Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU to unveil world's greenest coronavirus recovery plan
- Climate change is turning parts of Antarctica green, say scientists
- Australia backs technology in new carbon emissions plan
- China's post-pandemic economic stimulus puts 2020 climate pledges at risk
- 'I don't want to be seen as a zealot': what MPs really think about the climate crisis
- A truly multilateral order can emerge from the ashes of the coronavirus pandemic, with China and Europe leading the way
- Determining the anthropogenic greenhouse gas contribution to the observed intensification of extreme precipitation
- Patterns and trends of Northern Hemisphere snow mass from 1980 to 2018
- Effects of climate and land-use changes on fish catches across lakes at a global scale
The EU is “to announce the world’s greenest recovery package next week”, Bloomberg reports, citing “a draft document with details of the proposal”. It continues: “European Commission president Ursula Von Den Leyen is set to transform her green deal strategy to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, into a coronavirus economic rescue plan that’ll rapidly drive private investment and create jobs across the continent.” Bloomberg says the plan is part of an EU package due to be unveiled on 27 May in response to the coronavirus pandemic. It points to specific details in the draft document including €60-80bn to support electric vehicle sales and double investment in charging networks, a possible VAT exemption for EVs, €91bn in grants and guarantees for building retrofits and €50bn to support investment in renewables and “green hydrogen”. Reuters also reports on the leaked draft, saying it “will target building renovation, renewable energy and clean hydrogen fuel”, as well as directly tendering for 15 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity. The newswire adds: “The [European] Commission declined to comment on the draft, which may change before publication. It must also be approved by EU governments and [the] European Parliament.” EurActiv has a detailed report on the leaked draft, which it has published in full on its website. It says the draft was presented as “a working document” and adds that “some environmentalists expressed worries that the draft gives excessive attention to hydrogen”.
Meanwhile, several publications report on a proposed European Commission biodiversity strategy, published yesterday. Climate Home News says: “At least 30% of EU land and seas will be protected by 2030 to halt the decline of plant and animal species and restore carbon sinks to address climate change, under European Commission plans.” Reuters reports that this and other targets in the proposal are “not yet legally binding”, adding: “Draft laws will follow and will need approval from the 27 member states and the European Parliament.” The i newspaper reports that the strategy includes plans to plant three billion trees. EurActiv, New Scientist and the Guardian also cover the biodiversity plans.
In other EU news, Reuters reports that the European Central Bank (ECB) “plans to ask lenders to assess and disclose their climate-related risks…a step that may force banks to take greater responsibility for financing environmentally damaging sectors”. The newswire says the ECB is consulting on new guidelines until 25 September. Politico reports on comments yesterday from the European Commission, which, it says, “told [EU] governments to focus on safeguarding the health of people and the planet after abandoning its fiscal rulebook so states can combat Covid-19’s economic fallout”. EurActiv reports that Germany is “still hesitating to link stimulus packages with climate targets”. It continues: “France, the Netherlands and Austria want to put environmentally friendly conditions on aid for corporations. In Germany, companies themselves are calling for a climate stimulus package, yet economy minister Peter Altmaier is hesitating.” A separate EurActiv article reports that the German cabinet has agreed an economy-wide carbon price of €25 per tonne of CO2 from January 2021, rising to €55 in 2025. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that the UK government has published a draft legal text setting out its preferred free trade deal with the EU “reiterating its demands for close cooperation on energy policy and carbon pricing, while maintaining its opposition to a ‘level playing field’ on green standards”.
