Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'It’s just not going to happen': Boris Johnson accused of making impossible pledge for climate crisis summit
- Climate refugees can't be returned home, says landmark UN human rights ruling
- Children and teen's climate change lawsuit dismissed by US court
- EU could waste €29bn on gas projects despite climate action plan
- Davos chief welcomes Donald Trump, Greta Thunberg as climate change alarm tops agenda
- The energy transition will not come cheaply
- Seven ways Scott Morrison can evolve his climate policy without a political brawl
- The Guardian view on ‘flight shaming’: face it – life must change
- The 2018 Kerala floods: a climate change perspective
- Who are the climate migrants and where do they go? Evidence from rural India
The Independent reports in an “exclusive” that UK prime minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for “making absurd claims about the crucial climate change summit the UK will host this year, after apparently misunderstanding what it can achieve”. The publication says: “Green campaigners have reacted with bemusement and alarm after the prime minister pledged to pile pressure on ‘the whole world’ to agree ‘enforceable limits’ on carbon emissions. They say there is no realistic prospect of setting legally-binding CO2 cuts in Glasgow in November, where leaders will instead be urged to beef-up existing voluntary reductions…Greenpeace accused the prime minister of ‘nothing but hot air’, while Friends of the Earth criticised ‘vague pledges without any substance’. Separately, an editorial in the Independent argues that “the chancellor and his colleagues will face the world when they host the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow in November – it won’t do for them to be seen as reluctant to make necessary sacrifices for the planet”. The editorial says that government must have a “climate budget” this year. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that Johnson will say today that UK foreign aid for coal mines and power plants is to end to help combat climate change: “The ban – which will slash aid for fossil fuels by tens of millions a year – will be announced at a UK-Africa investment summit in London attended by 21 African countries.” iNews also has the story, adding: “The move comes after persistent claims Britain is “outsourcing” climate emissions by reducing its own levels of CO2 while importing goods from abroad which produce high emissions in other countries.“ The Sunday Times notes, however, that the UK bought “more than 600,000 tons of Australian coal” last year: “The revelation is awkward for UK ministers, who are to host United Nations climate talks in Glasgow in December with cuts in coal use topping the agenda.” Meanwhile, the Scotsman reports that hotels in Glasgow have pushed up prices 500% ahead of COP26. Writing on the Columbia University Sabin Center for Climate Change Law blog, key Paris Agreement architect Sue Biniaz argues that “2020 provides an important opportunity to imagine the features of an ideal COP”.
In other UK-related news, the Mail on Sunday says it can “reveal” that the “first of a new generation of revolutionary mini nuclear power stations is to be built in the North of England and North Wales by a consortium led by Rolls-Royce”. It adds: “A number of existing licensed nuclear sites have already been informally discussed within Whitehall. The sites under consideration include Moorside in Cumbria and Wylfa in North Wales, where plans for future large-scale reactor projects have recently been shelved.” The Financial Times has a news feature about how Scotland is considering a future without oil and gas. BBC News reports that “all new homes [from 2025] in Wales will only be heated and powered by clean energy under new Welsh Government plans”. Another BBC News story says that Rolls-Royce is developing new engines near Bristol to make “flying greener”. The Sunday Times reports that new “rules designed to favour electric cars, even enormous SUVs, mean fuel-efficient smaller petrol cars might disappear, according to Europe’s largest car manufacturer”. The Sunday Times has a companion piece in its Money pages. And the Sunday Telegraph returns to its favourite topic of restraint payments for wind farms.
The Guardian reports on a “landmark ruling” by the United Nations human rights committee which says that is unlawful for governments to return people to countries where their lives might be threatened by climate change. The newspaper adds: “The judgment – which is the first of its kind – represents a legal ‘tipping point’ and a moment that ‘opens the doorway’ to future protection claims for people whose lives and wellbeing have been threatened due to global heating, experts say. Tens of millions of people are expected to be displaced by global heating in the next decade. The judgment relates to the case of Ioane Teitiota, a man from the Pacific nation of Kiribati, which is considered one of the countries most threatened by rising sea levels. He applied for protection in New Zealand in 2013, claiming his and his family’s lives were at risk.” The New Zealand courts rejected his claim and the UN human rights committee upheld the decision. But the Guardian notes that “experts say the committee’s ruling opens the way for other claims based on the threat to life posed by the climate crisis. The committee ruled that ‘the effects of climate change in receiving states may expose individuals to a violation of their rights…thereby triggering the non-refoulement obligations of sending states’.”
