Today's climate and energy headlines:
- G7 reaffirmed goals but failed to provide funds needed to reach them, experts say
- Swiss voters reject key climate change measures
- CBI boss says world is ‘way off track’ in fight against climate crisis
- Greens vow to turn Germany into ‘socio-ecological economy’
- China: IEA's net-zero roadmap is unrealistic, lacks localised approach - experts
- Antarctic ice shelf threatens to collapse
- G7 summit: How significant are group's climate pledges?
- Green power list 2021: the UK’s top 20 environmentalists
- Loss of biodiversity poses as great a risk to humanity as climate change
- Ice-shelf retreat drives recent Pine Island Glacier speedup
- Seasonal prediction of European summer heatwaves
There is widespread coverage of the outcome of the G7 meeting which took place over the weekend in Cornwall and was hosted by UK prime minister Boris Johnson. The Guardian says that the summit “ended with rich nations reaffirming their goal to limit global heating to 1.5C, and agreeing to protect and restore 30% of the natural world by the end of this decade, but failing to provide the funds experts say will be needed to reach such goals”. The newspaper continues: “Boris Johnson badly needed a successful G7 deal on climate finance to pave the way for vital UN climate talks, called COP26, to be held in Glasgow this November. Climate finance is provided by rich countries to developing nations, to help them cut greenhouse gas emissions and cope with the impacts of climate breakdown, and was supposed to reach $100bn a year by 2020, but has fallen far short…Without stronger commitments on climate finance, Johnson will face an uphill struggle in getting support for any COP26 deal from the developing world, who make up the majority of countries at the UN climate talks and who will make or break any deal there. The prime minister was left to re-announce previously allocated cash…About $2bn is to be provided to help countries phase out coal-fired power generation, but it is not clear whether this is new money.”
Reuters notes that the G7’s joint communique says that the leaders supports “a green revolution that creates jobs, cuts emissions and seeks to limit the rise in global temperatures to 1.5C”, but the newswire also picks up on the disappointed reaction by campaigners and NGOs: “Climate campaigners welcomed a commitment to phase out funding for new coal-power plants overseas by the end of 2021. But they lamented the lack of stronger targets for putting a stop to use of coal, oil and gas at home. They also criticised a lack of clarity on how rich nations will meet an overdue promise to raise $100bn a year for poorer countries to adopt clean energy and adapt to a warmer planet, with only Germany and Canada offering new money. Green groups said the G7 leaders had not done enough to ensure the success of key COP26 climate talks.” The Press Association reports that “Boris Johnson hailed G7 commitments to tackle climate change, but admitted ‘I’m not going to pretend that our work is done’.”
Politico says the leaders “stumbled” on setting a coal phaseout timeline: “The G7 wealthy democracies have failed to agree on a timeline to end their use of coal for electrical power…leaving them without a firm commitment on a key climate issue at their annual summit.” The New York Times also notes how the leaders “failed to set an expiration date for burning coal”. It adds: “[Joe] Biden and six other leaders of the Group of 7 nations promised to cut collective emissions in half by 2030 and to try to stem the rapid extinction of animals and plants, calling it an ‘equally important existential threat’… It was the first time that the major industrialised economies, which are most responsible for the pollution that is warming the planet, agreed to collectively slash their emissions by 2030, although several nations had individually set those same goals, including the US and the UK. But energy experts said the failure of the G7 nations, which together produce about a quarter of the world’s climate pollution, to agree on a specific end date for the use of coal weakened their ability to lean on China to curb its own still-growing coal use. It may also make it more difficult to convince 200 nations to strike a bold climate agreement at [COP26].”
The Times says that the leaders “pledged to finance a ‘green industrial revolution’ across the world with a fund to support the decarbonisation of developing countries”. It adds: “Billed as the West’s riposte to the Chinese ‘belt and road’ initiative that has funded billions of pounds of infrastructure projects in Africa, the leaders agreed yesterday to set up a rival scheme to leverage public and private finance to tackle climate change…President Biden said that the so-called Build Back Better World initiative would unlock funding from the private sector to support developing countries.”
The Press Association carries the comments of Sir David Attenborough who addressed the G7 leaders ahead of their final day of talks. The naturalist and broadcasters said that the fight against climate change was as much a “political and communications” challenge as a scientific one: “We have the skills to address it in time. All we need is the global will to do so.” The Independent focuses on the many protests by climate campaigners in Cornwall, including several Extinction Rebellion actions.
