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Daily Briefing

28.02.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change
Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change

News.

Heathrow third runway ruled illegal over climate change

There is extensive coverage across the UK media of the decision by the Court of Appeal to rule that the plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport are unlawful because, reports the Guardian, “ministers did not adequately take into account the government’s commitments to tackle the climate crisis”. The newspaper adds: “The ruling is a major blow to the project at a time when public concern about the climate emergency is rising fast and the government has set a target in law of net-zero emissions by 2050. The prime minister, Boris Johnson, could use the ruling to abandon the project, or the government could draw up a new policy document to approve the runway. The government is considering its next steps, but will not appeal against the verdict.” BBC News says: “The case was brought by environmental groups, councils and the Mayor of London. There were ‘whoops and jumps of jubilation from environmentalists outside the court room’ after the judgement, BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin reported. Transport secretary Grant Shapps tweeted that the government would not appeal against the ruling.” But the BBC’s political chief correspondent Vicki Young adds: “Some think this is a sign that the project is about to be cancelled, but there’s an alternative explanation for the reticence. For years Boris Johnson campaigned against the development, so joining a court action to push it through risks accusations of hypocrisy. Privately, senior ministers say they’re not looking at alternatives and if Heathrow wins its appeal at the Supreme Court then it will go ahead. For now the government can watch from a distance. If the case is lost, however, there will be some difficult decisions to make, because so many Conservative MPs and businesses think that airport expansion is essential.”

The Daily Mail describes the ruling as an “eco-bombshell”, adding: “British ambitions of becoming a global economic power after Brexit suffered a major blow yesterday after a court ruling suggested future airports, motorway and energy projects could all be blocked to prevent global warming…Green campaigners said the victory was ‘groundbreaking’ and warned the legal precedent sounded the death knell for big infrastructure projects that increased greenhouse gases. But critics said the move would hand a huge economic advantage to the UK’s competitors.” Politico says the ruling means the UK “looks like it will still be Little England for now” and “puts into jeopardy the country’s ambition to become a freewheeling, free-trading nation that transcends its immediate neighbourhood”. The Times says “dozens of airport, road and energy projects have been thrown into doubt after judges delivered a crushing blow to plans for a third runway at Heathrow over its impact on the environment…A refusal to properly consider the UN Paris Agreement, which limits rises in global temperatures, when approving the third runway was ‘legally fatal’, the judges said”. The Times adds: “It could open the door to a series of challenges against plans for roads, the expansion of other airports, gas-fired power stations and coal mines on the grounds that they too are inconsistent with the legally binding climate change commitments. The Heathrow decision could also have a big impact on plans for the budget next month, which is being billed in Whitehall as an infrastructure budget. The Conservatives are preparing to spend £100bn over the next five years on building programmes.” DeSmog UK covers how campaigners have celebrated the news: “Activists erupted into cheers at the Royal Courts of Justice after successfully blocking plans for a third runway at the UK’s busiest air hub…Head of legal at Friends of the Earth, William Rundle, told DeSmog UK: ‘It’s an historic victory for the climate and for the local communities fighting the Heathrow expansion for so very, very long. What we’ve managed to do is to stop the Heathrow expansion dead in the tracks.’” [Contrary to some of the media coverage of the ruling, the court of appeal judgement may not carry over to other cases, projects or countries. Instead, it turned on a relatively narrow aspect of planning policy, with the government failing to fully “take account” of its own climate goals in setting out the airports national policy statement.]

Finally, Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environmental analyst, has a follow-up story which says: “Plans for a £28.8bn roads programme could be challenged in the courts for breaching the UK’s laws on climate change. The plans, due to be published next month, don’t take into account commitments on reducing emissions, the BBC has learned. They are likely to face legal challenges from environmentalists. On Thursday a court ruled that plans to expand Heathrow had failed to take climate policies into account.”

