Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Japan to be carbon neutral by 2050, insists prime minister
- BP leads energy companies preparing two major UK carbon capture projects
- 'Dangerous and dirty' used cars sold to Africa
- Hurricane Zeta makes landfall in Mexico
- Exclusive: GM, Ford knew about climate change 50 years ago
- China’s chance to save Antarctic sealife
- Why Amy Coney Barrett's addition to supreme court may undermine climate fight
- Equilibrium climate sensitivity above 5C plausible due to state-dependent cloud feedback
- Moist heat stress extremes in India enhanced by irrigation
- Evidence of unprecedented rise in growth synchrony from global tree ring records
There is continuing coverage of Japan’s pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. The Financial Times reports that, in his first policy speech to a new session of the Diet (parliament), new prime minister Yoshihide Suga said that “going green would be a source of growth, not a drag on the economy”. According to the FT, he said: “Here and now I declare our goal to emit zero greenhouse gases overall by 2050, or in other words to be carbon neutral by that year. Aggressive measures to tackle climate change can transform our industrial structure and economic society. We need to change our way of thinking to see [cutting carbon emissions] as a big source of growth.” The move puts pressure on neighbouring South Korea to follow suit, the FT says. The New York Times reports that Japan’s pledge comes “even as it plans to build more than a dozen new coal-burning power plants in the coming years”. Meeting the pledge would require “a major overhaul” of the country’s fossil-fuel infrastructure, the New York Times says. It adds: “Japan now joins China, the largest polluter, and the European Union in promising to bring their net carbon emissions down to zero…The two announcements from Asia’s largest economies reinforced just how much of an outlier the United States, the world’s second-largest carbon emitter, has become after President Trump moved in 2017 to pull the country out of the Paris Agreement.” Climate Home News also reports that the pledge has put a spotlight on Japan’s coal policy.
An editorial in Asahi Shimbun, a leading Japanese newspaper, says the government should now “radically recast the overarching vision for Japan’s energy future without being bound by the current plan”. An editorial in the English-language version of Yomiuri Shimbun says: “Japan is heavily reliant on thermal power, so achieving this goal will not be easy. It is important to expand renewable energy and pave the way for the restart of nuclear power plants.” The Washington Post and NPR also cover the news. (Carbon Brief has updated its in-depth climate and energy profile of Japan.)
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that Japan’s carbon neutrality pledge should serve as another warning to Australia on coal. The Guardian says: “Japan is the biggest market for Australia’s thermal coal-and-gas exports, buying more than 40% of each.” Howard Bamsey, Australia’s former special envoy on climate change, tells the Guardian: “It’s another signal to Australia that we need to get our act together and have a real strategy, not another of these roadmaps that don’t offer direction. What matters here is the economic pressure. The world is changing and we need to be part of that change.”
The Guardian reports that oil major BP has set out plans to lead a group of energy companies in developing carbon capture and storage in the UK. Under the new plans, almost half of the UK’s industrial emissions would be stored beneath the North Sea from 2026, the Guardian says. Two sites at Teesside and Humber, both on England’s east coast, will be used to capture CO2 before it is sent to be stored beneath the North Sea, the Guardian says. This project will aim to remove 17m tonnes of CO2 a year by the mid 2020s, the Guardian says. A second project led by BP at Teesside will aim to remove 10m tonnes of CO2 a year under the same timescale, it adds. (Currently, there are few commercial carbon capture schemes in operation. Carbon Brief took a look at 22 carbon capture projects in 2014.) Meanwhile, the Times reports that BP chief Bernard Looney told media that the company has faced its “toughest year in history” this year.
Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph reports that the chemicals company Ineos has suffered a £63m hit after “a ban on fracking wrecked its efforts to exploit Britain’s shale gas reserves”. According to the Daily Telegraph, in newly published accounts, the firm said: “The unsuccessful exploration and evaluation and impairment totalling £63m relates to the UK government announcing in November 2019 an effective moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.” (See Carbon Brief’s explainer on fracking in the UK.)
BBC News reports on a new UN report finding that millions of highly polluting used cars from developed countries are being “dumped” on developing nations – with more than half going to Africa. BBC News says: “As well as causing accidents, these cars make air pollution worse and contribute heavily to climate change.” The New York Times also covers the report, adding that the report finds the trade of used cars is “largely unregulated”. The New York Times says: “In recent decades, the US and Europe have gone to considerable lengths to mandate cleaner, more efficient cars at home. But at the same time, they are shipping millions of their oldest and worst-polluting vehicles to poorer countries overseas in a largely unregulated trade that now poses serious health and environmental hazards.”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg covers a second UN report finding that the African continent is warming at a faster rate than the global average, causing a vast range of impacts for people living there. Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, tells Bloomberg: “We know that climate change impacts we suffer today are consequences of development choices that countries, mainly developed, adopted over the years.” Reuters also covers the first UN State of the Climate in Africa report.