A federal appeals court in the US has thrown out the landmark climate change lawsuit brought on behalf of young people against the federal government, reports the New York Times. The newspaper adds: “While the young plaintiffs “have made a compelling case that action is needed,” wrote judge Andrew D Hurwitz in a 32-page opinion, climate change is not an issue for the courts. ‘Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs’ impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government.’ The two members in the majority of the three-judge panel thus agreed with the Trump administration that the issues brought up in the case, Juliana v United States did not belong before the courts. The appeals court decision reverses an earlier ruling by a district court judge, Ann Aiken, that would have let the case go forward. Instead, the appeals court gave instructions to the lower court to dismiss the case.”
A new report says that the European Investment Bank (EIB) risks wasting €29bn (£25bn) of EU taxpayers’ money by over-investing in gas projects which will be unnecessary under Europe’s climate action plans, reports the Guardian. It adds: “The EIB vowed late last year to end its support for fossil fuels within the next two years to become the world’s first ‘climate bank’, but 32 gas projects are still eligible for funding before the crackdown. The majority of these projects would waste billions of euros of taxpayers’ money, according to Artelys, an independent data science company, because they would be left as ‘stranded assets’ in the move towards cleaner energy. The report warns that gas investments will be unnecessary in the decades ahead because Europe already has enough infrastructure – such as pipelines and processing plants – to meet the continent’s future demand.”
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “seaborne coal trade around the world grew 0.7% last year, helped by higher output in China and Indonesia and more export activity by Indonesia, Australia, Russia and Canada”. The data comes from Germany’s coal importers lobby group Verein der Kohlenimporteure (VDKI). Reuters adds: “World demand growth was mainly led by India, where the start-up of new power plants pushed imports over by 5.3% to 235m tonnes, delivered largely from Australia, Indonesia and China, VDKI said.”
Several publications preview the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) summit taking place this week in Davos, Switzerland. The Associated Press (AP) reports on WEF founder Klaus Schwab saying that “it’s ‘reassuring’ that US president Donald Trump and climate activist Greta Thunberg will both return…this year, noting that concerns about the environment will be a key topic”. AP adds: “Schwab says Trump is welcome because of his role on the world stage while Thunberg will keep the focus on the environment. Both will speak Tuesday on the opening day. ‘I think both voices are necessary,’ Schwab said Sunday in an interview with the AP. ‘The environment will play a particularly important role during this meeting.’” In the Independent, Ben Chapman asks whether Davos’s claim that the summit will be carbon neutral “stack up” with “hundreds of private jets carrying some of the planet’s most powerful people to the Alpine resort”. In the Guardian, economics editor Larry Elliott imagines what Trump should say at Davos – “but won’t”: “the US recognises the existential threat posed by global heating. It accepts that multilateral cooperation is needed if the problem is to be tackled before it it is too late. As a businessman, he is aware that no company could hope to survive if it depleted its own capital in the way that humans are consuming natural resources. To that end, the White House is working on an ambitious plan for the climate change summit due to be held in Glasgow at the end of this year.”
Meanwhile, HuffPost notes how Trump has offered a “definitively low-tech – and maddening – ‘solution’ to rising sea levels amid global warming: ‘Get your mops and buckets ready!’” It adds: “He came up with the snide, unhelpful suggestion in a tweet as he criticised ongoing discussions about the possibility of constructing a sea wall to protect New York City, where low-lying areas have already experienced increased flooding from the encroaching ocean.”
An editorial in the Financial Times argues that “how to manage the transition to a low-carbon future is central to today’s energy policy debate”. It says: “From Germany to China, governments are struggling to reconcile their industrial demands with their environmental ambitions. Events of the past 18 months, including a marked shift in public awareness of the climate emergency, have underlined the need for action. For all the setting of emission reduction targets, policymakers are only just beginning to talk about the costs of the energy transition, and the fact that it will lead to losers as well as winners…To support its European Green Deal, Brussels this week said it would try to orchestrate €1tn of public and private investment over 10 years. It sounds like an impressive sum. It has been assembled at speed, showing a welcome new urgency. On closer inspection though, much of it covers rebadged EU funds…Policymakers across the industrialised world need to get serious about the transition to a low-carbon economy. Experts may have worked out the costs of this shift, but it is now time for political leaders to engage with their citizens about the choices ahead and how they can be helped to adapt. It is not just the EU’s credibility that is on the line.”
