Today's climate and energy headlines:
- House coal and wet wood to be phased out by 2023 to cut pollution
- Shell rejects ‘arms race’ with BP over carbon cuts
- Climate change has stolen more than a billion tons of water from the West’s most vital river
- Climate change rises as a public priority. But it’s more partisan than ever.
- Gove offered ‘no argument’ over paying for Glasgow climate summit, MSPs told
- Fixing our boilers will dwarf cost of HS2
- Jeff Bezos wants to help save the climate. Here is how he should do it
- Old carbon reservoirs were not important in the deglacial methane budget
- Colorado River flow dwindles as warming-driven loss of reflective snow energizes evaporation
The sale of the most polluting fuels burned in UK household stoves and open fires will be phased out from next year, report many UK outlets including the Press Association. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has confirmed plans to phase out the sale of house coal and wet wood as part of efforts to tackle tiny particle pollutants known as PM2.5, the newswire adds, “which can penetrate deep into lungs and the blood and cause serious health problems”. Wet wood and house coal will be phased out from 2021 to 2023, “to give householders and suppliers time to move to cleaner alternatives such as dry wood and manufactured solid fuels”, says the PA. “These produce less smoke and pollution, and are cheaper and more efficient to burn, officials said.” The Times, Daily Telegraph and i newspaper all put the story on their frontpage. BBC News also covers the story prominently in its broadcast news bulletins and online. The Times says: “Emissions of fine particles have fallen by 78% since 1970 but rose by 1.8% between 2017 and 2018 because of an increase in the burning of wood in home fires, partly owing to the popularity of glass-fronted stoves.” The Daily Telegraph adds: “The ban will mostly affect households in rural areas, as most cities are in smoke control areas where the use of coal is already restricted.” And the i notes that the decision comes long after “Britain’s coal industry flickered out”, adding: “In the past 20 years, coal has gone from providing 40% of our electricity needs to less than 6%.” A Daily Telegraph editorial says that “to some eyes, it would appear ludicrous that the government is choosing to crack down on domestic hearths and stoves when Germany has only this month agreed the opening of a new coal-fired power plant”.
Royal Dutch Shell will not “get into an arms race” with BP over carbon targets, reports the Times on the frontpage of its business section, in a sign that Europe’s biggest oil group will not rush to match its rival’s net-zero pledge. It continues: “Maarten Wetselaar, head of Shell’s gas and power divisions, defended its ‘very significant commitments’ but acknowledged BP had gone further with ‘a broader set of announcements’. He said that Shell was studying BP’s proposals ‘to understand exactly how they are set up and calculated’.” Wetselaar added: “Once we understand them we will think about them but at the moment I don’t think we need to get into an arms race of CO2 targets – it’s much more important we execute our strategy to bring down our net carbon footprint.” Elsewhere, a Financial Times “commodities note” opinion piece argues that net-zero emissions plans – such as BPs – “must appeal to shareholders”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Shell expects global demand for liquefied natural gas (LNG) to double to 700m tonnes by 2040. In its annual outlook for the fuel, Shell “said that gas would play a significant role in shaping a lower-carbon future”, notes the Financial Times, and “about 80% of global energy demand growth is forecast to be met by renewables and gas”.
The average annual flow of the Colorado River in the US has declined by nearly 20% compared to the last century, reports the Washington Post, and one of the “main culprits” is “climate change causing mountain snowpack to disappear, leading to increased evaporation”. Much of the reduced flow – “amounting to 1.5bn tonnes of missing water” – is down to the region’s snowpack shrinking and melting earlier, the Post says: “Less snow means less heat is reflected from the sun, creating a feedback loop known as the albedo effect.” Roughly 40 million Americans living in the West “need the water from the Colorado River, which is shipped to states including California and Arizona for farming and drinking”, says Axios, which adds that the river “supports $1tn in economic activity per year”. The study, published in the journal Science, warns that continued warming could see “increasing risk of severe water shortages”, the Guardian reports, with any increase in rainfall not likely to offset the loss in reflective snow. The issue is “not just a Colorado problem”, says InsideClimate News. The study notes that “many water-stressed regions around the world depend on runoff from seasonally snow-covered mountains…and more than one sixth of the global population relies on seasonal snow and glaciers for water supply”. MailOnline also has the story.
Protecting the environment and tackling climate change have climbed up the list of Americans’ political priorities as economic concerns have faded, says the New York Times, reporting on new survey data from Pew Research Center. It continues: “For the first time in the survey’s two-decade history, a majority of Americans said dealing with climate change should be a top priority for the president and Congress. That’s a 14 percentage point rise from four years ago.” But, the paper adds, “the surge in climate and environmental concern masks a deep partisan divide”. Addressing climate change “has become more urgent for Democrats in recent years, with 78% calling it a top policy priority in 2020. But Republicans have, by and large, remained unmoved”, the paper says, noting: “The partisan gap over climate change was the widest to date in 2020 and the most yawning among 18 issues covered by the survey.” A separate poll, reported by the Hill, finds that voters in western US states are increasingly concerned about climate change. The outlet says that “around a third of Western voters, 32%, view climate change as the most serious environmental problem, up from 5% in 2011”. The Washington Post also has a piece on the Pew survey, reflecting on how “climate change and the environment have emerged as a front-burner issue in early Democratic primary states this presidential election cycle, in ways difficult to fathom only a few years ago”. In the UK, BusinessGreen reports that public polling in January reveals that “pollution, the environment, and climate change were the third highest concern for the UK public, with 23% mentioning it as an important issue and 9% highlighting it as the most important issue”.
