energy efficiency efforts in order to help cut costs and combat climate change, estimating that cutting business energy use by a fifth over the next decade could reap £6bn a year in savings.” Separately, the Guardian says a new report is calling for the chancellor to invest £8bn in his first budget on new zero-carbon infrastructure, skills and innovation. The report is authored by economist Lord Stern, who the Guardian quotes saying: “The budget should mark the start of a decade of massive investment in accelerating the transition of the UK economy to zero-carbon growth.” Finally, an “exclusive” report for the i newspaper says the government is set to commit £37m for research into electric cars, ships and planes at four regional “centres of excellence” in north east England, the east Midlands, Scotland and Wales.
An “exclusive” report for Reuters says the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) could restrict the use of older carbon credits under its “Corsia” offsetting scheme for international aviation emissions. The newswire reports: “The move, if approved, would be a blow to operators of older projects in countries including Brazil and India who had hoped a global push by airlines to offset emissions would mop up a glut of carbon credits awarded under earlier climate initiatives.” It continues: “ICAO’s Technical Advisory Board (TAB) is recommending six programs for Corsia’s pilot phase [including the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)], but would exclude projects that issued before 2016 and only recognise emission reductions through end-2020, according to a document seen by Reuters…The fate of billions of older CDM credits, the majority of which come from China and India, was a thorny and unresolved issue for climate negotiators in Madrid in December, raising the stakes for ICAO. Brazil, China and India had pushed for most or all CDM credits, some more than a decade old, to qualify under the aviation sector’s offset program, one source familiar with the talks said.” [For more on recent international debates over carbon credits, see Carbon Brief’s coverage of the COP25 climate talks in Madrid.]
The Guardian reports calls from campaigners for UK prime minister Boris Johnson to “publicly declare climate deniers as wrong in order to secure the UK’s standing in vital UN climate talks this year…as climate deniers with links to the Tory party prepare for a new battle”. The piece continues: “[T]he Tory party retains links with prominent individuals who are climate deniers, or who are connected to organisations that either deny the climate crisis or actively work to undermine climate policies, such as the Global Warming Policy Foundation [GWPF], the thinktank set up by the former Conservative chancellor Lord Lawson.” DeSmog UK reports that, based on its analysis of Electoral Commission figures, the Conservative Party “has received nearly £1.5m of donations from polluting interests and funders of climate science denial in the past three months”. Meanwhile, separate analysis by DeSmog UK and reported by the Independent shows that the GWPF’s membership income has tripled. DeSmog UK reports: “In its latest end of year accounts, GWPF, the UK’s most prominent climate science denial group, has reported that its total income has increased by around £75,000 over the last year – an increase of almost 20%…[I]ncome from membership fees has increased to £24,714 – almost triple the 2018 figure.” Separately, the Guardian “reveals” that Crispin Odey, one of the biggest donors to Boris Johnson’s Conservative party, has invested in a Brazilian company linked to deforestation in the Amazon.
Broadcaster and naturalist Chris Packham has launched a legal challenge against the UK’s HS2 high-speed rail project, the Financial Times reports, on the basis of a claim that it is “incompatible with the government’s net-zero carbon emissions target”. The paper adds: “The move comes less than a week after environmental campaigners including Friends of the Earth won a legal challenge in the High Court against the construction of a third runway at Heathrow airport on the grounds that the UK government did not take into account commitments it had made under the Paris agreement on climate change.” The FT quotes a partner at a law firm saying the chances of the case succeeding were “slim” because the “Heathrow case won on the basis that the government hadn’t taken the Paris agreement into account whereas this was not clearly the case on HS2”. The Guardian also reports the news, adding: “The Department for Transport said it was considering the claim and would respond in due course.” It also quotes a spokesperson for the department saying: “When finished, HS2 will play a key part in our efforts to tackle climate change, reducing carbon emissions by providing an alternative to domestic flights and cutting congestion on our roads.”
