Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany agrees plan to phase out coal power by 2038
- Microsoft pledges to be 'carbon negative' by 2030
- Carney takes on climate finance role ahead of Glasgow talks
- YouTube has been 'actively promoting' videos spreading climate denialism, according to new report
- Climate change: Extinction Rebellion end blockade at Shell's Aberdeen HQ
- There’s a glimmer of hope for Australia’s wildlife
- Energy, vehicles, sustainability – 10 predictions for 2020
- Insurance for the future? Potential avian community resilience in cities across Europe
The German government and regional leaders have agreed on a plan to phase out coal-fired power stations by 2038, involving compensation of about €40bn (£34bn), reports BBC News. It adds: “Coal currently powers about one-third of Germany’s electricity, and more than half of that relies on burning lignite [brown coal]. Germany is the world’s biggest lignite producer.” The compensation will be targeted at four German states which have lignite mines and coal-fired power plants: Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia and Brandenburg. The compensation for closing coal-fired power stations in western Germany is set at €2.6bn, and for those in the east at €1.75bn, BBC News says, and “mines and utilities will also get compensation for the lost production”. The deal, announced yesterday, “means Germany will end the use of nuclear and coal power at the same time, sharply increasing the country’s dependence on renewable sources of power such as wind and solar”, says the Financial Times. It adds: “The compensation package for coal states includes plans to move government institutions and military installations to the affected regions, in an effort to create jobs and revenues. Some sites will also benefit from the construction of new gas-fired power stations.” Finance minister Olaf Scholz told a news conference: “Germany, one of the strongest and most successful industry nations in the world, is taking huge steps towards leaving the fossil fuel era,” reports Reuters. It also notes: “The decision marks a major turnaround for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative-Social Democrat coalition. It abandoned as unachievable a key emissions target shortly before taking office in 2017, only to change course after growing public concerns about climate change fuelled a surge in polls by the Green Party.” The government said reviews will be carried out in 2026 and 2029 to determine whether Germany can exit coal-fired electricity generation in 2035, three years before the final deadline, says the Guardian. At least eight coal-fired power plants will be taken off the grid this year, says Deutsche Welle. RWE, Germany’s biggest power producer, will cut about 6,000 jobs – or nearly a third of its current workforce – by 2030 as a result of phasing out lignite, reports another Reuters piece. RWE said the €2.6bn it would receive in compensation over 15 years to soften the blow to its business was less than the €3.5bn hit it estimated it would take, the newswire says. The move “shows how expensive it is to stop burning the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel, despite a broad consensus that keeping coal in the ground is vital to averting a climate crisis, and how politically complicated it is”, says the New York Times.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Poland and Germany will be the biggest beneficiaries of a new EU “Just Transition Fund” designed to help coal-dependent regions move towards a greener economy. It continues: The fund’s €100bn, over seven years, will come from leveraging a small amount of public money from the EU budget, €7.5bn, aiming to attract much bigger sums of private investment by covering the riskiest parts of projects.“ European Commission plans show that of the €7.5bn, Poland will get the maximum allocation of €2bn and Germany will be second with €877m. Romania (€757m) and the Czech Republic (€581m) also big winners, notes EurActiv. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said it was “very good news for Poland”, says another Reuters piece.
Microsoft has announced it aims to become “carbon negative” by 2030 and remove all the carbon it has ever emitted by 2050, reports the Guardian. This means the “$1.3tn (£1tn) giant’s activities will reduce, rather than merely offset, the carbon it puts into the atmosphere”, says the Daily Telegraph. At a event at Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington, chief executive Satya Nadella said: “If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that technology built without these principles can do more harm than good…We must begin to offset the damaging effects of climate change.” Microsoft’s goal of removing as much carbon as it has emitted in its 45-year history sets it “apart from other corporate pledges which have focused on cutting ongoing emissions or preventing future ones”, says Reuters. This includes going “a few steps beyond what crosstown rival Amazon” which has a net-zero target by 2040, says the Washington Post. BBC News includes a comparison between carbon neutral and carbon negative. Microsoft’s efforts will also include creating a $1bn fund to “accelerate the global development of carbon reduction, capture, and removal technologies”, says Axios, as well as “expanding its internal carbon tax to apply to its supply and value chains, not just emissions from its direct operations”. Microsoft has been carbon neutral since 2012, notes MailOnline, and “will also shift its resources to focus on renewable fuel and has targeted a goal of relying entirely on renewable energy by 2025”.
Mark Carney, the outgoing Bank of England (BoE) governor, will advise the UK government on climate finance after he steps down, helping the UK as it prepares to host the UN’s COP 26 climate talks in Glasgow in November, reports the Financial Times. Carney will be leaving the BoE in mid-March and, at the request of prime minister Boris Johnson, will then stay in London to take on the new role “on a part-time, unpaid basis”, the FT says. It adds: “He has also been appointed UN special envoy for climate action and finance in preparation for the COP26 meeting.” Johnson said Carney would be an “invaluable addition” to the team for the COP26 summit, reports the Press Association. Johnson added: “Hosting COP26 in Glasgow will be a golden opportunity for the UK and the global community as we push for as many countries as possible to follow our lead and commit to ending their contribution to climate change by 2050.” COP26 president Claire O’Neill said Carney’s appointment was a “huge boost” to efforts to mobilise green investment across the global financial system and help companies and investors accelerate the transition to net zero, reports BusinessGreen.
