Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Human-induced global heating ‘causes over a third of heat deaths’
- US: A look at what's inside Biden’s $6tn plan
- EU’s greenhouse gas emissions fell by nearly 4% in 2019, data shows
- UK investors urge G7 to force firms to reveal their climate change exposure
- Brazil facing worst drought in nearly 100 years as officials issue emergency warning
- The Guardian view on climate change lawsuits: Big Oil is in the dock
- UK must keep its international promises or COP26 will fail
- Who will pay? Europe’s bold plan on emissions risks political blowback
- The burden of heat-related mortality attributable to recent human-induced climate change
- Distinct sources of interannual subtropical and subpolar Atlantic overturning variability
New research finds that 37% of all heat-related deaths in people between 1991 and 2018 were linked to climate change, the Guardian reports. The study uses data from 732 cities in 43 countries to “calculate the number of deaths attributed to heat levels higher than the ideal temperature for human health”, the newspaper reports. According to Associated Press via the Independent, the study estimates that climate change was linked to 9,7000 deaths per year in the cities studied. The New York Times notes that the study “detected increased mortality from climate-boosted heat on every inhabited continent”. It continues: “While the differences in mortality among the places studied are complex… the research indirectly suggests a divide between rich and poor regions.” The Sydney Morning Herald focusses on results from Australian cities in its coverage of the research, while the Times notes that there have been 6,000 heat-related deaths in the UK alone since 1991. The i newspaper also picks out numbers for the UK. Meanwhile, NBC News, the Independent, Bloomberg and the Evening Standard also cover the study.
In other new research, MailOnline reports that the warming effect of greenhouse gases so far “has been overestimated”, according to new research. And the South China Morning Post reports on a new paper which finds that “coal burning contributes up to 70% of carbon in Yangtze River sediment”. Meanwhile, the New York Times carries a piece on the Arctic station that “keeps satellites connected” and Climate Home News reports that NASA is launching a mission to “better predict climate impacts”.
President Joe Biden’s new budget proposal – released on Friday – would, if passed, include $14bn in new money devoted to climate change, the New York Times reports. It notes that the budget is a “stark contrast” to the Trump administration, which tried to “zero out funding for dozens of clean energy programs”. Biden’s budget proposes $11.2bn for the Environmental Protection Agency – a 22% increase from the previous year – according to the newspaper. $800bn in funding is also proposed over the next decade in “new spending and tax breaks in a bid to accelerate the deployment of clean-energy technologies”, according to the paper. It adds that the government will ask Congress for $1.2bn for the Green Climate Fund and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would see a 7% budget increase. The Hill reports that the budget proposal “takes aim at specific tax provisions that benefit the fossil fuel industry”, adding that eliminating these measures would generate $35bn over the course of a decade. The Guardian also covers the budget, reporting that the proposed plan would involve “pouring money” into climate action. The budget would first need to pass through Congress.
There is also continuing reaction to the Biden administration’s defence of a drilling operation in Alaska. Lisa Friedman from the New York Times reports that the administration has “quietly taken actions this month that will guarantee the drilling and burning of oil and gas for decades to come”. She reports that the clash between his pledges and recent actions “illustrates the political, technical and legal difficulties of disentangling the country from the oil, gas and coal that have underpinned its economy for more than a century”. Giovanni Russonello – also from the New York Times – interviews Friedman in a piece entitled, “Why Biden isn’t cracking down on fossil fuels”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Biden administration is expected to release results of its review of the federal oil and gas leasing program by early summer. The review “is intended to weigh the economic benefits of federal drilling against its environmental and climate costs”, according to the newswire.
In other US news, Inside Climate News reports that water supplies to farmers have been cut as California’s drought worsens, while the Hill reports that the US is not adequately prepared for the start of hurricane season. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that “a growing fight is unfolding across the US as cities consider phasing out natural gas for home cooking and heating”. And the Financial Times reports that America’s liquefied natural gas exporters are investing in mitigation measures to cut their carbon emissions.
EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by 3.8% in 2019, according to new data from the European Environment Agency, the Guardian reports. This brings EU emissions to 24% below 1990 levels – “or 26% if carbon sinks are taken into account” – according to the paper. It adds that about 80% of the reduction is from the heat and power sector, but that emissions from transport continued to rise. In other European news, Politico reports that EU agricultural ministers “failed to reach an agreement with MEPs on the Common Agricultural Reform (CAP)” after a week of negotiations. Politico reports in a separate piece that “EU governments showed their true colours on reforming the bloc’s mammoth farm policy this week — and that colour’s not green.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that ETS prices have more than doubled compared with pre-pandemic levels, and notes that this “presents a problem for airlines” in the EU. EurActiv reports that the EU’s upcoming carbon border levy is “causing tensions with Beijing, which expressed ‘grave concern’ over the European Commission’s plan”. Meanwhile, the Times reports that, according to the the UK’s environment secretary, imports to the UK from highly polluting countries “could face new taxes”. Bloomberg also notes that the UK is considering a carbon border tax “to protect domestic industry”.
Energy Monitor carries a piece on the “gargantuan task” of decarbonising European steel. And the Guardian reports that France is embarking on a “culture shift” to a less meat intensive diet – including removing meat from the menu in schools for at least one day per week. According to the paper, the proposals “have sparked uproar and howls of outrage among the traditionalists of French cuisine, but have been welcomed by many young people”.
The Investment Association – an “influential group” of investors from the UK – are urging G7 leaders to “follow the UK’s lead by forcing firms to come clean about their exposure to climate risks”, the Guardian reports. According to the newspaper, the group sent a letter to “ambassadors and high commissioners”, which also called for the countries to release “sector-by-sector guidance to help firms plan to meet Paris Agreement climate goals”. Meanwhile, the Press Association reports, via the Belfast Telegraph, that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak “said he has pushed G7 counterparts to ensure efforts to tackle climate change are prioritised as economies rebuild after the pandemic.” However, the Times reports that the timing of the G7 meeting “could be awkward”, because Thungela Resources – “a company that exclusively mines thermal coal” – will be “welcome[ed]” to the London Stock Exchange around this time. Meanwhile, a Reuters exclusive reports that G7 countries will “support mandatory climate-related financial disclosures by companies that provide ‘consistent and decision-useful’ information for markets”.
In other UK news, the Guardian reports that councils in Glasgow have pledged to plant 18m trees – equivalent to ten trees per resident – ahead of COP26. It adds that the Clyde Climate Forest Project hopes to increase tree cover in urban areas of Glasgow to 20%. The Scotsman and the Herald also cover the announcement. Meanwhile, the i newspaper reports that campaigners are concerned that “few will make the switch to heat pumps unless the government helps with the cost”. The Guardian covers an “opportunity to try” scheme for electric bikes in holiday destinations in England and MailOnline notes that 500 extra e-cycles will be available to hire in London from summer 2022. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Cerulean Winds – a “low-carbon infrastructure developer” – has submitted plans for a floating wind turbine project in the North Sea. And Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute, has penned a commentary piece noting that Steve Baker, a Conservative MP, has “become a trustee of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, the lobby group that opposes policies to tackle climate change by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels”.
The Independent reports that Brazil is “facing its worst drought in more than 90 years”, driving worries of increased fires in the Amazon rainforest and energy shortages from the hydroelectric industry. According to the outlet, hydropower made up 70% of Brazil’s electricity output in 2018. It adds that Brazil’s National Meteorological System issued a “water emergency alert” last week to “acknowledge an expected shortage of rain from June to September this year.” Reuters adds that the nation’s electricity sector monitoring committee recommended last week that Brazil’s water regulator recognise a state of “water scarcity,” after a “prolonged drought” hit central and southern parts of the country. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that in April, Amazon, Boston Consulting, McKinsey, Unilever, Salesforce, Airbnb, GSK and Nestlé supported a $1bn scheme to tackle deforestation. Under the scheme, countries including Brazil and Indonesia would be “paid for carbon credits linked to avoidance of tree clearance”.
