Today's climate and energy headlines:
- IMF climate report calls for massive carbon tax in just 10 years to limit global warming
- Oil firms to pour extra 7m barrels per day into markets, data shows
- Extinction Rebellion: Blind Paralympian climbs on top of plane as arrests pass 1,100
- Two-thirds of US birds face extinction due to climate-linked 'emergency': Audubon
- National Grid warns of gas supply risk in event of no-deal Brexit
- The Guardian view on Extinction Rebellion protests: of course they’re an inconvenience
- Green revolution will mean challenges and opportunities
- How accurately can the climate sensitivity to CO2 be estimated from historical climate change?
- Grand challenges in the science of wind energy
A global agreement to implement a substantial carbon tax would be the most efficient way of tackling climate change, according to a new study by the International Monetary Fund, the Washington Post reports. An international tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit warming to 2C, the IMF concludes, although its deputy director of fiscal affairs Paolo Mauro describes this as a “quantum leap” from today’s average of $2 per ton. Bloomberg describes the IMF’s reference to a climate “crisis” as its “most emphatic statement on climate change yet”. It says that according to the fund’s analysis, the Paris pledges that have been made so far by nations “fall well short” of their goal of limiting temperature rise. While Time reports comments from Mauro that the organisation is “not religious about any particular type of measure”, it also notes their conclusion that a carbon tax is the “single, most powerful and efficient tool” to drive a reduction in emissions. The magazine also mentions some of the critiques levelled at carbon taxes as well as the solutions suggested by the IMF, such as tax breaks so that poor people are not hit hardest.
A piece in the Guardian reports comments by Australian treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg in which he rejects the IMF’s warning that Australia will fail to meet its Paris target even with a carbon price of US$75 a ton. According to the Australian Financial Review, the IMF says the nation’s economy is still too heavily reliant on coal power for even such a dramatic tax to have the desired effect.
The Guardian continues its “polluters” series with a stream of new pieces exploring the industries contributing the most to greenhouse gas emissions and the network of organisations supporting them. One article, based on research conducted by Norwegian consultancy Rystad Energy, reveals the world’s 50 biggest oil companies are “poised to flood markets” with an extra 7m barrels per day over the next decade. The paper notes the acceleration is “almost the opposite of the 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 that scientists say is necessary to have any chance of holding global heating at a relatively safe level of 1.5C”. Another Guardian piece reports that left-leaning leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, have both pledged to target fossil-fuel companies in light of the paper’s investigation published the previous day. An analysis by the paper in association with the non-profit research group InfluenceMap looks at how fossil fuel companies are spending millions of dollars on campaigns to fight climate regulations, as well as PR campaigns on social media “touting their dedication to a low-carbon future”. Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd tells the Guardian in another piece that large mining companies in Australia have been running a sophisticated lobbying operation to block climate progress in his country.
The Guardian also reports that Google has made large contributions to “climate change deniers” – organisations that have campaigned against climate laws, questioned the need for action, or tried to roll back Obama-era environmental protections.
Another piece looks at “top UK thinktank” the Institute of Economic Affairs, which has links to 14 members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet and has spent “decades undermining climate science”. The Guardian identifies “at least four books, as well as multiple articles and papers”, published over two decades by the IEA suggesting uncertainties around manmade climate change.
In an “exclusive” based on more analysis by InfluenceMap, the paper reports that car manufacturers are “among the leading opponents of action on the climate crisis”. It notes that despite public announcements about commitment to climate action, the industry has spent millions of dollars funding lobbying efforts to “challenge attempts to tackle global heating in the past four years”. The Guardian has a separate piece including lengthy responses from individual car companies to the article.
A feature produced to accompany the “polluters” series looks back at how “vested interests” have spent decades trying to fight the consensus on climate change. Even more articles from the series can be found on the Guardian website.
Coverage continues of the Extinction Rebellion protests still taking place across London. As the fourth day of action began, activists moved their attention to London City airport, with dramatic scenes as Paralympic bronze medallist James Brown climbed on top of a plane, according to the Independent. The Times notes that Scotland Yard has ordered a security review following Brown’s activity, which saw him gluing himself to the roof of the plane. Sky News reports that firefighters eventually removed the protester –who live-streamed his progress – and he was arrested.
The Guardian says that 50 people were detained at the airport, adding to more than 1,100 that have been arrested in London since the start of activity this week. Protesters attempted a “Hong Kong-style occupation of the terminal building”, according to the Metro, which also carries comments from Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick calling them “utterly irresponsible and completely unreasonable”. One protester delayed an Aer Lingus flight by more than an hour after refusing to take a seat, the Daily Mirror reports. BusinessGreen reports that the boss of recycling compliance operator Recolight had been arrested as part of the protests in London.
In Australia, a group of XR activists locked themselves to a pink boat outside the Queensland state government building, according to the Brisbane Times. Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that Oscar-winning actress Jane Fonda is planning on protesting on the Capitol steps in Washington DC for the next 14 Fridays in a bid to raise awareness about climate change.
