Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Joe Biden vows to rejoin the Paris climate deal on first day of office if elected
- Putin orders Russian government to try to meet Paris climate goals
- World cannot meet toughest climate targets without eating less meat, study says
- Dozens dead as Eta wreaks waterlogged havoc on Central America
- Bentley to stop making petrol cars by 2030 and go fully electric
- Iberdrola pledges €75bn to capitalise on energy transition
- Biden victory is a mixed blessing for Britain
- Ecological insights from three decades of animal movement tracking across a changing Arctic
- Past climates inform our future
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has confirmed his intent to have the US rejoin the Paris Agreement if he wins the White House, reports CBS News. The Trump administration officially dropped out of the accord on Wednesday, the outlet explains. In response, Biden tweeted: “Today, the Trump administration officially left the Paris Climate Agreement. And in exactly 77 days, a Biden administration will rejoin it.” Biden had previously criticised Trump’s decision to withdraw, but had not set an explicit date for an American return under his leadership, says the Associated Press. Pete Betts, the former lead climate negotiator for the UK and EU, tells the Independent that the US rejoining the agreement would send “a very significant signal” to the rest of world. Betts said: “Clearly there will be a boost to momentum on tackling climate change over the next year in particular, but also the next four years…First of all, you’ve got the world’s biggest economy and second biggest emitter, who were previously out of the game, needing to put forward an ambitious [climate plan]…The second thing is we’ll have the diplomatic weight adding major heft to raise ambition from other countries.” According to Al Jazeera, Andrew Light – a climate adviser to former President Barack Obama – said a notification to rejoin the Paris Agreement would be “the easy part”. He added that the US would still be “outside the conversation” when the UK and the UN host a climate summit on 12 December, the fifth anniversary of the COP21 conference in Paris that resulted in the agreement. The i newspaper also has the story, while Climate Home News has “five ways climate issues played out in the US election”.
Russian president Vladimir Putin has signed a decree ordering the country’s government to try to meet the 2015 Paris Agreement to fight climate change, reports Reuters, but “stressed that any action must be balanced with the need to ensure strong economic development”. The newswire continues: “Russia, the world’s fourth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has previously signalled its acceptance of the accord even as environmentalists have criticised Moscow for shunning compulsory emissions targets for companies backed with fines. In a decree published on Wednesday, a public holiday in Russia, Putin formally ordered the government to work towards a cut in greenhouse gas emissions of up to 70% against 1990 levels by 2030.” This would also mean harnessing the capability of forests and other ecosystems to absorb such gases, Putin said. The decree came with a “big caveat”, notes Reuters: “[Putin] said any action to cut emissions must take account of the need to ensure steady and balanced socioeconomic development, and ordered the government to draw up and ratify a socioeconomic strategy up to 2050 that factored in lower emissions.”
A new study warns that the world cannot meet its most ambitious climate targets without reducing its reliance on meat, the Independent reports. The findings show that, even if fossil fuel emissions were immediately halted, some degree of dietary change will be necessary to keep global warming to below 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, the paper explains. The study’s lead author tells the Independent that “without changing food systems, we’ll likely miss the 1.5C target in 30 to 45 years and the 2C target within 100, even if we immediately stop all other sources of emissions”. He adds: “No single change is adequate. If we are serious about meeting the 1.5C target, we’re at the point that we need to do everything possible.” Farming and food account for about a third of global greenhouse gas production at present, the Guardian notes, adding that “the world’s food systems produced about 16bn tonnes a year of CO2 from 2012 to 2017”. The Associated Press adds that the world needs to “change how we grow, eat and throw away our food, but we don’t need to all go vegan”. The study was published in the journal Science, which notes in a comment entitled “thought for food” that “major changes in how food is produced are needed if we want to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”. The New York Times and New Scientist also cover the study, while one of the co-authors has written a piece for the Conversation. As part of a recent week-long “food and climate” series, Carbon Brief recently published an in-depth interactive article on the climate impact of eating meat and dairy.
