Today's climate and energy headlines:
- France and UK lead push for climate finance to restore nature
- Africa's green energy transition 'unlikely' this decade
- Britain sees greenest year for electricity in 2020 – National Grid
- Wind power overtakes coal in Texas electricity generation
- The Times view on the prince’s plan: Talking to the planet
- US climate finance is approaching a leapfrog moment
- Climate change impacts on renewable energy supply
- Global terrestrial water storage and drought severity under climate change
- Gridded fossil CO2 emissions and related O2 combustion consistent with national inventories 1959–2018
There is continuing coverage of the One Planet Summit for biodiversity which was co-hosted by France, the UN and the World Bank yesterday in Paris and online. Climate Home News highlights how “France and the UK are encouraging donor countries to channel more climate finance to protect and restore nature, starting with Africa’s Great Green Wall”. It adds that both French president Emmanuel Macron and UK prime minister Boris Johnson promised to “set aside a significant portion of climate finance for projects that help soils and plants soak up carbon, while creating habitats for wildlife”. BBC News notes how Johnson pledged to spend at least £3bn of international climate finance on nature and biodiversity over five years. The news outlets continues: “In his address, Mr Johnson said humanity is destroying species and habitats at ‘an absolutely unconscionable rate’. He said the £3bn, which forms part of the UK’s £11.6bn contribution to a climate finance initiative, would go to ‘protecting nature, whether it’s marine life or timber conservation or sustainable food production’.” The Guardian says a “coalition of more than 50 countries has committed to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030 to halt the destruction of the natural world and slow extinctions of wildlife…The commitment is likely to be the headline target of the ‘Paris agreement for nature’ that will be negotiated at COP15 in Kunming, China later this year.” BusinessGreen also covers the news. But the Guardian notes that some environmentalists have criticised the event: “Greta Thunberg tweeted: ‘LIVE from #OnePlanetSummit in Paris: Bla bla nature Bla bla important Bla bla ambitious Bla bla green investments’.” The Independent says: “The One Planet Summit was followed by a roundtable discussion on transitioning towards clean sources of energy, which was hosted by the UK. The discussion saw a broad range of ministers and industry representatives offer their perspectives on how the world can accelerate action on the climate crisis.”
Many UK outlets focus on the unveiling by Prince Charles of the Terra Carta, which the Daily Telegraph describes as “his biggest environmental initiative to date”. BBC News explains that “the Prince of Wales is urging firms to back a more sustainable future and do more to protect the planet, as he marks 50 years of environmental campaigning”. The Guardian says: “In the Terra Carta’s statement of intent, the voluntary commitments include supporting international agreements on the climate, biodiversity and desertification, backing efforts to protect half of the planet by 2050, and make investment and financial flows consistent with a future of low greenhouse gas emissions.” The Evening Standard notes how Prince Charles “has warned we face future pandemics if global warming and habitat loss is not brought under control”. The Press Association adds that he also told CNN that he “welcomed president-elect Joe Biden’s pledge to return the US to the Paris Agreement on the first day of his presidency”. (See Comment below for editorial reaction.)
BBC News covers a new study, published in the journal Nature Energy, suggesting that “fossil fuels are set to remain the dominant source of electricity across Africa over the next decade”. The news outlet adds: “Researchers found that around 2,500 power plants are planned, enough to double electricity production by 2030. But the authors say that less than 10% of the new power generated will come from wind or solar. The authors say that Africa now risks being locked into high carbon energy for decades. They argue that a rapid, decarbonisation shock is needed to cancel many of the plants currently planned.” Bloomberg also covers the study, saying: “Although the continent’s carbon footprint is small compared with that of Europe, Asia or North America, that could change as the population continues to grow rapidly and economies industrialise further. Currently, the per person electricity use among sub-Saharan Africa countries is one-tenth that of the UK.”
