Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Fraught G20 meeting on new climate targets highlights divisions
- UK: No 10's 'net-zero' carbon target is in disarray as Rishi Sunak baulks at the £1.4tn cost
- Climate change: Researchers begin discussions on vital report
- China says EU's planned carbon border tax violates trade principles
- The Observer view on the urgency of tackling climate change
- UK: Road to net-zero will be rocky but worth it
- Meeting well-below 2C target would increase energy sector jobs globally
- Detecting vulnerability of humid tropical forests to multiple stressors
G20 environment ministers in Naples, Italy, concluded a “hard-fought summit” yesterday, reports the Financial Times, which “at times appeared to be on the brink of disintegrating”. The newspaper continues: “In the final communiqué, published on Sunday after a series of delays, ministers said they would boost their climate targets, known as ‘nationally determined contributions’, ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. However the ministers failed to reach agreement on phasing out coal, or removing subsidies for fossil fuels, because of opposition from Russia, China, India and Saudi Arabia. In a sign of how fraught the talks were, meetings in Naples ran through the night on Thursday evening, and final communiqué text was published on Sunday, a day and a half later than expected.” Reuters says: “The failure to agree common language ahead of that gathering is likely to be seen as a setback to hopes of securing a meaningful accord in Scotland.” Axios agrees, saying the deadlock “foreshadows difficult negotiations looming for this fall’s critical climate summit”. Bloomberg says: “Ending the use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, was a major sticking point. Italy, which is hosting the G20 meeting, pushed to include that goal within the official communiqué…However, a number of countries including India and Russia resisted.” The outlet quotes Alok Sharma, the incoming COP26 president: “It is frustrating that despite the progress made by some countries, there was no consensus in Naples to confine coal to history.“ The Press Association carries the reaction of musician and campaigner Bob Geldof who “accused the G20 leaders of failing to act on climate change, and called for a global carbon tax to fight the ‘disaster’”.
Meanwhile, the Observer reports on new analysis by the peer-reviewed group Paris Equity Check. The Sunday newspaper says: “A key group of leading G20 nations is committed to climate targets that would lead to disastrous global warming, scientists have warned. They say China, Russia, Brazil and Australia all have energy policies associated with 5C rises in atmospheric temperatures, a heating hike that would bring devastation to much of the planet. The analysis…raises serious worries about the prospects of key climate agreements being achieved at COP26.”
Separately, writing for the Times Red Box, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum argue that the “G20 can no longer leave countries on the front line of climate change to face it alone”.
Finally, there is continue coverage marking the fact that there are no fewer than 100 days to go until COP26. The i newspaper carries the views of former UK prime minister Tony Blair who says “governments are running out of time to convince the public they are serious about tackling climate change”. The newspaper continues: “Writing exclusively for i, Mr Blair said that governments are focusing too much on ‘targets and promises’ that risk being seen by the public as ‘empty promises’ unless they are swiftly followed by rapid cuts to emissions. ‘A focus on targets and promises over action and delivery has been a recurring theme of our response to climate change, which is damaging trust and the public’s belief in our ability to tackle the climate crisis,’ he wrote.” Another Independent article quotes Alok Sharma who says “big emitters”, such as China, India and Russia, “
The Mail on Sunday says that “Boris Johnson’s plan to make the UK a ‘world leader’ in green policies have been thrown into disarray after [chancellor] Rishi Sunak raised objections to the eye-watering cost to the Treasury”. The newspaper continues: “As part of the net-zero plan – which would decarbonise the economy by 2050 – No 10 had been expected to publish in the spring details of the strategy for moving away from gas boilers ahead of [COP26]. But this has been delayed until the autumn amid mounting alarm about the bill. The chancellor – who is already looking for ways to pay back the £400bn cost of the Covid crisis and the £10bn a year required to reform long-term care for the elderly – is understood to have baulked at estimates of hitting net -zero at more than £1.4tn…The prime minister is considering issuing millions of households with ‘green cheques’ worth hundreds of pounds to compensate them for the cost of becoming more energy efficient. It is the latest claim of tensions between No 10 and No 11 over the strains on the public purse.”
Meanwhile, in other UK news, the Financial Times says that “the British government is exploring ways to remove China’s state-owned nuclear energy company from all future power projects in the UK, including the consortium planning to build the new £20bn Sizewell nuclear power station in Suffolk, according to people close to the discussions”. It adds: “The change in mood at the top of government also affects proposals by China General Nuclear to build a new plant at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex using its own reactor technology and raises questions about the future of the UK’s nuclear energy programme. It follows the chilling in relations between London and Beijing in recent years.” The Press Association and Daily Telegraph pick up the FT’s story.
