Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Joe Biden wins the White House, in pivotal moment for global climate action
- Boris Johnson to chair nuclear summit
- Revealed: Covid recovery plans threaten global climate hopes
- New South Wales's ambitious plan to become renewable superpower
- Biden has a climate mandate
- Support a science oath for the climate
- Heat stress risk and vulnerability under climate change in Durban metropolitan, South Africa – identifying urban planning priorities for adaptation
There is extensive global media coverage of Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election, which was finally confirmed on Saturday. Many outlets focus on what the president-elect’s win means for action on climate change. Climate Home News says that “Biden is heading to the White House with a promise to overturn four years of US retreat on climate action”. It adds: “It marks the end of a four-year assault on environmental protections from the White House under Donald Trump. Elected on the most ambitious climate platform ever presented by a presidential candidate, Biden promised a $2tn clean energy revolution. He will govern with Kamala Harris as vice president, who has a track record of suing oil companies as former attorney general of California. But their ability to deliver emissions cuts will be hampered by a disappointing performance for the Democrats in the senate race. Control of the upper house is expected to come down to two run-offs in Georgia in January.” The Guardian reports on new analysis by Climate Action Tracker showing that “The election of Joe Biden…could reduce global heating by about 0.1C, bringing the goals of the Paris Agreement ‘within striking distance’, if his plans are fulfilled”. Nature says that “scientists the world over are breathing a collective sigh of relief”. It adds: “The new president has the opportunity to reverse four years of anti-science policies –but he has a hard road ahead as he inherits a nation divided.” The Financial Times says that “president-elect Joe Biden will take office with a plan to adopt tough new climate targets for the US and reverse many of the environmental actions of the Trump administration in a stance that was welcomed by world leaders over the weekend”. Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is quoted by Associated Press (AP) as saying: “I think now with President Biden in the White House in Washington, we have the real prospect of American global leadership in tackling climate change.” AP describes Johnson’s remarks as “an implicit criticism of Trump”. The Independent rounds up how world leaders have reacted, many of whom have stressed the need for climate action. EurActiv says that “European Commission and senior EU lawmakers said they stood ready to intensify dialogue with the US on climate change, listing car CO2 limits and green finance among areas where ‘real transatlantic cooperation’ is again possible after the four-year ‘Trump parenthesis’.” But Vox notes that several key countries have yet to react to Biden’s victory, including China and Russia. BusinessGreen quotes various climate experts including Dr Andrew Steer, president and CEO of US environmental group the World Resources Institute (WRI), who says there is “not a minute to lose” for Biden to begin work on trying to build “an economy for the 21st century” characterised by “low-carbon solutions will simultaneously improve health, drive economic growth, and reduce dangerous emissions”. Climate Home News says “the international climate community was jubilant on Saturday” and lists a range of reactions including video of Christiana Figueres, former executive secretary of UN Climate Change, jumping in the air with joy. Bloomberg says that Biden will now take a “clear climate mandate” into the White House: “Joe Biden will take office with something no US president has had before: robust popular support for climate action, borne out in polling data and election results from a hard-fought campaign”.
The Washington Post says that Biden’s win “positions America for a 180-degree turn on climate change”, but it also cautions that “some of Biden’s most sweeping programs will encounter stiff resistance from senate Republicans and conservative attorneys general”. It adds: “In a victory speech Saturday night, Biden identified climate change as one of his top priorities as president, saying Americans must marshal the ‘forces of science’ in the ‘battle to save our planet’…Biden has vowed to eliminate carbon emissions from the electric sector by 2035 and spend $2tn on investments ranging from weatherising homes to developing a nationwide network of charging stations for electric vehicles. That massive investment plan stands a chance only if his party wins two senate runoff races in Georgia in January; otherwise, he would have to rely on a combination of executive actions and more-modest congressional deals to advance his agenda.” The New York Times lists “nine things the Biden administration could do quickly on the environment”, including: “Make climate part of coronavirus relief. The Biden administration will very likely push to include clean energy provisions in any new economic stimulus measures congress considers. That could include things like research and development funding for clean energy, money for states to continue their renewable energy expansion, and an extension of tax credits for renewable energy industries.” Politico warns that Biden’s “climate promises will crash into regulatory bureaucracy”. It says: “The promises would require a years-long process to repeal existing rules before imposing new ones with stronger emissions controls. Given that is the likeliest way to drive deep carbon emissions reductions and perennial uncertainty about whether congress will adopt legislation in this area, climate activists will have to play the long game, as nothing happens overnight on regulation.” MIT Technology Review runs through “what Biden will and won’t be able to achieve on climate change”. It says: “A Biden administration would also be likely to quickly remove the roster of climate deniers, fossil-fuel lobbyists, and oil executives that Trump placed in positions of power throughout federal agencies; end the suppression of scientific reports; and restore the federal government’s reliance on scientists and other experts to make critical decisions on climate change (and other crucial issues like the Covid-19 pandemic). But there could still be opportunities to make some longer-lasting progress on climate by passing new laws, observers say.” BuzzFeed warns that “even if the Democrats win the two remaining seats in Georgia’s runoff in January, congress is deeply divided – making it extremely unlikely he’ll be able to achieve all that he wants…there’s little chance of new, rigorous climate laws being passed under Republican senate majority leader Mitch McConnell’s watch, and the Republican senate could also drag its feet on confirming key Biden administration officials, including cabinet members and the administrator of the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency].” Bloomberg says that “Trump nemesis” Mary Nichols – “a clean air champion from California” – is on short list to run Biden’s EPA. InsideClimate News says that US climate activists are already vowing to “push the new president for aggressive action on climate and strategising for a Biden administration”, adding: “With time running out for avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, every possible action – from local green ballot initiatives to a new federal position of ‘climate czar’ to financial regulatory reforms – is on the advocacy agenda.”
