Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU pledges green focus in coronavirus recovery program
- UK urged to tie green recovery from Covid-19 crisis to COP26 summit
- States sue to block Trump from weakening fuel economy rules
- Exxon shareholders soundly reject splitting CEO/chairman roles
- Lessons from a pandemic
- Greater probability of extreme precipitation under 1.5C and 2C warming limits over East-Central Asia
- Hotspots of extreme heat under global warming
- Projected impacts of climate change on drought patterns over East Africa
There is widespread coverage of the European Union’s proposed €750bn Covid-19 stimulus package, revealed yesterday in Brussels by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Bloomberg says that the plan includes “making its climate-neutrality strategy a key pillar”. It adds: “The unprecedented stimulus program – along with a revised budget for the next seven years – aims to accelerate the transition to clean transport, increase energy savings and boost the production of renewable energy…The package, the world’s greenest stimulus plan to mitigate the economic effects of the coronavirus crisis, needs to be approved by the bloc’s 27 member states in difficult negotiations that may take months. It would promote sustainable investment in sync with the EU’s climate and energy targets, a move that was missing in many national Covid-19 bailouts despite encouragement from the commission.” Reuters says that the plan includes 40bn euros for a “just transition” away from fossil fuels: “The European Commission has increased five-fold its proposed EU fund to wean carbon-intensive regions off fossil fuels, with fresh cash from a new recovery fund to help Europe’s ailing economies rebound after the new coronavirus pandemic…The proposal is more than five times bigger than the 7.5bn euro just transition fund – in 2018 prices – the EU executive proposed in January before it overhauled its budget proposals amid the pandemic.” Another Reuters story sets out the “key climate spending” pledges within the green recovery plan, which will be formally revealed today: “The plan earmarks €91bn per year in EU grants and loan guarantees for renovations such as rooftop solar panels, insulation and renewable heating systems…The Commission wants the EU to produce one million tonnes of clean hydrogen…The EU will tender 15 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity in the next two years, with expected investments of €25bn…A two-year €20bn EU scheme of grants and guarantees should boost sales of “clean” vehicles, with two million electric and hydrogen vehicle charging stations to be installed by 2025. A €40-60bn fund, pulled from existing cash pots in the EU budget, will target investments in zero-emission trains.” EurActiv quotes Ursula von der Leyen in her speech to the European Parliament yesterday: “The recovery plan turns the immense challenge we face into an opportunity, not only by supporting the recovery but also by investing in our future: the European Green Deal and digitalisation.” EurActiv also highlights the plans “do no harm” objectives: “Spending will also be guided by a sustainable finance taxonomy, which aims to channel private investments into technologies that contribute to at least one of six pre-defined environmental objectives, such as climate change mitigation. And a ‘do no harm’ test embedded in the taxonomy will in principle exclude fossil fuels and nuclear power.” Axios says the EU’s plans “appear to be the most substantial attempt yet to stitch low-carbon investments into economic recovery plans”. “But, but, but,” it adds, ‘the plan will require backing from all EU member states and the European Parliament, per Reuters, which notes it will be discussed at a mid-June summit but “any final deal is likely to take longer”. Quoting the Associated Press, Axios says that “EU nations are ‘deeply divided’ over how to structure the overall recovery plan and that it’s ‘likely to set off weeks of wrangling’.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times notes that: “Brussels anticipates that new taxes and levies could cover all interest and repayment costs. Among those levies are proposals that Brussels taps revenues from reforms to the EU’s carbon market, known as the emissions trading system. The system, which allows companies to buy and sell permits to emit CO2, could yield about €10bn a year for the EU budget. A mooted levy on carbon-intensive industrial products shipped from outside the bloc could bring in anything from €5bn to €14bn depending on its design.” Politico describes the plan overall as “Ursula von der Leyen’s big gamble with borrowed money”.
