Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Greta Thunberg tells EU: your climate targets need doubling
- Trump administration ends California talks on auto emissions: White House
- Australia seeks clarification on China coal import 'block'
- Wildlife-friendly farming and efficiency to help cut agriculture emissions: NFU
- Record amount of new wind capacity financed in Europe last year – industry
- Cool idea or hi-tech madness?
- Can the green new deal make it through Congress? Here are five things you need to know
- Earth system models underestimate carbon fixation by plants in the high latitudes
The EU should double its climate change reduction targets, the Swedish teenage activist Greta Thunberg has told political and business leaders in Brussels. In a speech to EU policymakers, Thunberg said it was not enough to hope that young people were going to save the world. “There is simply not enough time to wait for us to grow up and become the ones in charge,” she said. Thunberg “didn’t mince her words”, says EurActiv. “We know that most politicians don’t want to talk to us,” Thunberg said, “Good. We don’t want to talk to them either…We want them to talk to the scientists instead. Listen to them. Because we are just repeating what they are saying and have been saying for decades.“ In a speech following Thunberg, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to spend “every fourth euro spent within the EU budget” on climate change mitigation, reports Reuters. This is equivalent to around 1% of the bloc’s economic output, or 1tn euros ($1.13 tn) over seven years, notes the article. EurActiv also has the video of Thunberg’s full address to the EU and the Financial Times has a podcast on “Greta Thunberg: climate change superstar”. Also, Vox has a piece looking into why schoolchildren are going “on strike” over action on climate change.
In related news, the Times Educational Supplement reports that the UK’s environment secretary Michael Gove has agreed to meet with some of the pupils who walked out of lessons last week to protest against climate change – saying he recognises his generation “has a lot more to do”. The Guardian carries comment pieces from a secondary school teacher on how the UK school curriculum “fails to reflect the urgency of the climate crisis”, as well as a primary school teacher, who notes: “If we as adults actually started practising what we preached then our children wouldn’t need to go on strike and could instead focus on their own futures.”
The US administration has formally ended talks with California over federal plans to roll back fuel economy rules, reports Reuters, setting the stage for what could be a lengthy legal fight over the state’s ability to regulate vehicle emissions. California had been allowed to set state standards that are stricter than federal rules under an exemption granted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). However, the EPA wants to revoke that waiver, saying California should not “dictate” policy for the rest of the country. In a joint statement, the White House, Department of Transportation and EPA said the talks with the California Air Resources Board had not been fruitful, reports the Hill, adding that the Trump administration will move forward with its plan to roll back the pollution standards. Thirteen states follow California’s standards for cars sold in their borders, representing about 40% of the US vehicle market, the Hill notes. “The move makes a protracted legal battle almost certain,” says the New York Times. Xavier Becerra, the California attorney general, said the state was “prepared to defend our national Clean Car standards even if the Trump administration intends to go AWOL”. Kamala Harris, a Democratic senator and presidential hopeful, called the Trump administration’s handling of car emissions talks with California “targeting our state for political purposes”, reports the Hill. DeSmogBlog and the Wall Street Journal also have the story.
The Australian government says it is seeking an “urgent” clarification from Beijing over reports that a major Chinese port has halted imports of Australian coal, reports BBC News. On Thursday, Reuters reported that China’s Dalian port region would not allow Australian coal to pass through customs. Beijing has not confirmed the reported halt, but called changes in such arrangements “normal”. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg played down concerns about a ban on Australian coal imports, reports Reuters, attributing the move to the slowdown to existing testing of coal imports and denied it was politically motivated. “Well, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions. The Australia-China trading relationship is exceptionally strong and exceptionally important,” Frydenberg said in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp radio. An analysis piece in ABC newssuggests that Australian coal is “paying the price for an escalating battle between the US and China”. The Financial Times notes: “Concerns swirled that the import controls were linked to political tensions between Canberra and Beijing after Australia banned Chinese telecoms maker Huawei from operating 5G networks last year.”
Meanwhile, India’s Adani Enterprises might have to wait up to two years to get the environmental approvals to start construction at its controversial Carmichael coal mine in Australia, a Queensland government official has told Reuters. Speaking on the sidelines of the Coaltrans conference in New Delhi, Queensland’s Resources Investment Commissioner Caoilin Chestnutt said it would take “six months to two years” to receive environmental clearance. Two approvals are required – one relating to a plan to protect an endangered bird species, the black-throated finch, and another to identify the source aquifer of ground water in the area.
