Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany approves coal phaseout by 2038
- Dominion Energy and Duke Energy cancel construction of Atlantic Coast pipeline
- Technology which 'sucks' excess CO2 from the air could hurt UK's green ambitions
- Heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950s in nearly every part of the world, study shows
- Energy firms need to take the public with them to build a greener future
- China still needs to curb King Coal
- Investigation: The problem with Big Oil’s ‘forest fever’
- Losses and damages connected to glacier retreat in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru
- Responses of a coral reef shark acutely exposed to ocean acidification conditions
Several outlets cover the news that the Bundestag and Bundesrat – Germany’s lower and upper houses of parliament – passed legislation on Friday that, according to Deutsche Welle, would “phase out coal use in the country in less than two decades as part of a road map to reduce carbon emissions”. The German publication continues: “The legislative package has two main features. The first establishes a legal avenue for the gradual reduction in emissions by 2038 at the latest, while the second targets regional economies that would be impacted by the phaseout.” It quotes Germany’s economy minister Peter Altmaier saying: “The fossil age in Germany comes to an irrevocable end with this decision.” Reuters says the “bill entails over €50bn ($56bn) for mining and power plant operators, affected regions and employees to cushion the impact of the transformation from coal to renewables”. Reuters has also published a “factbox”, which explains that the law “implements last year’s climate protection package that the coalition government passed to set Europe’s biggest economy on a course to meet climate targets”. Time notes that environmental groups say [the law] isn’t ambitious enough and free marketeers criticise [it] as a waste of taxpayers’ money”. Another article in Deutsche Welle says: “Right now, coal-based energy generation in Germany still accounts for roughly a quarter of the total energy produced. What’s relevant in this context is that hard coal mining has already been stopped in the country…You hardly hear anything about Russia having been Germany’s main supplier of hard coal for years on end…As long as these coal imports exist, Germany will only be relocating some of its environmental footprint abroad.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that on Friday the European Commission invited projects to bid for €1bn in grants from the EU Innovation Fund, which is fed by EU carbon market revenues: “Clean technology projects are readying bids for a billion-euro support package from the European Union under a flagship scheme for funding breakthrough low-carbon technologies. The EU Innovation Fund will support projects such as floating wind farms, carbon capture mechanisms and energy storage, all of which could help clean up sectors such as cement and steelmaking.” Separately, EurActiv reports that “the European Commission has mandated its in-house research body, the Joint Research Centre, to assess whether nuclear power should be considered as a ‘green’ technology under the EU’s sustainable finance taxonomy”. Another EurActiv article reports that the “European Commission will seek to position Europe as a global leader on hydrogen with a new industry-led alliance set to be unveiled on Wednesday”. And the Financial Times reports that Iberdrola, Spain’s second largest listed company, is planning to spend €10bn in 2020 on clean energy: “The Iberdrola boss argued that the clean energy sector stood to be among the beneficiaries of a €750bn EU coronavirus recovery fund proposed by the European Commission, which the bloc’s leaders will debate at a summit next week.”
Many US publications cover the news that Dominion Energy and Duke Energy have cancelled their Atlantic Coast Pipeline project. CNN explains that it was a natural gas pipeline due to stretch hundreds of miles across West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. The companies are citing “legal uncertainty”, says CNN, adding: “Despite a recent win for the project in the US Supreme Court, ongoing delays, litigation and an expected increase in costs threatened the economic viability of the project, the companies said Sunday. The pipeline, initially announced in 2014, had faced intense criticism and legal challenges from environmental and other groups…The announcement brought cheers from the Natural Resources Defense Council…US energy secretary Dan Brouillette blamed the pipeline’s cancellation on ‘activists’.” Reuters adds: “Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club said that Duke and Dominion did not decide to cancel the project but that people and frontline organisations that led this fight for years ‘forced’ them to walk away.” The New York Times says: “Environmental groups have long criticised Dominion and Duke for their continued development of fossil fuel projects. The two companies have argued that they have increasingly added renewable energy sources to produce electricity that include wind, solar and hydro power, but they also contend that they need natural gas for the times when those clean energy resources are not available.”