An editorial in the Sun says: “Fresh from all but killing off Heathrow’s third runway, the eco lobby is launching a legal war to block HS2 using the same argument: that the government did not factor in its commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050…the Heathrow ruling will be weaponised by eco campaigners to scupper every development, every new road and even road repairs. We hope the government’s lawyers are preparing a watertight response.”
Separately, Guardian columnist George Monbiot writes about why he has joined with Ecotricity founder Dale Vince and the Good Law Project to launch a challenge to the government’s policy for approving new energy projects, which could block development of new gas-fired power stations. He writes: “On Tuesday, we delivered a ‘letter before action’ to the Treasury solicitor. We’ve given the government 21 days to accept our case and change its policy to reflect the climate commitments agreed by parliament. If it fails to do so, we shall issue proceedings in the high court to have the policy declared unlawful.” Monbiot argues: “It’s hard to see how the government could resist our case. The Heathrow judgment hung on the government’s national policy statement on airports. This, the judges found, had not been updated to take account of the Paris climate agreement. New fossil fuel plants, such as the gas burners at Drax in Yorkshire the government approved last October, are enabled by something very similar: the national policy statements on energy infrastructure. These have not been updated since they were published in 2011. As a result, they take no account of the Paris agreement, of the government’s new climate target (net zero by 2050, as opposed to an 80% cut) or of parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency.” He points out that the existing energy policy statement clearly needs updating, since it refers to the EU Emissions Trading System that the UK will be leaving, adding: “The planning act obliges the government to review its national policy statements when circumstances change. It has failed to do so. It is disregarding its own laws.”
Finally, the Times reports that “the comedian and actor Griff Rhys Jones has joined a campaign to stop more than 100 villages [in Suffolk] being blighted by pylons, substations and cables connected to offshore wind farms”
In an interview with the Financial Times, Chris Stark, head of the UK government’s official adviser the Committee on Climate Change, says oil-and-gas companies “should lead investment in clean energy technologies rather than waiting for government subsidies”, the paper reports. It quotes Stark saying: “One of the most disappointing discussions I hear occasionally, at least from the oil-and-gas sector, is that they are waiting for the government to put in place the right conditions or put the right carbon price in place…The people who need to champion the investment [in carbon capture, use and storage and hydrogen] are the oil and gas sector themselves.” In a separate comment for the Financial Times, Jason Bordoff, founding director of the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University, argues for a tax on flaring of gas during oil extraction. He says: “In the past decade, US oil and gas companies have become so successful in finding and getting oil out of the ground that they have started burning billions of dollars worth of gas each year. When a company produces oil, natural gas often comes out of the ground with it. Because oil is so valuable, it is often cheaper to burn the gas than build the infrastructure to sell it. But the practice – flaring – is both wasteful and environmentally harmful…If the industry and its regulators want to have a future, they need to stop, quickly.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that oil giant Exxon Mobil is calling for tighter regulations on methane emissions during oil-and-gas extraction, with the newswire saying it “offered up its own in-house rules as a model for companies and lawmakers worldwide”. It adds: “The largest US oil company laid out the guidelines it follows – some of which have been rolled back by the Trump administration – at a time when the industry faces growing pressure from investors to reduce its environmental footprint.”
Finally, another Reuters article reports comments by Chevron chief executive Mike Wirth, saying: “The world will need more of what we produce, not less.” Reuters notes that “environmental and investor pressures cloud the longer-term outlook for the industry”. The Financial Times also picks up Wirth’s comments, reporting: “Questioned on environmental targets, following BP’s pledge last month to bring its greenhouse gas emissions to “net zero” by 2050 or sooner, Chevron highlighted efforts to reduce emissions per unit of oil and gas production – known as emissions intensity.” The paper quotes Wirth saying: “Certainly the European companies have made longer-term aspirational commitments. What we’ve done is given you things that are very tangible here and now that we’re doing today.”
