Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Glencore says emissions from using its products to fall 30% by 2035
- Virus cuts China’s carbon emissions by 100 million metric tons
- The world is failing to ensure children have a 'liveable planet', report finds
- UK government refuses request to explain cost of hitting net zero
- Last chance for the climate transition
- Jeff Bezos wants to fix climate change. He can start with Amazon
- The Times view on Extinction Rebellion’s protest at Trinity College: Eco vandals
- Climate variability or anthropogenic emissions: which caused Beijing Haze?
- Flood impact on Mainland Southeast Asia between 1985 and 2018 – The role of tropical cyclones
Coal giant Glencore has predicted emissions from its products will fall by around 30% by 2035, Reuters reports. The company, which is involved in both mining and commodity trading, expects the change to occur as a result of “natural depletion” of its fossil fuel resources in Colombia, South Africa and Australia. However, Reuters notes it was not willing to set targets for active reduction. Nevertheless, coverage in the Times focuses on the company’s dismissal of its industry rival BP’s recent pledge to go net-zero by 2050, which chief executive Ivan Glasenberg tells the paper is “wishy-washy”. Rather than setting vague targets with no plan, he said: “Let’s talk about what we are actually doing, and physically doing about 2035…it’s tangible and it’s real”. The Financial Times also focuses on Glasenberg’s comments about BP, quoting Andrew Grant from the Carbon Tracker Initiative, who says: “This is a projection rather than target. So to what extent will this actually change the way Glencore runs its business? That’s not terribly clear”. The Guardian notes that the company has already said it will cap its coal production and includes a comment from Glasenberg that Glencore is “spending a lot of money on carbon capture” technology.
Meanwhile, Vox has a feature considering why Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, is pushing ahead with coal power at a time when so many other major countries are trying to move away from the high-polluting fuel in the face of climate change. A piece by the Financial Times energy editor David Sheppard says that coal creeping back into the UK’s energy mix over winter is merely “the death rattle of Britain’s coal industry”.
Separately, the FT also has an opinion piece from Julian Kettle, vice-chairman of metals and mining at natural resources consultancy Wood Mackenzie, considering the “mining sector’s conundrum around the energy transition”. Another comment piece in the FT comments on the recent move by BP, noting that young people are increasingly making the environment a key issue when choosing jobs.
Bloomberg has picked up on new analysis published by Carbon Brief showing that, due to electricity demand and industrial output far below their usual levels, the response to coronavirus in China has led to a significant short-term dip in the nation’s emissions. Bloomberg notes the deadly epidemic has cut emissions by 100 million metric tons, “close to what Chile emits in a year”. It says the findings demonstrate how the travel restrictions, longer holidays and lower economic activity resulting from efforts to contain the virus mean emissions have not recovered from their “usual lull” around Chinese New Year. If these reductions persist, Bloomberg says annual emissions will fall by 1%. However, due to China’s capacity to ramp up output once infection rates slow, it says “there’s no guarantee that they will”.
A new report compiled by 40 international child-health experts has warned that every nation on the planet is failing to defend children from “intensifying ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices”, the Guardian reports. The commission, which the paper notes was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), Unicef and the Lancet, says radical changes are needed to protect children from the threats posed by climate change. The Daily Mail reports that while the UK makes the top ten of nations for providing “flourishing” child health, “it trails in 133rd place on providing a healthy environment” due to its high emissions. CNN notes this is part of a broader trend, with the countries with the highest scores for child health tend to be those that have emitted the most CO2. BBC News reports that the experts warn the projected 4C rise in global temperatures by 2100 could result in “devastating health consequences” resulting from “heatwaves, severe malnutrition and a spike in infectious diseases such as malaria”.
In more positive news, a piece in BusinessGreen covers new findings by Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit’s (ECIU) Net Zero online tracker, which finds “around 49% of the world’s annual gross domestic product [is] now rooted in regions and cities which either have or plan to adopt a net zero target”.
The UK government has refused a freedom of information request submitted by New Scientist to explain why its estimated cost of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is tens of billions of pounds more than its independent advisers found. New Scientist writes: “Last summer, shortly before the UK enshrined the net-zero target in law, a leaked letter from Phillip Hammond, the then chancellor, warned that the transition to a zero-carbon economy was likely to be ‘well in excess of a trillion pounds’. New Scientist attempted to use freedom of information legislation to obtain the evidence supporting the bigger net-zero price tag, but BEIS declined to release the information. Following an appeal, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office last week ruled in favour of BEIS withholding the explanation.”