Scotland’s justice secretary Humza Yousaf has said there was “no argument” from Michael Gove over covering the costs of COP26 in Glasgow when they discussed the forthcoming climate change summit, the Press Association reports. “The Scottish and UK Governments have been locked in a spat over who will pick up the bill for the event,” the newswire says, noting that the cost of policing is “a particular sticking point”. Yousaf said costs were not disputed by the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during a phone conversation about the summit, the Press Association reports: “Giving evidence to the justice sub-committee on policing at Holyrood, Yousaf said: ‘When I spoke to Michael Gove on the phone, there was no argument about the principle that the UK government should pay for every penny of costs related to COP26, including in relation to policing’.” Yousaf added that “I don’t think there’s a debate around the principle – that could change – but I don’t think so”.
There is a flurry of new comment pieces in the UK’s national newspapers on various climate and energy topics. Ed Conway, economics editor of Sky News, warns in the Times that “no one quite knows what to do about our boilers”. He writes: “The silver bullet everyone is holding out for is hydrogen. Instead of putting natural gas into our boilers, firing them with hydrogen would mean the only waste product was water. It would involve replacing pretty much every boiler in the country and some of the infrastructure that feeds them.” However there are two problems, he says: “First, it won’t come cheap: the likely cost is up to £100 billion. Second, and perhaps more worryingly, it turns out we still don’t have a sustainable way of making hydrogen gas in the first place. Scientists are confident they can invent one using carbon capture and storage within a decade or two but given that they have been making similar promises for years that doesn’t inspire much confidence.”
In the Sun, motoring journalist Quentin Wilson comments on the rumours that the government will increase fuel duty after a decade-long freeze, warning that it will be “walking on the hopes and dreams of so many in this country will cost the government the precious virtues of faith, trust and integrity”. Despite supporting electric vehicles, Wilson says the “government has not built a 21st century charging infrastructure to help reduce range anxiety”. A Daily Mail editorial says the “rise would no doubt be dressed up as a green tax, necessary to fight climate change. But that would cut little ice with battling commuters. They’d see it as yet another government fleecing motorists, while failing to provide them with realistic alternative ways of getting to work”.
In a separate Sun comment piece, executive editor Dan Wootton rails against environmental campaigners such as Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg: “It’s time there is an acknowledgement that it is possible to be passionate about the need to rebalance the environment and a believer in climate change without wanting to destroy our economy, shut down farming in the UK, force the entire population to go vegan and limit flights to one every six years.” On the ongoing UK flooding, the Guardian’s global environment editor Jonathan Watts says they “raise the question of climate priorities, which will grow increasingly important as floods and heatwaves affect more people and property. Which communities will the government defend and which will they abandon?” And “more importantly”, Watts adds, “how will it balance the resources for adaptation infrastructure (such as sea walls, flood barriers, drainage channels ) with those for mitigation (cutting emissions through forests, wetlands, regulation of petrochemical firms and a transition to renewable energy)?”. In the Daily Express, climate-sceptic commentator Ross Clark writes that “it isn’t good enough to be told it’s all climate change and we are going to have to put up with it”. And another climate sceptic, Richard Littlejohn, writes in the Daily Mail saying that “naturally, at times like these, there’s a tendency to look for scapegoats. For the Left, it’s all down to climate change, savage Tory cuts and, probably, Brexit, too”. Meanwhile, “global-warming sceptics blame European environmental directives, homegrown eco-mentalists who refuse to dredge rivers – in order to provide a congenial breeding ground for the Depressed River Mussel and other assorted wildlife – and the lunacy of building on flood plains to provide homes for a population swelled by unlimited immigration,” he says, adding: “You don’t have to be Hercule Poirot to work out which side of the argument I come down on.”
Commenting on the decision of Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to commit $10bn to an “Earth Fund” to help tackle climate change, an Economist editorial offers a few pointers. “There are, broadly, two types of leverage open to him,” the Economist says: “One is political: turn the tide of opinion and politics in America, thereby adding a superpower’s force to his efforts. The other is technological; take things that the market is ignoring and build them up to the point where, in the right political environment, they can make money for other people.” The “political route is risky”, the Economist warns: “Existing philanthropies have spent a great deal of money trying to shift the debate in America, to little avail.” In technology, the editorial suggests focusing on “taking the risk out of things which the world needs but markets will not yet invest in”, such as “emissions-free steel-smelting and concrete-making”. The Economist also suggests putting a “smaller chunk” of money towards “technologies much further from acceptance” and cites solar geoengineering as an example: “Although by no means a silver bullet, or even necessarily a desirable strategy, assessing how it might be undertaken in a responsible way deserves more attention. Funding is feeble at present – perhaps $20m a year worldwide. Mr Bezos could double that at the stroke of a pen.”
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with large natural sources, reservoirs, and sinks. A new study has found that methane emissions from old, cold-region carbon reservoirs like permafrost and methane hydrates were minor during the last deglaciation. The study analyzed the carbon isotopic composition of atmospheric methane trapped in bubbles in Antarctic ice and found that methane emissions from those old carbon sources during the warming interval were small. The authors argue that this finding suggests that methane emissions in response to future warming likely will not be as large as some have suggested.
The sensitivity of river flow to climate change is highly uncertain and the governing processes are poorly understood, impeding climate-change adaptation. A prominent example is the Colorado River, where meteorological drought and warming have been shrinking a water resource that supports more than $1 trillion per year of economic activity. A new analysis resolves a longstanding disparity in estimates and reveals the controlling physical processes. They estimate that river flow has been decreasing by 9.3% per degree C of warming due to increased evapotranspiration, mainly driven by snow loss and consequent decrease of reflected solar radiation. Projected precipitation increases likely will not suffice to counter the drying. Increasing risk of severe water shortages is expected.
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