Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Joe Biden invites 40 world leaders to virtual summit on climate crisis
- UK to scrap flagship green homes voucher policy
- UK is phasing out coal faster than any other G20 nation, analysis shows
- Saudi Arabia unveils campaign to tackle climate change
- EU experts to decide nuclear power qualifies for green investment label – document
- Elon Musk: What impressed me the most about China's five-year plan is the commitment to a low-carbon economy
- Pay for Biden’s $3tn infrastructure plan with a carbon tax
- Can we trust CMIP5/6 future projections of European winter precipitation?
- Hot dry days increase perceived experience with global warming
The White House has confirmed that US president Joe Biden has invited 40 world leaders to an online summit on climate change in late April, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP). The newswire adds: “Heads of state, including Xi Jinping of China and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have been asked to attend the two-day meeting meant to mark Washington’s return to the front lines of the fight against human-caused climate change, after Donald Trump disengaged from the process. ‘They know they’re invited,’ Biden said of Xi and Putin. ‘But I haven’t spoken to either one of them yet.’ The start of the summit on 22 April coincides with Earth Day, and will come ahead of a major UN meeting on the crisis, scheduled for November in Glasgow, Scotland.” The Financial Times says the White House said the summit would aim to “catalyse efforts” to “limit planetary warming” to 1.5C. But it says the White House added that it would also “highlight examples of how enhanced climate ambition will create good paying jobs, advance innovative technologies, and help vulnerable countries adapt to climate impacts”. The newspaper adds: “The other invitees to the White House include European leaders, from Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, to Emmanuel Macron, the French president, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, and Mario Draghi, Italy’s prime minister. Biden has also invited King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Jair Bolsonaro, the president of Brazil, and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president.” The Guardian says “Joe Biden is doubling down on his reset of his predecessor’s environmental policies by inviting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and Xi Jinping of China to the first big climate talks of his administration next month aimed at increasing cooperation to fight global heating…But it is not yet clear how Russia and China, both on the list of invitees, will respond or if they are willing to cooperate with any US-led climate initiative.”
There is widespread coverage across the UK media of the government’s decision to, as the Financial Times reports, scrap a “flagship £1.5bn environmental initiative launched only last year to upgrade England’s homes with better insulation and low carbon heating, following problems with its administration”. The FT adds: “The UK business department said on Saturday that the Green Homes Grant voucher scheme, which was launched by chancellor Rishi Sunak last year as part of efforts to support more ‘green jobs’, would close to new applications at the end of the month, a year earlier than expected. The policy was also designed to tackle Britain’s inefficient, leaky homes, which account for around a fifth of total CO2 emissions.” The Daily Telegraph says the scheme was “dogged by delays as would-be applicants struggled to get quotes for work from busy builders”. The Guardian says the scheme had been the “centrepiece of Boris Johnson’s promise to ‘build back greener’ from the Covid-19 pandemic”. The newspaper adds: “Green campaigners said the scrapping of the programme – the only major green stimulus policy yet announced by the government and originally expected to create tens of thousands of green jobs – came as a serious blow as the government prepares to host vital UN climate talks, called COP26, this November.” The Times says critics blamed “incompetent” administration by the government. The Daily Mirror notes that “new applications for the green homes grant will shut at 5pm this coming Wednesday, 31 March – just four days after a government announcement…Greenpeace has branded the handling of the grant ‘shambolic’.” The Sun says: “Applications for the vouchers are confusing and time consuming, and you need to get quotes for work before you can start. That means homeowners need to get cracking as soon as possible if they want to make Wednesday’s deadline.”
Roger Harrabin, BBC News environment and energy analyst, writes: “It seems clear there is frustration in Whitehall at the American consultants brought in to manage the scheme for able-to-pay families. The parallel insulation scheme administered by local authorities is running much more smoothly but ministers still need to create a new programme to nudge able-to-pay home owners into improving their insulation for the UK to hit its climate change targets. There is no sign yet what that new programme might look like, or when it might happen.” BusinessGreen quotes Labour’s shadow climate change minister Matthew Pennycook, who says the government’s “staggering ineptitude when it comes to decarbonising the country’s housing stock speaks for itself”. The i newspaper reports that the announcement as “sparked fury among builders, who warned the move has ‘destroyed’ confidence in the retrofitting industry”. Another i newspaper report quotes green campaigners warning that the government is “going in the wrong direction” on climate change.
New analysis published by energy thinktank Ember shows that the UK is weaning its electricity grid off coal power at the fastest pace of any country in the G20, reports the i newspaper. The news outlet continues: “Since 2015 coal use in the UK has collapsed by 93%, well ahead of any other G20 nation. Coal now accounts for just 1.7% of all electricity generated in the UK, with government targets to end its use completely by the end of 2024…But the UK still relies on natural gas for 37% of its electricity, significantly above the global average of 23%.” (Reuters covers the same report, but leads on the angle that China generated 53% of the world’s total coal-fired power in 2020, nine percentage points more that five years earlier, despite climate pledges and the building of hundreds of renewable energy plants”.)
