Today's climate and energy headlines:
- John Kerry: First-ever US climate envoy warns Paris Agreement 'is not enough'
- Energy industry calls for UK to adopt carbon trading after Brexit
- Australia: NSW passes landmark energy bill after more than 30 hours of debate
- Tesla’s market value soars to $500bn ahead of S&P 500 debut
- The Times view on Donald Trump handing over power: Biden time
- Aid budget cuts will worsen the climate crisis
- The Morrison government has abrogated responsibility for the climate crisis to the states
- A hot topic in hot times: how media coverage of climate change is affected by temperature abnormalities
- Global hotspots for the occurrence of compound events
Following news of president-elect Joe Biden’s cabinet picks the previous day, yesterday saw the newly appointed and first-ever US climate envoy John Kerry being confirmed into the role, reports Sky News. Its coverage of Kerry’s speech upon taking the role quotes him outlining the challenge that face the world ahead of the COP26 climate summit next year. According to Sky News, Kerry said Biden is “right to recognise that Paris alone is not enough…At the global meeting in Glasgow one year from now, all nations must raise ambition together or we will all fail together. Failure is not an option”. The news website reports that Kerry, who originally signed the Paris Agreement as US secretary of state, cited past national successes, such as the moon landing and the second world war, and said “this kind of crisis demands that kind of leadership again”. At the event in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden was introducing his foreign policy and national security team, the president-elect said his picks reflect “the fact that America is back, ready to lead the world”, Reuters reports. The article notes “US foreign policy under a Biden administration is likely to take more of a multilateral and diplomatic approach…pursuing new paths on issues, such as climate change”.
AFP quotes Biden telling attendees: “I don’t for a minute underestimate the difficulties of meeting my bold commitments to fighting climate change.” In its coverage, the Financial Times reports that Kerry’s diplomatic background and seat on the National Security Council “signals that the US will work to convince other countries to improve their climate targets”, but notes it may face an “uphill battle to restore US credibility” after the Trump administration.
The Guardian has a video showing Biden announcing Kerry and the rest of his team, in which he emphasises his commitment to tackling climate change. InsideClimate News has a story about how Kerry helped secure “one of the most important and little-known international climate agreements in history”, namely the Kigali Amendment for phasing out hydroflourocarbons. It says the newly appointed climate envoy will likely take “swift action” to work with other countries on reducing emissions from other sectors of the global economy. The piece highlights the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Maritime Organization as two UN agencies that would benefit from US intervention to encourage climate action.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the American Petroleum Institute, an oil industry body, will use “every tool at its disposal”, including legal action, if Biden tries to restrict development of oil and gas drilling on federal lands. In Biden’s election climate manifesto he pledged to ban new oil and gas permitting “on federal lands and waters”. The Guardian has an opinion piece by Prof Adam Tooze from Columbia University warning that despite Biden’s strong words, it “will be the Republicans who call the shots” during his administration.
Finally, DeSmog has a story about Louisiana congressman Cedric Richmond, who presides over a heavily polluted region dense with petrochemical plants and oil refineries dubbed “cancer alley”. The article notes Richmond, who has taken a job in the Biden White House, made no mention in his announcement “of his constituents’ ongoing battle for environmental justice” – despite the Biden campaign’s focus on that issue.
Energy companies, including RWE and Uniper, have called on the UK to adopt a carbon trading system and to reject plans for a tax after the Brexit transition ends, the Financial Times reports. In a letter to the prime minister Boris Johnson they say that a carbon tax would jeopardise the UK’s climate goals and that carbon trading with credits is “a tried and tested method for reducing emissions in a market-friendly way”. While the government has said it supports a so-called “UK ETS” that allows trading with Europe following Brexit, the newspaper says it has also been consulting on a carbon tax in case no trade deal is agreed with the EU. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the Brexit deal “will probably exclude any explicit agreement on carbon trading”, leaving it to UK authorities to decide on pricing. The piece notes division in the UK government, with Rishi Sunak favouring a carbon tax and Alok Sharma’s business department preferring a domestic cap-and-trade programme.
The news comes ahead of today’s government spending review, which BusinessGreen says “could provide an update on Treasury plans for an increased carbon tax that would help to both curb emissions and raise much-needed revenues for the exchequer”. The news website, meanwhile, covers a call from a group of 50 leading businesses, campaign groups and academics for the government to commit to incorporating carbon pricing as part of its updated national climate plan, which it is set to submit in the coming weeks. It notes that attempts to advance carbon pricing regimes “remain inherently controversial”, adding that attempts to finalise the rulebook for the Paris Agreement remain “deadlocked” around this issue.
Ahead of the spending review, environment analyst Roger Harrabin has a piece for BBC News asking: “As Mr Johnson is driving emissions down, is his chancellor preparing to drive them back up?”. In light of the prime minister’s 10-point plan last week, Harrabin notes that only a fraction of the £12bn committed was new [the piece quotes £4bn, although government sources have said separately that it is £3bn]. “A Downing Street source told me the Treasury’s spending review would not increase that figure,” Harrabin writes.
Finally, the Times reports that the UK’s business department is looking for ways to boost the share of offshore wind projects that are produced in the UK. Under new proposals, developers “will have to set out more specific commitments in their supply chain plans, which are a prerequisite to be eligible to compete for consumer-funded subsidy contracts”, according to the newspaper.