Separately, several publications covers the flash-flooding that hit parts of the UK over the weekend, particularly London. BBC News says: “Two London hospitals have asked patients to stay away after their emergency departments were hit by flooding on Sunday…Torrential rain has caused severe flooding in homes, roads and stations. The London fire brigade said it had taken about 300 flooding-related calls in the space of a few hours.” Other outlets also cover the topic of extreme weather. The Sunday Times, quoting a range of experts, carries a news feature under the headline: “How hot could Britain get? Prepare for temperatures of 40C.” The Guardian also carries a news feature on a similar theme, under the headline: “Beware summer! As climate crisis deepens, attitudes to season shift.” It says: “For the first time in the UK, the Met Office issued an extreme heat advisory this week. The warning was very staid, very British, but a clear shift away from the ethos of Keep Calm and Carry On…but it is part of a growing global conversation that is fundamentally challenging how we think about summer in a climate-disrupted world.”
The Times covers new analysis by SSE which shows that “most wind farms in Britain will not be economically viable when existing subsidies end and will close prematurely without further revenue support”. It adds: “A report commissioned by SSE has found that the huge expansion of wind power in the UK is likely to push wholesale electricity prices so low on windy days that most wind farms will be unable to cover their operating costs simply from selling power into the market.” The Daily Telegraph reports that “households face higher energy bills to cover the cost of expanding access to electric car chargers, as Britain races towards a ban on petrol and diesel engines in 2030”. It continues: “The energy regulator is exploring plans under which companies building public charging points will no longer pay some of the costs of connecting to the grid. Instead, the network companies that provide the connections will be able to recoup those costs from customers via their regular electricity bills.”
EurActiv notes that, yesterday and today, Alok Sharma is hosting “climate and environment ministers from 51 countries…for ‘critical’ climate talks ahead of COP26”. The Independent says “campaigners have called on Boris Johnson to seek new protections for the world’s grasslands ahead of COP26”. The i newspaper reports that “the number of UK big businesses promising to reach net-zero emissions has surged in the past year, i can reveal, although almost one third still have no formal plan to meet the goal”. The Times has a news feature about how “as climate change, war and population growth displace the world’s poor, stopping people smugglers will require money, diplomatic skills and the involvement of many countries beyond Britain and France”.
Finally, the Times interviews Allegra Stratton, the former journalist who is now No 10’s spokesperson for COP26. She says: “COP26 is our moment of truth, when we say how we’re getting to net-zero…If we don’t do it the costs of dithering and delaying will make net-zero more expensive. The costs of not dealing with it look at Germany, all those houses being repaired and people being compensated and helped – will be billions. We’ve already seen extreme weather events in this country.” And BBC News carries a feature by political correspondent Chris Mason in which he travels to Whitehaven, Cumbria, to talks to local people about the prospects for the region – and the world’s climate – of a coking coal mine going ahead.
“Against a backdrop of fires and floods, researchers are meeting virtually to finalise a key climate science study,” reports BBC News. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing the most comprehensive assessment on the state of global heating since 2013. Over the next two weeks, the scientists will go through their findings line by line with representatives of 195 governments. Experts say the report will be a ‘wake-up call’ to governments. It is expected that the short, 40-page Summary for Policymakers will play an important role in guiding global leaders who will come to Glasgow in November to deal with critical climate questions.” Reuters follows a similar theme with its preview of the IPCC report: “As scientists gather online to finalise a long-awaited update on global climate research, recent extreme weather events across the globe highlight the need for more research on how it will play out, especially locally.” The newswire continues: “There is ‘tantalizing evidence’ that the warming has introduced new, unexpected factors that have amplified climate change impacts even further than previously understood, but more research is needed, said Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology. ‘From my perspective, the jury is still out on that.’”
Similarly, the Financial Times says: “Climate scientists say the severity of these events is simply ‘off scale’ compared with what atmospheric models forecast – even when global warming is fully taken into account.” It quotes Chris Rapley, professor of climate science at University College London: “I think I would be speaking for many climate scientists to say that we are a bit shocked at what we are seeing. There is a dramatic change in the frequency with which extreme [weather] events occur.”