Outside of the US, the implications of Biden’s win are already been discussed. The Guardian reports that in the UK “Labour is urging the government to seize on Joe Biden’s presidency to redouble Britain’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis by bringing forward a multibillion pound ‘green recovery’ plan in the run-up to next year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow”. It quotes Ed Miliband, Labour’s shadow business secretary: “You can’t overstate the impact a Biden presidency will have on the climate issue. There are so many issues on which this is going to make such a big difference. Internationally, climate is top of the list.” AFP notes that Boris Johnson is viewed with disdain by some in Joe Biden’s camp [due to disparaging comments he once made about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton]: “But Britain hopes climate action could be a trump card to salvage its ‘special relationship’ with the United States”. In Australia, there is speculation about how the Scott Morrison government will now deal with Biden’s climate plans. The Australian Financial Review says: “Scott Morrison says he will hold his ground on climate change policy in the wake of Joe Biden’s victory, while views differ within Labor over the significance it played in the US election. The prime minister came under immediate pressure on Sunday to adopt more ambitious emissions targets for 2030, as well as to commit to net-zero emissions by 2050 after Mr Biden claimed victory in the US presidential election.”
(The Biden-Harris transition team has already published its climate plan on its new website.”)
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, is to meet his chancellor and business secretary today to discuss the role of nuclear power in the UK’s net-zero target, reports BBC News. The meeting “comes ahead of a new 10-point plan” on hitting net-zero and expected next week, the broadcaster says. It adds: “The government is not expected to explicitly single out which [new nuclear] project will get the go-ahead, but officials told the BBC that [the proposed] Sizewell [C] in Suffolk is the only project ready to go if the government is to hit a target of starting construction of new nuclear within this parliament.” The article lists several other areas expected to feature in Johnson’s plan, including an earlier phaseout of petrol and diesel cars between 2030-2034, research on hydrogen and investment in carbon capture and storage. The Times also reports on the 10-point plan, under the headline: “Petrol and diesel cars face 2030 sales ban.” It says: “While other pledges, which include boosting hydrogen energy production and tree-planting, are relatively uncontroversial, the ban on combustion engine sales in less than ten years is raising concerns among some in Downing Street.” The Observer has news of the 10-point plan under the headline: “Global experts question UK’s commitment to tackle climate crisis.” It leads on a report from left-leaning thinktank IPPR that says the UK is only investing a tenth of the amount needed each year to reach net-zero by 2050. BBC News has a second article on the 10-point plan towards net-zero, exploring the need for what it describes as “action right across society and the economy – with a host of new incentives, laws, rules, bans, appliance standards, taxes and institutional innovations”. It looks at areas including the need to manage the electricity grid in new ways to accommodate large shares of wind energy. The Times has a feature on recent “electricity margin notices” issued by the GB electricity system operator National Grid, due to outages at gas and nuclear plants combined with periods of low wind. It quotes former government adviser Guy Newey saying: “There is absolutely no reason that a windier grid cannot be as reliable as our current grid has been, but it is going to be a different system.” The Daily Telegraph reports that National Grid “faces the looming prospect of a break-up as politicians and regulators reshape the energy industry to help reach its goal of net zero carbon emissions”. The company owns – and operates – the electricity transmission system across the island of Great Britain.
