Today's climate and energy headlines:
- House Democrats unveil ambitious climate package, steering toward a net-zero economy by 2050
- 'New deal' risks fuelling emissions and eroding building standards
- Shell to take up to $22bn writedown after climate review
- UK could hit 40C 'regularly' by end of this century
- Germany irons out last coal exit law hurdles with conversion options for younger plants
- Boris Johnson is once again failing to lead on the biggest question of our time – the climate emergency
- Unprecedented drought challenges for Texas water resources in a changing climate: what do researchers and stakeholders need to know?
- Ecosystem response to earlier ice break‐up date: Climate driven changes to water temperature, lake‐habitat specific production, and trout habitat and resource use
Many publications report on a new plan proposed by House Democrats in the US that would see the nation hit net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The Washington Post outlines the strategy, saying: “The nation’s automakers would manufacture only electric cars. Utilities would have to stop producing pollution linked to climate change. And the federal government would double its investment in mass transit”. The “ambitious package” of proposals was released by speaker Nancy Pelosi and Kathy Castor, the chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the newspaper adds. The Financial Times notes that while the plan “stands no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate or being signed into law under the current administration, it provides a blueprint for the party should it manage to take control of both the White House and both chambers of Congress in the elections”. According to Politico, the “sweeping” 547-page report “aims to make environmental justice a focus and says marginalised communities that often suffer the worst effects of climate change and pollution must get ‘the tangible benefits’ of climate action”. In its coverage, Vox calls the strategy “the most detailed climate plan in US political history” and describes its “12 pillars” while emphasising the “$8tn in savings — up to $1tn a year by 2050, relative to the no-policy baseline” outlined in the report. The Guardian notes that while the Republican party has “offered little in the way of details about how they would achieve science-based climate goals” Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden “has pledged to pursue a timeline similar to what House Democrats have proposed”.
Following a major speech by Boris Johnson outlining the UK’s plan for post-coronavirus recovery, the Guardian reports on concerns by environmental groups and housing experts that the plans could have a harmful environmental impact. It notes that “plan to build tens of thousands of new homes risks locking in high carbon emissions for decades to come, if they are built to today’s poor efficiency standards instead of being designed for net zero carbon”. The article quotes Jenny Holland, a policy specialist at the UK Green Building Council, who says: “Although the prime minister has promised ‘beautiful low-carbon homes’ there is nothing in current government plans that will guarantee that”. It also notes that the prime minister set out no plans for improving the efficiency of existing homes, something government advisers the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) emphasised the significance of in their latest report. (Read more about the CCC’s recommendations for a “green recovery” in this Carbon Brief article.) Another article in the Guardian looks at what was missing from the speech, including renewable energy and electric vehicles, while yet another piece considers why Johnson’s call for a zero-emission aircraft – “Jet Zero” – may be “mission impossible”.
A piece by BBC News environmental analyst Roger Harrabin examines the prime minister’s statement that hydrogen technology is an area where the UK leads the world that will create clean jobs, asking whether the hydrogen revolution is “hope or hype”.
Meanwhile, in clean transport news, BBC News reports that rental e-scooters will become legal on roads from Saturday in the UK, “in a bid to ease pressure on public transport amid the coronavirus crisis”.
The world’s largest fuel retailer Royal Dutch Shell has said it will cut the value of its assets by up to $22bn as it reviews operations in a bid to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050, Reuters reports. The write-down comes after the oil giant lowered its long-term outlook on oil-and-gas prices in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the news outlet. The Times reports that the company announced its new outlook reflects“the expected effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and related macroeconomic as well as energy market demand and supply fundamentals”. Shell now expects to both make less money from existing oil-and-gas developments, as well as abandon new discoveries that may no longer be viable, the newspaper states. The Financial Times also has the story, noting that Shell has been “rocked by the pandemic” and that industry experts “increasingly believe the pandemic will not only stall demand for oil and gas for a prolonged period but also accelerate the global shift towards cleaner fuels”. The newspaper also notes that the company recently announced its intention to become “net-zero” and is “undertaking a review of its organisational structure in light of its new ambitions”. The Guardian notes that the move by Shell comes “just weeks after rival BP announced it would reduce the value of its own assets by $17.5bn”.
Another piece in the Guardian considers the collapse of US shale pioneer Chesapeake Energy, which it says has gone out of business due to “big debts and [the] oil slump”, noting the event “may mark a crucial watershed for an industry in flux”.