Meanwhile, on a day in which airline emissions have been in the spotlight, BusinessGreen reports that British Airways parent company International Airlines Group has announced plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making it the first global airline to do so.
The National Audubon Society has warned that two-thirds of bird species in North America, which are already disappearing at an alarming rate, could face extinction due in part to climate change, according to Reuters. The group says this “bird emergency” would be triggered by birds being forced to relocate to new habitats, making journeys that they may not survive. CNN reports that orioles, eagles, grouse and gulls are among the 389 types of bird hat are either highly or moderately vulnerable to climate change. The New York Times takes a slightly different focus in its coverage of the news, looking at which state birds will disappear from their associated state in the coming years as a result of climate change.
The Financial Times reports that “for the first time” the National Grid has raised the prospect of gas supplies to the UK from mainland Europe being disrupted in the event of a no-deal Brexit. While stressing such a scenario is “very unlikely”, in its latest winter outlook report it models a scenario where the nation receives no gas through two key interconnector pipelines from Belgium and the Netherlands. Other coverage, such as the piece by Reuters, instead leads on the likelihood that the country will in fact be able to meet demand over the winter months, in spite of Brexit concerns.
An editorial in the Guardian addresses the “predictable complaints” about Extinction Rebellion as the movement approaches the end of another week of action in London. “It is true that XR needs to think carefully about the level, frequency and targets of the chaos it imposes on the public. But a radical social movement pursuing a strategy of civil disobedience is not trying to be some kind of government-in-waiting. The job of a movement such as XR is to be well organised, innovative and eye-catching and keep the climate crisis looming large in the imagination of the public and politicians.” The piece concludes by considering the significant climate awareness that has occurred over recent months and the role of protesters in driving this. “The frame of the debate has palpably shifted, as it must, and XR deserve much of the credit,” it says.
Meanwhile, the Evening Standard has a comment piece written by business secretary Andrea Leadsom, in which she questions the tactics employed by Extinction Rebellion. “I’m really sorry to see climate change protesters once again taking to the streets , causing untold disruption to Londoners’ lives,” she writes. “While I share the concern for action on climate change, I cannot condone their short-sighted tactics. They are protesting on the wrong streets, in the wrong city — the wrong country.” In what has become a familiar response to the protests, Leadsom references the progress that the UK has made in tackling emissions in recent years and says the earlier 2025 net-zero target demanded by Extinction Rebellion “risks destroying the economy”.
Sky News economics editor Ed Conway has written a piece addressing the immense challenge of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 – and the “nigh-on impossible” 2025 target. “Imagine trying to achieve all of the above in the space of six years: every petrol or diesel car on the road being scrapped, every boiler replaced (and it’s not altogether clear that even with all the money in the world we’d actually be able to produce enough cars or boilers in that timeframe),” he writes. Conway’s piece also quotes Carbon Brief’s deputy editor, Dr Simon Evans, with his take on the challenges posed by a 2025 versus a 2050 target.
A comment piece by Sir John Redwood, Conservative MP and chief global strategist for Charles Stanley, compares the lacklustre approach by US leaders to cutting emissions and the one taken in Europe. “Under Ursula von der Leyen, the new president-elect of European Commission, the EU regards the climate issue as its most urgent priority. It has set out the aim of getting the whole EU to net zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, while setting a tougher intermediate target for 2030 which will have an immediate impact on industry,” he writes. Redwood notes that there could be “flare points ahead over these differing agendas”, and that “the EU will go through a painful transition”. However, he notes “there will also be plenty of investment opportunities, as companies expand or spring into life to supply the wide range of new products the green revolution requires”.
Equilibrium climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling is a large source of uncertainty in projections of future climate change. Taking a “perfect-model” approach, this paper evaluates the accuracy with which ECS can be estimated from climate change in since 1860. They find that unforced variability makes the estimate of historical ECS both uncertain and biased; it is overestimated by about 10% if the energy balance is applied to the entire historical period, 20% for 30-year periods, and larger factors for interannual variability. Uncertainty in historical radiative forcing translates into an uncertainty of 30% to 45%. Real-world variations mean that historical estimates underestimate actual ECS by 30%. They conclude that energy-balance estimates ECS are most accurate from periods unaffected by volcanic forcing. The period from the 1920s to the 1950s, which was such a period, give a range of about 2.0–4.5 C.
Harvested by advanced technical systems honed over decades of research and development, wind energy has become a mainstream energy resource. However, continued innovation is needed to realise the potential of wind to serve global demand for clean energy. This review outlines three interdependent, cross-disciplinary grand challenges underpinning research on wind energy. The first is the need for a deeper understanding of the physics of atmospheric flow in the critical zone of plant operation. The second involves science and engineering of the largest dynamic, rotating machines in the world. The third encompasses optimisation and control of fleets of wind plants working synergistically within the electricity grid. Addressing these challenges could enable wind power to provide as much as half of our global electricity needs.
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