Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Industrial Revolution means UK has moral responsibility to lead on climate change, Michael Gove says
- Global carbon emissions from energy flatlined in 2019
- HS2 will never be carbon neutral in 120-year lifespan
- Deforested parts of Amazon 'emitting more CO2 than they absorb'
- Resources minister Keith Pitt calls for more coal, gas and uranium exports
- Trump’s re-election would be dangerous for the world
- The Heartland lobby
- Increasing occurrence of heat waves in the terrestrial Arctic
- Stable climate metrics for emissions of short and long-lived species – combining steps and pulses
Michael Gove, the senior government minister widely tipped as a potential replacement COP26 president, has given a speech on climate change in which he said the UK had a “moral responsibility” to lead on cutting emissions due to its role in sparking the industrial revolution, the Daily Telegraph reports. The paper adds that despite speculation: “Mr Gove, who came in last minute to replace sacked COP26 president Claire Perry O’Neil, refused to confirm whether he would take on the role.” BusinessGreen notes that the post of COP26 president is expected to be assigned in this week’s “imminent cabinet reshuffle”, thought to be due on Thursday. The Times reports Gove’s speech under the headline: “Michael Gove says he’s not the best person to lead the UN climate summit.” In his speech, at an event held in London by thinktank Green Alliance, Gove also “implicitly criticised the US and Brazilian presidents for their scepticism about the climate emergency”, the Guardian reports, with Politico saying he “call[ed] out Trump”. According to the Press Association, Gove “acknowledged that the government needs to do more to show leadership on global warming, as the UK prepares to host” COP26. The newswire adds that Gove “said there would be further [UK government climate policy] initiatives through the year on areas such as energy generation, construction, house-building and energy intensive industries”. It also says he used his speech to “la[y] out the government’s ambitions for the talks” including, it says, “greater climate action by countries, a recognition of the loss and damage suffered by poorer nations as a result of warming temperatures, the need for climate funding and the role of nature-based solutions”.
Ahead of the COP26 summit in November, the UK diplomatic service has already done a “huge amount” to start preparations, the country’s top climate diplomat has said, according to Climate Home News. The website quotes Nick Bridge, the UK foreign secretary’s special representative for climate change, saying at the same Green Alliance event: “Every ambassador and high commissioner is out there working out what that drum beat of action is and a lot of it is already happening.” It quotes him adding that the whole of the UK’s diplomatic service had been “instructed to have [climate change] as their top international priority this year”.
A second story from the Press Association reports on a speech at the same London event by Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, saying the Scottish government would work “closely and constructively” with Westminster to deliver a successful COP26 outcome in Glasgow. According to the newswire, Sturgeon said the November meeting was even more important than the 2015 Paris summit, due to the urgency of climate action. It quotes her saying: “We must come out of the COP with a global agreement that is not just about the targets we’re seeking to meet, but detailed plans and actions the world is committed to that at an absolute minimum will meet the obligations of the Paris treaty.” According to the Guardian, Sturgeon used her speech to say that activists should play a leading role in the COP26 talks. It quotes her saying: “We really should be thinking how we can have [civil society] much more embedded in the negotiations and discussions and affect the outcome.” The paper also quotes Gove saying he hoped the talks would be “the most transparent ever” and promising to livestream as much of the talks as possible. [Plenary meetings and side events at the COP are already routinely live-streamed, but a senior former negotiator expressed scepticism about the idea that formal negotiations might also be broadcast.] BBC News also reports on the speeches by Gove and Sturgeon in London, saying Scotland’s first minister “insisted that the Glasgow COP26 climate summit will not cause ‘squabbles’ between the Scottish and UK governments”. It adds that Gove told the event that the two governments were working together “very well”. Bloomberg also covers the event.
Finally, the Financial Times reports that UK government officials have opened talks with the ExCel conference centre in London to discuss “moving the COP26 climate change summit from Glasgow, amid claims over spiralling costs and chaotic preparations”. It quotes “government officials” describing the talks as a “fallback option”, with one official saying: “It’s normal for an event of this magnitude to have contingency measures…We are pretty committed to Scotland.”
There is continuing coverage of data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which according to Press Association suggests global carbon emissions from energy “flatlined” in 2019 for the first time since 2016. The newswire explains: “More renewables such as wind and solar, a switch from coal to natural gas and higher nuclear power generation all helped keep emissions from growing despite global economic growth of 2.9%, the IEA said.” Reuters, MailOnline, Bloomberg, Axios, BusinessGreen and the Hill all have the story, which was first reported yesterday by the Financial Times.
There is widespread coverage of the green light, given yesterday, to the “HS2” high-speed rail link connecting London and cities to the north including Birmingham and Manchester. According to the Times: “Environment groups have condemned the decision to build HS2 as the the company behind the scheme admitted it would never become carbon neutral over its 120-year projected lifetime.” The paper adds that calculations on the impact of potentially shifting traffic from road and plane to rail are not yet ready. Press Association also reports the concerns of green groups. BusinessGreen reports on the findings of a review into the scheme, which it quotes saying: “On balance, taking into account both the construction and operation of HS2, it appears that HS2 is likely to be close to carbon neutral, though it is not clear whether overall HS2 is positive or negative for greenhouse gas emissions.” Meanwhile, HuffPost poses the question: “Has Boris Johnson just used HS2 to kill Heathrow airport expansion?”
Parts of the Amazon rainforest have become a net source of CO2, BBC Newsnight reports, citing a study that has not yet been published. It explains: “Results from a decade-long study of greenhouse gases over the Amazon basin appear to show around 20% of the total area has become a net source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” It adds that the results suggest the rainforest “may be turning into a carbon source faster than previously thought” and quotes one of the study’s co-authors saying “it could be showing the beginnings of a major tipping point”. Carbon Brief this week has published an in-depth explainer on climate tipping points, including Amazon rainforest dieback.