Reuters reports that China has said that the European Union’s plan to impose the world’s first carbon border tax will “expand climate issues into trade in violation of international principles and hurt prospects for economic growth”. The newswire continues: “The European Commission this month outlined plans to impose a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), or CO2 tariff, on polluting goods from 2026, forcing some companies importing into the European Union to pay carbon costs at the border on carbon-intensive products such as steel.” (See Carbon Brief’s Q&A on the EU’s new package of climate policies.) Reuters quotes Liu Youbin, a spokesman of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment: “CBAM is essentially a unilateral measure to extend the climate change issue to the trade sector. It violates WTO principles…and (will) seriously undermine mutual trust in the global community and the prospects for economic growth.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post says that China has said that relations with the US are in a “stalemate” during the highest-level visit so far with a member of the Biden administration: “In his meeting with [US deputy secretary of state Wendy] Sherman, China’s vice foreign minister Xie Feng urged the US to lift its visa restrictions on Chinese Communist Party members and Chinese students seeking to study in the United States, according to a social media posting by the official China Media Group…Xie said the United States was seeking China’s cooperation on climate change, Iran and North Korea issues, according to Chinese news outlet the Paper. ‘But it’s not going to work if the US asks for cooperation on the one hand and damages China’s interests on the other,’ he said.”
In other China news, Reuters also reports that, according to China Electricity Council (CEC), “China’s non-fossil fuel power generation capacity is expected to exceed coal-fired power capacity for the first time in 2021”. The newswire continues: “CEC estimates China’s total power generation capacity will reach 2,370 gigawatts (GW) by end-2021. Of which, coal-fired power capacity will stand at 1,100GW, while capacity of non-fossil fuel sources, including solar, wind, hydro, nuclear and biomass, will be around 1,120GW.”
The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, says that “China’s railway system plans to deliver 60 train loads of coal to Central China’s Henan province per day as the province reported urgent shortages of the fuel that’s used to generate electricity, after major transport routes were blocked by an unprecedented deluge”. The New York Times says that the highway-tunnel flooding deaths in China over the past week “highlight the risks that climate change can also pose to motorists”.
Finally, a comment piece in Global Times by one of its editors Wen Sheng, who says: “China has been a global leader in fighting global climate crisis, which is posing increasing and imminent danger to Earth’s atmospheric security, biodiversity, and the very survival of our humankind. The world ought to take even bolder moves to arrest a continuous deterioration of climate change, while dragging feet will only cause more atmospheric ruins and human deaths.” And a comment piece in the Guardian by science writer Philip Ball concludes: “The flooding of Zhengzhou [last week] will cause alarm in Beijing beyond the economic damage and loss of life. It serves as a reminder to Xi Jinping’s administration that the consequences of the climate crisis, which will make extreme weather events more frequent, could shake the foundations of the Chinese state. The travails of China’s past give its leaders better reason than most to appreciate how such problems could provoke deep social unrest. For the sake of the world, we must hope that they heed the warning.”
An editorial in the Observer argues that “we are losing the race to keep our planet cool”. It continues: “Even more worrying is the fact that rich countries and developing nations are at loggerheads about how to divvy up the bill that will have to be paid to tackle global warming. The latter were supposed to receive at least $100bn a year from public and private sources in rich nations in order to help them avoid the worst ravages of the extreme weather triggered by the oil, gas and coal burned by developed countries over the past two centuries on their route to industrial might. This was one of the cornerstones of the international climate negotiations ahead of the 2015 Paris agreement, which committed the world to trying to keep global warming below 1.5C. However, rich countries have failed to honour these commitments. Such disagreement bodes badly for COP26 in November…Saving the world is going to go right to the wire, it transpires.” An editorial in the Guardian also says “the prospects are not looking good for the COP26 conference”. It adds: “Without big developing countries such as Brazil and India on board, agreement is difficult, and these countries know they have bargaining power. The biggest carbon emitter remains China, where totals are still rising, and the US, whose emissions are falling but historically (and per capita) far exceed China’s. Together they are responsible for 40% of global emissions, so without them nothing decisive is achievable. The US climate change special envoy, John Kerry, is pledging extra money to support global climate initiatives but insists there will be no trade-off with China on human rights in order to secure a stronger climate deal. If an adequate agreement can still be reached, then COP26 may yet be a success. But the clock is ticking and the stakes are getting ever higher.”