The Guardian Read Article
Carney and Lagarde press for business action on climate change

Many UK publications cover an event held at the Guildhall in London yesterday where, reports the FT, “Mark Carney and Christine Lagarde…urged companies, institutions and central banks to speed up climate risk assessment and disclosure, ahead of the Glasgow climate summit in November”. The FT adds: “Addressing the heads of several of the UK’s largest banks…Mr Carney, governor of the Bank of England, called on more institutions to join the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, an initiative to get companies to calculate their exposure to climate risk and disclose it to investors. He said he hoped the TCFD standards would become compulsory…Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, threw her weight behind calls for companies to provide much fuller disclosure of their exposure to climate change risks.” The Guardian notes Carney saying that “businesses must improve how they disclose their impact on the environment or risk failing to meet climate targets”. The Press Association says that Carney described the fight against climate change as the “greatest commercial opportunity of our time”. Climate Home News says that “finance has been identified as a key priority and a cross-cutting theme of COP26 by the UK presidency, which said it will help deliver all other objectives”. It adds that “COP26 president and the UK minister for business, energy and industrial strategy, Alok Sharma, told the City audience ‘unleashing the finance which will power the shift to a zero-carbon economy’ had to be the focus in the run-up to conference”. BusinessGreen has a transcript of Sharma’s speech.

David Shukman, BBC News’s science editor, says: “Investors are facing scrutiny like never before about what they’re doing to tackle climate change. And the Bank of England has now launched a push to engage the entire business world. The aim is to get every company, large or small, to think about global warming as a normal part of their decision-making.” Fiona Harvey, the Guardian’s environment correspondent, says: “Finance holds the key to tackling the climate crisis, the UK’s business secretary and the Bank of England governor have declared to warm applause from City grandees and international investors. But developing countries have been left wondering whether they will receive the funds they need to avoid disaster.”

Financial Times Read Article
Drax power station to stop burning coal

Several UK outlets cover the news, reported by the Financial Times yesterday, that Drax has said it expects to stop burning coal at its power plant in Yorkshire from next year. The Times says: “The move, which will result in the loss of between 200 and 230 jobs, heralds the end of almost five decades of coal-fired electricity generation at the UK’s biggest power station.” It adds: “Most of the station near Selby has been converted to burn biomass wood pellets, which qualify for renewable energy subsidies. Drax said it would stop burning coal commercially from March 2021 but would keep the coal-fired units open until September 2022 to honour contracts for emergency back-up power under the government’s capacity market scheme. They have never been called upon under the scheme to date and it does not expect to use them.” The Guardian describes the move as a “milestone decision” and says that the decision by Britain’s biggest power plant will come “four years ahead of the government’s ban on coal-fired electricity, which comes into force in 2025”. [The government is moving the deadline forward by a year, to 2024.] Reuters says the company’s share price rose 5% following the announcement.

The Times Read Article
Huge crowds expected for Greta Thunberg visit to Bristol

The Guardian says a “huge security operation” is being put in place in Bristol for a visit by Greta Thunberg that is “expected to attract a crowd of around 25,000, most of them children and young people”. The newspaper adds: “Police and Bristol council officials said there would be significant disruption for the youth climate strike on Friday and warned that they could not be responsible for the care of unsupervised children. The Guardian heard from children and adults across the country, as far afield as Scotland, who have said they will be attending.” The Press Association says “Greta Thunberg’s ‘incredible impact’ on the global climate movement has been praised by campaigners in Bristol ahead of her appearance in the city” and that she will be greeted with a “huge welcome”. Reuters says police have issued a safety warning over the climate rally. Local police have issued a statement saying: “We have seen a number of protests over the last year however this one will be significantly larger. Please do not underestimate the scale of this protest.”

The Guardian Read Article
EU planning carbon border measures ‘as soon as possible’

Reuters reports that the European Union will “propose carbon border measures as soon as possible to protect its industries from competitors in countries with less stringent climate policies”. The newswire adds: “The European Commission, the bloc’s executive, is planning to propose a carbon border mechanism in 2021, but on Thursday fielded a call from Spain to bring forward the proposal to the second half of this year…Spain’s industry minister Reyes Maroto on Thursday urged the commission to propose carbon border measures in the second half of this year. The competitiveness of industry is already being affected by ‘carbon leakage’, she said. Carbon leakage occurs when a region’s climate policies incentivises industry to move overseas, to countries where they face less stringent, and costly, environmental obligations.” [Evidence to date suggests carbon leakage due to EU carbon pricing has been minimal.] Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that “an expert commission assembled by the Zero Carbon Campaign has begun work to design a carbon pricing system that could help drive the UK towards its 2050 net zero goal”.

Reuters Read Article

Comment.