The state of New South Wales has passed what the Sydney Morning Herald calls an “ambitious energy plan”. It will see the state government support the private sector to build AUS$32bn (£17.6bn) of renewable energy infrastructure by 2030 as the region “faces the end of coal-fired power generation”, the newspaper reports. According to the piece, the strategy will create 6300 construction jobs and 2,800 ongoing jobs, as well as deliver 12 gigawatts (GW) of renewable energy and 2GW of storage, largely pumped hydropower. The leading Coalition parties have been united over the plan and it also has bipartisan support from the opposition Labor party, as well as the Greens and other crossbenchers, it notes, quoting the state energy minister who said it showed what “Australia’s energy policy can look like when our parties work together”. However, the final vote on the Electricity Infrastructure Investment Bill took nearly 31 hours to pass due to a “concerted effort” from the far-right, climate sceptic One Nation party to block it, the newspaper reports. According to the Guardian, One Nation MP Mark Latham held up proceedings with a “filibuster” by “moving hundreds of mostly procedural amendments”. Reuters reports on research by consultancy EY that finds Australia has become one of the three most attractive countries in the world for renewables investment for the first time due to rapid solar deployment.
Separately, the Guardian reports that a “controversial” $3.6bn Narrabri gas project in northern New South Wales has been given environmental approval by the Coalition federal government led by Scott Morrison. It notes that this was the “final major regulatory hurdle” for the project, but energy company Santos has still not made a decision to finance the development. The Sydney Morning Herald says the New South Wales government is considering a special gas zone in the Narrabri region and “may release more areas for exploration”.
Electric car manufacturer Tesla has seen its market value surge over $500bn following a fresh wave of buying ahead of the its debut on the S&P 500, one of the main share indexes in the US, next month, the Financial Times reports. Many publications have focused on the fact that owing to this success, the company’s co-founder Elon Musk has seen his wealth increase considerably. The Guardian reports that the tech entrepreneur is now the the world’s second-richest person with a $128bn (£97bn) fortune. BBC News notes that Tesla is already the world’s most valuable car firm, despite producing “a fraction” of the vehicles made by rivals, such as Toyota, VW and General Motors.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic told an event that the EU could produce enough electric vehicle batteries by 2025 to power its “fast-growing fleet” without relying on imported cells. China is currently home to around 80% of the world’s lithium-ion cell production, but European capacity is expanding and Sefcovic said planned European facilities would produce enough to power at least 6m vehicles.
A Times editorial reflects on the start of a formal transition of power in the US and president-elect Joe Biden’s early appointments, which it says “signal an important moment in re-establishing American leadership”. It focuses on climate change and John Kerry, a pick that the newspaper says “underscores the seriousness of his commitment to securing a global climate accord at the COP26 summit in Glasgow next year”. It concludes: “That should be particularly welcome to Boris Johnson, who will host the summit and is pushing a Conservative green agenda of his own. The prime minister needs to appoint his own climate envoy of similar stature to help him to secure what should be his own moment of global leadership”.
A letter to the Guardian signed by a variety of environmental organisations, including Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and the Green Alliance, calls on the UK government to use its G7 and COP26 presidencies in 2021 to lead a “sustainable and resilient recovery”. It says cutting the aid budget “would undermine a core aim of the UK COP26 presidency – to increase support to vulnerable countries”. This comes as the Daily Mail reports that chancellor Rishi Sunak intends to cut the foreign aid budget by £4bn in his spending review, bring it to around £10bn a year for the first time “in almost a decade”.
Separately, a piece in the Daily Telegraph by Philip Johnston discusses the cost on infrastructure ahead of the spending review. He writes that projects such as HS2 and the proposed road tunnel under Stonehenge should be “scrapped” owing to their high costs. “I would suggest two alternative uses for this colossal waste of money: a tidal barrage either on the Severn or Swansea Bay; and a grid using the canals and river systems to transport water around the country in anticipation of the droughts expected to affect London and the South in 25 years’ time.” He notes these projects would offer far more long-term benefits.
An opinion piece by Australia’s former Liberal leader John Hewson states that it has now fallen to Australian states to lead “with more realistic targets, strategies and attempted policy responses” to climate change. “Of course, it would be preferable to have a coordinated national response, but the Morrison government has ignored the significance and urgency of the challenge and abrogated this responsibility,” he writes, noting that the Scott Morrison government has left “a leadership vacuum”. He adds that states, such as New South Wales and Victoria, are pushing ahead with net zero-emissions targets and strategies to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. “Meanwhile, the Morrison government and its fossil fuel mates are off on a completely different track, pretending that there is a viable case for more new coal-fired power, and still a case for new gas generation,” says Hewson. He concludes: “With Joe Biden as the new US president the global pace will quicken markedly. It is grossly irresponsible for Morrison to duck this responsibility, wasting even more time trying to wedge the opposition and the states.”
A new study investigating the link between temperature and news coverage of climate change suggests that the media are influenced more by short-term weather patterns than by scientific accounts of long-term climate change. The paper compares more than 1.7m online news articles covering climate change in the EU over the period of 2014–2019 to observed temperature data. They find that the strongest determinants of media coverage are short-term increases in the average temperature and deviations in temperature compared to recent years. These have a stronger effect than deviations from a climatological baseline, the researchers note.
New research into compound events – weather and climate events that result from multiple hazards or drivers – identifies multiple “hotspots” of activity. The study analyses a range of different compound events potentially causing high-impact floods, droughts, and fires, and uses data from 1980-2014 to map out spatial estimates of their occurrences on a global scale. The study identifies hotspots of compound events across the globe, including in North America, Russia and western Europe. Compound events have the potential to cause serious socio-economic impacts, the authors say, and these results could provide initial guidance into assessing how risks vary by region.
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