There is widespread coverage in the UK media of a new Met Office study, also covered by Carbon Brief, looking at the prospects of the nation hitting 40C in the coming years. BBC News says such “sweltering temperatures” could be a regular occurrence in the UK by 2100 “if carbon emissions stay very high”, but notes right now the “chances of any part of the UK hitting 40C are extremely low”. The Conversation has a piece by Dr Lisa Baldini, an environmental scientist at Teesside University, looking at the new paper. The Guardian, New Scientist and MailOnline also cover the story.
The German government has “removed the last hurdles to finalising the country’s much-anticipated coal exit law”, Clean Energy Wire reports. The move clears the way for the bill to go through in parliament next week, with a draft agreement that both grants coal plant operators more compensation, but also increases incentives for them to either shut down early or convert to hydrogen, biomass or natural gas, the news website states. Reuters reports that the move was welcomed by local utility organisation VKU.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that with Germany taking over the rotating presidency of the European Council, the country is now taking charge of the green agenda “after spending years shaping EU energy and climate policy from behind the scenes”. Separately, Reuters carries comments from the EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson, who says the EU hopes to reach a deal on a law “to make its climate targets irreversible” this year, “amid concerns that talks between countries could drag into 2021”.
Finally, Reuters reports that UN agency the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has agreed to change the baseline year used for calculating emissions following the coronavirus crisis and its impact on global air travel.
An editorial in the Independent concludes that Boris Johnson’s speech announcing measures to reinvigorate the UK economy “came up short”. While the piece notes the prime minister was right to focus on the “great unresolved challenges” of the past 30 years, such as building homes, the NHS and social care, it says the plan essentially amounted to accelerating the Conservative Party manifesto from last December. Crucially, the editorial concludes it was “striking and disappointing” that Johnson devoted so little time to one of the greatest “unresolved challenges” of all: “the climate crisis”. The Guardian also addresses this in its editorial, noting: “In his speech the prime minister chose to avoid the big questions of the age, preferring to dwell on the mundane. Rather than slaying one of the giants on the road to a post-coronavirus society – dealing with growing wealth inequality; a climate emergency; how to bring a fractured UK back together – Mr Johnson focused on the pygmy of planning rules that ‘prevent’ housebuilding”. BusinessGreen editor James Murray echoes these concerns, describing the plans for a “green recovery” as a return “to rhetoric, over detail”. Though the Daily Telegraph describes the prime minister’s “clumsy comparison” of the plan with US president Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal “somewhat hackneyed”, it takes a more positive outlook. “The emphasis on science and innovation was also commendable and genuinely visionary. Let us indeed be the first in the world to build “Jet Zero”, a long-haul electric aircraft,” the editorial notes, but concludes “the immediate issue to be tackled is the jobs crisis about to engulf millions of families”.
The Daily Mail has a comment piece by environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean as part of its coverage of Johnson’s speech, which begins: “Boris is right to ‘build, build, build’, to kick-start the economy. But, I fear that, unless he is careful, he could be building an environmental disaster”. Specifically, he warns that if planning laws are changed, this “could destroy the countryside”. Meanwhile, a comment piece by climate sceptic Ross Clark further inside the Daily Mail draws on Johnson’s pledge to plant 30,000 hectares of them a year to criticise plans by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to plant 6,750 eucalyptus trees in a bid to heat their stately home using biomass.
Meanwhile, focusing on France, an editorial in the Financial Times reflects on a “painful defeat” for Emmanuel Macron in the recent local elections, largely at the hands of the Green party, which the newspaper says will lead to the president adding “a dose of climate action to win round green voters”.
Texas could face “unprecedented droughts” as the climate warms, a new study says. According to the research teams, “projections indicate drier conditions during the latter half of the 21st century than even the most arid centuries of the last 1,000 years that included megadroughts”. East and western Texas could be most affect by climate change’s impact on soil moisture and reservoir supplies, they add.
The earlier break-up of ice atop of lakes as a result of warming could negatively affect trout, a study finds. The researchers say that climate change has caused earlier ice break‐up dates in recent decades for lakes leading to water temperature increases and altered habitat. The research finds earlier ice-break causes bottom feeding marine organisms to breed more rapidly, but that trout are unable to benefit from changes to bottom dwelling habitat.
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