The FT’s chief economics commentator, Martin Wolf, offers his view on what is required to cut emissions from the global economy by 2050. He says most participants in the climate debate “pretend to care, pretend to act, or both” with the result that “despite decades of talk, trends in emissions remain in the wrong direction”. He says: “A transformation from our current energy system to a different one is the only option. Some suggest we should halt growth as well. But this would not only be impossible, it would also not be nearly enough”. We must, therefore, “massively accelerate technological progress away from burning fossil fuels”, which he says is possible, albeit “a revolution”. He adds that owing to the “at best modest” cost advantages of decarbonised alternatives and the inertia in moving to new technologies, this revolution is unlikely to happen as a result of purely economic forces, and will require large-scale policy interventions. “We have so much to do and so little time. If we are to succeed in halting climate change, we have to change course now.”
A piece in the Guardian by University of the West of England economics professor Prof Daniela Gabor looks at the European commission’s proposed €1tn “Green Deal” to decarbonise Europe’s economy. She warns that instead of financing a “just transition” for workers in the fossil-fuel sector, money from the plan will “likely line the pockets of the carbon finance elites”.
Wired UK’s science editor Matt Reynolds considers Amazon chief Jeff Bezos’s pledge to spend $10bn on climate change action in the coming years. He notes that a recent report from Amazon found its emissions were roughly equal to those of Norway. He also points out the various ways in which the company has seemingly gone against climate action – supporting fossil-fuel companies with its web services and sponsoring an event by a climate sceptic think-tank. Reynolds says that unlike Bezos’ ventures in space travel, “climate crisis requires the opposite of long-term thinking”, with most of the technologies to tackle it already available and in need of support. “And that’s where Bezos’ $10bn pledge could come in handy. He could put his cash towards supporting politicians and lobbying groups that push for smart clean policies – such as renewable subsidies, caps on emissions and carbon taxes.”
A handful of other pieces, including in Bloomberg and BBC News, also consider the question of how Bezos should spend the money to best tackle climate change. The Guardian talks to scientists and NGO representatives about what they feel would be the best use of the money.
After one Extinction Rebellion protester was arrested for digging up a Cambridge college lawn (as the Independent reports), the Times has an editorial condemning those involved. “Any sympathy quickly evaporates when peaceful protest gives way to criminal damage,” it says. “Extinction Rebellion should be treated no differently to any other organisation that arranges protests: no one, no matter how worthy the cause, is above the law.” Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph also has harsh words for the group, as well as the police and authorities who she accuses of “fear and collusion”, noting that in her opinion: “Increasingly, we see authorities of all kinds running scared of over-mighty minority groups”.
New research aims to quantify the contributions to “Beijing Haze” from climate variability and human-caused air pollution. “Beijing Haze has been phenomenal, especially for winter,” the researchers say, with severe events in 2015 and 2016 despite action to reduce air pollution. Using “homogenised station observations, atmospheric circulation reanalysis and anthropogenic emissions data for the period 1980–2017”, the study finds that the number of hazy days shows “large interannual variability and little trend”, while haze intensity has “a significant increasing trend during 1980–2012 and a notable decreasing trend during 2012–17”. The findings suggest that “about half of the total variance of the haze intensity is explained by climate variability (mainly for interannual variations), and another half by the changing emissions (mainly for the trends)”, the study concludes.
Flooding in mainland Southeast Asia (MESA) has increased between 1985 and 2018, a new study says. Using the Dartmouth Flood Observatory large flood data archive, the researchers “aim to assess the trend of flood occurrence in the MSEA in 1985–2018, and quantify the associated impacts on humans”. The findings show that the occurrence and maximum magnitude of floods by any cause has increased significantly, although flooding caused specifically by tropical cyclone landfalls has not seen a significant change. “As low flood protection standards in Cambodia and Myanmar is considered a reason for high flood‐induced mortalities, building higher flood protection standards should be taken as a priority for mitigating potential flood impacts,” the authors say.
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