Today's climate and energy headlines:
- G20 determined to support African countries and tackle climate change
- Sunak set to launch UK infrastructure bank to fund capital projects
- More than half of £50bn wind farm cash to go overseas
- Sentinel-6: 'Dog kennel' satellite blasts off on ocean mission
- China says carbon trading scheme will cover 2,267 power plants in phase one
- Alok Sharma: My daughter persuaded me to go vegetarian to help save the planet
- Green jobs must materialise if the UK is to lead the world in wind power
- Amazon rainforest photosynthesis increases in response to atmospheric dryness
- When IPCC graphs can foster or bias understanding: evidence among decision-makers from governmental and non-governmental institutions
Leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies – the self-styled “G20” – said in a final communiqué issued yesterday they are determined to tackle climate change and support African countries overcome the coronavirus crisis, reports Reuters. “Debt relief for Africa will be an important theme of the Italian presidency of the G20 in 2021,” adds the newswire. The New York Times says that two-day virtual meeting hosted by Saudi Arabia “released a closing statement on Sunday that served as perhaps the Trump administration’s final reminder of the wide gulf between the US and its allies on handling global threats like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change”. It adds: “Over all, the communiqué offered little in terms of any breakthrough announcements beyond general appeals for more global cooperation…In his remarks at the virtual meeting on Sunday morning, Mr Trump reiterated his opposition to the Paris Agreement, claiming it was ‘not designed to save the environment’ but instead ‘was designed to kill the American economy’.” Associated Press says: “Trump, who has worked to undo most of president Barack Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, said that since withdrawing from the climate agreement, the US has reduced carbon emissions more than any nation. That is true, but not that remarkable. With its giant economy, the US has far more raw emissions of climate-damaging CO2 to cut than any other country except China. A more telling measure of progress in various countries is to look at what percentage of emissions a county has cut. Since 2005, the US hasn’t been even in the top 10 in percentage of greenhouse gas emission reductions.” The Guardian notes how Australia’s Scott Morrison said his country was “unlocking promising low emissions technologies, technologies like hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, green steel and aluminium…While Morrison was underscoring the importance of safeguarding the planet, his energy minister, Angus Taylor, criticised the $32bn renewables roadmap outlined recently by the New South Wales government.” The Press Association says Boris Johnson “urged world leaders to do more to tackle the climate crisis and defeat the coronavirus pandemic”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga said on Sunday that his country will lead international efforts to combat climate change, in comments on the sidelines of the G20 summit”. Suga said: “Addressing climate change is not a constraint on economic growth. We will lead international society in realising a decarbonised world.” The newswire adds: “Japanese lawmakers on Thursday declared a climate emergency in a symbolic vote aimed at increasing pressure for action to combat global warming, after Japan last month committed to its firm timetable for net-zero emissions [by 2050].”
Several UK publications preview this week’s long-anticipated government “spending review” by the chancellor Rishi Sunak. The Financial Times says that Sunak will “set out plans…for a new National Infrastructure Bank to channel billions of pounds into capital projects as part of the UK government’s ‘levelling-up agenda’…The new lender, which will be operational by next spring, will have a remit to help deliver the UK’s commitment to reach ‘net-zero [greenhouse gas emissions]’ by 2050 and provide funding for projects across the UK. It will co-invest alongside private investors through a mix of loans and guarantees as well as taking equity stakes in projects.” The FT adds: “The Conservative government previously set up a Green Investment Bank in 2012 only to sell it off five years later to an Australian private equity group…The new infrastructure bank was recommended by John Armitt, the head of the National Infrastructure Commission – an arms-length government body – who said it should start with an asset base of £20bn. Mr Sunak is not expected to set out the precise financial framework for the new lender, until the spring budget.”