Time has run out for Heathrow expansion

Most of the UK’s national newspapers carry reaction to the Heathrow ruling. An editorial in the FT says: “The decision is not just a setback for Heathrow’s backers. It also holds implications for future infrastructure projects: the government will have to consider such proposals in light of its climate pledges, or risk being open to legal challenge. It is a landmark moment, one that brings a much-needed dose of reality to Britain’s commitment to reduce its carbon emissions to almost net-zero by 2050.” An editorial in the Guardian says: “The judges set an extraordinary precedent. This is because they made their ruling on grounds that the policy of expanding the airport is incompatible with commitments made by the government in the Paris climate agreement. While the law says that national policy must take account of the UK’s climate commitments, the 2018 airport statement didn’t…Nowhere must boosting air traffic be viewed as a shortcut to prosperity. In an era of climate breakdown, there is really no option other than to seek alternative routes to success.” [The ruling explicitly did not say that airport expansion was incompatible with the Paris Agreement, with the judgement noting: “We have not found that a national policy statement supporting this project is necessarily incompatible with the UK’s commitment…mitigating climate change under the Paris Agreement.] An editorial in the Times argues that the ruling leaves Johnson with a “headache”: “The court has shown that the Paris Agreement has real teeth. Indeed, the binding nature of Britain’s environmental commitments has since been further underlined by the government’s decision to make the target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 legally binding. The ruling suggests that these targets must now be taken into account in all future big infrastructure projects, including plans for new roads, airport expansion and the building of gas-fired power stations. That in turn underlines the urgent need for the government to set out credible plans for how it intends to hit the net-zero target. Easy gestures, such as last week’s decision to ban the sale of wood for household stoves, are not going to cut it.” An editorial in the Independent says the ruling is a “step in the right direction”, adding: “The change in political and public opinion over the issue has proceeded at a surprising pace – yet it is far from complete.” However, the Daily Telegraph’s editorial says: “If British politicians will vote through laws – such as the Climate Change Act – or sign treaties – such as the Paris Agreement – that legally bind us to wildly ambitious carbon targets, we should not be surprised if these decisions are then turned into legal weapons by campaigners to challenge infrastructure projects they do not like…The liberal-Left sincerely believes that issues such as tackling climate change, are too important to be left up to democracy, so they enshrine their policies in law as obligations – even human rights – that courts can step in to defend…It is the kind of thinking that the EU endorses, but is alien to Britain’s traditions and the Tories must oppose it…A small number of radical activists cannot be allowed to hold back progress: they see capitalism as the root of all evil and airports are at the centre of their opposition to it.” The Sun’s editorial takes a similar tone: “Who runs Britain? Eco-campaigners and activist judges? Or our elected politicians?…As with fracking, which could have slashed energy bills for millions and powered the UK for a generation, it has been killed off by a green lobby whose concerns, while understandable, always seem to trump our economy…The government must find a way to stop its net-zero commitment, which The Sun supports, crippling our ­economy as our rivals flourish. Equally it must stop courts running a parallel government and siding with pressure groups to block key decisions taken by MPs elected to do so.” An editorial in the Evening Standard says: “A third runway is necessary for advancing this country’s prosperity and must still be delivered.”

