Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Japan aims for zero emissions, carbon neutral society by 2050: PM
- Biden’s debate-night stumble on oil highlights the delicate tightrope he must walk on climate change
- EU environment ministers strike deal on climate law, leave out 2030 target
- Climate change: Technology no silver bullet, experts tell PM
- Campaigners criticise global deal on carbon emissions from shipping
- Five years after the Aliso Canyon methane leak, California is still too reliant on fossil fuels
- Full article: Decarbonising the critical sectors of aviation, shipping, road freight and industry to limit warming to 1.5-2C
- The Earth has humans, so why don’t our climate models?
There is widespread coverage of the confirmation today by prime minister Yoshihide Suga that Japan is, reports Reuters, now “aiming to cut greenhouse gases to zero by 2050 and become a carbon-neutral society”. The newswire says Suga, addressing parliament for the first time since taking office last month, has “unveiled a major shift in position on climate change”. It continues: “Japan had previously said it would be carbon neutral as soon as possible in the second half of the century, rather than set an explicit date. Its target of no greenhouse gases emissions on a net basis by 2050 brings it into line with the European Union, which set a target of being carbon neutral by that same date last year…Japan is the world’s fifth-biggest emitter of CO2, and while steps are being taken to increase renewable energy, it also plans to roll out new coal-burning power stations. To achieve its goals, Suga said that new solar cells and carbon recycling would be key, and Japan would intensify research and development in those areas, along with digitalising society – a policy he has pushed since taking over from Shinzo Abe.” Associated Press says Suga is “outlining an ambitious agenda as the country struggles to balance economic and pandemic concerns”. The newswire continues: “Now out of Abe’s shadow…Suga has been pumping out consumer-friendly policies. He has earned a reputation as a cost cutter. He said he intends to make a sustainable economy a pillar of his growth strategy and ‘put maximum effort into achieving a green society’.” Kyodo News quotes Suga saying: “Response to global warming is no longer a constraint on economic growth. We need to change our mindset that proactively taking measures against global warming will bring about changes to industrial structures, as well as the economy and society, and lead to major growth.” (See Carbon Brief’s 2018 in-depth profile of Japan.)
In other east Asian news, Reuters reports that “Chinese leaders will discuss ambitious new measures to tackle climate change on Monday at a government plenum to finalise a new five-year national development plan, after Chinese president Xi Jinping pledged to make the country ‘carbon neutral’ by 2060”. It adds: “Xie Zhenhua, formerly China’s top climate official and now advisor to the environment ministry, told Reuters that while the new targets were ‘based on ample research and calculation’, everyone would now have to make adjustments. Before September, few expected China to promise more ambitious curbs on climate-warming greenhouse gases over the next five years, with policy documents signalling Beijing’s intent to make energy security and the economy its top priorities. It was also expected to go on a new coal-fired power construction spree, but government scholars have been forced to revise their old drafts.” (See Carbon Brief’s recent article about China’s influential academics developing pathways to carbon neutrality.) In the South China Morning Post, Echo Xie asks: “China sees the value of green diplomacy but can the world view it as an environmental leader?” She adds: “China’s clout in global climate talks in the past 10 years has soared as its economy and international influence grew. It now wants to project an image of ‘responsible global power’ not just to bolster its influence but also because there is a practical necessity for countries to work together and move in the same direction to resolve global problems such as climate change and the biodiversity crisis.”
Meanwhile, Reuters says that Indonesian president Joko Widodo “ordered his cabinet ministers on Friday to set a target to reduce exports of unprocessed coal and accelerate plans to develop derivative industries for processing the fuel in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy”. It adds: “Indonesia, the world’s biggest thermal coal exporter, should quickly develop a local industry to upgrade, liquefy and gasify its coal, the president said.”