Meanwhile, the Times says: “The chancellor will also announce billions of investment in infrastructure, including £1.6bn for local roads to tackle potholes, congestion and other upgrades next year. He will publish the national infrastructure strategy, including plans to invest in broadband, major transport schemes and flood defences. The government will also change the Treasury’s ‘green book’, which sets out the rules on government spending. Rather than a ‘purely economic assessment’, it will have a focus on delivering ‘policy objectives’.” In an editorial looking ahead to the spending review, the Sunday Times says: “It is an absurdity that the government has kept a freeze on fuel duty for a decade while being committed, as it repeated last week, to weaning people off petrol and diesel cars.” BBC News also previews the spending review with its economics editor Faisal Islam saying: “Part of what will change is the Treasury’s green book – a set of rules it uses to determine the value generated by government schemes. It will mean – as the first portions of £600bn in planned public investment are delivered – the process of ranking transport, energy, schools or hospital investment will be widened beyond a narrow definition of benefit compared to cost.” In a preview for the Times, Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, writes that Sunak will need to “put more flesh on [green infrastructure investment] plans and take them one step closer to reality”. Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports the concerns of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) over business rate “hikes” when firms invest in green measures such as solar panels or heat pumps. The CBI says businesses “should instead get exemptions from bills to encourage green investment”, the paper reports.
Meanwhile, the Observer reports that the so-called “Independent Sage” committee of scientists – who have been meeting this year to offer Covid-19 advice and are led by former government chief scientist Sir David King – is now set to “join the climate crisis battle”.
The Times reports that “Britain is forecast to miss out on more than half of the £50bn investment in building offshore wind farms in its waters this decade, with the majority of orders for turbines and other equipment expected to go to factories and suppliers overseas”. It adds: “Energy companies are expected to need to invest about £50bn building new wind farms to hit the 2030 target. Although Britain has two blade factories, in Hull and on the Isle of Wight, many blades and most other big turbine parts are made abroad. Only 29% of the capital investment in recent projects has been in the UK. The government is aiming to boost this figure and has committed to invest £160m in ports and manufacturing infrastructure, but the business department told the Times that the UK share of capital expenditure was expected to reach only 50% by 2030 and that ‘the majority of the increase in UK content is likely to occur after 2025’.”
The Daily Telegraph says that “nuclear fusion could be a reality within 20 years after the government’s green plan gave a major boost to British research projects”, according to scientists at the Tokamak Energy lab in Abingdon, Oxfordshire. The Guardian reports on new data showing that “London and the south-east have benefited disproportionately from the installation of new electric car charge points in the last year”. The Sunday Telegraph says that “electric car batteries are being sent to Europe for recycling, a study has found, amid expert warnings that Britain is not ready for the electric vehicle revolution”.
Meanwhile, the Independent reports that campaigners have warned that “tree planting in England is still far below the level needed to tackle the climate crisis”. It adds: “England planted just 763 hectares of new forest from April to September of this year, official data shows, which is the equivalent of some 1.3m trees. This is only about 70% of the area planted in England in the first half of 2019, according to a government report.” The Times also covers the new data, adding: “Confor, the trade body for the forestry industry, said the planting rate in England needed to increase tenfold to hit the government’s target.” However, the Times also reports: “More than 400 people have paid about £400 each for a giant sequoia to be planted in their name by One Life One Tree, which has plantations near Selborne in Hampshire, Stokenchurch in Buckinghamshire and Brecon in Powys. It said they would not just absorb carbon dioxide but help ensure the species lived on in a suitable habitat if the climate in California became too hostile because of global warming.” An accompanying editorial in the Times says: “The rationale of the scheme is that the donor can not only offset but reverse emissions, given the trees’ huge carbon storage capacity. Scientists are admittedly cautious of such an ambitious claim, given that it would take about 250 years for a single sequoia to absorb the average British person’s lifetime carbon emissions. Yet the educational value and symbolism of the scheme should not be dismissed.”
