Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany to pull forward target date for climate neutrality to 2045
- Curbing global warming to 1.5C would halve sea level rise from ice melt – study
- US eyes nuclear reactor tax credit to meet climate goals –sources
- China: Wang Guofa – Improving the efficiency of coal development and utilisation in itself is reducing carbon emissions
- Top wind turbine maker plans to raise prices
- How banking bosses are linked to the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel
- Treasury can make net-zero add up for Britain
- Most newspaper editorials mum on Biden 50% by 2030 pledge
- Climate change: Victoria needs to cut carbon emissions from gas
- Fevers are plaguing the oceans – and climate change is making them worse
- Jersey crisis exposes UK's dangerous reliance on undersea power cables
- Financial inclusion may limit sustainable development under economic globalisation and climate change
The German government is to amend its climate law with a target of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions as early as 2045, Clean Energy Wire reports, bring forward the goal by five years. The reforms, due to be presented next week, will include a 65% by 2030 reduction target, the website adds, up from the current aim of 55% below 1990 levels. The changes have been prompted by a court ruling that found the current goals insufficient, it says. Associated Press says the reforms will also include a target of 88% by 2040. It reports: “The proposed targets so far include few details on how the emission cuts would be achieved…Experts maintain that to speed up the process of cutting emissions, Germany would have to phase out coal-fired power plants sooner than the planned date of 2038, among other measures.” The newswire adds: “The plan must be approved by chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet. Her spokesman said ministers in the three-party government agree on the higher target of 65% cuts by 2030 and ending net emissions by 2045.” The Financial Times quotes German environment minister Svenja Schulze saying the country’s political parties were seeking to “outdo” each other and: “That’s positive news, because it’s now no longer just about protecting the climate; we’re now arguing about the best ideas and the best concepts.” Reuters says the decision by Merkel’s government came with “an eye to the opposition Greens’ lead in polls ahead of elections in September”. It adds: “Options to reduce emissions include expanding renewable energy and raising the price of CO2 more quickly than planned.” Climate Home News says the “sudden shift follows a landmark court ruling in favour of youth plaintiffs and reflects rising public demand for green policies ahead of September’s election”. It adds: “The move reignites an intense debate around Germany’s coal exit and carbon price on fuel for transport and buildings – two issues which could now dominate the election.” Bloomberg notes that reaching net-zero by 2045 would be “the most ambitious timeline among large economies”, with only Sweden currently having the same target written into law. BusinesGreen and the Hill also have the story.
There is widespread coverage of two new studies published in Nature magazine on contributions to sea level rise from melting land ice. The first study shows that the contribution to rising seas from melting ice sheets and glaciers could be halved, from 25cm to 13cm, by limiting warming to 1.5C this century, says the Press Association via the Evening Standard. The newswire quotes study lead author Dr Tamsin Edwards saying: “Global sea level will continue to rise, even if we halt all emissions now, but our research suggests we could limit the damage [by staying below 1.5C]…This would mean a less severe increase in coastal flooding.” The Independent says the halving of sea level rise from land ice is relative to what would happen if countries only meet existing pledges, according to the research. It adds that the contribution of melting ice to rising seas “could be much higher if Antarctica follows a ‘pessimistic’ pathway in the future, the research adds”. New Scientist, Agence-France Press via France 24, MailOnline and the Hill all lead on the first study’s finding about “halving” sea level rise. Bloomberg turns the findings around and reports under the headline: “Sea-level rise from melting land ice may double if Paris pact fails.” It says the research concludes the 1.5C limit is “crucial to limiting coastal flooding”.
A number of outlets lead their coverage of the new research with the second study, which, according to the Axios headline, shows: “World risks runaway Antarctic ice melt if Paris targets not met.” The website says that climate pledges had been putting the world on track for 3C of warming, adding that under this pathway: “Sea level rise could begin to accelerate irreversibly as soon as 2060, the DeConto-led work shows.” The Guardian also leads on this second study, reporting: “The current pace of global heating risks unleashing ‘rapid and unstoppable’ sea level rise from the melting of Antarctica’s vast ice sheet, a new research paper has warned.” The Times runs under the headline: “Melting Antarctic ice will cause ‘unstoppable’ sea level rise without drastic cut in emissions.” Thomson Reuters Foundation says Antarctic melting could cause a “dramatic” rise in sea levels if warming is not limited, according to the study. Gizmodo has the story under the headline: “If the Paris Agreement fails, sea levels could rise 33 feet.” This is the additional sea level rise from Antarctic melt by 2300, if warming reaches 3C, it says. Inside Climate News says the study shows the Paris goals are “critical to preventing disintegration of Antarctica’s ice shelves”.