In other UK news, the Guardian carries the comments of Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow energy secretary, who says the UK must tell the truth about the “terrifying and exacting” scale of the climate challenge. The newspaper adds: “‘A cosy consensus’ between politicians, policymakers and some NGOs, focusing on long-term net-zero targets rather than short-term action, could prove disastrous, he said. Instead, Boris Johnson’s government must focus on persuading countries to implement immediate far-reaching reductions in emissions and throw everything at making the conference in Glasgow in November a success, including enlisting the help of former prime ministers like Theresa May and Gordon Brown.”
Meanwhile, ITV News reports that a “public inquiry into controversial plans for a deep coal mine near Whitehaven will begin on 7 September, it has been confirmed”. The Times carries the news that the Queen is to host a summit for “green investors” at Windsor Castle: “The prime minister [Boris Johnson] is preparing to invite more than 200 of the world’s most significant investors and business executives to a two-day event there. They will be treated to a British charm offensive led by senior members of the royal family as they are encouraged to open their chequebooks to boost UK green technology before COP26…Ministers hope that the meeting will act as a catalyst to bring in billions of pounds of investment to help the UK meet its 2050 net-zero target on emissions as well as producing green technologies for export.” The Daily Telegraph reports on how a “British company which has developed pioneering electric car motors that do not rely on expensive rare magnets is preparing to raise £250m as it seeks to expand”. It adds: “Spun out of Newcastle University in 2017, Advanced Electric Machines (AEM) is seeking £30m over the next few months to boost UK production capacity…AEM claims to have cracked a problem with ‘switched reluctance motors’, a technology first identified in the 1800s. These can operate without permanent magnets, which are likely to become increasingly rare as the world’s vehicles electrify.” The Observer carries a news features about how “Britain’s ‘brutal’ cuts to overseas aid put African science projects in peril”. It focuses on how “lifesaving research on fighting drought and climate change [is being put] at risk after snap decision to halt crucial funding”. Finally, the Times reports on polling for the BBC Scotland shows that “Scots are being put off making green changes, such as switching to an electric vehicle or installing sustainable heating, by the high costs involved”.
Saudi Arabia has “unveiled a sweeping campaign to tackle climate change and reduce carbon emissions, including a plan to plant billions of trees in the coming decades”, reports AFP. The newswire adds: “The OPEC [Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] kingpin seems an unlikely champion of clean energy, but the ‘Saudi Green Initiative’ aims to reduce emissions by generating half of its energy from renewables by 2030, de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said. Saudi Arabia also plans to plant 10bn trees in the kingdom in the coming decades, he said in a statement released by the official SPA news agency.”
Separately, Nikkei reports that the Japanese government is “considering ending support for the exportation of coal-fired power plants to follow the lead of the US and Europe on decarbonisation”. It adds: “This marks a change in strategy for Tokyo, which had positioned power plants as the pillar of its effort to boost infrastructure exports. Prime minister Yoshihide Suga is set to discuss cooperation on decarbonisation in his first meeting with US president Joe Biden early next month. They plan to announce their initiative in the US-led climate change summit to be held 22 April, according to Japanese government sources.”
In Australia, the Guardian reports that new research shows “renewable energy and batteries can secure Australia’s electricity grid as effectively as coal and gas”. It adds: “The research, commissioned by the Australia Institute thinktank, found clean technologies provided the fast frequency response service and voltage control needed to secure the energy grid and reduce cost. But the report says regulatory barriers currently limit the ability of renewable energy and batteries to provide system security.”
Reuters says it has reviewed a document showing that “experts tasked with assessing whether the European Union should label nuclear power as a green investment will say that the fuel qualifies as sustainable”. The newswire continues: “The European Commission is attempting to finish its sustainable finance taxonomy, which will decide which economic activities can be labelled as a sustainable investment in the EU, based on whether they meet strict environmental criteria. Brussels’ expert advisors last year split over whether nuclear power deserved a green label, recognising that while it produces very low planet-warming CO2 emissions, more analysis was needed on the environmental impact of radioactive waste disposal. The Commission asked the Joint Research Centre (JRC), its scientific expert arm, to report on the issue. A draft of the JRC report, seen by Reuters and due to be published next week, said nuclear deserves a green label.” Meanwhile, EurActiv covers remarks made last week by EU climate chief Frans Timmermans in which he said that fossil gas will have “only a marginal role” by 2050.