The Guardian notes how Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison, who was invited to join the summit along with his South Korean counterpart, “has inked deals with Japan and Germany to develop technology to help reach ‘a net-zero emissions future’ – but continues to resist international pressure to formally commit Australia to a firm 2050 deadline”. A separate Guardian article notes how, hours after the G7 summit concluded, Australia’s “deputy prime minister Michael McCormack has declared coal will be around for ‘many more years to come’ as trade ministers from Australia and the UK launch a last-ditch effort to resolve lingering disputes before announcing in-principle support for a bilateral trade deal”. (See “Climate and Energy comment” below for media reaction to the G7 summit.)
Switzerland’s policy on fighting climate change has been “thrown into doubt” after voters rejected key measures in a referendum, reports BBC News. Swiss voters narrowly reject the government’s plans for a car fuel levy and a tax on air tickets, says the broadcaster, adding: “The measures were designed to help Switzerland meet targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change. Many voters appear to have worried about the impact on the economy as the country tries to recover from Covid-19. Opponents also pointed out that Switzerland is responsible for only 0.1% of global emissions, and expressed doubts that such policies would help the environment. The vote, under Switzerland’s system of direct democracy, went 51% against, 49% in favour.” In an analysis piece, the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes says that vote is a “huge shock”. She says: “Voter rejection undermines Switzerland’s entire strategy to comply with the Paris Agreement. Today’s results are a devastating blow for environmentalists. Some analysts suggest the Swiss – who traditionally pride themselves on their green policies – are nervous about taking any economic risks while the country recovers from the pandemic. Now the government must go back to the drawing board, as Switzerland falls behind its European neighbours in efforts to tackle climate change.”
Reuters quotes environment minister Simonetta Sommaruga: “Today’s no is not a no to climate protection, it is a no to the law on which we have voted. Debates in the last few weeks have shown that many people want to strengthen the climate protection but not with this law.”
The head of the UK’s biggest business lobby group has warned that the corporate world is “way off track” with regard to tackling climate change, reports the Guardian. Tony Danker, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), has called on the government to do more to “unlock” the resources of the private sector by publishing new guidance on heating and transport. In a speech later today to the CBI’s Road to Zero conference, he is expected to say: “Tackling the planet’s climate crisis before it’s too late has always been a seismic challenge demanding global cooperation on an unprecedented scale. The world has no room for failure. The climate crisis is worsening and currently we’re way off track.” The Times says Danker wants “environmentally friendly buildings and transport strategies, battery gigafactories and incentives for green businesses”. The newspapers adds: “Danker said that a new delivery body that managed a national deployment plan for heat decarbonisation was needed as Britain lacked the financial, regulatory or delivery frameworks to meet the 2028 target [for installing 600,000 heat pumps per year].” The Times also carries a comment piece by Danker under the headline: “Business innovation will get the best from green revolution.”
Separately, the Financial Times reports that “more than 100 business leaders have warned Boris Johnson that his plans to tear up the planning system in England risk opening up protected land for development and may leave the UK in breach of legally binding environmental targets.” The FT adds: “In a letter sent to the prime minister on Friday, FTSE 100 bosses, academics and sustainability experts said that the proposals did not go far enough to ensure environmental objectives would be met. The UK has pledged to become a ‘net-zero’ emitter of carbon by 2050 and has set in law a binding target to slash emissions by 78% by 2035 compared with 1990 levels. But that target risks being missed because of the government’s ‘siloed’ approach to three of its core policy areas: housebuilding, infrastructure development and hitting environmental goals.”
In other UK news, the Times has the latest news about the “failing health” of the UK’s fleet of nuclear power plants: “EDF’s announcement last week that it was closing the Dungeness B nuclear plant in Kent seven years early punched an unwelcome hole in Britain’s low-carbon power supplies. Now, The Times can reveal that further such blows are likely to follow as EDF admits that two other plants are also at risk of early closure. The French energy giant is bracing for safety issues at Torness in Scotland and Heysham 2 near Lancaster that could force both to shut years before their planned 2030 closure dates.” Meanwhile, BBC News reports that two coal-fired power stations in Nottinghamshire are “in the running” to become a site for one of the world’s first nuclear fusion reactors: “Ratcliffe-on-Soar and West Burton A, near Retford, are among 15 possible UK sites for the station…The government wants to build what it said would be the UK’s, and potentially the world’s, first prototype commercial reactor.” Finally, the Times says that “the government’s plan to tackle climate change by banning gas boilers in new-build homes is likely to be hampered by a shortage of heat pump installers, limited domestic manufacturing capacity and a lack of consumer awareness, a report [by Independent Networks Association] has found”.