Scientists have created the first large-scale maps of algal blooms on melting snow in Antarctica, the Guardian reports. It adds: “The British team behind the research believe these blooms will expand their range in the future because global heating is creating more of the slushy conditions they need to thrive.” According to BBC News, the researchers counted “nearly 1,700 patches where large blooms had turned snow cover green”. The broadcaster says that algal blooms in Antarctica “were first described by expeditions in the 1950s and 1960s” and adds: “The interesting question is what happens to the blooms as the Antarctic warms…Many of the algal fields on low-lying islands could simply disappear if their snows are completely removed. On the other hand, new opportunities are likely to open up on the mainland, further to the south and at higher elevations.” According to the Independent, the “green snow” is already “spreading…as global temperatures rise”. Reuters also reports the study: “Warming temperatures due to climate change are helping the formation and spread of ‘green snow’ and it is becoming so prolific in places that it is even visible from space, according to new research published on Wednesday.” It continues with a quote from one of the study authors saying: “We now have a baseline of where the algal blooms are and we can see whether the blooms will start increasing as the models suggest in the future.” MailOnline also has the story.
There is continuing coverage in Australia of the government’s new proposal for tackling climate change that focuses on “the use of gas, hydrogen, batteries and carbon capture, while avoiding the contentious issue of setting a carbon price”, Reuters reports. It continues: “The latest proposal, which the government aims to turn into formal policy by September, is based on driving down energy storage costs to back up wind and solar power, electrifying industrial processes and scaling up hydrogen production.” The newswire says the proposal has the support of the oil and gas industry but that “green groups…oppose the plan for its continued reliance on fossil fuels, like gas and coal”. It adds that green groups, “along with mining, energy and other big corporations”, have called for a carbon price. ABC News [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] reports the publication of the government proposals under the headline: “Federal government releases emissions technology investment roadmap, backing gas and a shift towards renewables.” The broadcaster adds: “[The roadmap] said while solar and wind were the cheapest forms of generation, reliability was still an issue and gas would play an important part in “balancing” renewable energy sources.“ The Sydney Morning Herald reports that green groups have criticised the plan for its emphasis on “polluting and dangerous” gas. It continues: “Environment and renewable energy groups have condemned the Morrison government’s championing of gas as a central pillar of Australia’s post-pandemic economic recovery, saying public investment in fossil fuels will lock in carbon emissions and higher energy prices.” The Guardian reports that new nuclear technologies are “to be examined” as part of the proposed technology roadmap. [Nuclear power is banned in Australia.] According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the climate plan “sidelines coal but highlights gas as a key fuel for the future”. The newspaper says the government roadmap points to “electric vehicles, batteries, renewables and gas as some of the key technologies it will support”. The Herald says the roadmap also supports the “important role” of hydro power. The Guardian reports that a long-discussed hydro project in the Australian state of New South Wales, known as “Snowy Hydro 2.0”, has moved “a step closer to going ahead after being approved by the [state] government”. An editorial in the Herald says: “The technology roadmap discussion paper…promises a slightly more transparent mechanism for identifying promising new technologies into which the government might invest. At least it is not tied to one dubious technology. Yet the coalition has floated and discarded at least four other emissions reduction plans in the past seven years and cynics will question whether this roadmap leads anywhere.”
Meanwhile, an “exclusive” in the Guardian reports on a “leaked draft” of a separate proposal from a “manufacturing taskforce”, which recommends an expansion of Australia’s gas industry as part of the country’s post-coronavirus recovery. The paper reports: “Australian taxpayers should underwrite a massive expansion of the domestic gas industry – including helping open new fields and build hundreds of kilometres of pipelines – according to a group advising on Covid-19 recovery.” The Guardian says the group is “headed by the Dow Chemical executive and Saudi Aramco board member Andrew Liveris” and adds that its draft report “does not consider alternatives to gas” and “does not mention climate change” or Australia’s emissions reduction targets. In other news from Australia, the Guardian reports that soon-to-retire radio presenter Alan Jones “breached broadcasting codes with ‘violent’ Ardern metaphors and inaccurate climate change comments”.