Reuters reports that “Britain’s electricity system saw the greenest year on record in 2020, National Grid said on Monday, with record renewable power and its longest spell without coal since the industrial revolution”. The newswire adds: “Measures on homes and business to contain the novel coronavirus curbed electricity demand last year. The country was powered coal-free for over 5,147 hours in 2020, compared with 3,666 hours in 2019, National Grid ESO said. In total coal provided 1.6% of Britain’s electricity in 2020, compared with around 25% five years ago.” (See Carbon Brief’s award-winning interactive about the UK’s transition away from coal.) Bloomberg has a piece about how “a spell of cold temperatures last week revealed a mismatch between the UK’s goal to decarbonise and actions taken in order to keep the lights on”. It continues: “Low wind output was a factor that caused the narrowing of margins between supply and demand of electricity according to National Grid. Instead of using the cheap wind generation available, on the afternoon of 6 January one of the UK’s biggest wind farms switched off, while National Grid paid an EDF gas plant £3,000 per megawatt-hour to produce power…The actions show the difficulties of delivering ambitious climate policies as well as preventing blackouts. That said, Britain’s power system is getting cleaner.”
In other UK news, the Guardian says that “the Environment Agency has told the Chinese nuclear developer behind plans to build a new reactor in Essex that it must resolve at least six safety issues before it can move forward”. EurActiv has a feature examining the UK’s new carbon trading scheme following Brexit and concludes that many questions are “unanswered”. The Times reports that “Easyjet has secured a £1.4bn loan facility backed by the government as it shores up its finances amid the continuing slump in air travel”. The Financial Times says the “British government has been urged to give shareholders a vote on how businesses are responding to global warming in a sign of growing investor concern about the risks of climate change to financial returns”. The FT adds: “The Investor Forum, an influential group whose members account for a third of the UK’s FTSE all-share market capitalisation, called on the government to consult on rolling out so-called ‘say on climate’ votes – a concept popularised by hedge fund billionaire Chris Hohn.” BusinessGreen says a “group of leading climate scientists, business figures and civil society leaders [have published an] open letter to Boris Johnson urging the government to beef up response to escalating climate crisis”. City AM asks: “Ahead of COP26, what’s on industry leaders’ climate change wishlists this year?” Finally, BusinessGreen says that “asset management giant Schroders has called on the UK’s biggest businesses to produce dedicated net-zero transition roadmaps over the next 12 months, arguing the move will enable shareholders to make informed investment decisions as the development of a net-zero emission economy gathers pace”.
The Financial Times notes that “wind power surged past coal in Texas’ electricity mix for the first time in 2020, the latest sign of renewable energy’s rising prominence in America’s fossil-fuel heartland”. It continues: “Texas has been at the forefront of a surge in wind power construction across the US, pulling in tens of billions of dollars in capital investment over the past decade and rapidly expanding electricity generation from the fuel. Surging investment and job creation has helped the renewables sector win political backing in the state despite it being home to the country’s oil and gas sector. Wind turbines generated nearly a quarter of Texas’ power in 2020, beating out coal’s roughly 18% share of the market, making it the second-largest source of generation in the state behind natural gas, according to data from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (Ercot), the state’s main grid operator.”
Meanwhile, in other US news, CNBC covers a new study showing that “intensifying rainfall fuelled by climate change has caused nearly $75bn in flood damage in the US in the past three decades”. It adds: “The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shed light on the ongoing debate on how climate change has impacted growing costs of flooding and the heightened risk homeowners, builders, banks and insurers face as global temperatures continue to rise.” Bloomberg also picks up on the findings, saying: “The publication was the result of a collaboration between Stanford climate scientists and economists aimed at conquering one of the biggest hurdles in attribution studies. To determine how much damage is due to climate change, researchers first must identify and account for all the other factors that may have added to flood damage, such as increased construction and population in flood-prone areas and rise in home values.” Finally, the Washington Post notes how “a series of controversial papers questioning the seriousness of climate change led by David Legates, a senior official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration appointed by President Trump, have been published online without White House approval”.