Germany’s Green party has adopted an election manifesto that pledges to transform the country’s economy and fast-track its transition to carbon neutrality by 10 years to 2035, reports the Financial Times. It adds: “Pledging to turn Germany into a ‘socio-ecological market economy’, Annalena Baerbock, the party’s candidate for chancellor, this weekend proposed a ‘pact with German industry’. Companies that became climate neutral and localised their production would receive compensation from the state, she said.” The newspaper quotes Baerbock saying: “To those who think too much climate protection endangers prosperity, I would like to say: Yes, in the past, our prosperity was based on burning coal, oil, and gas. But the 20th century is over. The markets of the future will be climate-neutral…The question is not whether this will happen, but who will do it best. And I want us to be at the forefront.” The FT continues: “The Greens rode a wave of popularity after Baerbock’s nomination, but rivals have argued its climate plans would cost individuals more – in terms of fuel and flights. In the wake of fierce attacks from Merkel’s centre-right Christian Democrats and the centre-left Social Democrats, the Greens registered sixth-place in a state election last weekend. They have dropped to 22% in the polls, with the CDU again at the top, with 28%. Baerbock, meanwhile, has been mired in a wave of criticism over delayed reporting of extra income and embellishing her curriculum vitae.” Bloomberg has published a comment piece by Gernot Wagner headlined: “Germany’s upcoming ballot is a climate election.”
China’s energy experts have expressed concerns over the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) net-zero emissions pathway, according to S&P Global Platts. The experts say that the IEA’s route lacks a “differentiated approach” between developed and developing countries and has “unrealistic milestones” to phase out fossil fuels. (See Carbon Brief’s coverage of the IEA report.) Meanwhile, Nikkei Asia reports that China is catching up with the US in the number of research papers published on technologies related to renewable energy. The Japan-based outlet drew the conclusion after surveying the database of Elsevier, a Dutch publishing company.
In other China news, the Paper, a Chinese news website, reports that Ai Yu, a tech CEO, has urged Chinese technology companies to explore ways to “accurately measure” carbon emissions. Ai is quoted saying that there are no complete systems to undertake the task in the world right now. Therefore, Chinese enterprises “have the responsibility and the duty” to work with wider society to fill the gap. Separately, Prof Cao Mingde from China University of Political Science and Law has called for the “accelerated” establishment of China’s climate legislation. Prof Cao explains the importance of climate laws for China’s emission goals to China Environment News. (A Carbon Brief guest post published last week analysed how climate laws have helped G7 cut emissions.)
Elsewhere, Pan Jiahua, a member of the National Climate Change Committee, has rejected the claim that coal power is the “ballast stone” of China’s electricity system. In an interview with Environment and Life Magazine, Pan says the claim – made by influential figures including Professor Wang Guofa – is “incorrect” as countries such as the UK and Germany do not have such a “ballast stone”, but “their electricity system works nonetheless”. (Hongqiao Liu, Carbon Brief’s China specialist, has more about Pan’s comments in this Twitter thread.)
Finally , the Financial Times says that “trillions of dollars of economic activity along China’s east coast, including $974bn in Shanghai alone, are exposed to oceans rising as a result of climate change this century, according to Financial Times analysis of unpublished data”.
Several outlets covers a new study published in Science Advances which, reports the Times, concludes that “an ice shelf that pins one of Antarctica’s largest glaciers in place is ripping apart, prompting scientists to warn that its lifespan could be drastically shortened”. The newspaper explains: “Pine Island Glacier covers 68,000 square miles in the West Antarctic and comprises an estimated 180 trillion tons of ice, enough to raise the average global sea level by 50cm (20in). It flows from the land into the sea but is buttressed by an ice shelf that floats and had served as a brake…From about 2009-17 the speed was stable at about 11 metres a day, but it appears to have moved up a gear, with the further acceleration coinciding with a large part of the shelf splintering off.” MailOnline says the study shows that “Antarctica’s 180 trillion tonne Pine Island glacier could collapse within 20 years as the floating ice shelf helping to hold it back is ‘ripping apart’”. The Washington Post runs the story under the headline: “This melting glacier was already the biggest source of sea level rise. Then things got worse.”
Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environment and energy analyst, says of the G7 meeting: “This summit made some progress, especially on heralding the demise of coal – the fuel that drove the industrial revolution and sent emissions soaring. But for the umpteenth time the rich club has failed to deliver on its promise to channel $100bn a year to poor nations coping with a heating climate…Campaigners are warning there will be no over-arching deal to protect the climate unless that sum is reached and guaranteed at the vital COP26 climate conference in Glasgow in December…The finance issue – a running sore in climate negotiations – has been compounded by demands from poor nations for more Covid help. This row overshadowed some more promising moves from G7. President Biden talked up the end of coal for power generation in America (with no details of a date, or of how he would get legislation through Congress). Germany and Japan will face difficulty on this issue, too. The president also trumpeted the end of coal finance for poor nations. This will heap pressure on China to follow suit. The initiative to specifically target coal was led originally by the UK, which deserves credit for spotting a deliverable policy in the morass of vague talk about climate action.”