China “may struggle” to meet its climate goal for 2020, Reuters reports, “as it turns to heavy industry and carbon-intensive projects to shore up its coronavirus-stricken economy”. The newswire cites “government researchers and analysts” discussing the prospects for China’s goal to cut its carbon intensity by 40-45% between 2005 and 2020. It explains: “The world’s biggest greenhouse gas producing country had been on course to reach its target at the end of last year, prompting calls for Beijing to set more ambitious goals. But experts say the economic damage done by the pandemic – especially to the less carbon-intensive service sector – has made the target far harder to meet.” The Guardian reports that “experts” have “warn[ed] global leaders” to “heed the lessons of 2008 crisis” as they prepare recovery plans in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The article notes that greenhouse gas emissions rose sharply after 2008 and adds: “To avoid a similar outcome this time, leaders must ensure their response to the Covid-19 crisis looks to the good of the whole of society, rather than just the economy, and addresses the climate emergency as well, said Sir Michael Marmot, who led the landmark UK review of public health that found life expectancy fell following austerity.” A comment for BusinessGreen supports the idea of “building back better” after the current crisis, arguing that the climate agenda is “part of the solution”.
In a Guardian “long read”, Rebecca Willis describes her research project based on anonymous interviews with British MPs. Willis begins by recounting an interview with one female MP: “She had two, conflicting, demands: she wanted urgent action on climate; and she also wanted government support to allow her local industry to continue polluting. She was simultaneously backing and opposing climate action.” Willis writes: “The difference between what [MPs] say in private and in public is striking – and shows us how we can make climate action central to post-pandemic politics.” She continues: “Over the course of the interviews, carried out between 2016 and 2018, I saw a pattern emerge. The way politicians responded to climate didn’t just depend on what they thought about the science. Instead, it became clear to me that there were two main reasons why MPs struggled with the issue: first, because it didn’t fit easily into the culture of political life and their own identity as a parliamentarian; and second, because they worried that public support for climate action was limited, and that, as representatives, they needed to be led by their electorate.”
In a comment for the South China Morning Post, Laurence Tubiana, head of the European Climate Foundation [which funds Carbon Brief], writes that recovery from the coronavirus pandemic offers an opportunity to “build anew”. Tubiana notes: “The League of Nations was born from the ruins of World War I; the United Nations from World War II. We are in such a moment now.” She argues: “This opens a window of opportunity for discussion – in the wake of this crisis, we should rebuild our system of international cooperation, moving from siloed diplomatic discussions on specific topics such as climate to a broader approach that integrates the management of the new global commons together.” Pointing to the EU’s “green deal” and China’s upcoming National People’s Congress, Tubiana adds: “We need to move from ‘climate diplomacy’ to a diplomacy built on a green and sustainable recovery. Leadership from China is critical in this regard.”
New research provides the “first quantitative evidence for the dominant influence of human‐made greenhouse gases on extreme precipitation increase” across the world. Researchers use an “optimal fingerprinting technique”, comparing observations and model simulations of changes in annual maximum daily and consecutive five‐day precipitation. The results show that “a greenhouse gas influence is detected over the global land, northern hemisphere extratropics, western and eastern Eurasia, and global ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ regions, which are separable from other external forcings such as solar and volcanic activities and anthropogenic aerosols”.
A new study estimates that the 1980–2018 annual maximum snow mass in the northern hemisphere was, on average, around 3tn tonnes. Using the GlobSnow 3.0 dataset, the researchers show that “snow mass decreased by 46bn tonnes per decade across North America but had a negligible trend across Eurasia”. The findings “enable a better estimation of the role of seasonal snow mass in Earth’s energy, water and carbon budgets”, the authors say.
Changes in climate and land use can affect fish catch in lake fisheries, a new study suggests, but the impact can be reduced by good water quality. Analysing timeseries data for 31 lakes across five continents over 1970–2014, the researchers find that “effects of a climate or land-use driver (e.g., air temperature) on lake environment could be relatively consistent in directions, but consequential changes in a lake-environmental factor (e.g., water temperature) could result in either increases or decreases in fish catch in a given lake”. Further analysis suggests that “reductions in fish catch was less likely to occur in response to potential climate and land-use changes if a lake is located in a region with greater access to clean water”, the authors say.
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