Meanwhile, in another development, Dominion Energy has sold its natural gas transmission business to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway. The Financial Times says it marks a “big shift towards cleaner energy for the US utility — and another bet on fossil fuels by Warren Buffett”, adding: “Dominion’s $10bn deal with Berkshire Hathaway Energy…marks the first big transaction by Mr Buffett since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis…For Mr Buffett, the latest move — his first big acquisition of the Covid-19 crisis — takes his company in the opposite direction, significantly expanding Berkshire’s fossil fuel exposure. Last year, he invested $10bn to help Occidental Petroleum finance its purchase of Anadarko. The deal for Dominion’s gas assets gives Berkshire Hathaway Energy, a unit of Mr Buffett’s parent company that already runs a $100bn energy portfolio, ownership of almost 8,000 miles of natural gas transmission lines”.
In other US energy news, the Financial Times reports that, “according to government data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, oil and gas extraction businesses shed 1,200 jobs last month. The FT adds: “The US energy sector was a big outlier in the otherwise encouraging jobs report for June: while almost every other industry increased employment, the number of people working in oil and gas continued to drop.”
And in US political news, Axios reports that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has unveiled his campaign’s “Climate Engagement Advisory Council” aimed at “mobilising” voters who prioritise climate change and environmental justice. Members include Tom Steyer and Carol Browner.
There is continuing coverage of the UK’s economic response measures to the Covid-19 crisis with the Daily Telegraph taking a closer look at the government’s announcement last week that it aims to spend £100m on direct air capture research. The Telegraph says: “Plans to pump £100m of taxpayer cash into technology designed to “suck” CO2 out of the atmosphere risks starving more immediate and commercially viable energy projects of cash, environmental groups have warned. A project which has the backing of Dominic Cummings, one of the Prime Minister’s special advisers, is said to have received £100m from the Treasury to develop new carbon capture technology…However, environmental groups have warned against awarding the project the funds. They say there is a danger such long-term schemes could divert investment away from more realistic near-term solutions, such as improving energy efficiency in the UK.“ The Sunday Telegraph, meanwhile, takes a sceptical look at Boris Johnson’s pledge last week to support “Jet Zero” plan to demonstrate a carbon-neutral airliner. It quotes Ian Poll, emeritus professor of aerospace engineering, who describes hope of more than technical demonstration of zero-carbon flight as “a courageous statement”. He adds: “It’s awfully hard to beat the amount of energy contained in current jet fuel…Even with sustainable fuels from waste, that assumes no one else is in the market for it. Setting it up will be costly: can airlines afford fuel that’s much more expensive?” The Times reports that “Hitachi Rail UK, the rolling stock manufacturer, is to call on the government to give it the green light for the construction of hundreds of battery electric trains to replace Britain’s ageing diesel fleet”. And in another article, the Times reports that Rishi Sunak, the UK chancellor, will reveal plans this week to “give companies £1,000 for each apprentice they take on and a multibillion-pound ‘green jobs’ package as part of an attempt to avoid mass unemployment”.
The Guardian has a feature looking at the “green recovery” plans in the UK under the headline: “From dusted-off bikes to electric dreams: UK green economy booms on back of Covid-19.”
A new study in Nature Communications has found that heatwaves have been increasing in frequency and duration since the 1950s in nearly every part of the world, reports MailOnline. It adds: “Australian experts made a global assessment of the weather events and developed a new metric – cumulative heat – to show how much heat is packed into heatwaves. They found that during its worst heatwave season in 2009, Australia experienced an additional 80C of cumulative heat across the country. The most extreme seasons in the Mediterranean and Russia, however, clocked up more than 200C of extra cumulative heat.” The Guardian says: “The study found the escalation in heatwaves varied around the planet, with the Amazon, north-eastern Brazil, west Asia (including parts of the subcontinent and central Asia) and the Mediterranean all experiencing more rapid change than, for example, southern Australia and north Asia. The only inhabited region where there was not a trend was in the central United States.”
The Guardian also reports on another study, again published in Nature Communications, which has found that dry tropical forests may be more at risk than wet rainforests: “Forests with an already drier climate show greater loss of biodiversity, and a reduced ability to support a wide variety of wildlife and plant species, when subjected to warmer temperatures.” Meanwhile, the Independent picks up on a feature by Unearthed under the headline: “Thawing Arctic permafrost could release deadly waves of ancient diseases, scientists suggest.”
