Today's climate and energy headlines:
- IEA outlines how world can reach net zero emissions by 2050
- China aims to cut all greenhouses gases by 2060, researcher says
- UK government split over how to charge polluters after Brexit
- Sharp rise in natural disasters in last 20 years, Asia hardest hit – UN
- After a year in the ice, the biggest-ever Arctic science mission ends
- This is my message to the western world – your civilisation is killing life on Earth
- When the US and China fight, it is the environment that suffers
- A scoping review of adoption of climate-resilient crops by small-scale producers in low- and middle-income countries
- Airports and environmental sustainability: a comprehensive review
- Fuel availability not fire weather controls boreal wildfire severity and carbon emissions
Many publications cover the the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) newly published World Energy Outlook, which, for the first time, sets out what would need to happen this decade in order for the world to reach net zero emissions by 2050. Climate Home News reports that the IEA says global emissions must fall by 40% by 2030 on the path to net zero. “This would involve large scale investment in renewables and electric cars, behaviour change and innovation in new technologies like hydrogen,” CHN says. Bloomberg reports that the IEA’s shift towards projecting what is needed to reach global net zero emissions “breaks with an approach to energy projections that has long drawn criticism for underestimating the rise of renewables and accelerating climate emergency”. The Guardian reports that the report also says that the pandemic is expected to cause a record 7% decline in global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2020, but governments are not doing enough to prevent a rapid rebound. “Under one scenario modelled by the IEA, based on governments’ current policies, CO2 emissions will rebound in 2021, exceed 2019 levels in 2027 and rise to 36bn tonnes by 2030,” the Guardian says. It adds: “Under a much more optimistic ‘sustainable development’ scenario, global emissions could peak in 2019, but [IEA chief Fatih] Birol warned that would require a rapid change in global energy policy.”
The Times, Daily Telegraph and Reuters lead their coverage with the line that solar power is set to boom this decade, according to the report. Reuters says: “Solar output is expected to lead a surge in renewable power supply in the next decade, with renewables seen accounting for 80% of growth in global electricity generation under current conditions.” According to Reuters, Birol says: “I see solar becoming the new king of the world’s electricity markets.” The Financial Times reports that this decade is likely to be the slowest for energy demand growth since the 1930s, according to the report. BusinessGreen and the Wall Street Journal also cover the IEA report.
Additionally, Carbon Brief has just published detailed analysis of the report with the topline finding that the IEA has confirmed that solar power is now the “cheapest electricity in history”.
China’s pledge to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060 covers all greenhouse gases, not just CO2, one of the country’s most senior researchers has said, according to Bloomberg. He Jiankun, who chairs the academic committee at the Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at Tsinghua University, made the clarification at a conference on Monday outlining China’s road map to reaching its goal, Bloomberg says. He also said that, in order to achieve the 2060 goal, China would need to adjust its next five-year plan in order to cut energy consumption per capita of gross domestic product by at least 14%, boost the share of renewable energy by at least 14% and reduce CO2 intensity by around 20%, according to Bloomberg. The South China Morning Post also covers the analysis from Tsinghua University, noting that the 2060 goal could be put at risk due to “inertia” in China’s energy and economic sectors, according to the researchers. Reuters also covers the report’s findings. (Carbon Brief will soon be publishing its own analysis of the Tsinghua presentation.) Elsewhere, the FT reports that the EU’s top energy boss has pledged to end the use of coal power as the bloc strives to meet its 2050 net zero target.
Meanwhile, several publications cover reaction to reports that China has put limits on Australian coal imports. The Guardian says “Australian government is seeking assurances from China” over the reports as political tensions between the two countries grow. The Guardian says: “The uncertainty was fuelled by reports by two industry newswire services that China’s customs authorities had told several state-owned steelmakers and power plants to stop importing Australian thermal and coking coal.” Australia’s prime minister Scott Morrison said the government was investigating the reports, but it was “important not to get ahead of ourselves here” because it was “not uncommon” for China to impose domestic quotas to support local coal production and jobs, according to the Guardian. The South China Morning Post reports that the ban could be indefinite, according to some analysts. Bloomberg reports that “the ban marks an escalation in tensions that have already jolted agricultural exports from China’s biggest supplier of commodities”. In his energy column for Reuters, Clyde Russell says the ban marks “a major escalation of political tensions between the pair”. However, the FT reports that, according to other analysts, the possible ban “may reflect efforts by China to prop up its own domestic coal industry rather than a deepening political dispute with Australia”. For Bloomberg, columnist David Fickling argues the ban has “more bark than bite”.