There is continuing reaction to the Dutch court ruling last week that Shell should deepen its cuts to emissions, as well as the news that two climate activists were elected to the board of Exxon. The Guardian carries an editorial with the heading: “Fossil fuel firms are being held responsible for greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a good thing.” According to the article, the court “was right to ask for a vision beyond business as usual”. It continues: “It is not unreasonable, given that the planet’s future is at stake, for civil society to use every tool at its disposal.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times has published an editorial arguing that “while this week brought an important victory for climate campaigners, it was not in itself a victory for the climate”. It notes that other oil producers will “step in” to meet demand, and concludes: “Only government action can ensure that change takes place.” Meanwhile, a further piece by Financial Times reporters argues that the ruling “suggests more companies will face litigation”. An editorial in the Washington Post writes that “change is coming, whether the oil industry likes it or not” and the Sydney Morning Herald carries an editorial entitled: “Transition to renewables no longer optional.” It closes with the statement: “We are being held back by leaders on both sides of politics who are fearful of job losses in traditional industries, loss of export income, or simple failure to acknowledge the reality of climate change. They need to accept, as courts and corporations alike are increasingly doing, that a transition to renewables is no longer ideological or even economic. It is inevitable.”
Meanwhile, New York Times reporters Peter Eavis and Clifford Krauss argue that “forcing change will be difficult” for the new members of Exxon’s board, due to the tension between reducing emissions and raising Exxon’s earnings.“ The Financial Times runs a “playbook for climate clashes” in its Lex column with the heading: “Attacks on a company’s principles are less likely to succeed if its returns are strong.” Meanwhile, Michael J de la Merced from the New York Times explores how Exxon lost their seats in “a few key moments” and Bloomberg carries a “to-do list” for the new climate activists on Exxon’s board. A separate Financial Times piece reports that the new Exxon shareholders will chart a “new course for ESG advocates”. Meanwhile, Mark Nicholls from Energy Monitor writes that Exxon’s AGM is a “tipping point for shareholder concern about climate change”. Similarly, Somini Sengupta of the New York Times also writes that “Big Oil” is being pushed towards a “tipping point”. However, Ambrose Evans Pritchard of the Daily Telegraph writes that “environmentalists should think twice before celebrating the week that shook Big Oil to the core”, as that their victories could have “unintended consequences”, including spiking oil prices. Meanwhile, Forbes senior contributor Robert Rapier has penned a piece entitled “Big oil’s bad week”, and Bloomberg editor Jeremy Hodges asks: “Will judges have the last word on climate change?” Meanwhile, Chloé Farand from Climate Home News says the Shell ruling “sets a significant precedent that companies, not just countries, have a duty to align with the Paris Agreement”. And Danny Fortson from the Times writes: “Climate investing is no longer a nice-to-have. It is an unavoidable force, with risks and opportunities akin to those that emerged with the web in the late 1990s.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the government of Guyana is “being taken to court by two citizens seeking an end to offshore drilling by ExxonMobil and other large oil firms”. The Scotsman notes that Greta Thunberg is supporting climate activists who have “launched a legal challenge against the UK government over its continued support for fossil fuel production in the North Sea”. And the Sydney Morning Herald carries a feature piece on climate activist Anjali Sharma.
Writing for the Times Red Box, former UK prime minister Gordon Brown argues that with the nation hosting both the G7 and COP26 meetings this year “we have yet to see a sign that the prime minister [Boris Johnson] has grasped the historic nature of the global responsibilities he holds and the opportunity for world leadership open to him”. Brown continues: “Without success at the G7, progress at COP26 will be hard to achieve. Our economic recovery will not be sustained if most of the world is left unvaccinated and unable to trade and return to growth.
Countries cannot cut their emissions unless they can raise their levels of investment in the green economy. And low-income nations cannot take action on climate change until they are freed from both the pandemic and the burdens of debt. So, with our summitry this year we have to create a virtuous circle: in which vaccination is financed by the G7, infrastructure investment in the green economy is supported by our international financial institutions, and the richer countries help lower income countries with financial support to tackle climate change.” But Brown singles out the UK’s foreign aid cuts for blame and says there is now “a real risk that COP26 will fail” due to the fact the wealthiest nations “have not kept the promises we made a decade ago” on climate finance.