Separately, the Independent reports on new research which concludes that the “impact of heatwaves and droughts on crop production in Europe has approximately tripled in the past 50 years”.
In an interview with China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Tesla founder Elon Musk says he is “impressed” with China’s 14th five-year plan due to its “commitment to a low-carbon economy and, ultimately, to a renewable energy economy”. Musk calls China’s climate goals “aggressive” and “great”, adding: “I wish more countries actually had these goals.” (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A about the plan’s implications for climate change.)
Meanwhile, China Energy News reports that China’s State Council has instructed the nation to “vigorously” develop “new” energy and accelerate the national trading markets for carbon emissions, the state-affiliated outlet says. The website also reports that five official departments, including the People’s Bank of China, have released a formal notice directing all financial organisations to give more support to enterprises focused on renewable energy. According to state news agency Xinhua, the People’s Bank of China will set up “support tools” to assist the reduction of carbon emissions. Finally, a report from China Environmental News, carried by China Economic Daily, highlights the urgency of curbing emissions from motor vehicles to help China fulfil its climate pledges.
An editorial in the Washington Post welcomes the news that the “American Petroleum Institute, accepting the reality of climate change and the need to do something about it, has officially called for government to set a price on carbon emissions”. It continues: “We can’t help but wonder how much better off the planet might be if the API had come to this position sooner. What seems most important now, however, is the fact that, given similar previous statements from the Business Roundtable and US Chamber of Commerce, the API’s new stance creates a broad private-sector front. Though the API and the other business groups aren’t using the precise words ‘carbon tax’, the language of their proposals makes clear that it would be acceptable…[The shift] is especially opportune in light of Mr Biden’s next big legislative priority: a major package, priced at up to $3 trillion over a decade, to rebuild and revamp US infrastructure, with a view toward making the economy less carbon-intensive. New revenue is appropriate for this purpose because, unlike the freshly passed covid-relief plan, this program is a long-term measure, not an emergency plan, which should be paid for to the greatest feasible extent. ” An editorial in the Financial Times also looks at Biden’s “build back better” plans and says they herald “America’s coming showdown over taxes”. It adds: “The economic case for Biden’s ‘build back better’ plan is convincing. The state of America’s infrastructure is mediocre and deteriorating. The case for supercharging America’s shift to green technology and energy efficiency is overwhelming…Biden should seek common ground with Republicans. Should they refuse, as expected, to consider higher taxes, he must bypass the 60-vote filibuster threshold and push it through the budget reconciliation process by majority vote.”
Separately, the New York Times carries an interview with NASA’s Dr Gavin Schmidt who, as “a leading climate scientist, will fill a newly created job of climate adviser to NASA, in a prominent example of Biden’s pledge to focus on climate policy”. He tells reporter John Schwartz: “Climate change changes what you need to worry about.”
In other commentary, the Washington Post carries an editorial on why global warming may be “endangering” the global aquatic “conveyor belt” system that “snakes around the oceans, taking heat from some places and redistributing it elsewhere”. Politico has a feature on the “the ‘green energy’ that might be ruining the planet”. It asks: “The biomass industry is warming up the [US] South’s economy, but many experts worry it’s doing the same to the climate. Will the Biden administration embrace it, or cut it loose?” Finally, BBC News has published a feature previewing a new Radio 4 series by Justin Rowlatt and Laurence Knight on “the real reason humans are the dominant species”. They write: “Just as two centuries ago we reached the limits of what agriculture could do, now global warming is imposing a limit on what coal, oil and gas can safely do. It has created the greatest challenge human society has ever faced – moving back to relying on the daily influx of energy from the sun to meet the huge energy needs of eight billion people and counting.”
New research shows that IPCC climate projections “could be underestimating the precipitation increase over Europe in winter and, consequently, the related potential risks”. IPCC models project a “likely” increase in winter precipitation over Europe under a high emission scenario, according to the paper. However, it notes that these projections are typically based on 100km resolution models that can “misrepresent important processes driving precipitation”,such as extratropical cyclones and ocean eddies. In this paper, the authors show that a 50km model projects a “substantially larger” increase in winter precipitation over northwestern Europe by mid-century than lower-resolution models.
An individual’s perception that they have experienced climate change “significantly increases” with greater exposure to hot, dry days, according to new research. The authors compare people’s experiences of climate with corresponding trends of seven climate indicators over 2008-15 using a national survey dataset of more than 13,600 Americans. Certain climate trends cause a country-level change in perceived experience of climate change, the study finds. It adds that exposure to hot dry days has a “modest influence on perceived experience” that is “independent of the political and socio-demographic factors that dominate US climate opinions today”. However, the study does not find “robust evidence” that other changes in rainfall and temperature have a similar effect.
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