The remnants of Hurricane Eta “unleashed torrential rains and catastrophic flooding on Central America”, reports Reuters, with more than 70 deaths reported across the region. The deaths were “mostly because of mudslides as streets turned into rivers and bridges came tumbling down”, the newswire says. It continues: “One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 150 miles per hour before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighbouring Honduras.” Overall, eight fatalities were confirmed in Honduras, the newswire says, “as more than 5,000 people were holed up in shelters while 63 communities were cut off from communications, according to the government. Officials said 20 bridges there had been destroyed”. The Guardian reports that “footage posted on social media showed canoes navigating through the flooded streets of the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, where scores of people perched on roofs, pleading to be rescued”. The paper adds that “in southern Costa Rica, a landslide onto a house killed two residents”. Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei said yesterday that at least 50 people have died as a result of the storm, reports a second Reuters piece, while a third says “dozens of people are possibly buried in their homes in central Guatemala”. Giammattei said a month’s worth of rain had fallen in less than half a day, reports BBC News. Central America remains on high alert, reports the Associated Press, as “forecasters said the now-tropical depression was expected to regather and head toward Cuba and possibly the Gulf of Mexico by early next week”. Yale Climate Connections adds that “there is plenty of warm water on hand for Eta, with sea surface temperatures of 29C (84F) running 0.5-1.0C above average for this time of year and oceanic heat content very supportive of strengthening”. But the outlet notes that conditions “do not favour anything like a repeat of Eta’s breakneck intensification to category 4 strength before it reached Nicaragua”.
Luxury carmaker Bentley will stop making fossil fuel cars by 2030 and aims to be completely carbon neutral at the same time, reports the Guardian, which describes the move as “one of the most ambitious plans of any UK car manufacturer in the transition towards electric vehicles”. The company will stop building cars with traditional internal combustion engines within six years, the paper explains, and will instead make hybrids and then its first battery electric cars in 2025. It adds: “By 2030 it will sell only pure battery electric vehicles, with zero-carbon exhaust emissions.” Bentley’s chief executive Adrian Hallmark tells the paper that Bentley was going through “a paradigm shift throughout our business”. As part of the “Beyond100” strategy, the company will launch two plug-in hybrids next year, adds Reuters. The Times notes that “Bentley, like its Anglo-German rival Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, has previously resisted the move to building electric vehicles, saying that there was no demand from its rich and super-rich customers”. BBC News, Autocar and Auto Express also have the story.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Volvo Trucks – the main truck brand of Swedish manufacturer Volvo – will sell a complete range of electric, heavy-duty trucks in Europe starting in 2021. And the Financial Times business columnist John Gapper explains why “the days of the fossil-fuel Ferrari are numbered”.
In other oil-related news, Reuters reports that Malaysian state-owned energy giant Petronas says it aims to become a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050 and also plans to increase its investments in renewable energy. The company “provided few details about whether the new net-zero target will cover all emissions through its value chain, including from the use of its products, nor how the new goal would impact its investment plans”, says BusinessGreen. However, Petronas insisted that it would “continue to intensify its efforts toward reducing Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas emissions from its assets by delivering continuous improvements in operational excellence, and by deploying innovative operations and technologies”, the outlet adds.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the clean-up of a huge oil spill in August off the coast of Mauritius is expected to be completed by January, the New York Times reports that the Norwegian Supreme Court will hear a challenge by environmental groups to invalidate licenses for new oil exploration in the Arctic on constitutional grounds, and Reuters also reports that Saudi Arabia’s state oil producer Aramco has lowered its December selling price for crude oil to Asia. Finally, Reuters market analyst John Kemp writes in his regular column on how the path for oil prices will depend heavily on Covid-related controls on air travel.
Iberdrola, the world’s third-biggest utility company, has promised to invest €75bn (£67.7bn) over the next five years to double its renewable energy capacity, reports the Financial Times. The paper continues: “The commitment by the Spanish group enlarges its previous plans to invest around €10bn in 2020 and succeeding years. Iberdrola and other companies, including Denmark’s Orsted and Italy’s Enel, are emerging as the ‘new energy majors’ that are aiming to boost and benefit from the shift towards cleaner energy.” Iberdrola will focus its investments on solar and offshore wind, says Bloomberg: “It wants solar capacity to quadruple within the next decade, making up almost two-thirds of its additional installed capacity. Offshore wind is expected to grow seven-fold, while onshore wind is set to triple. The goal is to reach 60 gigawatts of renewable capacity by 2025, up from 32 gigawatts last year.” Iberdrola CEO Ignacio Galan said: “The only way to supply all the world’s energy requirement and reach emission reduction targets is a very significant increase in the share of electricity as a percentage of total energy…Iberdrola has been getting ready for this opportunity over the last two decades,“ the outlet adds. Iberdrola owns Scottish Power in the UK, notes the Times, where the company “plans to spend £10bn by 2025. That includes more than £3.7bn on developing 2.1 gigawatts of renewable capacity or enough to power over 1.5m homes”. Reuters And BusinessGreen also have the story.
