Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Government urged to increase ambition for renewables as costs fall
- Rail chiefs call for rises in road tax and aviation fuel levy to slash carbon emissions
- Australia's Covid commission downplays 'green recovery' and confirms gas push
- US power use to drop over 3% in 2020 due coronavirus: EIA
- 'Top cop' on climate: How will former AG Kamala Harris fight the crisis as VP?
- 'As the tundra burns, we cannot afford climate silence': a letter from the Arctic
- Climatic changes and the fate of mountain herbivores
- Future warming and intensification of precipitation extremes: A “double whammy” leading to increasing flood risk in california
Britain should “accelerate the roll-out of renewables” in light of falling costs of wind and solar, according to new recommendations from government advisers the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), reports the Press Association. The NIC says the nation should aim to generate 65% of its electricity from renewables by 2030, “an increase on its previous recommendation of 50% generation” by that date, PA explains. (Levels are currently at around 40%.) The NIC says the UK needs to act “sooner rather than later to tackle the climate crisis” and called on the government to provide support to renewables “to ensure a market-led recovery from Covid-19 in the power sector”, according to the news agency. The piece also notes the government was due to publish a long-awaited national infrastructure strategy earlier this year, “but it was further delayed”. reNews also has the story, noting that the NIC also recommended a “refreshed pipeline” of “contracts for difference” auctions to accelerate more wind and solar projects.
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports on the latest round of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI’s) “strength in places fund”, which includes “projects to develop a net-zero transport supercluster in the Midlands, heat Glasgow homes using heat from abandoned mines, and turbocharge offshore wind farm construction in the South West”.
And finally, there is widespread reporting of a new paper detailing how scientists have turned house bricks into energy storage systems using conductive fibres. The Guardian reports that “the humble house brick has been turned into a battery” that could pave the way for “cheap supercapacitor storage of renewable energy”. The i newspaper notes that while the invention “could mean bricks along a nearby wall could be charged up from solar panels on a household roof”, other scientists cautioned that the bricks “may not be able to store enough useful power to beat off batteries”.
The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) industry body is asking ministers to raise taxes on road and aviation fuel “to cut carbon emissions and encourage more people to travel by train”, the Daily Mail reports. The proposal has been submitted to the Department for Transport’s decarbonisation plan to help achieve net-zero emissions in 2050. The rail representatives said increased taxes on air travel would allow them to reduce long-distance fares, but the newspaper notes that motoring and aviation groups “reacted with fury” and said British motorists and air passengers are “among the most taxed in the world”. A separate piece in MailOnline claims “zero-emissions aeroplanes” could take to the skies “within years” due to a collaboration between Oxford-based Reaction Engines and the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council that is developing ammonia technology for planes.
Elsewhere, the Times reports on new research that finds half of people “will never fly as often as before”, suggesting the pandemic lockdown “will result in lasting changes that can help to tackle climate issues”. The findings are based on surveys of 1,800 people in late May and early June. The piece lists other signs that people’s lifestyles are becoming more “environmentally friendly”, including a rise in home working and a drop in food being wasted. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that emergency coronavirus legislation that gives local authorities powers to close roads, create pop-up cycle lanes and widen pavements are creating a “culture war”, according to residents. And the i newspaper reports that regional leaders in the West Midlands have announced the creation of a 500-mile network of cycle trails.
The head of Australia’s coronavirus advisory commission, Nev Power, says his organisation is not recommending “a green recovery per se” despite being approached by business leaders advocating for such measures, the Guardian reports. At the same time, Power told a Senate committee examining the government’s Covid-19 management that the commission “had asked the government to underwrite new investment in gas pipelines as part of recommendations from a manufacturing taskforce”, the newspaper notes. By contrast, when asked about renewables, he told the committee it was not the role of his team to “recommend specific projects”. The piece notes that environmental groups “expressed concern about Power’s advocacy” for gas.
Meanwhile, in more Australian fossil fuel news, Reuters reports that a New South Wales state regulator has given “the green light” for a mining company to proceed with the expansion of “a controversial coal mine, in a blow to local farming communities”. The Guardian states that Whitehaven Coal plan to develop the mine will see their coal extraction increase by “250% on the original proposal”. The piece says the planning commission found emissions associated with the project “were not inconsistent with the state’s climate change policy framework”, noting Australia is not required to account for “scope three” emissions from countries the coal is sold to.
Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Sydney will host the largest renewable gas trial in Australia after the local government approved the state’s first hydrogen gas facility as part of its post-coronavirus recovery.
