Today's climate and energy headlines:
- India baulks at carbon neutral target as pressure grows
- Biden’s infrastructure and climate plan emerges as congressional wrangling begins
- UK: Trade secretary Liz Truss calls for businesses selling green goods to have global trade tariffs cut
- Under fire over aid cuts, UK hosts summit to help vulnerable nations fund climate action
- Pressure grows to accelerate £250m green fund for UK steel industry
- Hope has risen again for a Sino-US cooperation to tackle climate change
- Elite minority of frequent flyers 'cause most of aviation's climate damage'
- COP26 will end in failure without a finance deal
- Climate crisis: keeping hope of 1.5C limit alive is vital to spurring global action
- Greta Thunberg: ‘It just spiralled out of control’
- Effects of extreme temperature on China's tea production
In an “exclusive” story, Reuters reports that despite growing “diplomatic pressure” on India, the nation is “unlikely to bind itself to a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050”. The newswire cites two unnamed “government sources” making the argument that India would be unable to reach net-zero without limiting its rising energy demand, which it says is set to grow by more than any other nation over the next two decades. Reuters continues: “India will instead stick to the Paris pledge to reduce its carbon footprint by 33-35% from its 2005 levels by 2030 and is aiming to outperform those goals, the source said.” [India’s target is, in fact, a 33-35% reduction in emissions intensity by 2030, rather than a reduction in overall emissions.] The piece notes that officials in India have been debating a net-zero target and “whether it was realistic and in line with the country’s development needs”. It adds that there is “growing international pressure” on India ahead of an Earth Day summit being hosted by US president Joe Biden on 22 April, after US climate envoy John Kerry “told an Indian conference last month that striving towards carbon neutrality by mid-century was a critical commitment” and COP26 president Alok Sharma met prime minister Narendra Modi “to push for greater commitments”. A Wall Street Journal “exclusive” says Kerry will travel to India and the United Arab Emirates “in the coming days to increase the Biden administration’s pursuit of deeper international commitments to address climate change, according to people familiar with the matter”.
Another Reuters piece reports that the South African government has released a draft of its updated Paris climate pledge for public comment, with the text “significantly reducing the upper limit target for harmful carbon emissions seen over the next decade”. The draft would pledge to limit emissions in 2030 to no more than 440m tonnes of CO2 equivalent (MtCO2e), some 28% lower than the 610MtCO2e cap in South Africa’s 2015 Paris pledge, the article adds. [See Carbon Brief’s profile of South Africa.] For the Independent, economics editor Ben Chu has an analysis piece arguing that “Saudi Arabia’s pledge to cut carbon can lead other nations towards major COP26 commitments”. He adds: “That a nation that is, in the eyes of many, synonymous with fossil fuels has begun embracing the climate agenda is testament to the consensus that has taken hold over the need to decarbonise the global economy.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports the comments of International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol saying: “We are not on track for a green recovery, just the opposite. We have seen global emissions higher in December 2020 than in December 2019. As long as countries do not put the right energy policies in place, the economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. We will make the job of reaching net-zero harder.” The piece adds: “The IEA is holding a meeting of governments on Wednesday to sketch out net-zero plans. The UK, host of the COP26 UN climate talks later this year, will urge countries that have not yet adopted net zero targets – including India, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia and Saudi Arabia – to take on such commitments, and ask all countries to come up with targets for emissions reductions in the next 10 years that will pave the way to the long-term goal.”
In other COP26 news, the Guardian reports that the “destruction of [the] world’s forests increased sharply in 2020”, with 12% more lost than a year earlier. It quotes one of the authors of the research saying: “Forests need to be on the agenda for COP26.” Bloomberg, BusinessGreen and the New York Times also cover the forest figures, which come from the World Resources Institute.
The White House is due to unveil a $2.25tn jobs and infrastructure package today, reports the Washington Post, including “billions of dollars to bolster the nation’s electric grid”. It adds: “The plan will also include approximately $400bn in clean-energy credits on top of the $2.25tn in new spending.” But the paper also reports some commentators saying the plan was “inadequate” relative to the what would be needed to address climate change. The New York Times reports: “Mr Biden will lay out his infrastructure plan in an afternoon speech in Pittsburgh. It is the first step in a two-part agenda to overhaul American capitalism, fight climate change and attempt to improve the productivity of the economy.” The paper adds: “The spending in the first phase of Mr Biden’s plan includes a wide range of investments in physical infrastructure, including highways, mass transit and electric vehicle charging systems and upgrades to water pipes, the electric grid and veterans’ hospitals. It also includes a big increase in federal research and development spending.” Another Washington Post article says: “Phasing out the internal-combustion engine is critical to president Biden’s vow to retool the American economy for a low-carbon future…Environmentalists say Biden must set an aggressive deadline – as early as 2035 – for when all new vehicles must be carbon-free. But car manufacturers are demanding generous federal incentives to speed the transition to electric engines. And union leaders are warning that the switch is virtually certain to cost their members jobs.” In the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer uses his “weekly planet” column to look at “Biden’s new playbook for greening the financial system.”