An editorial in the Daily Telegraph reacts to the G7 meeting with disappointment that it did not match the paper’s own ideological outlook: “The meeting agreed on a social democratic and environmentalist manifesto that any one of the G7 leaders could have originated, reflecting everything that Davos Man believes in, from reducing carbon emissions to spending more taxpayers’ money. There wasn’t a trace of conservative or libertarian philosophy…What was the point of having a Brexiteer in No 10?” In the Independent, Green MP Caroline Lucas writes: “Behind the deeply interconnected nature and climate crises lies the same fundamental cause: an economic model which values GDP growth above all other measures, and is geared to achieving it. That is the elephant in the room. G7 leaders need to recognise this and start to address it.” A separate comment piece in the Independent by the actor and Greenpeace ambassador Thandiwe Newton, concludes: “There’s a healthier, fairer, greener world on offer, it’s time these leaders helped us create it.”
The Sunday Times magazine has published a “green power list” which profiles 20 environmentalists in the UK who are “minds engaging with the world’s biggest problem”. The list has many people who are working on climate change, including Chris Stark, Joss Garman, Alok Sharma, Dr Emily Shukburgh, Emma Pinchbeck and Prof Ed Hawkins. The Sunday Times magazine also has a front cover feature under the headline: “How Carrie Johnson’s eco clique took control of No 10.” The article, written by Rosie Kinchen and Ben Spencer, details the “tree-hugging Tories who are turning the government green”. It says: “Carrie Johnson, 33, has long been a committed environmentalist. The prime minister, whom she married last month, has a rather less convincing green back story. For years he was considered a climate sceptic, and his newspaper columns for the Daily Telegraph regularly characterised opponents of fossil fuels as ‘gloomsters’. But as prime minister he has been undoubtedly green, even, it could be argued, radically so.”
Meanwhile, over five pages, the Mail on Sunday has launched a new campaign it is calling the “war on food waste”. The introductory article says: “The Mail on Sunday is asking for a 30% reduction in the amount of food thrown away at home, the equivalent of just 2.2lb (1kg) a week. Meeting this target would stop as much harmful carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere as taking two million cars off the road – and it would save families money…It will address dangerous misconceptions. More than half of people mistakenly believe, for instance, that air travel has a greater effect on the environment than food waste. But food waste is responsible for at least three times more greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Sunday Telegraph carries a comment piece by George Eustice, the UK’s environment secretary, who argues that “we need to make a net-zero, nature-positive world the norm”.
The Economist has published a special edition of its Technology Quarterly supplement under the heading: “The other environmental emergency.” In one feature, Catherine Brahic, the Economist’s environment editor, looks at how “technology has a growing role to play in monitoring, modelling and protecting ecosystems”. She adds: “The biodiversity crisis poses as great a risk to human societies as climate change. Yet it has a fraction of the public profile. In part that is because the loss of biodiversity cannot be neatly quantified, as climate change can, into parts per million of carbon dioxide, or degrees above pre-industrial average temperatures. And the webs that link species within and across ecosystems are even more complex than the processes that drive climate change.” Other articles in the edition include one headlined: “Compared with climate, modelling of ecosystems is at an early stage.”
A new study finds that the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica is now flowing 12% faster than it was three years ago. The authors use observed data from the Copernicus Sentinel 1A and B satellites to track the glacier’s speed and an ice-flow model to simulate it. Past speedups in the glacier’s retreat were “largely due to grounding-line retreat in response to ocean-induced thinning that reduced ice-shelf buttressing”, the authors note. Using the ice-flow model, they find that “accelerated calving can explain the recent speedup, independent of the grounding-line, melt-driven processes responsible for past speedups”.
Seasonal forecasts that begin in early May can provide “potentially useful information” about “the tendency of a season to be predisposed to the occurrence of heatwaves”, according to new research. The study assesses the ability of the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts) System 5 operation forecast system to predict European heatwaves. This research is “the first of its kind to systematically assess the prediction skill of heatwaves over Europe in a state-of-the-art seasonal forecast system”, according to the paper. The authors add that seasonal forecasting could help to mitigate the impacts of heatwaves on society as the climate warms.
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