There is widespread and continuing coverage – and reaction – to Joe Biden’s comments during last Thursday’s final US presidential TV debate that he wants to “transition from the oil industry”. The Washington Post says: “For months, the Democratic presidential nominee has walked a careful line with policies and rhetoric calibrated to satisfy both sides of the long-simmering divisions in the Democratic Party over climate change, fossil fuels and how to talk about them in the campaign while seeking to head off attacks from Republicans. But in the last days of the race, that balancing act has been thrust into jeopardy, creating new challenges for Democrats up and down the ballot.” It continues: “The United States is already moving away from fossil fuels, and carbon emissions must go down by 7% each year by 2030 to avoid catastrophe, but President Trump and his allies seized on Biden’s comments throughout the weekend, portraying them as evidence that he is beholden to his party’s left wing and would eliminate many blue-collar jobs. Some moderate House Democrats in competitive districts where oil is an economic engine distanced themselves from the remarks. And liberals who championed a sweeping ‘green new deal’ climate blueprint vowed to pressure Biden to go big on climate change if elected.” Politico says: “Biden’s oil slip gives Trump campaign hope in Pennsylvania [and] Texas. But Democrats in the Rust Belt state [of Pennsylvania] shrugged.” The Times says: “President Trump…seized on his rival’s pledge to ‘transition away’ from oil to try to close his poll deficit. Combined with Mr Biden’s muddled policy on fracking, which he has at times pledged to scrap but now insists he will keep, Mr Trump saw a chance to bolster support in key energy-producing states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, which were crucial to his surprise victory in 2016.” The Associated Press says: “In a late gambit to win the battleground state of Pennsylvania president
Meanwhile, the New York Times says that “some energy experts said the Trump campaign’s attacks on Mr Biden may not have the same resonance as those on Mrs. Clinton four years ago, in large part because public understanding of climate change has grown and the major oil companies of the world have, to varying degrees, pledged to reduce their emissions”. Another New York Times article says that Biden’s comments about the need for a transition “did not come as a surprise to many in the energy industry” It adds: “Oil and gas executives have been keenly aware that the world is starting to move from fossil fuels toward renewable energy, although they strongly argue that their industry will continue to provide cheap and plentiful energy for decades to come. And several of them said on Friday that while they did not like Mr Biden’s comments, they were not alarmed by them, either.” Gernot Wagner in Bloomberg says “Biden’s climate plan has united coalitions by being broad”. CNBC covers new comments by Biden made in a podcast released on Saturday in which he said that “climate change is the ‘number one issue facing humanity’ and vowed a national transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy that could create millions of new jobs”. Coral Davenport in the New York Times looks ahead at the prospect of what a Biden presidency could mean in reality: “If elected, Joe Biden and his allies are preparing to pass climate change legislation, piece by piece – knowing full well that the candidate’s $2tn plan would be a tough sell. Davenport quotes senator Thomas Carper, Democrat of Delaware, who will become chairman of the Senate environment committee if his party wins the Senate: “Mr Biden has designated Mr Carper his climate point man on Capitol Hill, and the two enjoy a decades-long friendship from Delaware politics. ‘Getting rid of the filibuster – that shouldn’t be the first thing we should lead with,’ Mr. Carper said. ‘But Republicans should have in the back of their minds that it could come to that.’” In the Guardian, Oliver Milman has a feature on how “the two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heating”. Reuters notes how Biden’s comments in the TV debate led to “US solar stocks rising”.
The i newspaper says that “some of the world’s leading climate scientists have warned the presidential election is a ‘make or break’ vote on global warming”. In Rolling Stone magazine there is letter from “more than 70 science and climate journalists [who have] challenge[d the] Supreme court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett”. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal says: “Joe Biden committed the gaffe of telling the truth about his climate policies Thursday night when he said he wants to ‘transition” the US from fossil fuels…Mr. Biden’s energy transition has nothing to do with consumer choice or technological innovation, the way society moved from the horse-and-buggy to autos or from print newspapers to the internet. He’d use government coercion.”
Reuters reports that European Union environment ministers struck a deal on Friday to make the bloc’s 2050 net-zero emissions target legally binding. However, the newswire adds that the EU ministers left a decision on a 2030 emissions-cutting target for leaders to discuss in December. It adds: “It will fix in law the EU target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and define the rules for reviewing progress towards climate targets. Ministers struck a deal on these parts of the law at a meeting in Luxembourg on Friday. None of the 27 member countries rejected the bill, although Bulgaria abstained. A decision on the most politically sensitive part of the bill – a new 2030 emissions-cutting target – was left for EU leaders to agree, unanimously, at a December meeting…The price of permits in the EU carbon market climbed by more than 5% on Friday morning in anticipation of the ministers’ deal.”
An editorial in the Guardian says that “the [European] parliament has reached an eminently sensible decision in the great battle over whether plant-based products can be labelled as burgers, sausages, escalopes and steaks”. It continues: “The parliament was addressing an attempt by the EU’s farmers to have terms such as burger and sausage banned when the contents were made of plant-based alternatives to meat. MEPs decisively rejected the move, delighting the environmental lobby, which argues that a switch away from meat is essential to make the food industry more sustainable. Green MEPs were dining out on veggie burgers on Friday evening, but this was not just a victory for environmentalism. It was really a triumph for logic.”