In continuing reaction to the news that COP26, the next UN climate summit, is now likely to be postponed by a full year to November 2021 [a formal decision by the UN is due later today], the Guardian reports that several leading experts have that the UK government “must urgently set out clear plans on a green recovery from the coronavirus crisis” in light of the delay: “Tying the COP26 talks to a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis is now essential to regain momentum and ensure the summit produces the fresh global commitment needed on the climate crisis, experts say. Mary Robinson, former UN climate envoy, and chair of the Elders group of international leader, said: “Very definitely we need to tie together a green recovery and COP26 – that is imperative. UK leadership can and should urge forward a net-zero carbon transition from the Covid-19 crisis. Leadership is needed, moral, political, economic and social leadership.” Other voices supporting such a move include Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme, and Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief.
Meanwhile, Axios sets out why the new date for the conference matters: “The long pause might have a silver lining for advocates…The new schedule, unknown when the event was postponed two months ago, means diplomats will have time to absorb how countries are — or aren’t — folding low-carbon investments into pandemic response measures.” Climate Home News highlights how the delay will likely have a knock-on effect on the following COP being hosted in Africa.
Separately, the Guardian reports that a new cross-party commission has recommended that “the UK needs to invest an additional £30bn a year in shovel-ready green projects to create jobs, energise the post-lockdown economy and put the country back on track to achieve its climate targets”. The Guardian adds: “In the most detailed blueprint to date for a green recovery from Covid-19, it also advises the government to make an initial down payment of £5bn into a national “just transition fund” that would support the regions likely to be worst affected by the shift away from fossil fuels. The 96-page dossier was unveiled on Wednesday by the environmental justice commission, which is composed of MPs, business executives, union leaders, climate activists and members of the Institute for Public Policy Research.”
And in another Guardian article, the newspaper reports that government advisers have warned that the UK’s “vital infrastructure is under threat from the ravages of extreme weather and climate breakdown, unless ministers take swift action to protect against flooding, heatwaves and drought”. It adds: “Energy networks and water utilities, communications, transport and other essential services are all at risk, said Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure
Several US publications report that 23 US states are suing the Trump administration over its reversal of fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. The New York Times says the states argue that the administration’s move is “based on erroneous science and endangers public health”. The newspaper adds: “The lawsuit escalates a standoff between President Trump, who has moved to undo a long list of environmental regulations since taking office, and a coalition of Democratic states, which have gone to court to stop him. President Trump’s attempt to weaken future fuel economy standards — undoing what would have been the single biggest effort by the US to fight the climate crisis — has been especially contentious and messy.” Reuters says: “In March, the administration issued final rules requiring 1.5% annual increases in vehicle fuel efficiency through 2026 – far weaker than the 5% increases set under former President Barack Obama…Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel called the rule a ‘gift to the fossil fuel industry’ that would harm the state, home to Detroit’s Big Three automakers, because it would reduce automotive-related employment by 4%.” Axios says “the long-anticipated lawsuit is arguably one of the most high-profile battles between the Trump administration and Democratic states over environmental regulations”, adding: “These regulations were the most sweeping climate-change policies from President Obama and hugely impacted automakers. The automakers now find themselves stuck between the administration and states like California, which are leading with more aggressive standards.” Earlier this month, Carbon Brief published a summary of a new study showing that fuel-economy improvements in US “light-duty” vehicles have saved 17bn tonnes of CO2 over the past four decades.
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that the “Trump administration is making it easier for renewable energy projects to take advantage of certain tax credits amid the coronavirus pandemic”.
