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Daily Briefing

04.02.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING French court rules France not doing enough on climate change
French court rules France not doing enough on climate change

News.

French court rules France not doing enough on climate change
Reuters Read Article

A French court has ruled that the country’s government must do more to combat climate change, reports Reuters, “in what environmental campaigners called a landmark ruling that could ramp up pressure on other countries to act on global warning”. The case was brought by a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – including the French branches of Oxfam and Greenpeace – who accused the French state of not living up to its own commitments, the newswire explains. In its ruling, the Administrative Tribunal of Paris said the government’s failure to convert its commitments on reducing greenhouse gas emissions into policy made it “responsible… for some of the ecological damage seen”, reports Agence France-Presse. In a statement, the NGOs say the decision “marks a first historic victory for the climate and a major step forward in French law”, reports Politico. The NGOs add that they hope “justice will not be limited to acknowledging the state’s fault, but will also force it to finally take concrete measures to at least meet its climate commitments”. The court said it would give the French government two months to take action before issuing any order to reduce emissions and repair the damage, reports the New York Times. It did not uphold a claim for symbolic compensation, reports the Guardian, saying compensation should be made “in kind”, with damages awarded “only if the reparation measures were impossible or insufficient”. The paper adds: “It awarded each organisation a symbolic €1 for ‘moral prejudice’, saying the state’s failure to honour its climate commitments was ‘detrimental to the collective interest’.” The TimesClimate Home News and DeSmog also have the story.

New carbon taxes: meat, cheese and gas heating prices to rise
The Times Read Article

In a frontpage “exclusive”, the Times reports that consumers face higher prices on meat, cheese and gas heating under plans being drawn up by Boris Johnson for new carbon taxes. The paper continues: “A Whitehall memo seen by the Times reveals that Downing Street and the Treasury have asked all departments for plans for a carbon-pricing scheme across all areas of the economy.” The proposals are at the centre of the carbon reduction blueprint that is expected to be announced in the run-up to COP26 in November, the paper explains: “Only heavy industry, power generators and airlines are charged for their carbon emissions at present. However, ministers want to expand the ‘polluter pays’ principle to all sectors, which could lead to higher consumer bills on some of the most carbon-intensive goods and services.” The paper adds: “One source close to the government’s thinking said that Britain’s plans could be used to persuade other countries to follow suit as part of the international move towards net-zero. ‘The big driver for this is that if you can get a decent chunk of countries to agree to some kind of carbon price floor then you can finally have an [international] system that encompasses all the big competitive industries and potentially agriculture,’ the source said.” A Times editorial says a carbon price is “not an obviously vote-winning strategy”, but “it is the right approach and it may be possible to compensate households for these higher costs”. It adds: “Though new measures will need to be devised and implemented with an awareness of unanticipated costs, they ought to receive cross-party backing and gain sufficient public support.” The Daily Telegraph also picks up on the story.

Biden creates new climate adviser role at NASA
The Washington Post Read Article

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned Boris Johnson that he risks “humiliation“ over plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, reports BBC News. In a letter to Johnson, Hansen says hosting the UN climate summit later this year offers “a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning the UK and yourself historic accolades”. Or, Hansen says, “you can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be vilified around the world”. He adds: “It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation – just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature. The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic.” In response, “No 10 said the UK was a world leader on climate change, but would not reverse the local council decision on the mine”, BBC News notes. It adds that Hansen’s letter “may prove uncomfortable for Mr Johnson” as it has been copied to US climate envoy John Kerry. The Guardian carries a copy of the whole letter. Over at Bloomberg, climate and energy reporter Akshat Rathi says the “UK government’s defence of the new mine is a good case study of the doublespeak rife in climate diplomacy”.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post also reports that Michael S Regan, president Biden’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told a Senate panel yesterday that he would “restore” science and transparency at the agency, focus on marginalised communities and move “with a sense of urgency” to combat climate change, reports the Washington Post. Speaking to the Senate environment and public works committee during his confirmation hearing, Regan said: “We all have a stake in the health of our environment, the strength of our economy, the well-being of our communities, and the legacy we will leave the next generation in the form of our nation’s natural resources.“ Reuters describes the hearing as “unusually cordial”, noting that the appointment of the EPA lead “has historically triggered fierce debate between Republicans and Democrats over how to balance US green regulation with economic development”. The Hill also has the story.

In related news on Biden’s appointments, Reuters reports that the Senate energy committee voted 13-4 yesterday to approve the nomination of former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm to head the energy department. Granholm “wants to steer the department to help the US compete with China on electric vehicles and green technologies like advanced batteries and solar and wind power”, the newswire says. It notes that Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from fossil fuel producing Wyoming, was one of the four to vote against Granholm and expressed concerns that Biden’s push to curb climate change would threaten thousands of jobs in coal, gas and oil. Axios says that Granholm “will be supportive of US liquefied natural gas exports – but wants the gas sector to get cleaner too”. The Hill says the nomination “will now go to the full Senate, where she is expected to be confirmed”.