In related comment, Kate Blagojevic – Greenpeace UK’s head of climate – warns in the Guardian that the UK’s leadership of the COP26 climate summit “is already falling short”. Blagojevic notes, for example, that the “British government has yet again set a terrible precedent by failing to provide genuinely new funds for international climate finance, at the same time as slashing the UK’s aid budget”. She also criticises the government for its “ambitions to make London the global hub for the trade of voluntary carbon offsets”, adding: “In other words, Rishi Sunak wants the UK to become the centre of greenwashing, cashing in on attempts to dodge required emissions cuts. Again, we’re setting an appalling example for others to follow.” Blagojevic concludes: “Only through practising what it preaches will the British government really be able to walk the walk in Glasgow. Failure to do so leaves our ‘world leading’ targets for cutting emissions sounding blatantly hollow and risks jeopardising the talks altogether.” And writing in CityAM, William Russell – Lord Mayor of London – says that “COP26 is our last chance to tackle climate change as extreme weather takes hold”.
Meanwhile, veteran New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd says that a recent extreme weather events around the world makes “it feels like we are living through the first vertiginous 15 minutes of a disaster movie, maybe one called ‘The Day After Tomorrow Was Yesterday’”. She concludes: “But there are still plenty of Republicans shilling for Big Oil and pushing back against climate change provisions in the big legislation before Congress. As we go through the debilitating politics of Covid, we have to go through the debilitating politics of the environment. Scary plagues are ravaging the planet while drivelers drivel.” And in the Washington Post, science writers Sarah Kaplan and Brady Dennis say that the “summer of fire and floods” has been a “moment of truth for climate action”.
In the Times, Spectator writer James Kirkup says that while “the road to net-zero won’t be short or simple…we can get there, powered by private money and the innovation of the market. All that’s needed is a government to point the way”. Kirkup uses the example of former prime minister David Cameron’s decision to block future onshore wind installations, which Kirkup describes as misjudging “one of the big trends of our times”, adding: “Comparing new sites, it’s now cheaper to get power from new wind than to burn coal.” Boris Johnson “should learn from” this mistake, Kirkup writes: “Given a clear signal from government, markets will work similar miracles over home heat, the next big frontier for net-zero. Today replacing your gas-burning boiler with a low-carbon heat pump can cost more than £10,000. Octopus Energy reckons it will soon be able to sell and install one for half that. Why? Because when business knows there’s going to be demand for something, it finds ways to sell more of it, generally by making it cheaper.” Government ministers are “still agonising over their policy for home heat, and wasting precious time”, Kirkup says: “They should have more confidence in markets: demand for the 600,000 heat pumps needed every year to hit net-zero will incentivise a new wave of cost-cutting innovation.” Kirkup also argues for using road pricing to “fund roads in the electric age”, noting: “Road pricing can be viable now because the world has moved on faster than its doubters realise. Technology and innovation can crack another environmental political puzzle. We now have the wherewithal to give drivers their own personal miles allowance, which – like your tax code – can vary according to circumstance.”
Elsewhere, writing in the Daily Telegraph, Roger Bootle – chairman of research consultancy Capital Economics – also argues in favour of road pricing. “If ever there was a way of overcoming political opposition to road pricing and thereby introducing the market mechanism into road usage then this is surely it,” he says: “The move to net-zero and the associated demise of taxes on petrol and diesel provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” However, a Daily Telegraph editorial warns that “government feels isolated from Tory voter opinion”, adding: “The dash to go green carries enormous costs for consumers, such as installing new boilers; faced with an impending rise in debt interest payments, and the threat of inflation.” Finally, the Daily Express asks “eco experts” to rate Boris Johnson’s progress on the “green industrial revolution”.
Limiting global warming to 2C above pre-industrial temperatures could create between 3-8m new jobs in the energy sector by 2050, according to new research. The authors create “a novel dataset of job footprints in over 50 countries. These job intensities are applied to output from an integrated assessment model”. They find that, in a 2C warming scenario, 84% of jobs in the energy sector in 2050 would be in renewables, 11% in fossil fuels and 5% in nuclear. “While fossil fuel extraction jobs rapidly decline, these losses are compensated by gains in solar and wind jobs, particularly in the solar and wind manufacturing sector,” the authors note.
A new study finds that climate change and land use change have “slowed the recovery rate of forest carbon cycling”. The study uses four decades of satellite data observations of forest cover, carbon and water fluxes to develop a “spatially explicit tropical forest vulnerability index”. The authors use the index to show how and where a forest “tipping point” may occur. They conclude that “forests in the Americas exhibit extensive vulnerability to these stressors [of climate change and land use change], while in Africa, forests show relative resilience to climate, and in Asia reveal more vulnerability to land use and fragmentation”.
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