New Australian resources minister Keith Pitt says his country will need to raise its fossil-fuel exports to pay for essential services and lift living standards, according to an “exclusive” interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. The paper adds: “Mr Pitt vowed to use his new job to make Australia an even bigger energy exporter.” The interview continues: “In contrast with colleagues who played down the threat from climate change, Mr Pitt said he accepted the science and the contribution of human factors toward the trend. It quotes him saying: “Clearly the climate’s changing – you only have to look at the fact we’ve had droughts and floods, but it’s a matter of what we do about it…The climate has always changed and we are doing our part as we should, and I think we just need to be careful that we don’t get to the point where it becomes a religion for individuals.” The Guardian also reports on Pitt’s views, saying he called for the “expansion of Australia’s controversial coal seam gas industry” and “more exploration of carbon capture and storage”, while opposing higher taxes on the gas industry.
Several publications, including the Sydney Morning Herald, the Guardian and Bloomberg report on new research suggesting emissions from Australian industry are, according to the Herald, “increasing rapidly, led by gas production, placing the sector ‘in conflict’ with long-term commitments by the country to decarbonise the economy”. With industrial greenhouse gases up 60% since 2005 overall and set to overtake the power sector, the paper continues that emissions from the oil and gas sector had risen by 621% over the same period. The Guardian’s coverage says the increase “put[s] the country on a path that, if it continues, will lead to it missing the target set at the Paris climate conference”. The Washington Post reports separately that Australia “leads the world in liquified natural gas production”.
The Australian, meanwhile, reports on what might be required for Australia to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which it says is under consideration as a target for the country. It says: “The Morrison government is due to deliver a long-term emissions reduction strategy ahead of the 2020 UN climate change conference in November. It is considering a net-zero by 2050 emissions reduction target.” An editorial in the Australian Financial Review reflects on the “explicit endorsement” of a net-zero emissions by 2050 target by the Business Council of Australia, which it says “could mark the start of a new era in Australia’s climate and energy policy”. The editorial says such a target would be “especially challenging given that both major parties continue to reject an explicit price on carbon that, among other things, could promote technology such as a carbon capture and storage”. It adds: “The current climate war flare-up is the legacy of the failure of the political system to find an Australian settlement on this global issue. That failure has compounded the costs of Australia’s transition.” Reuters reports that the deadly bushfires “have opened up a small window of opportunity for the country to break a decade-long impasse on climate policy, as some politicians and big business push for major change”. The Washington Post reports that “plans [from Indian firm Adani] to tap a massive coal reserve collide with concerns about climate”. It says the bushfire crisis has “forced many here to confront the global impact of the Australian coal industry and along with it, the future of a national economy built in large part on briquettes”. Finally, the Guardian reports that the “fossil fuel industry has doubled its donations to the major [Australian political] parties in the past four years”.
Writing in the Financial Times, columnist Martin Wolf explores the global implications if US president Donald Trump is re-elected in November. He writes: “Perhaps the most important issue (if one leaves aside avoiding nuclear war) is management of the global commons – above all, the atmosphere and oceans. Crucial concerns are climate and biodiversity. Little time is left to act against threats to both. A renewed Trump administration, hostile to these causes and the very concept of global co-operation, would make needed action impossible. Often, this administration does not seem even to recognise public goods as a category of challenges worthy of concern. We are living through a hinge moment in history. The world needs exceptionally wise and co-operative global leadership. We are not getting it. It may be folly to expect it. But Mr Trump’s re-election could well mark a decisive failure. Pay attention: the year 2020 matters.” In the Times, Alice Thomson writes under the headline: “Greta’s young disciples should act, not panic.” Discussing the phenomenon of “eco-anxiety” she says: “Followers of the climate activist are increasingly anxious about the future so let’s give them some positive steps to take.” For iNews, Mark Wallace, former campaign director of free-market thinktank the Taxpayers’ Alliance, writes under a headline that begins: “Taxpayers deserve to know the cost of reaching net zero.”
A joint investigation by Correctiv and Frontal21 in Germany, now translated into English for the first time, reports that “the American Heartland Institute is supporting climate change deniers in Germany with the goal of undermining climate protection measures”. It says: “We went undercover to meet with the institute’s chief strategist. He told us how the network of climate change deniers works, how donations are disguised and how they intend to use a German YouTuber affiliated with the AfD to reach young people.”
New research shows that there has been an “increase of heatwave occurrences over the terrestrial Arctic”. Using a “structured approach for evaluating occurrences of periods with exceptionally high temperatures”, the study finds that this “increase is mainly over the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and Greenland that are surrounded by ocean undergoing a sea-ice melting trend, while the Eurasian Arctic shows no significant change in heatwave occurrence”. The study concludes: “Since 2002 the probability of experiencing heatwaves in the Arctic has been similar or even higher than in the middle and low latitudes and heatwaves have already started to increasingly threaten local vegetation, ecology, human health and economy.”
A new study contributes to an ongoing debate around the metrics used for placing emissions from different greenhouse gases on a CO2-equivalent scale. While “endpoint metrics (such as global temperature change potential GTP) are the most closely related to temperature limits set by policymakers, the authors say, “for short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs), endpoint metrics vary strongly with time horizon making them difficult to apply in practical situations”. The researchers “show how combining endpoint metrics for a step change in SLCF emissions with a pulse emission of CO2 leads to an endpoint metric that only varies slowly over time horizons of interest”. They also show how these “combined step-pulse metrics” build on “recent work using the traditional global warming potential (GWP) metric in a new way, called GWP*” – with the latter “systematically underestimat[ing] the temperature effects of SLCFs by up to 20%”. Carbon Brief published a guest post on GWP* in 2018.
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