Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Fiddler’s Ferry and Aberthaw plants shut as firms ditch coal
- EU presses on with tighter 2030 climate target despite pandemic
- Antarctica heatwave raises fears for global sea levels
- Wind-power industry heads for record year
- Labour candidates set out detailed plans for tackling climate crisis
- Enjoying the clean air? Trump weakens car emissions standards just when we need them the most
- With the coronavirus, it’s again Trump vs Mother Nature
- The 2019-2020 summer of Antarctic heatwaves
Fiddler’s Ferry coal-fired power station in Cheshire and the Aberthaw plant in Wales have both been closed after almost 50 years, bringing an end to coal-fired power generation in the UK for energy companies SSE and RWE, the Guardian reports. The shutdown means there are only four coal plants remaining in the country ahead of the government’s ban on coal-fired power beyond 2025, it continues. BBC News reports Stephen Wheeler, managing director of SSE Thermal, saying the closure of the Fiddler’s Ferry site was “a landmark moment for SSE, and the wider energy industry, as we transition to a net-zero emissions future”. In more UK coal news, another Guardian piece reports that ministers will be deciding this month whether to go ahead with plans for the UK’s largest coalmine at Highthorn in Northumberland. The article says that environmental groups have been fiercely opposed to the proposal and notes that, while UK coal use has dropped dramatically in recent years, steel and cement manufacture still rely on imports of the fossil fuel from Russia and the US. To give a sense of the UK’s transition away from coal, and its status in other countries, Carbon Brief has recently updated its interactive coal map showing power plants around the world. Carbon Brief has also been tracking the phase-out of the UK coal plants.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that in Australia nearly one in five of the country’s big polluting industrial sites, including mines, smelters and refineries, breached government-set limits for emissions during the last financial year. It says 38 of the 210 sites covered by the government’s “safeguard mechanism” exceeded pollution limits, according to official data.
Meanwhile, another piece in the Guardian, written by three of the paper’s environmental and energy journalists, declare that the fossil-fuel industry is “broken” and asks if a “cleaner climate” will be the result. Specifically, the in-depth article considers the impact of the current coronavirus outbreak and oil price war, and talks to various industry experts about what the long-term impacts could be for fossil fuels and climate change.
The European Commission has began a public consultation to gather views on a revised 2030 target for a 50-55% cut in emissions, from 1990 levels, instead of the current 40%, Reuters reports. Parties are expected to come up with more ambitious climate targets head of the UN’s COP26 summit in Glasgow at the end of the year and the newswire notes that environmental groups have “urged the EU to come up with a new 2030 climate goal by June”. The commission has previously stated the on-going coronavirus pandemic will not block its vision for an EU-wide “green deal” to decarbonise the bloc’s economy by 2050.
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), a car-industry body, is lobbying the EU to delay stricter CO2 standards for new vehicles, “claiming the Covid-19 pandemic limits its ability to comply with the rules”. This comes as the US Trump administration confirmed reports from yesterday by finalising its rollback of Obama-era rules on car fuel efficiency, a move the New York Times describes as “gutting the federal government’s most important climate change policy”. Analysts quoted in the Financial Times outline the predicted harm this policy decision will have not only for the climate, but also public health and the negative impact it will likely have on costs for consumers.
In the UK, the i newspaper reports that British Airways is grounding its entire London Gatwick fleet, “in a further sign of chaos on the aviation sector as it struggles to cope with the fallout from the coronavirus”. The newspaper has comments from campaigners and thinktanks who say any government support for struggling airlines must come “with green strings attached”.
The Times reports that an “unprecedented” heatwave in Antarctica during its past summer has raised concerns for the future of the region’s wildlife and the planet as a whole. The piece notes that Australia’s Casey Station on the eastern side of the continent did not fall below freezing between 23-25 January, and surpassed average temperatures over the past 30 years by several degrees. It quotes Prof Sharon Robinson from the University of Wollongong, co-author of a recent paper on the temperature spike, who says the result “is probably a harbinger of the future”.
In an “exclusive” story reported by the Guardian, a scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) warns that the latest signs of mass bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef this year could indicate such events are now taking place virtually every year. Dr Mark Eakin, coordinator of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch, tells the newspaper he is concerned there is so much heat stress during a non-El Niño year, when conditions should be cooler: “The real concern is with this much bleaching without tropical forcing…This may be a sign we’ve now tipped over to near-annual bleaching in many locations.” Eakin goes on to note that the phenomenon they are observing is “really being driven just by anthropogenic climate change”.