Scott Morrison's first call with Joe Biden covers China, Covid and climate
The Guardian Read Article

After speaking with Joe Biden yesterday for the first time since the president took office, Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison told reporters that Biden did not press him to adopt more ambitious commitments on climate action, reports the Guardian. The White House did “not contradict that point”, the paper says, but says the two leaders “discussed how we can work together to address global and regional challenges, including dealing with China, beating the Covid-19 pandemic, and combating climate change”. Morrison says the president sought no additional commitments from Australia during their introductory conversation, the paper explains, but that the two leaders had discussed “achieving a net-zero pathway through technology”. Morrison said: “We had a very positive discussion about the path we’re on, and the commitments that we’ve made.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports senior ministers of Australia’ National party – the junior partner in the ruling coalition – have poured cold water on the growing push for the nation to adopt a concrete commitment to net-zero emissions by 2050, cautioning against “platitudes” and arguing the coal sector is not in decline. The paper continues: “The agriculture minister and deputy leader of the Nationals, David Littleproud, deployed a different emphasis in his language on Wednesday, saying Australians were ‘sick of platitudes and politicians talking about big aspirations but no way of getting there’. The resources minister, Keith Pitt, also said the resources sector was ‘a cornerstone of our economy’ and cited figures that coal-mining job numbers had hit a nine-year high. ‘Now that does not sound like a sector in decline,’ Pitt told parliament on Wednesday in response to a government-arranged question about the coal sector.” And writing in the Guardian, Richard Denniss – chief economist at independent thinktank, the Australia Institute – says that “Morrison knows setting a net-zero target means picking a fight with the National party” as it is “chock-a-block with coal-loving climate sceptics”.

Biden team in talks with utilities, car companies about emissions: climate adviser
Reuters Read Article

White House domestic climate change adviser Gina McCarthy says that the new US administration has started discussions with the utility and automobile sectors about reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Reuters reports. The talks are part of a broad effort by the Biden administration that McCarthy will spearhead to engage every federal agency to decarbonise the US. power sector by 2035 and the whole economy by 2050, the newswire explains. In an interview, McCarthy said “we’re already having conversations with the utility world and we’re having conversations with the car companies”. She added: “The car companies understand now that the future for them is electric vehicles…so we’re going to be sort of working to make sure that we move forward with some kind of an agreement on that and a strategy to get us out of the gate fast.” Bloomberg also has the story, while Reuters also reports that the Biden administration says it will restart permitting for the first major US offshore wind farm, reversing a Trump administration decision that canceled the process late last year.

In related news, Reuters reports on new analysis that shows California is “far and away” leading the US shift to electric vehicles. And the Hill reports that “Washington state may soon push to end the sale of diesel-fuelled cars by the year 2030 after a bill was introduced in the state legislature that would require all cars sold be electric”. The New York Times “Climate Fwd” newsletter looks at “the shift toward clean cars” and how large car manufacturing companies “are abandoning resistance”. And Axios reports on how “demand for home chargers will likely surge” if electric vehicle sales are going to take off in the US as expected.

Finally, on electric cars, the Financial Times has a “big read” on how UK carmakers are in “a race with Europe to attract battery production” after Brexit. And the Guardian covers a new report from the “liberal conservative” thinktank Bright Blue, which argues that oil companies should be required to install rapid chargers for electric cars in all their petrol stations above a certain size by 2023.

EU carbon price soars to record highs
Financial Times Read Article

The price of carbon in Europe has soared to a fresh record high near €38 a tonne, reports the Financial Times. Traders “rushed to secure supplies of EU emissions allowances”, the paper says, with “prices adding more than 13%…triggered by an auction in Poland that cleared far above the market price”. The gains mark an acceleration in the cost of releasing one tonne of CO2, explains the paper, “which has already soared in recent months as the EU has strengthened its commitments to cutting emissions. The price of carbon has climbed by 66% since early November”. It adds: “A growing band of traders, including hedge funds, banks and utilities, have said they expect prices will keep rising as the EU keeps tightening emissions rules – a shift that will over time make alternatives in the renewable energy sector more competitive against fossil fuels.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports on new research that says the European Union’s goal to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 will have “profound geopolitical repercussions”. The analysis – by European University Institute and two thinktanks – estimates that to meet its goal, EU oil imports by 2050 would have to drop to 79% below 2015 levels and gas imports would fall by 67%, says the newswire. It adds: “Gas imports would fall by 67%. EU states import most of their fossil fuel energy needs, and the experts said sharp cutbacks in these purchases would hurt nearby economies and could destabilise some countries economically and politically.” The research argues that Russia’s exports to Europe will feel the pinch mostly after 2030, reports the Financial Times, adding: “The authors pointed out that although energy dependence on Russia will wane, the bloc is likely to develop new reliances on imports of raw materials, solar, wind and hydrogen from north Africa and parts of the Middle East.” The authors warn that “this could raise new energy security concerns which will need to be mitigated with proper diversification”.

News .