Writing in the Times, James Forsyth – political editor of the Spectator – writes that “perhaps Britain’s biggest win from a Biden presidency will be greater co-operation over climate change”. He says: “This is a growing interest of the Johnson government, ahead of the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow next year. The prime minister is, in the words of one Downing Street, ‘obsessed’ with it, regarding it as the perfect coming out party for post-Brexit Britain. One minister involved in the preparations for it says ‘climate change will be the single biggest change in their foreign policy and how they engage with the world’.” Forsyth adds that for the US to rejoin the Paris Agreement “under British auspices this year, would be a significant diplomatic achievement”. He continues: “Given that the Trump administration even objected to the use of the word ‘sustainable’ in summit communiques, Glasgow would have had next to no chance of a result with Trump in the White House. But, this minister predicts, it ‘is now much more likely to be a success’.” However, cautions Forsyth, a Republican-controlled Senate could “limit what Biden can sign up to in Glasgow”.
In other comment around the US election, the Financial Times “Energy Source” column looks at what a Biden win would mean for energy. It says: “The short answer: at worst, congressional logjam hindering all the big imperatives around climate change. At best, incremental, not radical change; bipartisan climate policy; an all-of-the-above energy strategy; and a more significant role for federal institutions.” The authors note that “without a Senate majority and without the sweeping popular endorsement across the country, the radical clean-energy programme some Democrats hoped to see from a Biden administration is no longer on the cards”. They continue: “Progressive Democrats will seek to direct energy policy, but a green new deal of the kind espoused by Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (which would have struggled even with a slight Democratic advantage in the Senate) is now politically impossible – it simply wouldn’t get through Congress.” Biden’s $2tn climate plan “is also probably dead on arrival” the authors say, adding: “Bipartisan Joe will be the order of the day. Progressives in his own party will hate this. But energy legislation will see Mr Biden mustering the cross-aisle skills he’s known for.”
In the Daily Telegraph, business columnist Garry White writes that the “US election has handed a significant reprieve to Big Oil, as Republican control of the Senate is likely to insert a hefty spanner in Joe Biden’s plans for a radical ‘green’ revolution”. He continues: “It seems unlikely that the Democrats will win a clean sweep – the presidency, the House and the Senate. If this had happened, as many predicted, nothing would have been able to stand in the way of Biden’s radical US energy revolution, where an American government would actually turn its back on the oil industry.” However, Axios says that the oil industry doesn’t have reason “to completely freak out” about a potential Biden win because, although Biden plans to end new oil drilling permits on federal lands and waters, “a large majority of US output is on private lands”.
New research presents the “Arctic Animal Movement Archive” (AAMA) dataset, a “growing collection of more than 200 standardised terrestrial and marine animal tracking studies from 1991 to the present”. The aim of the public archive is to bring together “animal tracking data from the Arctic and subarctic” to offer a window into the Arctic as it enters a “new ecological state”, the authors say. Using the data, the paper documents “climatic influences on the migration phenology of eagles, geographic differences in the adaptive response of caribou reproductive phenology to climate change, and species-specific changes in terrestrial mammal movement rates in response to increasing temperature”.
A new review paper summarises the “fundamental role” that palaeoclimate data plays in making climate change projections. Past climates “provide the only opportunity to observe how the Earth system responds to high carbon dioxide”, the authors say, and the paper discusses “the prospects for emerging methodologies to further insights gained from past climates”. The authors conclude: “Advances in proxy methods and interpretations pave the way for the use of past climates for model evaluation – a practice that we argue should be widely adopted.”