Meanwhile, Financial Times environment and clean energy correspondent Leslie Hook makes the case that the annual COPs could be downsized from its current “big jamboree”. She adds: “A change makes sense because, with the Paris climate accord already in place, future COP summits will exist mainly to monitor the agreement. Supporters of the current format argue creating political momentum and support for climate pledges is an essential part of the COP. But unlike in previous years, the upcoming COPs won’t be tasked with negotiating a global treaty, which required much political involvement…Just as Covid-19 has forced a reckoning for many aspects of modern life, it is time for that same re-evaluation to take place for the COP.”
In the “big read” feature for the Financial Times, EU correspondent Mehreen Khan looks at the “storm of opposition” towards the EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS): “For a growing number of EU governments and some green activists, Brussels’ ambitions risk throwing Europe’s poorest inhabitants further into energy poverty by making them shoulder the burden of the bloc’s rush towards net zero. They fear that without an accompanying system of mass state subsidies and financial compensation, carbon pricing will be a regressive tool that will punish millions of Europe’s poorest families who live in rented or social housing and are stuck with petrol-driven cars — ultimately serving to undermine public support for the EU’s ambitious climate goals. Europe’s politicians are acutely aware of the French experience, when President Emmanuel Macron’s 2018 plan for petrol tax rises prompted the gilets jaunes protest movement. The political blowback has been so fierce it is still not guaranteed that Brussels will go ahead with the plan.” Khan looks ahead to the forthcoming reforms and expansion of the ETS: “In July, the European Commission will propose expanding the ETS to consumer-facing sectors such as carmakers and buildings — a reform that would mirror the German model and mark a radical change in market-driven carbon pricing that is being watched by rich countries around the world. The social consequences of expanding the ETS means the upcoming reform is already proving to be one of the most sensitive and contested parts of the EU’s radical decarbonisation agenda.”
Meanwhile, in other features, the Observer interviews “one of the world’s most influential Earth scientists” Johan Rockström ahead of Netflix launching its new “Breaking Boundaries” series later this week: “As director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, he advises governments, corporations and activists, including his Swedish compatriot, Greta Thunberg, about the latest research on the climate and biodiversity and argues for better science communication.” Rockström was also a co-author of the famous “Hothouse Earth” study published in 2018, which proposed that human-caused global warming could push the planet towards an uninhabitable state if the 2C limit is breached. “My hypothesis still stands, though we have since seen new research that both strengthens and eases concerns,” he says. “We will see further support for our hypothesis in the forthcoming IPCC AR6 assessment, which for the first time will show a change in the climate sensitivity range.”
Separately, several publications carry comment pieces about electric vehicles. The Sunday Times sees deputy business editor John Collingridge asking: “Why risk an electric car if you can’t charge it?” He argues that there is a “lack of clarity on the government’s thinking” regarding delivering its vision for electric vehicles. In the Los Angeles Times, Steve Lopez similarly says: “I was going to buy an all-electric car but chickened out. Here’s why.” The Lex column in the Financial Times argues that it’s better to avoid hybrids and move straight to all-electric – if you can afford to do so. Adam Morton in the Guardian says that Australia’s EV policies are a patchwork of conflicting regulations which is leading to a “confused and contradictory approach”.
New research estimates that 37% of warm-season heat-related deaths can be attributed to human-caused climate change. The study uses data from 732 locations in 43 countries to “estimate the mortality burdens associated with the additional heat exposure that has resulted from recent human-induced warming, during the period 1991–2018”. This impact on human health varies geographically, the researchers note, but is “of the order of dozens to hundreds of deaths per year in many locations”.
A new study unpicks the drivers behind monthly and annual variability in the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The researchers “reconstruct and unambiguously attribute intermonthly and interannual AMOC variability at two observational arrays to the recent history of surface wind stress, temperature and salinity”. On interannual timescales, AMOC variability at a latitude of 26 degrees North is “overwhelmingly dominated by a linear response to local wind stress”, the researchers write, while “overturning variability at subpolar latitudes is generated by the combined effects of wind stress and surface buoyancy anomalies”.
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