The Guardian says that “Boris Johnson is facing a fresh test of his green commitments as the UK prepares to submit its national plan on future carbon emissions, before crucial UN climate negotiations”. The newspaper adds: “Pressure is growing on the prime minister to come up with an ambitious national target – known as a nationally determined contribution (NDC) – on cutting emissions substantially by 2030, because the UK will host the postponed COP26 summit next year…Green campaigners wrote to Johnson on Friday calling for a carbon cut of at least 75% to be adopted as UK policy, arguing this was possible in the light of the government’s 10-point plan for a green economy.”
BBC News notes: “The prime minister’s pledge to ban gas boilers from new homes by 2023 has been withdrawn. The promise first appeared on the Downing Street website this week attached to Mr Johnson’s climate plan. But the date was later amended, with the PM’s office claiming a ‘mix-up’.” Finally, the Observer says that it is “baby boomer parents and grandparents who are most likely to act in support of green issues, according to a national survey”.
BBC News reports that a “satellite that will be critical to the understanding of climate change has blasted skyward from California”. It adds: “Sentinel-6 “Michael Freilich” is set to become the primary means of measuring the shape of the world’s oceans. Its data will track not only sea-level rise but reveal how the great mass of waters is moving around the globe…The Sentinel is a joint endeavour between Europe and the US, and will continue the measurements that have been made by a succession of spacecraft, called the Jason-Topex/Poseidon series, going back to 1992. These earlier missions have shown unequivocally that sea levels globally are rising, at a rate in excess of 3mm per year over the 28-year period. And their most recent data even suggests there is an acceleration under way, with levels recorded as going up at over 4mm per year.“ Bloomberg interviews NASA’s Josh Willis, one of the scientists leading the project. He says: “It turns out we’re great at predicting global warming, but we’re terrible at predicting sea level rise. The best way to predict it right now is to look at the last 10 or 20 or 30 years and try and extend that out into the future.”
Reuters covers new consultation papers published by the Chinese government which show that China’s long-awaited nationwide emissions trading scheme (ETS) will cover a total of 2,267 power plants in its first phase. The newswire adds: “Coal- and gas-fired power plants with annual carbon dioxide emissions of at least 26,000 tonnes are included in the first phase of the scheme, according to documents for public feedback by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment…Under the scheme, firms are given allowances free of charge based on historical emissions, and have to buy additional permits if they exceed their quota. The total amount they need to buy will account for no more than 20% of their allocation. The quota allocations have been determined based on emissions levels from 2013-2019, but the ministry said the collection of relevant data for last year had been disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and by funding issues. China launched seven pilot regional carbon markets in 2013-2014, trading more than 400m tonnes of CO2 by August this year, but the national ETS has been repeatedly delayed.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a feature on “the secret origins of China’s 40-year plan to end carbon emissions”. It continues: “The secret drive for China’s 2060 target took shape inside Tsinghua University, where climate scientists had quietly spent more than a year modeling different pathways to reach net zero. Xie Zhenhua, a former environmental bureaucrat and veteran diplomat, oversaw the work from his threadbare office as head of the college’s Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development. Few within China’s strict hierarchy can match Xie’s mastery of government bureaucracy and climate science, making him an influential voice on the issue among the ruling elite. Xie is modest about his role. ‘We made policy proposals to relevant leaders and departments,’ he says in an interview on Tsinghua’s campus in late October, dressed like a typical Communist Party cadre in a dark suit and pressed white shirt. ‘It seems our proposals had some impact.’” Last month, Carbon Brief published an article headlined: “Influential academics reveal how China can achieve its ‘carbon neutrality’ goal.”
The Daily Telegraph’s environment editor Emma Gatten interviews Alok Sharma, the minister who is expected to be the COP26 president. He says: “I’m very encouraged that [Biden] is committed to rejoin the Paris agreement on climate, we are very much aligned with the incoming administration. I really do think this is a big, big opportunity for the UK and the US to together show leadership on the world stage.” He adds: “If you look at the polling in the UK, there is a big desire amongst the population for us to go green in a way that we are also supporting growth in the economy. I think people get that. The 10-point plan is about delivering on that leveling up agenda. We’re saying, here’s the downpayment on the green industrial revolution.”