Meanwhile, there is a wide range of reaction from columnists and analysts. The Sun’s Dan Wooton says the ruling is a “backward step for Britain’s economy and London’s post-Brexit position as Europe’s economic hub”. The Sun also carries an op-ed by Adam Marshall, the director general of the British Chamber of Commerce, who writes: “Jobs, growth and billions in economic benefit will be lost if the project is stalled.” In the Daily Mail, Alex Brummer says: “This lack of government leadership is shameful. At the very time it is vital to demonstrate that Britain is determined to invest in its global future after Brexit, we are doing the reverse by washing our hands of the third runway…The battle over London’s vital global transport hub is a sharp reminder of how the economic costs of a green agenda threaten the prosperity of the nation.” In the Daily Telegraph, Fraser Nelson writes: “I love Heathrow. I even moved house to be nearer to it. It brings me closer to my native Inverness and my wife’s Stockholm; a local gateway to the world. I find the environmental arguments against its expansion unpersuasive and, anyway, think courts ought not to overrule parliaments on such issues.” In the Guardian, Leo Murray, who has long campaigned against the expansion of aviation, says: “By some strange quirk of fate, it is exactly 12 years to the day since I, alongside fellow climate activists, climbed on to the roof of the House of Commons to protest against plans for a third runway at Heathrow. Today’s high court judgment is a vindication of everything climate activists have been saying for more than a decade: Britain cannot honour its national commitment to tackle climate change at the same time as building a new runway at one of the busiest airports in the world.” An un-bylined article in the Economist says: “The Paris climate agreement, forged in 2016, has not made a huge difference to the world so far. But on 27 February it got its biggest break yet.” Ben Chu in the Independent asks whether any UK airport expansion is compatible with the government’s goal to reach net-zero carbon emissions in 30 years: “Flying can certainly be made less polluting, by making planes more fuel efficient. And experts see a lot of scope for this over the coming decades. But the technology that would allow zero carbon aviation is not on the horizon.” Sandra Laville in the Guardian writes: “The judges’ ruling in favour of the campaign groups puts both the need for the UK to make significant reductions in emissions and the requirements of the Paris Agreement at the forefront of policymaking. It is a judgment that could have lasting implications for future infrastructure projects.” And, finally, the Liberal Democrat MP Munira Wilson writes in the Independent: “Expanding the country’s biggest airport will make it impossible to meet both our climate change commitments and to reduce the north-south divide. Of course, the pro-expansion lobbyists will be out again tomorrow, spending millions trying to convince Londoners that the quality of their air is not important and that the climate emergency is someone else’s problem – it isn’t.”

Editorial, Financial Times Read Article
To be credible at COP26, the UK needs a plan for its climate plan

Richard Black, the director of the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit, writes in Climate Home News about the “problem” facing the UK’s new climate minister Alok Sharma over upgrading the UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC): “Although that might sound like a technical issue, it’s really not; his decision on how to manage it will be a crucial factor in setting the tone ahead of this year’s critical UN climate summit in Glasgow.” He adds: “So the issue before the UK government is: as self-proclaimed climate change leaders, how do they manage things in order to get the maximum number of other nations to take an ambitious step forward?…There are two ways in which Sharma can square the circle. One is by making an unequivocal commitment now that the UK will publish an enhanced NDC in September, and that it will contain whatever 2030 number the Committee on Climate Change calculates. It could even ask the committee to publish the 2030 number earlier. And then it can manage the parliamentary timetable so as to get the vote through before the Glasgow summit opens. The second is to publish an NDC containing the 57% or 61% figure sooner, with an unequivocal commitment to upgrade it later in the year to reflect the committee’s advice. Whichever route it wants to take, ministers need to decide soon – and for a successful COP26 with UK leadership at the centre of its offer, doing nothing put proudly proclaiming its current figure is not an option.”

Richard Black, Climate Home News Read Article

Science.

Marine heatwave drives cryptic loss of genetic diversity in underwater forests

Extreme events have profound ecological impacts on species and ecosystems, including range contractions and collapse of entire ecosystems. Although theory predicts that extreme events cause loss of genetic diversity, empirical demonstrations are rare, obscuring implications for future adaptive capacity of species and populations. This study uses genetic data from before an extreme event to demonstrate massive loss of genetic diversity across ∼800 km of underwater forests following the most severe marine heatwave on record. Two forest-forming seaweeds lost ∼30%–65% of average genetic diversity and up to 100% of diversity at some sites. Populations became dominated by single types that were often not dominant or present prior to the heatwave. Marine heatwaves can drive strong loss of genetic diversity, which may compromise adaptability to future climatic change.

Current Biology Read Article
Urban renewal can mitigate urban heat islands

China has experienced substantial urbanisation since 1960, which has led to a significant increase in urban heat islands (UHIs). As a response, urban renewal has been undertaken to mitigate UHI. The impacts of urbanisation, including both urban expansion and urban renewal, on the UHI are investigated by analysing meteorological and land use observations in Shanghai over the past 144 years. Observations indicate that the UHI decreased by ~0.58C between 2005 and 2016 due to urban renewal, resulting in substantial electricity savings and carbon emissions reductions. The results contribute to an improved understanding of urban climate changes associated with large‐scale urbanisation and will provide guidance for urban renewal in other metropolises worldwide.

Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.