The New York Times reports that Hurricane Zeta has made landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. According to the New York Times, it is a Category 1 hurricane that is “not only extremely active, but also extremely wet”. The New York Times says: “If the forecasts hold, Zeta will continue a pattern that has been playing out this year where much of the damage from storms has come not from wind but from water. And that destructiveness is linked to climate change.” On the links to climate change, it adds: “All tropical cyclones pick up moisture as they develop and travel across the ocean. But global warming has raised average air temperatures, and warmer air holds more moisture. Studies of specific storms, including Hurricane Harvey, which brought four feet or more of rain to the Houston area in August 2017, have found them to be affected by human-induced climate change.” USA Today also covers the cyclone.
Meanwhile, many US publications report that, on Monday, wildfire risk in a single day reached an annual high for California, forcing 90,000 people to evacuate the Los Angeles area. The Washington Post says: “On Monday, in Southern California, the fire danger rapidly ramped up with grassland fires and other spot fires popping up around Los Angeles County as winds reached 70 mph and above. The Silverado Fire in Irvine in Orange County prompted the evacuation of about 90,000 as fierce winds spread flames and smoke horizontally across the landscape.” Two firefighters were killed battling the fires, the Washington Post adds. The New York Times and USA Today also cover the latest fires. (Earlier this tear, Carbon Brief published an explainer on how wildfires around the world are linked to climate change.)
An investigation by E&E News reveals that scientists at two of America’s biggest automakers – General Motors and Ford – knew as early as the 1960s that car emissions caused climate change. The companies knowledge “preceded decades of political lobbying by the two car giants that undermined global attempts to reduce emissions while stalling US efforts to make vehicles cleaner”, E&E News says. E&E News says: “Both manufacturers largely failed to act on the knowledge that their products were heating the planet. Instead of shifting their business models away from fossil fuels, the companies invested heavily in gas-guzzling trucks and SUVs.” The Hill covers E&E News’s investigation.
For the New York Times, former US secretary of state John F Kerry argues that China could “make a powerful statement about climate leadership” by throwing its weight behind plans to protect vast areas of Antarctica. At present, 24 countries and the European Union have given their backing to create “three new marine parks – where no fishing or other industrial activity would be allowed – in the Southern Ocean waters off the East Antarctic, around the Antarctic Peninsula and in the Weddell Sea’, Kerry says. He adds: “Governments within the commission are meeting to decide on new marine protected areas in the Antarctic, and progress depends on whether China decides to join 24 countries and the European Union that already support approval. The commission operates on consensus, and all members must agree to stop fishing in these designated areas for the new marine parks to become a reality.”
For the Guardian, environment reporter Emily Holden lays out why Amy Coney Barrett’s addition to supreme court, confirmed last night, may “undermine the climate fight”. She says: “Barrett, a 48-year-old devout Catholic, has said she does not hold ‘firm views’ on climate change, calling it a ‘very contentious matter of public debate’. Because her father worked in oil and gas, she has previously recused herself from cases involving Royal Dutch Shell. From deciding the legality of climate regulations for polluters to determining whether oil companies should pay for climate damages, Barrett and five other conservative justices will wield considerable influence.”
New research suggests that changes in cloud feedbacks could be a “crucial factor” in explaining estimates of equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS) that exceed 5C in models participating in the sixth Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP6). Analysing simulations of the Community Earth System Model, the researchers find that “as the climate warms, the progressive reduction of ice content in clouds relative to liquid leads to increased reflectivity and a negative feedback that restrains climate warming”. However, the authors continue, “once the clouds are predominantly liquid, this negative feedback vanishes. Thereafter, other positive cloud feedback mechanisms dominate, leading to a transition to a high-sensitivity climate state”. (For more on these topics, Carbon Brief has in-depth explainers on climate sensitivity and CMIP6, plus a recent guest post on the latest model estimates.)
Intensive irrigation in India is causing an increase in humidity, a new study says, which raises the risk of moist heat stress. Using in situ and satellite data along with model simulations, the researchers show that irrigation in India cools the land surface by 1C and the air by 0.5C. However, at the same time, irrigation increases specific and relative humidity, the authors find, which increases moist heat stress in India, Pakistan, and parts of Afghanistan – affecting about 37-46 million people in South Asia. The authors warn that heat stress projections that do not include the role of irrigation will likely “overestimate the benefits of irrigation on dry heat stress and underestimate the risks”.
The speed of tree growth across the world has become more synchronised over the past half century, a new study suggests. Using a tree ring database, the researchers show a “steady rise in the spatial synchrony of annual tree growth…over the past 50 years that is consistent across continents, species and environmental conditions and is unprecedented for the past millennium”. This change has coincided with warming trends and suggests that “increasing mutual dependency on external factors…linked to rising global temperatures is the most likely driver of more homogeneous global growth dynamics”. An accompanying News & Views article notes that “oscillations in the global upward climb in temperature brought on by human CO2 emissions appear to be synchronising important parts of the biosphere, with as yet unknown consequences”.
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