Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Glacier bursts in India, leaving more than 100 missing in floods
- UN chief urges leaders to start COP26 climate negotiations online
- Oil majors join scramble for offshore wind rights in England and Wales
- Pollen season grows 20 days in 30 years as climate crisis hits hay fever sufferers
- Coal-fired power took a beating during the pandemic, study finds
- ICE to shift EU carbon trading from London to Amsterdam
- Green Britain needs you
- The future is electric, with California leading the way
- Day-to-day temperature variability reduces economic growth
- Aerosols in current and future Arctic climate
Widespread coverage of the catastrophic floods in Uttarakhand, northern India, continues today. The New York Times writes that, on Sunday, a Himalayan glacier “broke”, causing “sudden, massive flooding” in Uttarakhand state. It reports that two dam projects were smashed, adding that 35 people had been working on the Rishiganga power project closer to the glacier, with a further 176 people on the second project three miles downstream. The scenes were “reminiscent of floods in Uttarakhand in 2013, when heavy rain over several days led to landslides that killed thousands of people and washed away entire villages”, the paper writes, adding that villages were forced to evacuate. The Guardian reports that 171 people are missing, with 26 bodies recovered so far. The Himalayas are the world’s most glaciated mountain range, “home to about 600bn tonnes of ice”, according to the New York Times, and their rate of retreat has been accelerating over the past 40 years. It adds that glacial lakes are a “serious hazard”. Associated Press explains how glaciers can “burst”, writing that warming “can accelerate melting, which causes water to rise to potentially dangerous levels”. It adds that “a number of imminent potentially deadly glacier burst and flood situations have been identified worldwide, including in the Himalayas and South American Andes.” The Independent says that 36% of glaciers in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region will be gone by 2100, even in a 1.5C global warming scenario, and that, from 2000 to 2016, the Himalayas lost an average of 8bn tonnes of ice per year. However, after initial reporting that floods were caused by a glacial lake bursting, the paper reports some experts are suggested that a landslide was the initial trigger. This view is supported by an American Geophysical Union (AGU) blog by the University of Sheffield’s Prof Dave Petley which pieces together the weekend’s events. The Times of India notes that rather than a glacial burst, an “abrupt snowslide” could have caused the “calamity”.
An editorial in the Times of India notes that the glacier burst was caused by “an extreme weather event”, but that damage was “compounded by unchecked construction on the riverbed”. A separate New York Times piece reports that the Indian government “overrode the objections of experts and the protests of local residents to blast rocks and build hydroelectric power projects in volatile areas”. On a similar note, an opinion piece in the Hindustani Times by journalist Chetan Chauhan says that that “high-intensity stone quarrying, frequent blasting of mountains and digging of tunnels through the base of the fragile mountain system for the back-to-back under-construction dams” have “played havoc with the local ecology” and led to an increase in severe flash flooding from glacial melt. Meanwhile, an editorial in India’s Tribune reports that the burst glacier on Sunday “drew instant comparisons with the 2013 flash floods”, and is “a reminder of how close to home the frontier of climate change and global warming is”. Echoing the Times of India, the Tribune notes the irony that Raini, the village that was hit, was “the cradle of the Chipko movement initiated in the 1970s to save trees”. The story is also covered in the Sydney Morning Herald, Times, BBC News, Daily Telegraph and Financial Times, among others.