The Washington Post reports both studies together, explaining: “Two studies find the Paris climate goals could significantly reduce sea level rise by 2100 – but also show researchers still grappling with how climate change will alter the world’s largest ice sheet [in Antarctica].” It quotes one scientist saying of the findings: “Uncertainty is not our friend.” Separately, the Guardian reports that melting glaciers have “accelerated a shift in [the] Earth’s axis”.
The Biden administration has “signalled privately” that it supports taxpayer subsidies to keep existing nuclear plants open for longer, Reuters reports, citing “three sources familiar with the discussions”. It says subsidies in the form of production tax credits “would likely be swept into president Joe Biden’s multi-trillion-dollar legislative effort to invest in infrastructure and jobs, the sources said”. The newswire notes that the US nuclear fleet of 90 reactors is the world’s largest and generates the country’s “top source of emissions-free power”. It adds: “Yet ageing plants have been closing due to rising security costs and competition from plentiful natural gas, wind and solar power, which are becoming less pricey.”
In other US news, Reuters reports that jobs in the country’s solar industry fell by 7% last year due to pandemic work restrictions and “large gains in labour efficiency”, citing an industry report. Meanwhile, E&E News via Scientific American profiles Louisa Terrell, director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, who it says “has the tough job of moving Biden’s infrastructure package through Congress”.
Prof Wang Guofa, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, has defended the role of coal in the nation’s energy-supplying system in the years to come, reports state-run China Energy News. The article quotes Wang saying that “for quite a long time, coal is still an anchor to ensure the safe and stable supply of energy and a stabiliser to support energy restructuring and transition”. He states that to achieve carbon neutrality does not equate to phasing out coal entirely – instead, relevant industries should aim to “improve the efficiency of coal development and utilisation” to cut carbon emissions, the report writes.
An article in People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, reports that a “green, low-carbon lifestyle” is rising in the country in response to the government’s climate goals. The piece features several regional incentive schemes to encourage citizens to cut their carbon footprint. It cites a recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, stating that authorities should take “necessary interventional measures” to reduce the growth rate of carbon emissions from household consumption. Such actions could complement the energy transition and help China hit its 2030 and 2060 emission targets, People’s Daily writes. A separate piece from the official outlet says: “It is very necessary for consumers to transform from high-carbon consumption to low-carbon consumption gradually.”
Meanwhile, financial publication Caixin carries a feature about the popularity of carbon financial products in China. It says that investors and companies are taking advantage of the “tens of trillions of yuan” worth of investment needed to achieve carbon neutrality. “Faced with immense investment opportunities, market participants rub their fists and wipe their palms, carbon-neutral financial products have been surging,” one line reads. The article lists the variety of related offers on the market before citing two insiders who warned investors not to be “overly optimistic”.
Danish firm Vestas, one of the world’s biggest wind turbine makers, is to raise its prices due to the rising costs of steel and freight, Bloomberg reports. The website adds: “It’s an early sign that the surge in commodities prices and disruptions in supply chains could interrupt a trend of perpetually falling costs for green energy.” The Financial Times Lex column comments on recent earnings announcements from Vestas and rival turbine firm Siemens Gamesa, noting “both reported tricky quarters”. It says: “Strategists use earnings surprises as market weather vanes. They may, therefore, worry the climate has changed for Europe’s renewable energy specialists.” But Lex adds: “There is no reason to see underlying profit growth as challenged…A secular rise in renewable energy demand shows no signs of flagging. That means these two turbine makers will benefit. Investors should exploit any weakness as buying opportunities.”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that “replacing coal plants with renewables is cheaper 80% of the time”, covering new findings that it says shows the large majority of US coal plants are now “more expensive to keep running than to swap out for new wind and solar capacity”.
An “exclusive” report from the Independent and DeSmog says that directors at three of the UK’s five largest banks “have ties to the coal industry”. The Independent says campaigners have used the finding to call for “greater regulation of banks’ carbon-cutting measures”. Separately, DeSmog reports that shareholders in Barclays have “rejected calls to accelerate a phase-out of fossil fuel financing” but adds that “a quarter remain unconvinced by the bank’s current approach to tackling climate change”. Reuters reports: “Barclays will offer investors an advisory vote on its climate policy at next year’s annual shareholder meeting, the bank’s chairman said, after pressure from investors and activists to become greener.”