In other fossil-fuel news, Reuters also reports that a dispute between Shell and PetroChina is holding up the development of Australia’s biggest coal seam gas resource. And the Financial Times reports that Russia and Germany are holding talks about how to accommodate new, stricter EU rules on the potential Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between the two countries. The FT also reports that “oil and gas companies are set for a surge in spending on new production this year”. Finally, Climate Home News carries a comment piece on how a cut in oil production in Alberta, Canada, “shows the Keystone XL [pipeline] protest worked”, and the Sydney Morning Herald carries a comment piece on how Glencore’s recent decision to cap its capacity would not be happening unless it was “very good for Glencore and its shareholders”.
Farmers are aiming to make food production more efficient, implement wildlife-friendly schemes and grow energy crops as part of “net zero emissions” plans, reports the Press Association. National Farmers’ Union president Minette Batters set out ambitions to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the agriculture sector to zero overall by 2040. This could be achieved by a range of measures, such as planting trees, letting hedges grow, soil management techniques and changing the way fertilisers are used. The Daily Telegraph’s international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes that “society is turning the screws on agriculture and Big Food” as it is “no longer tenable to exempt this behemoth from full accountability [on climate change]”.
Elsewhere, a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization warns that the decline in biodiversity is a growing threat to global food security, reports BBC News. The study says that land use changes, pollution, and climate change are all causing the loss of critical species of plants, animals, crops and micro-organisms.
The amount of future new wind capacity in Europe financed last year rose to a record high, Reuters reports. The annual report from industry group WindEurope shows funding for the new investments rose to €26.7bn (£23.2bn). This was 20% more than the year before, the report notes, even though 45% more future capacity was invested in. This is a sign that costs continue to fall, the report says: “Cost reductions across the industry’s value chain and increased industry competition have made it possible for investors to finance more capacity for less cash.“ Wind power capacity and generation across the EU also continued to grow last year, says BusinessGreen, Wind energy from offshore and onshore farms provided 14% of the EU’s electricity in 2018, up from 12% the year before.
“The world simply doesn’t know enough to decide” on whether solar geonengineering should be used to combat climate change, writes Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Geoengineering Governance Initiative and former senior advisor on climate change to the UN secretary general. One idea is “stratospheric aerosol injection” – spraying the stratosphere with particulates to reflect sunlight, thus reducing the temperature of planet Earth. “Its supporters suggest aerosol injection, if it proves feasible, could become part of our toolkit to limit the worst effects of global warming,” says Pasztor, but “its opponents reject it as a dangerous techno-fix to what they see as a socio-economic problem”. “The governance required for any eventual deployment would be monumental,” he warns, noting that the world “doesn’t even know how it should go about making such a decision, how to research solar radiation modification, or even whether to consider the possibility of deployment at all”. “The risks of ungoverned deployment are just too high,” Pasztor warns, concluding: “We have some time left, but maybe not as much as we like to think. As the climate crisis deepens, difficult decisions are already upon us. We now need the courage to confront them.”
Writing in the Washington Post, Leah Stokes – an assistant professor of environmental politics – looks at the prospects of the “non-binding legislative resolution” of the green new deal making it through congress. She tackles five key topics, such as how focusing on jobs and other benefits could build public support and that although the initial resolution is symbolic, “its introduction may reinvigorate climate policy efforts”. The Hill notes that Democrats “are facing a defining Senate vote as early as next week” on the deal, which “Republicans hope will bolster their argument that the party is too far left for the country”. And, elsewhere, the New York Times looks at “nine key questions” on the deal. Carbon Brief has a recent explainer on the deal as well.
Most models agree that land will continue to store carbon due to rising CO2 concentrations and climate changes favoring plant growth in temperature-limited regions. But they largely disagree on the amount of carbon uptake. The historical CO2 increase has resulted in enhanced Gross Primary Production (GPP), as measured by satellites tracking global leaf area. This study uses leaf area sensitivity to ambient CO2 from the past 36 years of satellite measurements to obtain estimate GPP enhancement in the northern high latitudes once atmospheric CO2 has doubled. They find that climate models largely underestimate photosynthetic carbon fixation and therefore may overestimate future atmospheric CO2 concentrations and resulting climate change.
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