Boris Johnson 'risks humiliation' over coal mine
BBC News Read Article

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen has warned Boris Johnson that he risks “humiliation“ over plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria, reports BBC News. In a letter to Johnson, Hansen says hosting the UN climate summit later this year offers “a chance to change the course of our climate trajectory, earning the UK and yourself historic accolades”. Or, Hansen says, “you can stick with business-almost-as-usual and be vilified around the world”. He adds: “It would be easy to achieve this latter ignominy and humiliation – just continue with the plan to open a new coal mine in Cumbria in contemptuous disregard of the future of young people and nature. The contrary path is not so easy, but, with your leadership, it is realistic.” In response, “No 10 said the UK was a world leader on climate change, but would not reverse the local council decision on the mine”, BBC News notes. It adds that Hansen’s letter “may prove uncomfortable for Mr Johnson” as it has been copied to US climate envoy John Kerry. The Guardian carries a copy of the whole letter. Over at Bloomberg, climate and energy reporter Akshat Rathi says the “UK government’s defence of the new mine is a good case study of the doublespeak rife in climate diplomacy”.

However, at the same time, the local mayor for the new mine says criticism of the plans is misplaced and has provoked “real anger”, BBC News reports. Copeland mayor Mike Starkie says coking coal from the mine, to be used in producing steel, would “drive forward green energy projects”. Speaking to local reporters, the Conservative mayor said he believed people across West Cumbria were overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme as it would “underpin an economic revitalisation” by providing hundreds of jobs, the article explains. Starkie added: “Whether it’s solar, wave, nuclear power, it’s all going to need significant amounts of steel. At the moment, there’s no economic way of making steel without coking coal…People have just got to open their eyes and take a balanced view on this.”

Meanwhile, BBC News also reports that a government advisor has urged the Welsh government to take advantage of the major UN climate change conference set to take place on its doorstep. Future generations commissioner Sophie Howe said the COP26 summit being hosted in Glasgow in November should motivate Wales’ efforts to cut emissions, the outlet explains. Howe told BBC Radio Cymru that there were “significant opportunities” for Wales to showcase achievements in fighting climate change “on a global platform”. She added: “What we’ve seen across the world is it’s actually the smallest states and regions that are doing the really interesting things. It’s at that level where many of the levers to address climate change, such as transport, farming, food and our housing stock, lie. Those things are within the grasp of the Welsh Government and it’s their opportunity to shout about what we’re doing, but also to learn from others in terms of addressing the areas where they’re not doing so well.”

Comment.

Surprisingly, climate is presenting an early test of Biden's China doctrine
Nick Mabey, Climate Home News Read Article

The “emerging diplomatic stand-off between the world’s two largest carbon polluters jeopardises attempts to deliver significant progress at the next UN climate summit”, writes Nick Mabey of climate thinktank E3G, in Climate Home News. He says: “US climate envoy John Kerry opened a new era of US-China climate diplomacy by saying climate collaboration was a ‘standalone issue’ that would never be traded off against confronting China on its human rights record. His remarks sparked an immediate, negative response from China’s foreign ministry. In a terse and surprisingly poetic statement, China said climate could not be isolated from other issues ‘unlike flowers that can bloom in a greenhouse despite winter chill’. Top diplomat Yang Jiechi warned the US not to interfere with the affairs in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang to avoid ‘damage to mutual trust and cooperation’.” Treating climate change “as a special case in global relations – similar to international health – would actually be a step backwards”, argues Mabey: “Delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement requires a complete overhaul of the global energy and industrial systems in three decades, an unprecedented global economic transformation. Managing tensions between cooperation on stabilising the climate and competition over who benefits from the new clean economy is increasingly at the heart of geopolitics.” He adds: “Climate cooperation that fails to tackle trade, innovation and financial issues will be ineffective at reducing global carbon emissions.”

Elsewhere, in the Wall Street Journal, John Bolton – national security adviser in 2018-19 and ambassador to the UN over 2005-06 – asks whether “the Biden administration have the slightest idea how to reconcile its global environmental goals with its China strategy?” He says: “The early signs aren’t encouraging. Right or wrong, climate change wasn’t on president Trump’s priority list for dealing with China. But it is paramount to Mr Biden. In Beijing’s eyes, this makes Washington the demandeur – in diplomatic parlance, the one asking for something. It is never a preferred position in negotiations. You want China to take action on climate change? asks Xi Jinping. Let’s talk about what you’re going to give to get it.”

Finally, an editorial in the South China Morning Post comments on US relations with Russia, noting that the “world a safer place as Joe Biden backs nuclear arms and climate change deals”.

Science.

The rise of compound warm-season droughts in Europe
Science Advances Read Article

New research suggests that Europe has seen a “substantial” increase in “shorter warm-season droughts”. Using a “multidimensional machine learning–based clustering algorithm” and a hydrologic reconstruction of European drought, the researchers finds an increase in shorter warm-season droughts “that are concurrent with an increase in potential evapotranspiration”. They conclude: “If shifts reported here persist, then we will need new adaptive water management policies and, in the long run, we may observe considerable alterations in vegetation regimes and ecosystem functioning.”

THE BRIEF

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THE BRIEF

Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.