In other Indian news, the Financial Times reports that energy demand in India is set to grow faster than that of any other country, according to a new report by the IEA.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres has told governments and officials that “preparatory negotiations for COP26 will need to take place virtually” due to Covid-19. Guterres told attendees that “although there will be challenges, we must adapt. The stakes are too high to do otherwise.” The paper reports that the UK is “still hopeful that the talks themselves will take place in person”, but that “some restrictions are still likely to be in place”. It adds that past summits have “failed or run into problems” when many discussion points were left to the two-week meeting to be resolved, noting that the 2015 Paris summit hosted 18 months of talks in advance and was a “resounding success”. This would be the first time that UN climate negotiations are held online, Climate Home News reports. However, it adds that the move has long been resisted by “a majority of developing countries” due to “concerns around connectivity and inclusiveness”. A final decision on how to host preparatory negotiations is expected from the UN Climate Change bureau at the end of next month. BusinessGreen also covers Guterres’ announcement. In other news around COP26, BusinessGreen publishes a speech from COP26 president Alok Sharma. Sharma notes that, despite the pandemic, there has been an “acceleration of climate action”, with more than half of G20 countries and 70% of global emissions “covered by net-zero targets”. However, he adds that “this is not enough to meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement” and says that “this year cannot simply be a repeat of the last”. Sharma also elaborates on the four goals that he outlined in his speech at the Climate Action Summit.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that “the world is moving toward net zero because of a single sentence”, highlighting a single sentence from the 2018 IPCC report on 1.5C. The sentence states that the world need to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 45% by 2030, and reach net-zero by 2050, to hit the 1.5C warming target. The paper reports that two years after the report was published, eight of the 10 largest global economies had pledged to reach net-zero by mid-century and that it is “one of the most influential (sentences) ever written”.
There is continuing coverage of the latest auction for offshore wind farm rights around England and Wales. The Financial Times reports that groups including BP and Total “secured half of the six projects on offer”, which will “together provide almost eight GW of new capacity — enough to power more than 7m homes”. The New York Times reports that the two oil companies “won the largest share of options to build new offshore wind farms”, noting that this is a “big move” for the petroleum producers, as the industry has “for years been dominated by smaller, specialised companies”. The Times reports that BP was the highest bidder and will pay over £900m. RWE of Germany was another of the winning bidders, it adds. Businessgreen notes that “BP led the bidding with an offer about 80% higher than the average of its competitors”. Reuters says that the UK plans to use offshore wind for a third of its energy generation by 2030, and held a third of all installed offshore wind capacity at the end of 2020. A separate BusinessGreen piece adds that the renewable energy from these projects could save 12.5m tonnes of CO2 per year – around 19% of UK annual household emissions. The Guardian reports that the Queen [or, more accurately, the Crown Estate] and Treasury could receive up to £9bn from the auction. This could result in higher energy bills for consumers, the Daily elegraph notes. CityAM, the Herald and the i newspaper also cover this story.
In other new on offshore wind developments, the Daily Telegraph reports that, as BP “entered UK offshore wind for the first time”, Amazon announced “its largest yet offshore wind project”. The paper writes that Amazon will work with Shell on a 759MW windfarm off the Netherlands that is scheduled to be operational in 2023. It adds that “Amazon will take half of the windfarm’s output to power its operations as the internet retail giant aims to use only renewable energy by 2030”. According to Reuters, the wind farm will help Amazon to reach its net-zero target five years ahead of its target. BusinessGreen notes that the renewables firm Eneco is co-developing the site with Amazon and Shell.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that the planned coking coal mine in Cumbria would put Britain “at risk of breaking the Paris Agreement if it goes ahead”.
The pollen season in North America is now 20 days longer than it was in 1990, according to a new study out in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the Guardian reports. A Carbon Brief write-up adds that the season also now begins eight days earlier and that, according to the study, 50% of this change in seasonality can be attributed to climate change. The piece also notes that a 21% in pollen levels since 1990, although only 8% of this is attributable to climate change. The lead author tells Carbon Brief that this is “bad news” for those with respiratory problems and is “likely to get worse in coming decades”. The New Scientist adds that the greatest increases in pollen were seen in the south-east and mid-western US, although temperatures are rising faster in the north. The New York Times notes that to determine the impact of climate change on pollen, researchers use an “attribution study”. MailOnline notes that up to 30% of Britons are affected by hay fever. The story is also covered in the Hill and the i newspaper.