An “exclusive” in the Sun reports that UK trade secretary Liz Truss will use the upcoming meeting of G7 trade ministers to “float the possibility of hitting polluting firms with ‘carbon border taxes’”. The piece quotes a “government source” saying: “Liz wants practical trade-led solutions to the climate crisis, so will be looking closely at issues like carbon border leakage and incentives for companies to make their international operations greener and more sustainable. She’s going to lead the global charge to make trade much greener.”
In a comment for the Financial Times, columnist Martin Sandbu argues in favour of EU plans for “carbon-related import tariffs”, despite a warning from US climate envoy John Kerry to only use such mechanisms as a “last resort”. He writes: “Europe’s answer should be that for the climate, the last resort is where we are at, and invite [Joe] Biden and Kerry to join rather than resist the initiative.” Sandbu adds: “Beyond the technicalities, the EU must embrace a CBAM [carbon border adjustment mechanism] as a geopolitical tool. The main function of a CBAM is to serve as an incentive for other countries to introduce their own carbon pricing, so that the mechanism does not apply between them. The more countries in such a ‘carbon club’, the greater the cost of standing outside it.”
Climate Home News previews a summit being hosted by the UK today on climate and development. It reports: “The one-day virtual ministerial aims to maintain trust between the world’s poorest and richest nations and identify concrete actions around four key themes: adaptation, access to finance, quantity and quality of finance and debt relief for sustainable development.” The website also reports criticism of the UK government decision to cut international aid in response to the coronavirus pandemic. BBC News reports that China will not attend today’s summit, despite an invitation, adding that the meeting “appears to be the latest victim of an ongoing [diplomatic] row”. It explains: “Relations between the UK and China have deteriorated in recent weeks after angry exchanges about human rights.” Meanwhile, the Guardian covers on the impact of UK international aid cuts, reporting: “Hundreds of research projects tackling issues from the Covid pandemic to antimicrobial resistance and the climate crisis are already being axed after the country’s main science funder, UK Research and Innovation, told universities its budget for official development assistance (ODA) grants had been cut from £245m to £125m.”
Ministers in the UK are “under pressure to speed up a £250m support package for the steel industry that is not set to be used until 2023”, the Financial Times reports. It adds that the “clean steel fund” was launched in 2019, but is not due to be spent until 2023. The piece quotes business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng saying that the steel industry “has a future” if it shifts towards low-carbon output but also quotes opposition business secretary Ed Miliband saying: “The government has no real plan for steel.”
In other UK news, the Guardian has an “exclusive” report saying that a group of “prominent scientists and lawyers” have written a letter arguing, says the paper, that “the UK government’s decision to ignore the Paris climate agreement when deciding on major infrastructure projects undermines its presidency of UN climate talks this year”. The letter to the UK government and supreme court says, according to the Guardian: “The highest court in the UK has set a precedent that major national projects can proceed even where they are inconsistent with maintaining the temperature limit on which our collective survival depends.”
Elsewhere, an “exclusive” for the Daily Mirror reports that the practice of burning moorland peat habitats to encourage grouse for shooting is, says its headline, “an environmental disaster like ‘cutting down rainforest’”. An accompanying editorial in the Daily Mirror says: “Scorched peatlands deserve protection from infernos.”
Professor Zou Ji, chief executive officer and president of Energy Foundation China, says that hope has risen again for climate cooperation between China and the US, in an interview with state-run China Net. Zou expresses hope for the two nations to “devote themselves to resolving climate issues” together, but acknowledges the challenges to do so under “bad political relations”, the outlet reports, adding that he says he is happy to see that the two countries’ governments, especially their special climate envoys, have made contact. (Read Zou’s comments on the climate targets in China’s 14th five-year plan in Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A about the pivotal document.)