In the Sunday Times, Ofgem chief executive Jonathan Brearley says that the energy regulator “will this week set out a five-year multibillion-pound investment programme – funded by consumers – to build a greener, fairer energy system”. He adds: “Huge investment is needed in the grid to charge millions more electric vehicles and connect more renewables to hit the 2050 net-zero emissions target set by the government. The costs are ultimately borne by consumers, who pay about £250 a year on average, or a quarter of their energy bill, for the networks. In an economic downturn, it’s even more important to bring forward this investment at the lowest cost to consumers.”
Meanwhile, in other comment pieces published over recent days, Jason McCartney, the Conservative MP for Colne Valley, argues in today’s Times that the nation should “insulate the nation’s leaky homes for a green coronavirus recovery”. Tim Aldersalde, chief executive of Airlines UK, writes in the Daily Telegraph that “air passenger duty is an unnecessary burden on airlines and travellers” and that “suspending the tax would be a game-changer for the industry”. In the Financial Times, James Whiteside, who is the global head of multi-commodity research at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, argues that “the mining industry is key to the refined metal used in the wind, solar, electric vehicles, storage and transmission which will help us achieve Paris goals of net-zero emissions by 2050”. In the Daily Mail, climate sceptic columnist Dominic Lawson argues that coal mining should be allowed to continue in the UK. In the Independent, freelance journalist Esmé O’Keeffe says the “UK should take heart from France’s green revolution”, with the Economist’s Paris bureau chief Sophie Pedder adding in the Evening Standard that Anne Hidalgo’s re-election as Paris’s green socialist mayor means that “something has changed in Paris, and it may well last”. Finally, an article by Rebecca Huntley – director of research at Essential Media – in the Guardian argues that it’s now time to focus study on the psychological reactions of climate change because the physical science has been settled to the “highest degree”.
Writing in the FT, ChinaDialogue’s Sam Geall says that “China’s energy mix is at a dangerous moment, with new data ringing alarm bells for conservationists”. Citing recent Carbon Brief analysis showing that China’s emissions surged in May after its lockdown restrictions were lifted, Geall says: “China’s state is authoritarian, but fragmented. Provincial chiefs hold considerable sway, with energy planning frequently a push-and-pull between centre and periphery. New approvals [for coal plants] are partly explained by the power plants’ role in expanding local tax bases and consuming local coal resources…This year is critical. Central policymakers are debating the economic, energy and climate goals for China’s 14th five-year plan before they are unveiled next March. Early indications are a cause for concern. The plan may include a carbon emissions cap for the first time, but there are proposals for a looser cap on coal-fired capacity.” Geall concludes: “Now, more than ever, the country has an opportunity to burnish its environmental credentials, benefit innovative industries and help spur a greener recovery. Mr Xi’s message to avoid old ecological mistakes is an appealing one for the country to advance on the world stage at a time when its reputation is compromised by Covid-19. But to transcend mere rhetoric, China needs to curb King Coal.”
DeSmog UK has published a new investigation examining why “over the past year, BP, Total, Eni, Equinor and ConocoPhillips have invested millions of dollars in forest projects to offset their greenhouse gas emissions”. However, it says that a “close inspection suggests that as the projects and regulations currently stand, the trees that Big Oil plans to plant simply can’t live up to the hype”. The article’s revelations include how Shell has been “gaming the voluntary carbon credit market, claiming credits that may be double counted, or that may not qualify to be counted towards their climate goals”.
Future climate change could cause loss and damage to people living in the Peruvian Andes through increased risk of glacial hazards, agricultural crop loss due to water loss and non-economic values local people attribute to glacier loss, a study finds. The study explores the impact of climate change through the policy lens of “loss and damage”, which is now recognised as the third pillar of international climate policy, after mitigation and adaptation. The authors say: “We find that different levels of warming have important negative but differentiated effects on natural and human systems.”
Newborn tropical blacktip reef sharks experience elevated stress when exposed to ocean acidification, a study says. “Ocean acidification” is a term describing how seawater becomes more acidic on the pH scale as it absorbs more CO2. The authors say: “Acute exposure to end-of-century CO2 levels resulted in elevated haematocrit (i.e. stress or compensation of oxygen uptake rates) and blood lactate concentrations (i.e. prolonged recovery) in the newborns.” Not all stress signs were raised for the sharks, however, the study notes.