Several UK newspapers have published editorials about Prince Charles’s new Terra Carta initiative. The Times says: “The charter and the coalition that he has put together with businesses, philanthropists, investors and scientists is a fine example of his convening power as heir to the throne. It certainly fits into a new sense of urgency in the need to reduce climate damage…Charles has captured the zeitgeist but he cannot be accused of opportunism. He has spent much of his adult life as an environmental activist, albeit a privileged one. The jury is out, though, on how deep-seated is the support of his business backers…Terra Carta’s backers will need to deliver results if they are to shake off suspicions of green-washing.” An editorial in the Daily Express says “it’s hard to disagree with his latest venture”, adding: “Cynics may sneer. But the prince…should be given some slack to inspire business and help create truly sustainable growth”. And a Daily Mail editorial on the prince’s “green legacy” says that his “ambitious charter” is “backed by big business, philanthropists and hard-nosed financial investors, many of whom would once have given him a wide berth”. It concludes: “After half a century of striving, this ‘Earth Charter’ could define his legacy.”
The Financial Times carries an opinion piece by Duke University’s Prof Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was a deputy US Treasury secretary and governor of the Federal Reserve. She writes: “With the Federal Reserve having recently joined other central banks to support the Paris climate goals and an engaged new administration on the horizon, 2021 could be a chance for the US to leapfrog into global leadership by embracing the potential of America’s complex financial regulatory system”. She continues: “Change is in the air. At long last, the Fed has acknowledged the risk climate change poses to financial stability and joined the Network for Greening the Financial System – the international ‘club’ of central banks and bank supervisors working towards pre-emptive responses to the risk. And as Americans assess the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and other environmental disasters, their resolve to think differently about mitigating the costs is growing…As the world struggles to make up for its lack of preparedness for the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 is the year to reimagine capital as a tool for accelerating and smoothing the transition to a world of net-zero carbon emissions. American monetary policy and financial regulatory policy can focus on a climate-durable recovery and the US agencies responsible for these policies can add to the early momentum of their global counterparts.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times has a comment piece by Lisa Viscidi, who studies energy and climate change in Latin America. She argues that the “Biden administration should support clean energy investments and environmental protections in the region”, adding: “First, it should seek to increase clean technology exports to Latin America and clean energy investments by US companies there. This approach would fulfil Mr Biden’s campaign promise to promote green jobs and industry and supplant China as the world’s leading clean technology provider.” Finally, in a Daily Telegraph news feature, energy correspondent Rachel Millard examines whether oil prices will keep rising in 2021.
New research uses climate and integrated assessment models to estimate the potential future impacts of global warming on renewable energy resources. In a “baseline warming scenario” (SSP2-6.0), the study finds that “the largest impact is increased availability of bioenergy, though this depends on the strength of CO2 fertilisation”. In contrast, the “impacts on hydropower and wind energy are uncertain, with declines in some regions and increases in others”, the study says, while the “impacts on solar power are minor”.
A warming climate could reduce terrestrial water storage (TWS) in “many regions”, a new study suggests, “especially those in the southern hemisphere”. Using a collection of hydrological simulations and a range of emissions scenarios, the study finds that, by the late twenty-first century, “the global land area and population in extreme-to-exceptional TWS drought could more than double, each increasing from 3% during 1976–2005 to 7% and 8%, respectively”. The findings “highlight the importance of climate change mitigation to avoid adverse TWS impacts and increased droughts”, the authors note.
A new paper describes “GCP-GridFED”, a gridded fossil emissions dataset that is consistent with the national CO2 emissions reported by the Global Carbon Project (GCP). The dataset provides “monthly fossil CO2 emissions estimates for the period 1959–2018 at a spatial resolution of 0.1 degrees”, the researches explain. The estimates are “provided separately for oil, coal and natural gas, for mixed international bunker fuels, and for the calcination of limestone during cement production”. The dataset will be updated annually, the authors note.
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