Separately, oil firm Sinopec Group’s former chairman, Fu Chengyu, expects China to become “the international carbon-trading centre in the future”, according to an interview with Environment and Life Magazine. It quotes him saying: “The future global carbon trading will, for sure, be centred around China.” Meanwhile, Shanghai Securities News reports that Zhang Yuzhuo, the current chairman of Sinopec Group, says his firm aims to become carbon neutral in 2050 – 10 years earlier than the national timeline.
Elsewhere, China is consulting on its revised edition of the draft Interim Regulations on the Management of Carbon Emissions Trading, various Chinese media outlets report. The proposed policy, released by the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE), stipulates that the trading market should use “free allocation” initially and introduce “paid allocation” at a suitable time, according to state-affiliated financial news outlet yicai.com. Internationa
Meanwhile, Li Gao, director-general of MEE’s Department of Climate Change, announced at a Chinese climate forum last week that China will step up its control over the emission of methane in the 14th five-year plan period, according to state-affiliated National Business Daily. Finally, South China Morning Post reports: “China’s energy regulator hopes bank loans will help make up for a massive backlog of subsidies owed to renewable energy companies as it tries to plug holes in a funding scheme.”
Several UK outlets cover a report by charity Possible, which finds, says the Guardian, that: “An ‘elite minority’ of frequent flyers cause most of the climate damage resulting from aviation’s emissions…The report, which collates data from the countries with the highest aviation emissions, shows a worldwide pattern of a small group taking a large proportion of flights, while many people do not fly at all.” It adds: “Possible, the group that produced the new report, is calling for the introduction of a frequent flyer levy, whereby the first flight in a year incurs little or no tax and it therefore does not penalise annual family holidays. But the levy then ramps up for each additional flight.” The Independent and BBC News also carry the story.
Writing for the Times Red Box, Imran Khan, prime minister of Pakistan, writes that “our climate change expenditure is already hovering menacingly at about 6% of the annual federal budget, a figure poised to rise further as impacts begin to bite”. He continues: “Moreover, like all developing countries’ economies, we have been further stressed by the human and economic catastrophe of Covid-19. In this backdrop, the Glasgow COP26 summit is critical…We expect this to be a moment for the world’s major economies to come forward and galvanize supportive finance.” Khan concludes: “Unless there is a debt relief programme for the global south and enhanced global climate finance leveraging clean investments in these regions, the default fossil fuel powered pathways will remain unchanged and the invaluable opportunity of a clean energy transition will wither away…I want to travel to COP26 in Glasgow with hope and optimism, showcasing Pakistan’s positive climate actions. However, what is clear to me is that without a strong climate finance deal on the table, there may not be any agreement at COP26 — an outcome we can all ill afford.”
A piece in the Conversation by Richard Black, an honorary research fellow at the Grantham Institute and former director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, and sociologist Dr Catherine Happer of the University of Glasgow, considers the prospect of reaching the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C ambition. “Science is already clear that the 1.5C target can be met. But science cannot say whether it will be met,” they write. While short-term emissions targets set so far by world governments do not go far enough to get the planet on course for 1.5C, they note that the goal has been central to the messaging of everyone from youth climate strikers to UN secretary general António Guterres. “So to claim that 1.5C is out of reach would be to undercut all of those initiatives and many others – to tell them all, from minister to investor to youth activist, that they are doomed to fail.” Instead, they emphasise the importance of “consensus and empowerment” in messaging around climate change and the 1.5C goal. “From climate change to vaccination, a consensus message from scientists increases public faith and willingness to act. We’re seeing how mixed messaging damages trust right now with the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.”
The Financial Times Magazine carries an interview with Greta Thunberg, asking: “Three years after bursting on to the global stage, what’s next for the most famous climate activist of her generation?” The piece notes that compared with two years ago: “She is much more confident and relaxed, and gives long and complicated answers when it comes to her favourite topics, such as the pitfalls of net-zero targets.” Politico reports Thunberg’s comments that EU farm policy is not doing enough to tackle climate change. And BBC News reports a row over a statue of Thunberg at the University of Winchester in England.
Climate change could reduce the negative impact of cold weather extremes on China’s tea production by 14% – especially in the northern tea growing regions – new research shows. Tea (Camellia sinensis) is the world’s second most consumed beverage, but cold extremes currently reduce China’s annual production by up to 56%, the study notes. It finds that regions above 28 degrees North – which produce around 48% of national tea yield – will experience potential yield increases mostly due to a decrease in cold stress under a warming climate. However, the study also finds that damaging heat extremes will increase in other regions: “In extreme cases up between 14% and 26% of heat-induced yield loss at the Yangtze River regions is anticipated.”
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.