Electricity consumption in the US will drop 3.4% in 2020 as coronavirus lockdowns caused businesses to close, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) in its short-term energy outlook (STEO), reported by Reuters. It notes that both nuclear and renewables will top coal for the first time in 2020.
And elsewhere, an opinion piece in the Financial Times from industry experts notes that despite reports by the World Bank global gas flaring hitting its highest level in a decade last year, recent data suggests “there may instead be some cause for optimism” as gas flaring in the US has declined by 70% in the past 12 months. “This decline was not driven by policy, Covid-19, or suddenly improved operations, but rather as the result of investors demanding greater capital discipline from a sector that had earned a reputation for prioritising growth over all other concerns,” they note.
Following presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s pick of Kamala Harris to be his running mate, a piece by the Independent’s climate reporter Louise Boyle examines what the California senator’s stance on climate change would be, were she to become vice president. During her own bid for the presidency, Harris put forward a plan for $10tn investment to cut emissions over a decade, which is five times what Biden proposed, the news site says, while noting Biden’s policy has since “caught up”. The piece notes she was “an early supporter of the Green New Deal” and once proposed a ban on fracking. It also mentions her support for “tackling the climate crisis and environmental problems by focusing on racial injustice”, and alludes to her time as district attorney of San Francisco and California’s attorney general when she made environmental protection issues a priority. “In recent weeks, Senator Harris has been burnishing her green credentials by undertaking a number of environmental justice bills,” the piece says, noting the recent Climate Equity Act with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Boyle also includes positive statements by people in the climate community, including former vice president Al Gore and Sierra Club president Ramon Cruz Diaz, who tweeted: “Vice president Joe Biden’s selection of senator Kamala Harris as his running mate cements this ticket as the strongest ever for proposed climate action.“ Meanwhile another piece in Grist also looks at the senator’s climate record, noting she “isn’t quite a climate activist’s dream”, but “she was one of the last Democrats running for president to release a climate plan last year”.
Last month, Biden revealed what the Independent describes as an “aggressive climate and environmental justice overhaul” – including a $2tn investment in clean energy over four years – and this is analysed in another piece written by Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell. “If Biden is elected, there will be a lot of tough questions asked about how to make his plan a reality, especially at a time when the economy appears to be headed for the worst collapse since the Great Depression. But for now, it’s enough to say that Biden’s proposal, released in July, is by far the most ambitious climate agenda ever put forward by a presidential nominee,” Goodell says. He attributes the plan in part to the “influence of progressive activists” on Biden, but notes the strategy is “just the beginning”. “Meaningful carbon reductions require legislation,” Goodell also notes, pointing to the need for a price on carbon as an example.
Finally, a letter written to the New York Times by the executive director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune, responds to a recent piece claiming Republicans were “getting serious” about climate change due to support for carbon capture. Brune says what is really needed is “proven solutions” like clean energy. “When Republicans stop blocking and delaying these solutions, I’ll be ready to say the party has truly changed”.
In “a letter from the Arctic” published the Guardian, Dr Victoria Herrmann – president and managing director of the Arctic Institute – reflects on a past expedition to the region in 2016, in the context of US climate policy and the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. “It is much harder to find hope today than it was four years ago – but it’s not impossible,” she writes. “The Arctic’s skies are blackened with wildfire smoke and we are not even halfway through summer. The Trump administration has reversed 100 environmental rules and stands on the precipice of pulling the US out of the Paris agreement in November 2020. Things may seem hopeless, but we are not helpless.” She continues: “Ultimately, climate action is not powered by the Paris Agreement – it’s powered by people. From presidents to protesters, we each have a part to play in limiting the devastation of the climate crisis.”
Meanwhile, a piece in Wired looks at the on-going UK heatwave and concludes we should “blame climate change”. “ Is this the new normal? And has the climate crisis made sweltering heatwaves like this one more likely to occur? For many climate scientists, the answer is a resounding yes,” it states.
Climate change could push chamois, a mountain goat-antelope found in Europe, to near-extinction within the next 50 years, a study says. The survival of chamois largely depends on the availability of rich food resources to sustain the animals’ lactation and weaning during summer, the study says. However, it finds that warming temperatures are causing the plants that the animals eat to bloom earlier in the year – and this is likely to worsen with time. “The negative consequences of climate changes presently occurring at lower elevations will shift to higher ones in the future,” the authors say.
California could face major flood risks in the coming decades as it faces the “double whammy” of more rainfall and a higher amount of snow being converted to rain, a study finds. Under a high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), future rainfall would increase by 25% by the late 21st century. However, water run-off increases by 50% as a result of both future rainfall changes and increases in the conversion of snow to rain, the study says.
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