Bloomberg reports that the UK’s Treasury, under chancellor Rishi Sunak, is locked in a battle with Alok Sharma’s business department over how to ensure polluters pay for their emissions after Brexit. The Treasury is pushing to replace the European Union’s cap-and-trade system with an economy-wide carbon tax, which would come into effect after the UK exits the bloc in January, Bloomberg reports. However, the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) is drawing up a new emissions-trading system to start in January similar to the EU programme that the UK currently participates in, Bloomberg says. It adds: “One person familiar with the debate predicted that an ETS was a likely option, and a hybrid is also being considered.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail follows up on its investigation into what it describes as a “botched” wind turbine scheme in Northern Ireland (see yesterday’s Daily Briefing email) – claiming the scheme could cost £5bn and could “push up household energy bills for 20 years”.
Reuters covers a UN report which finds that extreme weather events have increased dramatically over the past 20 years. China (577) and the US (467) recorded the highest number of disaster events from 2000 to 2019, followed by India (321), the Philippines (304) and Indonesia (278), the report says. Eight of the top 10 countries are in Asia, Reuters adds. “Heatwaves and droughts will pose the greatest threat in the next decade, as temperatures continue to rise due to heat-trapping gases,” Reuters reports. The Hill also covers the report. Meanwhile, a second Reuters story reports that UN chief Antonio Guterres has urged development banks to stop backing fossil fuel projects.
Several publications report that the world’s largest polar expedition, known as the Multidisciplinary drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) expedition, has come to an end after around a year floating with the sea ice. The New York Times says: “The expedition, with a rotating contingent of about 100 scientists, technicians and crew, encountered nosy polar bears, fierce storms that damaged equipment, changing ice conditions and, most critically, the coronavirus pandemic that scrambled logistics. There were also accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment aboard a Russian support ship that accompanied the Polarstern for the first month.” BBC News reports that the expedition’s leader Dr Markus Rex, of the Alfred Wegener Institute, came back with the warning that Arctic sea ice “is dying”. Associated Press also covers the ship’s return.
Carbon Brief’s science writer Daisy Dunne joined the expedition for its first six weeks in the autumn of 2019. She reported on how melting ice threatened the expedition during its critical set-up phase, as well as what the expedition’s scientists could reveal about the rapid downturn in Arctic sea ice, Arctic storms and the “Atlantification” of the Arctic Ocean.
For the Guardian, Nemonte Nenquimo, cofounder of the Indigenous-led nonprofit organisation Ceibo Alliance and the first female president of the Waorani organisation of Pastaza province, writes an open letters to all world leaders on the destruction of nature. The letter says: “You forced your civilisation upon us and now look where we are: global pandemic, climate crisis, species extinction and, driving it all, widespread spiritual poverty. In all these years of taking, taking, taking from our lands, you have not had the courage, or the curiosity, or the respect to get to know us. To understand how we see, and think, and feel, and what we know about life on this Earth.”
For the New York Times, Yanzhong Huang, a global-health expert specialising in China, argues that the environment is largest loser when China and the US move away from cooperation. The article says: “President Trump likes to cast US-China relations as a zero-sum game: during the 2015 presidential campaign he said: ‘I beat the people from China. I win against China. You can win against China if you’re smart.’ But when it comes to environmental protection, decoupling is a lose-lose proposition for both countries.”
A new “scoping review” assesses the conditions that have led to the adoption of climate-resilient crops over the past 30 years in lower- and middle-income countries. Analysing more than 200 journal papers, the researchers find that climate-resilient crops were taken up to “cope with abiotic stresses such as drought, heat, flooding and salinity”. The study also finds that the most important factors in whether a producer accessed climate-resilient crop varieties were “the availability and effectiveness of extension services and outreach, followed by education levels of heads of households, farmers’ access to inputs – especially seeds and fertilisers – and socio-economic status of farming families”.
A “topical review” paper synthesises the scientific literature on the environmental sustainability of airports. Assessing more than 100 journal papers and technical reports, the authors find that research interest in airport sustainability is “steadily increasing, but there is ample need for more systematic assessment that accounts for a variety of emissions and regional variation”. Prominent research themes include “the greenhouse gas emissions from airfield pavements and energy management strategies for airport buildings”, the study says, while “research on water conservation, climate change resilience, and waste management is more limited, indicating that airport environmental accounting requires more analysis”. A recent Carbon Brief guest post explores the true impact of aviation emissions on the climate.
Carbon emissions from wildfires in northwestern North American boreal forests are “more strongly driven” by fuel availability than by fire weather, a new study suggests. Analysing data from 417 field sites spanning six ecoregions in the area, the researchers “assessed the network of interactions among potential bottom-up and top-down drivers of carbon emissions”. The findings highlight “the importance of fine-scale drainage conditions, overstory tree species composition and fuel accumulation rates”, the study says. The relationships between climate- and fuel-related variables are “complex” and “do not operate independently”, an accompanying News & Views article says, noting: “For example, climate warming and drying are linked to widespread tree mortality and changes in fuel structure and availability; such conditions can also increase fuel flammability.”
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