The Times devotes its “weekend essay” to the “green new world of Britain in 2050”. Ben Macintyre writes: “Come with me to carbon-neutral Britain in 2050. We will walk there, as we often do these days, or travel by state-subsidised electric bike. Let’s start in the city. It’s less smelly, isn’t it? And much quieter, save for the birdsong. We can breathe easier…Nigel Farage, still going at 86, is holding yet another rally in support of petrol cars and meat: the Great British Bangers Defence League…This is a futuristic vision, of course. It may be partly a dream. It is going to be fantastically expensive and intensely controversial as a new, legally enforced way of living conflicts with ingrained habits. Britain will not go green fast, or all at once. Some elements of this future may never come to pass. But they are all contained in the government’s greenprint for reducing carbon emissions, and they are coming our way.”
The Financial Times’s “big read” looks at how “billions are being invested in storage technologies essential to speeding up the replacement of fossil fuels by renewables”.
There is continuing reaction to the UK government’s “10-point plan” for a “green industrial revolution that was released last week. (See Carbon Brief’s summary of the media coverage.) Writing in the Financial Times, Camilla Cavendish, a former head of the Downing Street policy unit, says: “Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan to wean the economy off carbon could be a turning point in the race against climate change. But it will also bring profound shocks to some livelihoods and lives…The challenge of net-zero is to mobilise both public sentiment and private investment. While polls show that tackling climate change is increasingly popular, the gilets jaunes protests in France are a reminder that green taxes hurt, and that environmentalism cannot be a bourgeois preoccupation foisted upon the poor. It will be hard enough to persuade grumpy homeowners to change their boiler and rip out cavity walls, let alone if whole groups find themselves left behind.”
In the Sunday Times, Michael Glackin writes: “Am I alone in thinking the sudden blossoming of eco-friendly announcements is a less-than-subtle attempt by the Johnson administration to ingratiate itself with American president-elect Joe Biden? Biden is not only committed to the US rejoining the Paris agreement on climate change in January, but Wall Street experts predict he will also launch a US green bond within the next two years.”
Several right-wing, climate sceptic columnists attack the government’s plan. In the Mail on Sunday, Peter Hitchens says that “Britain is coming more and more to resemble the old East Germany”. Various people affiliated with the climate sceptic lobby group known as the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) similarly uses their media platforms to attack the government. Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph says: “The lack of opposition to Boris Johnson’s Green Crusade is a sure sign of trouble.” Matt Ridley in the Sunday Telegraph says: “Boris, this is not the way to the promised land, especially when the government is borrowing £300bn because of covid. High-cost electricity will prevent the United Kingdom making a success of Brexit. It will bankrupt us in the short run, make us less competitive in the long run and not cut emissions much anyway.” In the Spectator, Prof Michael Kelly, another person linked to GWPF, claims that “Boris’s green industrial revolution is doomed to fail”.
In the Sunday Telegraph, industry editor Alan Tovey has a feature about the UK government’s support for hydrogen.
A new study questions the long-held view that increases in atmospheric and soil dryness will lead to a reduction in photosynthesis over the Amazon rainforest. This study uses in situ measurements to show that, in many of the wettest parts of the Amazon, photosynthesis and biomass actually increase with increased atmospheric dryness. This result can largely be explained by changes in canopy properties during a dry period, the researchers say. They conclude that, as atmospheric dryness will increase due to climate change, determining the response of ecosystem photosynthesis to atmospheric dryness will be important for quantifying the land carbon sink.
A new study testing understanding of the graphs produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) finds that these graphs are often misinterpreted. The authors tested two IPCC graphs – one “intuitive” and another that “violates the principles of intuitive design” – on a sample of 110 decision-makers. The study found that whilst a minority of participants misinterpreted the intuitive graph, the majority systematically misinterpreted the counter-intuitive graph, drawing the opposite conclusion than intended – despite having high confidence in the accuracy of their interpretation. This highlights the importance of intuitive design in IPCC graphs, the authors conclude.
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