Separately, the Times reports that longer lorries could be allowed on UK roads “under government plans to cut overall vehicle emissions”. The Daily Telegraph reports calls for the government to scrap air passenger duty on flights for a year, to help the aviation industry, in an article that does not mention the UK’s climate goals. And the Sunday Times reports that Johnson is to make Andrew Griffith MP the government’s “net-zero business tsar”. It says the move will “woo business” amid what it calls “intense anxiety in the business community over the government’s handling of Covid-19 and Brexit”. The paper adds: “[Griffith] will focus on encouraging investment in Britain’s green energy, fintech and transport industries.”
The Guardian has published analysis showing that “the prospect of a global green recovery from the coronavirus pandemic is hanging in the balance, as countries pour money into the fossil fuel economy to stave off a devastating recession”. It adds: “Meanwhile, promises of a low-carbon boost are failing to materialise. Only a handful of major countries are pumping rescue funds into low-carbon efforts such as renewable power, electric vehicles and energy efficiency.” The Guardian says the Vivid Economics analysis shows that “the EU is a frontrunner, devoting 30% of its €750bn (£677bn) Next Generation Recovery Fund to green ends”. However, in contrast, “China is faring the worst of the major economies, with only 0.3% of its package – about £1.1bn – slated for green projects”. It concludes that “only four countries – France, Spain, the UK and Germany – and the EU have packages that will produce a net environmental benefit”. In another article, the Guardian says experts have warned that “world leaders are running out of time to forge a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, with only a year to go before a crunch UN summit that will decide the future of the global climate”. The newspaper quotes Ban Ki-moon, former UN secretary-general: “It is important to build back the economy but if we do not keep global temperature rises below 1.5C this will create a huge, huge problem.“ (Carbon Brief has a tracker of major “green recovery” measures around the world.)
The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the New South Wales government in Australia will “drive the transition to renewable energy by attracting AU$32bn of private investment in infrastructure, delivering thousands of jobs and among the cheapest and most reliable electricity in the world”. The newspaper says it is “the most ambitious energy plan in the country”. It adds: “Despite simmering tensions between the Liberals and the Nationals over previous energy policies, the Coalition is united over the plan and significantly it also has bipartisan support from Labor. The plan will create 6,300 construction jobs and 2,800 ongoing jobs, mostly in regional NSW, and deliver 12 gigawatts of renewable energy and 2 gigawatts of storage, largely pumped hydro. It will also see AU$1.5bn in lease payments go to landowners for hosting new infrastructure on their properties and put NSW in the top 10 for the lowest industrial electricity prices in the OECD.” The Guardian also covers the story, saying that “conservationists and farming groups welcomed the NSW announcement”.
Many outlets around the world have published comment about what Joe Biden’s victory could mean for action on climate change. The Boston Globe has a comment piece by Dr Leah Stokes from the University of California, Santa Barbara, who says: “With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris running the executive branch, we can ensure that government spending is greened across the board. From procurement to the postal service, investments in our clean energy future can be made. We must also remember that continuing to delay costs money – and American lives. The fires that raged up and down the West Coast and the hurricanes whose names have run into the Greek alphabet are a warning of what is to come. Climate disasters are already costing billions every year.” The veteran US climate scientist Ben Santer has written an open letter to Biden in Scientific American: “An…important challenge is to restore public trust in science and scientists. You must rebuild public trust in the scientific impartiality of the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Energy, the Centers for Disease Control and many other federal agencies with scientific remits.” Writing for Vox, David Roberts laments the likely lack of control Biden will have in the senate: “Biden’s power to effect the kind of radical change called for by the Green New Deal will be substantially curtailed. But he will not be powerless – there are expansive parts of his climate agenda that he can drive through executive power alone.” In the Los Angeles Times, Anna M Phillips says there are still important things Biden can push through including: “Make America drive like California, again. One of the most significant steps Biden could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would to be reinstate tough nationwide rules for auto emissions and mileage standards that were put in place under the Obama administration and that essentially mirrored regulations already in effect in California.” Jason Bordoff, writing for Foreign Policy, says: “Rejoining the Paris Agreement is necessary, but far from sufficient. There is much else that a Biden administration could pursue, such as promoting collaboration on clean energy trade and innovation; spearheading a multilateral agreement to curb methane emissions and finalising another to phase down hydrofluorocarbons; pursuing agreements covering carbon-intensive industries such as steel and cement; and working with allies to redouble efforts to phase out emissions from existing coal plants.” Ben Geman in Axios looks at the need for the US to update its climate pledge when it rejoins the Paris Agreement: “Given the long odds of moving a big climate bill through congress, Biden’s diplomatic leverage will depend on showing other policies will breathe life into the new pledge…Options include stimulus provisions; tariffs on carbon-intensive goods.” Gernot Wagner in Bloomberg says: “The first test will likely be any kind of economic stimulus package. That’s not a certainty with a Republican-controlled senate, which didn’t vote on a second stimulus bill before the election. But there’s at least some hope, whereas the chance of climate legislation is close to zero. That makes it particularly important for a Biden administration to use a climate lens for any measures aimed at stimulating the economy, since other spending measures will likely be limited.” David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine lists some of the hurdles facing Biden: “They are structural (the Supreme Court, the filibuster, the disproportionate power of rural states in the senate and the electoral college, though that last one can shift a bit); temperamental (the new president swearing he can persuade Republicans who didn’t cooperate on anything when he was vice president and the country was less intensely polarised than it is today); political (Mitch McConnell still in charge of the senate and Joe Manchin still a key Democratic vote); media-driven (Fox News and OANN, not to mention Facebook’s outrage algorithms); and social (a Republican electorate that is distressingly militia-like in parts, featuring both QAnon truthers and suburban moms chanting outside county clerk offices to stop the vote).”