New research suggests that the share of energy generated from coal by some of the world’s biggest emitters has dropped more sharply during the coronavirus pandemic than that of any other power source, the New York Times reports. The research, published in Nature Climate Change, analysed emissions and electricity demand in the US, Europe and India. The paper explains: “In some regions studied, a 20% decrease in power demand from 2019 monthly averages corresponded with decreases in CO2 emissions of up to 50%. Emissions declines in terms of coal demand were most pronounced in Germany, Spain and Britain.” The study notes that the trend away from coal could outlast the pandemic, the NYT adds: “That’s because power plants that use renewable energy, like wind or solar, are expensive to build. Once complete, though, it is not necessary to purchase fuels to run them.” Co-author Dr Ottmar Edenhofer, director and chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, tells the paper: “We are not saying we predict that coal will be phased out…What we are saying is, this is now a splendid opportunity, and it would be good if energy ministers and finance ministers around the globe will take advantage of the situation.”
Elsewhere, however, the Guardian reports on new analysis that suggests the world’s state-owned fossil fuel companies are poised to invest about $1.9tn (£1.4tn) in oil projects over the next decade. Such projects would “destroy any prospect of meeting the Paris agreement climate goals”, the paper says. The report, by the Natural Resource Governance Institute thinktank in the US, warns: “Either the world does what’s necessary to limit global warming, or national oil companies can profit from these investments. Both are not possible.”
The FT reports that EU carbon trading is moving from London to Amsterdam due to Brexit. Carbon contracts from the US-based Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) are “a central part of the EU’s flagship policy on climate change”, the paper states. It adds that ICE is the worlds biggest market, handling over €1bn in contracts per day, and that ICE was “pushed into the move by the EU’s refusal to recognise most of the UK’s financial services rules as ‘equivalent’ to its own”. CityAM explains that EU carbon allowances (EUAs) are “the currency used in the EUs emissions trading system (ETS), the 27-member bloc’s main tool to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change”, and notes that ICE manages an average of 47,000 contracts of EUA daily. Bloomberg adds that trades will “continue to be cleared through ICE’s London business”, but that the development is a “setback for the UK government’s bid to become a centre for sustainable finance”. Reuters also covers the story, reporting that the ICE has not announced an exact date for the move. A separate Reuters piece reports on a paper published today, which warms that the misuse of climate models “could pose a growing risk to financial markets by giving investors a false sense of certainty over how the physical impacts of climate change will play out”. Finally, BusinessGreen says that “multinational companies are exposed to environmental risks in their supply chains that could altogether cause costs of up to $120bn by 2030”.
Meanwhile, CityAM runs an opinion piece by Lord Mayor of London, William Russell, who says the pandemic has “propelled out global community towards a major crossroads in 2021” and the direction we choose to take will “prove critical for the future of our societies and our planet”. He states that the financial community has a “clear and obvious decision to make” and that, if you are in the private sector and choose not to pursue a net-zero future, “you are therefore choosing to become part of the problem”. A comment piece from journalist Tom Stevenson in the Daily Telegraph states that we may be at a “crucial turning point” for markets, noting that “the green revolution to come, including decarbonisation, will be intrinsically inflationary”.
The Daily Express’ marks the second day of its new “Green Britain Needs You” campaign with an editorial entitled, “Green bid needs skills” which says “a Green Industrial Revolution [is needed] to ignite Britain’s recovery from Covid and create 2m jobs… with the goal to make Britain a zero-carbon country by 2050”. The editorial adds that Boris Johnson began a “Green Jobs Taskforce” in November and the Local Government Association predicts that there will be up to 1.18m green jobs in England by 2050. A comment piece from political commentator Stephen Pollard notes that the pandemic has had a “devastating impact on public finances”, but that Rishi Sunak needs to “do everything possible to secure recovery”, and that Sunak “can add a green twist to his own rationalisation”. A second page with the headline “Green revolution will create 1.18m new jobs” carries a comment piece from columnist Led McKinstry. McKinstry noting that “having committed to a target of zero carbon emissions by 2050, we dominate the world in offshore turbine energy”, and that “as individuals, we can recycle, switch to low carbon energy suppliers, walk more, insulate out homes, and buy local produce”. A piece by Steph Spyro lists “five ways Britain can be the envy of the world” in its “green revolution”. A comment piece by eco entrepreneur Dale Vince asks Rishi Sunak to “join our campaign for a Green Britain” by tackling three main areas – energy, transport and food. He tells Sunak: “You hold the big lever: tax”.