In the Washington Post, columnist Robert J Samuelson says that Blackrock’s Larry Fink has “done us a favour” with his letter to investors last week calling for climate action: “On climate change, he’s reminded us that little can be done until – and unless – there is a political settlement that encourages a shift away from fossil fuels. The necessary groundwork involves public persuasion. If that fails or simply isn’t tried, because it’s too controversial, then all the rest is sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Elsewhere in the Washington Post, veteran Republican politician George P Shultz and Climate Leadership Council chair Ted Halstead write jointly that the “newfound Republican climate position can be summarised as follows: the climate problem is real, the Green New Deal is bad and the GOP needs a proactive climate solution of its own. Our big question is what form it should take…The winning Republican climate answer is…carbon pricing. Just as a market-based solution is the Republican policy of choice on most issues, so should it be on climate change.”
Many outlets have continued to publishing reaction to the ongoing bushfires in Australia. In the Guardian, John Connor sets out seven ways that the government could “integrate strengthened efforts on climate, community and environmental repair in the wake of recent horrific fires”. They include: “Get cracking on the pre-election commitment to develop a 2050 long-term emissions reduction strategy by the end of 2020”; “Use the promised 2020 review of the government’s safeguard mechanism to change its role towards driving emissions reductions, rather than just limiting emission increases”; and “Improve the operation of the government’s emissions reduction fund”. Elsewhere in the Guardian, four of the paper’s journalists explaining why it has been “heartbreaking” covering the story. The Guardian also carries comment by former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW Greg Mullins on why adapting to climate change is not enough and Greg Jericho on why “behind the smokescreen, the Coalition’s stance on climate change hasn’t changed at all”. In the Times, right-wing Australian commentator Tim Blair promotes the idea that lack of land management is to blame for the fires and blames “eco-fundamentalism” without mentioning climate change once.
There is continuing comment is response to last week’s story about ailing regional airline FlyBe being helped by the UK government. An editorial in the Guardian looks at that the Swedish trend of “flight-shame”, whereby people choose to fly less: “Individuals altering their habits, even in large numbers, will not avert disaster. In a sense the opposite is true: collective action by whole countries, led by governments, to push entire economies into a clean era is the answer. But ‘flight shame’, along with movements to restrict other carbon-intensive forms of consumption, is still a force for good. The point is not to show that you are better than other people, or to displace anxiety from the public realm into the private one. It is to show the world’s leaders, in business and politics, that we get it: life must change.”
Meanwhile, the climate sceptic Dominic Lawson uses the week’s talk of lowering taxation for aviation to write in the Sunday Times that “voters care about the environment but always revolt against carbon taxes. Right-wing columnist Douglas Murray argues in the Mail on Sunday that children are being scared by a “world pumped full of one-sided propaganda” about climate change. And in his new column in Saturday’s Daily Mail, John Humphrys mockingly refers to how he is now stopping flying because “I want to save the world from climate change”. But then adds that it’s actually because “air travel has stopped being fun”.
The 2018 floods in Kerala, India would have been “18% heavier” without climate change, a new study finds. This is because climate change has led to the recent weakening of monsoon low-pressure systems in the region, the researchers say. However, if global emissions continue to rise very rapidly, flood rainfall would become “36% heavier”, the authors say. This is because very high future climate change would cause a moistening of the tropical “troposphere” – the lowest level of Earth’s atmosphere where most weather forms.
Adverse climate conditions drive rural to urban migration in India, but rarely fuels international migration, a new study says. Instead, it is positive climate conditions that can drive international climate migration, according to the analysis. The study estimates that approximately 8% of all rural-urban moves in India between 2005 and 2012 could be attributed to weather. “Further, our results indicate that in contrast to other migrants, climate migrants are likely to be from the lower end of the skill distribution and from households strongly dependent on agricultural production,” the authors say.
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