BusinessGreen editor James Murray writes: “And just like that, a modicum of sanity was restored. The world’s most powerful office is set to be held by a dignified man who accepts climate change is the gravest long term threat faced by human civilisation and a canny politician determined to do something about it…The Biden presidency could yet founder on the rocks of Republican-intransigence and pandemic-induced disaster. But it could also mark the start of a new era when the combination of clean technologies, economic forces, and ever more terrifying climate impacts make the net zero transition the core component of winning electoral coalitions everywhere.” An editorial in the Times looks at what Biden’s win might mean for Boris Johnson: “Mr Johnson has an opportunity to deepen the transatlantic alliance by working with Mr Biden to achieve one of his top priorities. The president-elect is committed to rejoining the Paris climate accords and helping to secure a new global climate deal. As the host of next year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow, Britain has a crucial role to play in delivering that deal. But that will require Mr Johnson to provide global leadership too. A first test will come this week when he is due to give a speech outlining how Britain intends to meet its own climate targets. It is vital that this goes beyond talk of technological moonshots and sets out the hard choices that lie ahead. What is more, a global climate deal will not negotiate itself. If Mr Johnson is to make the most of his diplomatic opportunity he should waste no further time in allocating all the diplomatic resources necessary to ensure that COP26 is a triumph.” In the Guardian, Labour leader Keir Starmer says: “It is crucial that the British government seizes this moment…It means leading the global response to tackling climate breakdown, starting with next year’s COP26 climate summit.” Also in the Guardian, Australian climate scientist Bill Hare says that “the election of Joe Biden to the White House is likely to see Australia increasingly isolated as the world heads to net zero emissions, with quite fundamental implications for our economy”. And, finally, in the Daily Telegraph, Garry White argues that “you could almost hear the champagne corks popping all over Houston” because “Big Oil” is rejoicing that the “Green Revolution has been delayed” due to Biden not taking control of the senate.
In a letter published in the Guardian, Professors Chris Rapley, Sarah Bracking, Bill McGuire, Simon Lewis and Jonathan Bamber are inviting people across the scientific community to join their pledge to prevent “catastrophic climate disruption”. They write: “We are launching a new science oath for the climate. It is a pledge of scrutiny, integrity and engagement, and we invite our fellow scientists and researchers to join us…We pledge to act in whatever ways we are able, in our lives and work, to prevent catastrophic climate disruption. To translate this pledge into a force for real change, we will: explain honestly, clearly and without compromise, what scientific evidence tells us about the seriousness of the climate emergency; Not second guess what might seem politically or economically pragmatic when describing the scale and timeframe of action needed to deliver the 1.5C and 2C commitments, specified in the Paris climate agreement. And to speak out about what is not compatible with the commitments, or is likely to undermine them; To the best of our abilities, and mindful of the urgent need for systemic change, seek to align our own behaviour with the climate targets, and reduce our own personal carbon emissions to demonstrate the possibilities for change.”
New research assesses the current and projected future heat stress risk in Durban – one of South Africa’s largest cities. Using high-resolution downscaled climate change projections under the very high emissions RCP8.5 emissions scenario, the study finds that “while heat stress is not a current concern, it is projected to increase and become a future concern”. This would be “mainly as a function of social vulnerability due to household demographic and infrastructural characteristics, and will be experienced in both the rural and inner-city areas” of the wider metropolitan area, the authors say. The study also puts forward a heat risk framework to “identify locations for specific research and adaptation activities on heat stress risk and for urban planning in sub-Saharan African cities”.