Also today, the Sun has launched its own climate campaign, which it is calling: “Green Team: Road to COP26”. One of the first articles in its new campaign is headlined: “Brexit should be an opportunity to cut tax and go green, experts say.” Meanwhile, the Independent has launched its own climate section. It leads with a piece entitled: “Why 2021 will be a key year in the fight against the climate crisis”. It reviews the major climate news of 2020, including the “alarming” end-of-year statistics, the inauguration of Joe Biden, and the net-zero pledges of a range of countries. The piece emphasises that this year “will be crucial for turning pledges into tangible action”, highlighting COP26. The piece also outlines the major findings of a report from the Climate Change Committee, which sets out a plan for out the UK could reach net-zero by 2050. The Independent’s new climate section has its own landing page.
The San Francisco Chronicle carries a comment piece from California’s Democrat governor of California Gavin Newsom about electric vehicles. Newsom writes that, last autumn, he committed to selling only zero-emissions vehicles in California by 2035 and that, last week, General Motor announced that it would “follow California’s lead and commit to manufacturing only zero-emission vehicles by 2035”. He notes that “zero-emission vehicles are California’s fastest-growing export”. He adds that California has hit its 2020 climate targets four years early and that “Californians are behind the wheel of 45% of the country’s zero-emission cars”. Newsom writes that “this sustained focus on out climate must continue”, adding that the “transportation revolution needs to be inclusive” and that barriers to buying electric vehicles are “often greatest for low-income communities and communities of colour”. He notes that over the past four years, “the national clean car rules that President Obama put in place were undermined by the Trump administration with the support of big oil and car companies”, but concludes that “just as in the past, by following California’s leadership, we can continue to create jobs, improve health and advance equity.”
A piece in the Los Angeles Times says that “major automakers are increasingly betting that the future of their business lies with electric cars”, but that there is a “divide between the reality of America’s auto market and what the federal government and some automakers hope it will become”. Axios notes that, according to new analysis, owners of electric vehicles in California drive them “ less than half as many miles annually as the average gasoline-powered car in the US.” Vox reports that General Motors has released an electric vehicle-centred superbowl advert, showing that “EVs are going mainstream”, whilst BusinessGreen writes that Ford and Porsche have “ laid out plans for a huge electric vehicle (EV) investment drive that will see almost $50bn channelled into the technology through the next five years”. Meanwhile, the Washington Post writes that “Democrats are preparing a buffet of climate proposals to serve up in the coming months”.
Large day-to-day fluctuations in temperature can reduce large-scale economic growth, new study suggests. Combining observed daily temperature variability with subnational economic data for 1,537 regions worldwide over 40 years, the researcher find that “an extra degree of variability results in a five percentage-point reduction in regional growth rates on average”. The authors conclude: “The impact of day-to-day variability is modulated by seasonal temperature difference and income, resulting in highest vulnerability in low-latitude, low-income regions (12 percentage-point reduction).”
A new perspective article highlights the importance of the role that aerosols play in climate change in the Arctic. The paper “stresses that the Arctic natural aerosol baseline is changing fast and its regional characteristics are very diverse”. The authors argue that “to improve understanding of present day and future Arctic, more detailed knowledge is needed on natural Arctic aerosol emissions, their evolution and transport, and the effects on cloud microphysics”.
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