Reuters reports that ExxonMobil shareholders have “soundly rejected climate-related proposals and splitting the chairman and chief executive’s roles at the oil major’s shareholder meeting”. It adds: “Climate activists had swung behind efforts to split the roles of chief executive and chairman after prior defeats on resolutions seeking to make it more accountable to shareholders on climate change risk. This year’s vote on an independent chair collected 32.7% of the vote, down from nearly 41% last year.” Earlier, the Guardian has reported that BlackRock, the world’s largest fund manager [which owns 5% of ExxonMobil’s stock], was planning to lodge multiple votes against ExxonMobil…as it flags concern over the oil company’s failure to make progress on its climate change targets”.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that Bernard Looney, the new chief executive of BP, said yesterday that the oil-and-gas major is drawing up a “green strategy” for the next 10 years: “The energy group is due to host an investor update in September, at which it has promised to flesh out its ambition to become a ‘net-zero emissions’ company by 2050.”
Jared Diamond, the geographer and bestselling author of books such as “Collapse” and “Guns, Germs and Steel”, writes in the Financial Times about the four existential threats he considers to be the most serious. Other than nuclear war, he says these are: “climate change; unsustainable use of essential resources (especially forests, seafood, topsoil and fresh water); and the consequences of the enormous differences in standard of living between the world’s peoples, destabilising our globalised existence”. He goes on to say that “until the unprecedented danger posed by Covid-19, there has never been a struggle that united all peoples of the world against a widely acknowledged common enemy”. He continues: “As a result, we have been hamstrung in our responses, especially to climate change…Even before President Donald Trump pulled out of the Paris agreement on climate change, that deal fell far short of an effective solution to the problem. Nations haven’t joined in acknowledging that climate change will ruin every nation, that every nation is contributing to causing it (some nations more than other nations), that all nations must do their share in the struggle, and that the failure of even just one nation to do its share will harm all other nations. The one-by-one approach is as impotent for solving the danger posed by Covid-19 as it is for solving the problem of climate change.”
Meanwhile, David Roberts writing for Vox notes that “at last, a climate policy platform that can unite the left” has appeared in the US: “For the first time in memory, there’s a broad alignment forming around a climate policy platform that is both ambitious enough to address the problem and politically potent enough to unite all the left’s various interest groups. With the coronavirus raging and the economy facing a bleak near-term future, there is more appetite than ever for something big, a vision of a better post-virus economy and society. And such a vision is taking shape on the left. If presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden were smart, he would embrace this vision, serve as its champion, and make a serious bid to unite the left behind him. And there are signs that he will try to do just that.”
Eastern Central Asia will see more extreme rainfall under 1.5C and 2C of warming above pre-industrial levels, a new study suggests. Using the Community Earth System Model (CESM), the researchers simulate future changes in a range of extreme rainfall indices, including maximum 1-day rainfall (RX1day), maximum 5-day rainfall (RX5day) and the total rainfall in “very wet days” (R95p). The results indicate that Rx1day and Rx5day will increase by 28% and 15% relative to 1971-2000, respectively, under 1.5C of warming. The researchers add: “Most areas over East-Central Asia are projected to experience an accelerated increase in response to a further 0.5C warming.”
A new study evaluates how hotspots of different types of extreme summertime heat could change under global warming. The researchers “use large samples of low-probability extremes simulated by the 100-member Max Planck Institute Grand Ensemble (MPI-GE) for five metrics of extreme heat: maximum absolute temperatures, return periods of extreme temperatures, maximum temperature variability, sustained tropical nights, and wet bulb temperatures”. The simulations suggest that “extreme 1-in-100-years pre-industrial temperatures occur every 10–25 years already at 1.5C of warming. At 4C, these 1-in-100-years extremes are projected to occur every one-to-two years over most of the world”.
Droughts are likely to become more commonplace across East Africa as global temperatures rise through this century, a new study says. The researchers assess future drought changes using five global climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP5). The results suggest that drought area in East Africa is likely to increase at the end of the 21st century by 16%, 36% and 54% under emissions scenarios RCP2.6, 4.5 and 8.5, respectively, with the areas affected by extreme drought increasing more rapidly than severe and moderate droughts. The study adds that drought event, duration, frequency and intensity are projected to increase in Sudan, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, but generally decrease in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopian highlands.
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