YouTube has been “actively promoting” videos containing misinformation about climate change, says Time, reporting on findings released by campaign NGO Avaaz. Time continues: “Avaaz examined 5,537 videos retrieved by the search terms ‘climate change’, ‘global warming’ and ‘climate manipulation’, and then the videos most likely to be suggested next by YouTube’s ‘up next’ sidebar. For each of those search terms respectively, 8%, 16% and 21% of the Top 100 related videos included by YouTube in the ‘up-next’ feature contained information that goes against the scientific consensus on climate change – such as denying climate change is taking place, or claiming that human activity is not a cause of climate change.” The report also finds that the videos were also shown alongside online ads by brands like Greenpeace and L’Oreal with ties to either sustainability or environmental protection, reports Politico. Avaaz called on YouTube to implement new policies to prevent the further spread of climate misinformation on its platform, says the Guardian. DeSmogBlog also has the story.
Protestors with the environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) have ended a blockade at the entrances to Shell’s Aberdeen headquarters, reports BBC News. It continues: “Activists arrived at the Altens base at about 06:30 and remained at the site until 19:30 in a bid to ‘hold Shell to account’. The group said the protest was part of its two-week long campaign targeting the fossil fuel industry.” XR said that about 50 activists had gathered at the three entrances to the site and that some had locked themselves together, reports the Times, adding that “they also used a boat to block a road”. One protestor told the Independent: “The more successful fossil fuel companies like Shell are, the worse our future is going to be. We have to stop them carrying on as if their product does no harm.” The Daily Record and MailOnline also cover the protest. Meanwhile, the Press Association reports that retired GP who was arrested near the Houses of Parliament during the XR climate change protests last year has said he has mixed feelings after hearing he will not be prosecuted. “It’s less hassle and cheaper and I don’t have to worry about going down to court, but, against that, I didn’t get my chance to read my statement,” he told the newswire. He would have told the court: “I think that breaking the law is justified in the current crisis, in the same way it is justified to break a window in the case of a house fire. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that campaigners have warned that the UK government’s fracking moratorium does not apply to acid fracking, a process that involves injecting acid into the earth to dissolve and fracture rock. More than 500 academics, politicians and campaigners have signed an open letter calling on the government to ban the practice over fears companies may use it to get around the moratorium, the paper adds.
Angus McCrone, chief editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, sets out the organisation’s predictions for what the year 2020 will bring for the low-carbon transition in energy, transport, commodities and sustainability. Among the 10 predictions are for “world renewables capacity investment to edge a little higher once again, reaching about $300bn”, “a record year of wind installations in 2020, driven by a towering 69GW of new onshore capacity”, and “10m EVs on the road, up from just 1m in 2015”. McCrone notes that “we did respectably with our crystal ball gazing a year ago, correctly predicting that the world solar market would grow despite a fall-back in China, that oil prices would firm, and there would be a further year of growth in LNG [liquified natural gas] demand”.
Writing in the Washington Post, Prof Christopher R Dickman, professor of ecology at the University of Sydney, finds a glint of optimism in the devastating Australian bushfires – but only “as long as world leaders heed the warnings of Australia’s crisis”. “The bad news is that many already threatened species live in the burned areas, and some will have lost all or most of their habitats,” he says. but “here is good news, too”. He continues: “Australian ecosystems have co-evolved with fire, and we can expect that key shrub and tree species such as the eucalypts and their allies will recover quickly in many areas. After rain, there will be flushes of grasses and herbs, and wildlife will move in quickly to exploit the fresh, green bounty.” Globally, “Australia is sometimes seen as a ‘climate canary’ in the coal mine”, writes Dickman: “Hence, we might ask whether the unprecedented bushfires presage not just a ‘new normal’ for Australia, but signal what is likely to come elsewhere in the world”. He concludes: “With courage and will, the international community can learn from the bushfire crisis Down Under. Perhaps we may yet be able to change our collective behaviour and take swift and concerted action to mitigate the risks and impacts of climate catastrophes globally.” Elsewhere, Reuters reports that “heavy rains dampened bushfires on Australia’s east coast on Friday and brought relief to farmers battling years of drought, but the city of Melbourne braced for another wave of unhealthy air over the weekend”. The Financial Times looks at the rise of “pyro-cumulonimbus events” – “massive storm clouds, caused by the fires themselves, that mark the most intense blazes”, and Guardian Australia’s editor Lenore Taylor warns that “if this bushfire crisis, this nation-wide trauma, can’t loosen the [climate change] denialists’ grip on Coalition climate policy, then maybe nothing will”.
Urbanisation is affecting avian biodiversity across the planet and potentially increasing species vulnerability to climate change. Identifying the resilience of urban bird communities to climate change is critical for making conservation decisions. This study explores the pattern in bird communities across nine European cities and examines the projected impact of climate change. Bird community resilience in each city was compared with projected changes in temperature and precipitation for the year 2070 to explore potential future threats to conservation. Of the nine cities, Madrid and Toledo are projected to experience the largest change in temperature and precipitation, although their bird communities are characterised by relative high resilience. In contrast, Rovaniemi, at the Arctic Circle is projected to experience the second highest increase in temperature among the focused cities, and their bird communities are characterised by low resilience.
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