Meanwhile, in other EU news, the Financial Times has a feature on how “generous subsidies for electric vehicles help Europe’s laggards reach the finish line”. A related comment piece in the Financial Times by Alexander Landia, director of Lambert Energy Advisory, begins: “By 2030, the EU expects 35m electric vehicles to be on the road, but that transition is not a done deal – especially if potential owners think the cost will be too high.”
BBC News reports on how various experts have accused UK prime minister Boris Johnson of “techno-optimism bias”, because he “does not mention other key factors in reducing emissions”. Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s energy and environment analyst, says: “Can we trust the silver bullet of technology to fix climate change? The prime minister seems to think so. In a speech due soon, he is expected to pledge his faith in offshore wind power, solar, carbon capture, hydrogen, clean cars, and zero-emission aviation…In fact, experts say, tackling climate change will need action right across society and the economy – with a host of new incentives, laws, rules, bans, appliance standards, taxes and institutional innovations. They also warn that citizens’ behaviour must shift, with people probably driving and flying less, and eating less meat and dairy produce. In other words, when it comes to cutting carbon emissions, there’s no silver bullet – it’s more like silver buckshot. But Boris Johnson still seems to have a bandolero stuffed with technologies resembling silver bullets.”
Meanwhile, Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News’s chief correspondent, reports on the “consultancy firm who advise fossil fuel industry hired to consult on UN’s COP26”. The report starts: “It will be the biggest international summit the UK has ever hosted. COP26 – the UN’s 26th climate change conference – is due to be held in Glasgow next year. But senior civil servants involved in organising the event have told Channel 4 News that they are concerned about a possible conflict of interest at its heart. This programme can reveal that one of the world’s leading management consultancy firms, which regularly advises the fossil fuel industry, is being employed as a consultant by the government department planning the summit.”
The Guardian reports on criticism of the decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body that regulates international shipping, to make an existing carbon target legally binding. After meeting for a week online, the IMO decided on Friday to recommend formalising its target to reduce the carbon intensity of shipping by 40% compared with 2008 levels over the next 10 years. The Guardian says: “The conclusions, reached by ministers from around the world, despite calls from the UK, Ireland, New Zealand and others for more stringent curbs on emissions, will go forward to the IMO’s marine environment protection committee for acceptance next month. Campaigners said the deal would allow CO2 emissions from shipping to continue to rise in the next decade.” (See Carbon Brief’s 2018 explainer on the shipping industry’s moves to reduce its emissions.)
An editorial in the Los Angeles Times comments on how, five years on from when a broken well in the Aliso Canyon underground natural gas storage field caused the largest leak of methane in US history, “continuing to rely on fossil fuels conflicts with California’s climate goals and the state’s desperate need to slow global warming, which is worsening fire seasons, droughts and other impacts”. It adds: “California has already committed to decarbonising its energy system in the coming decades. Why continue to construct homes and offices that rely on natural gas? It will cost residents far more in the future to retrofit homes for all-electric systems…None of these are easy changes, practically or politically, but they are essential for cleaner, healthier communities and the planet. The Aliso Canyon leak was a wake-up call about the dangers of fossil fuels. In the five years since, as the climate has become hotter and droughts, fires and flooding more intense, it’s become even more apparent that California has to move much faster to change the way we create and consume energy.”
Limiting global warming to 1.5C or 2C above pre-industrial levels will require steep cuts in the carbon intensity of shipping, aviation and road freight, new research finds. In addition to reducing carbon intensity, the industry will also need to reduce demand, the research says. This would involve people taking fewer flights and a reduction in international transport of goods. The authors say: “Based on our sectoral analysis framework, we suggest modelling improvements and policy recommendations, calling on the relevant UN agencies to start tracking mitigation progress through monitoring key elements of the framework (CO2 intensity, energy efficiency, and demand for sectoral activity, as well as the underlying drivers), as a matter of urgency.”
In Climatic Change, researchers argue for the inclusion of human behaviour in climate models. The development of “social-climate models” could help scientists gain a deeper understanding of future climate change, they say. “We describe the importance of linking social factors with climate processes and identify four priorities essential to advancing the development of coupled social-climate models,” the authors say.
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