There is continuing coverage of Carbon Brief analysis, published yesterday, showing that the UK’s carbon emissions fell by 29% over the past decade and are at the lowest level since 1888, excluding years with general strikes. The Times reports the news under the headline: “Britain’s carbon emissions fall faster than any other big economy.” It adds: “The emissions analysed exclude those from international aviation, shipping and the production of imported goods.”
Writing for the i newspaper, the newly appointed UK business, energy and industrial strategy secretary and COP26 president Alok Sharma writes: “Today I will join the prime minister for the first meeting of a new cabinet committee on climate change, where we will drive action towards net zero further and faster.” He continues: “Our vision for the COP26 summit is clear: when we meet in Glasgow we will be sending out a message that net-zero is the future, with huge opportunities for businesses and governments which are prepared to act now.” Sharma concludes: “Tackling climate change is a shared endeavour. We must continue to lead the way at home, if we are to inspire the global effort. As president of COP26, I invite our partners around the world to join us and take decisive action to make the summit meaningful in the fight against climate change. The stakes are too high not to.”
In an article for BusinessGreen, Maf Smith of Lumen Energy & Environment and former deputy chief executive of wind industry group RenewableUK, describes the back story to this week’s decision to allow onshore wind and solar to once again compete for UK government support. He reflects on how, in 2010, the Conservative manifesto “attacked Labour’s ‘failure’ on climate change” and supported the use of wind and solar, before “grassroots voices within the party began to push back”. Smith recalls his time “in meetings with Conservative backbenchers fully signed up to the worst anti-wind myths campaigners could summon up”. BusinessGreen editor James Murray says the “revival” of onshore wind and solar “suggests the government is serious about the net-zero transition”. And writing for the Guardian, campaigner Max Wakefield says of the onshore wind decision: “Let’s enjoy some good climate news.” He adds that the move “perhaps indicative that from atop his 80-seat majority, Boris Johnson is indeed willing to upset backbenchers to take action on the climate crisis”. Meanwhile, in a piece for the Daily Telegraph, former environment secretary Owen Paterson writes under the headline: “Forget wind turbines. Here’s how we can meet net-zero without derailing the economy.” He advocates for “modular nuclear reactors (SMRs)”, which he describes as a “proven technology”. [A government-backed fund, announced in November, “aims to develop a small modular reactor”.] Another comment for the Daily Telegraph is penned by John Constable, energy editor of the climate-sceptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, although the piece does not mention his affiliation. Constable’s article runs under the headline “The government’s murky wind subsidies revival is a costly blunder” and argues that wind and solar are “intrinsically expensive”. [The government this week published “illustrative” prices for onshore wind and solar that are far below current prices for wholesale electricity.] A blog post from Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit head of analysis Dr Jonathan Marshall says: “With indicative bids in the proposed 2021 auction [for government renewable contracts] coming in at just £33/MWh and £34/MWh for solar and onshore wind, respectively, it is now crystal clear that renewables cannot be beaten on cost.”
The Guardian’s energy editor Jillian Ambrose has an interview with Jonathan Brearley, the new head of energy regulator Ofgem. According to the paper, Brearley “says Ofgem needs to balance new net-zero carbon goals with protecting consumers”. It adds that he “plans to inject climate action into the core of the UK’s energy regulation, too”. It quotes Brearley saying: “We take net-zero very seriously, and as seriously as our other objectives. What you will see is us making sure that this is factored into all our decisions in quite a fundamental way.”
Uncurbed climate change could see northern peatlands turn from a carbon sink to source by the end of the century, a new study estimates. Northern peatlands are an important land carbon store – sinking 100m tonnes of carbon per year, on average, from 1861 to 2005. If global temperature rise is kept below 2C, the carbon sink ability of northern peatlands will roughly double by the end of the century, the research says. However, in a scenario of uncontrolled climate change, northern peatlands may start to emit more CO2 through thawing than they are able to uptake, becoming a carbon source.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.