Writing for the Times Red Box, Conservative MP and former UK energy secretary Andrea Leadsom previews the Treasury’s review into net-zero, due to be published later this month. She says the document “brings an opportunity to demonstrate a step-change in thinking” and calls for “an optimistic approach from the Treasury” that “can unlock the UK’s green revolution”. She adds: “The green economy could, in my view, become a bigger jewel in our crown even than our hugely successful financial services sector. Better still, green jobs offer opportunities for everyone, from apprenticeships to retraining to cutting-edge science and new enterprise.” Among the measures she calls for the Treasury to support are a “thorough assessment of a switch to road pricing” and “leaning on properly designed carbon pricing”.
In the Times business section, Alf Young, visiting professor at the University of Strathclyde, comments under the headline: “Global warming is the legacy we must not leave to our grandchildren.”
Only 25% of more than 400 US newspaper frontpages marked President Biden’s pledge to raise the country’s climate ambition at the recent climate summit, writes Michael Svoboda at Yale Climate Connections. The Houston Chronicle, New York Times and Washington Post were among the few that gave the story a fifth or more of their front pages on the day after Biden’s pledge, he adds. Svoboda also notes just 10 editorials on the news, from which he reports excerpts including from the Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Guardian. He says that eight of the 10 were supportive, with the Wall Street Journal and Wheeling Intelligencer in West Virginia the only two “expressing scepticism” over Biden’s move.
Elsewhere, Climate Feedback assesses the “scientific credibility” of a recent Wall Street Journal feature, rating it as “very low” and describing it as “inaccurate” and “misleading”. The feature was a review of “Unsettled”, by theoretical physicist Steven Koonin, with Climate Feedback saying the piece “builds on a collection of misleading and false claims” made in the book. A comment in the Wall Street Journal by self-proclaimed climate “agnostic” Robert Bryce says: “[Wind t]urbines are popular so long as no one has to see their giant blades or hear the awful noise they make.”
An editorial in Australian newspaper the Age supports calls to end use of gas for home heating and cooking, noting the recently announced state government of Victoria’s targets to cut emissions 28-33% below 2005 levels by 2025 and 45-50% by 2030. It says: “With some lead-in time, Victoria should follow the growing list of cities and municipalities that have either banned or are considering restricting the use of fossil fuels in new homes. Extending the ban to existing houses should follow.” It concludes: “It’s a long-term undertaking, but the longer we wait, the longer it will take to reap the benefits.”
A news feature in Nature magazine by Dr Giuliana Viglione – Carbon Brief’s new food systems journalist – looks at marine heatwaves. These events “can devastate ecosystems”, she writes, adding: “scientists are scrambling to predict when they will strike”. Viglione notes: “Like their counterparts in the atmosphere, marine heatwaves are getting worse: climate change is magnifying their frequency, extending their length and pushing them to higher temperatures. All that puts a premium on understanding their causes and learning how to forecast them.”
An article in the Daily Telegraph reports on a dispute over fisheries access around Jersey, which has triggered threats by France to cut off electricity supplies to the channel island. It says: “[D]espite Britain’s divorce from the EU, the UK’s reliance on electricity connections to the continent is growing…As well as providing cheaper power from the continent, the cables mean Britain can export power when it is producing too much – an increasingly important service given its growing use of wind turbines. Yet the risk of relying on such power flows was thrown into sharp relief last night after France threatened to shut down Jersey’s power supply.” The piece quotes one analyst saying of the threat from disrupted interconnectors: “We could cope but it would be more expensive. Same for other markets as well, they wouldn’t want to lose access to us…it’s very unlikely that you would end up in a situation where they cut off interconnectors.”
Elsewhere in the Daily Telegraph, chief city commentator Ben Marlow also writes about the issue, arguing: “Every modern country needs back-up power but if our so-called friends are willing to turn vital shared infrastructure into political weapons then the case for building energy resilience has never been more pressing. New nuclear is the obvious alternative.” He says so-called “mini nukes” (small modular reactors) “are more modern, cheaper, and greener than old nuclear power and could become a genuine export industry with proper investment”.
The effectiveness of “financial inclusion” – making financial products and services accessible and affordable to all – for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals could be threatened by climate change and economic globalisation, a new study warns. Analysing the case of herders in Inner Mongolia, the researchers find that “exposure to economic globalisation and climate change threatened herder livelihoods via increased feed costs and reduced livestock sales prices”. For most herders – who are constrained by small plot size – financial inclusion loads were used “to reserve livestock and maintain high stocking densities”. The strategy therefore “exposed them to inflated feed costs, increased their debt, and led to widespread grassland degradation”, the study says.