In other Australian news, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that New South Wales’ (NSW) “most devastating bushfire season” has formally come to an end, while noting “the next spate of fires may be only months away”. Once again, the absence of the El Nino cycle of the Pacific ocean and impact of climate change is mentioned by a former NSW fire and rescue commissioner. He tells the newspaper the unprecedented season shows “you don’t even need an El Nino to get the worst ever conditions”.
The global wind-power industry is set to increase its capacity by 9% this year to 66,422 megawatts (MW), an advance that is more modest than previous predictions of 24%, according to Bloomberg. The piece is based on new analysis by BloombergNEF, which marks the “latest in a series of downward revisions for growth in renewable energy as the spread of the coronavirus disrupts supply chains and investment plans worldwide”. Nevertheless, it also says the number show the resilience of the industry, which has revenue fixed to power-purchase contracts that do not fluctuate in the same way as fossil-fuel prices.
However, in a demonstration of coronavirus-related uncertainty, reNews reports that Swedish power company Vattenfall has pulled out of a tender for the 700MW Hollandse Kust North offshore wind zone in the Netherlands, citing the impact of Covid-19.
In a piece by the Guardian’s environment correspondent Matthew Taylor, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long-Bailey – who are vying to replace Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the UK’s Labour party – all answer 17 questions put to them about climate change. The MPs propose a raft of measures to tackle global warming including a “frequent flyer” tax, improved energy efficiency in homes, mass rewilding of the countryside and investment in cycling, walking and buses. All three candidates – answering questions before the coronavirus outbreak struck the UK – said climate change was the biggest challenge facing the country, in what the piece describes as “a clear sign of how deeply embedded a radical environmental agenda has become in Labour policy”.
Editorial, Los Angeles Times.
An editorial in the LA Times notes that with planes and cars ground “to a near halt” in an attempt to slow the coronavirus pandemic, it is “especially galling that the Trump administration chose this very moment to roll back the US’ most important programme to cut automobile pollution and fight climate change”. The long-touted campaign promise to relax Obama-era fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars and light trucks has finally been realised, in a move that is expected to face legal action from environmental groups, public health advocates and states such as California. The editorial says the government’s argument that it is responding to consumer demand for more polluting vehicles like SUVs is “no justification”, as “in the era of climate change, the government must set policies and adopt regulations that push industries to develop products that are better, safer and healthier for the planet”. While the piece welcomes attempts to block the administrations actions, “it’s just a shame that the US will lose precious time fighting in court rather than using American ingenuity and talent to build the next generation of clean cars”.
A piece by New York Times columnist Thomas L Friedman considers the US president’s response to the current coronavirus pandemic and compares it with his attitude to climate change. On both counts, Donald Trump has expressed scepticism and a lack of concern for expert opinion, as Friedman notes: “We have a president who is enamoured with markets but ignorant of Mother Nature, and we have paid a steep, steep price for that — and will pay an even bigger price when it comes to climate change, if Trump remains in charge”. He goes on to compare the relative threats of coronavirus and climate change, noting that unlike the virus climate change does not “peak” but merely continues to have widespread impacts. He concludes: “Now that we have tasted Mother Nature’s wrath in the form of both Covid-19 and climate change, let’s get her on our side. She’s as happy to help as to destroy. Let’s use chemistry, biology and physics, not to mention sun and wind, to create the vaccines and power systems that immunise us from viruses and weather extremes — and not double down on bad habits that will only make us sick again.”
Elsewhere, there are more comment pieces examining climate and coronavirus. An article in the Washington Post by Monica Medina and Miro Korenha looks at how the positive environmental effects being reported as a result of measures to curb the pandemic “show the green way ahead”. A piece in City AM by Luke Hobson takes a similar tone, looking at how Covid-19 might lead to long-term climate action. Meanwhile, a piece in the Daily Telegraph by Zoe Strimpel takes the opposing view, with the author concluding she doesn’t want the virus to change the world as she “liked it the way it was”.
A study assesses the biological implications of extreme heatwaves in Antarctic during the summers of 2019 and 2020. Casey Station in east Antarctica had its highest temperature ever in this period, reaching a maximum of 9.2C and minimum of 2.5C. The authors say: “This warm summer will have impacted Antarctic biology in numerous ways, probably leading to long-term disruptions at ecosystem, community and population scales.”
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