Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Johnson must push G7 to pay billions more in climate aid, say experts
- US: EPA moves to restore California waiver for setting tailpipe emission limits
- China says coal will play less-dominant energy role
- US: Biden isn’t banning meat, USDA chief says
- Rapid retreat of world’s glaciers leading to ‘humanitarian crisis’, says top scientist
- The geopolitics of climate change
- The Biden administration shouldn’t ignore hybrid cars
- Steelmakers: it isn’t easy going green for China’s smokestack cities
- The environmental footprint of data centers in the US
- Poultry and fish and aquatic invertebrates have not displaced other meat sources
- Understanding discontinuance among California’s electric vehicle owners
Leading climate experts have warned that if Boris Johnson is to avoid “failure” at COP26, he “must push rich countries” to pay billions in climate aid to poorer countries, the Guardian reports. According to the article, the G7 meeting in Cornwall in June is one of “only a handful of opportunities” remaining for rich countries to pledge more money towards climate aid before COP26 in November. So far, commitments from rich countries have “fallen far short of what is needed”, the newspaper adds. It notes that at the Biden climate summit last week, several countries strengthened their emission targets “but only the US came up with fresh commitments on climate finance”. According to a UN estimate, poor countries may need more than $90tn by the end of the decade to reach net zero emissions by 2050 and build resilient infrastructure, the paper reports.
In other UK news, the Times reports that “major road-building schemes” – including a proposed tunnel close to Stonehenge – are “threatened” by a new legal challenge which claims that ministers are ignoring their pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The newspaper adds that the UK government could need to reduce its planned construction work on motorways and A-roads by £27bn, after high court papers were filed against the Department for Transport.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mirror reports that after one of the driest Aprils on record, “serious wildfires” are breaking out across the UK. The fires have been started by people, the paper adds, but the dry conditions were exacerbated by climate change. According to the paper, the latest fire at National Trust land Marsden Moor is a mile long. Meanwhile, Professor Piers Forster – a member of the UK Climate Change Committee – has told the i newspaper that the government will need to introduce measures to reduce the number of flights into and out of the UK. Forster told the paper that including aviation and shipping within the UK’s climate target “actually reduces the allowable emissions that are there for the rest of the economy” and that the rest of the economy “gets squeezed quite significantly”. The Times reports that a Danish producer of wind turbines is “in talks to produce the world’s biggest blades at a new factory in the northeast of England” in a move that would create roughly 2,000 jobs. And the Guardian reports that members of a citizens jury have agreed that the cost of reaching net-zero emissions “must not fall on low- and middle-income households”.
The EPA has moved to reverse a “key” Trump administration policy the prevented the state of California from setting its own vehicle emission targets, the Washington Post reports. According to the newspaper, the EPA will hold a virtual public hearing on 2 June and will “take comment on the plan” until 6 July. This step “could help pave the way for a broader climate deal with the nation’s automakers”, the newspaper adds. According to Bloomberg, the Trump administration “yanked” the waiver allowing Californias to regulate its own emissions in 2019 and thereby “pitted the federal government against a state seeking to eventually ban conventional gas-powered cars”. Reversing the policy would allow the state to “mandate zero-emission vehicles and enforce its own stringent limits on greenhouse gas emissions from vehicle tailpipes”, the outlet adds. The Los Angeles Times notes that the state’s “unique ability” to set its own car pollution standards “has influenced federal policy for decades, leading to stricter nationwide standards”. It adds that 13 other states follow California’s emission standards – accounting for almost 40% of car sales in the US. The Hill also covers the story, adding that the EPA also plans to “reconsider a rule that weakened national vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards”.
Meanwhile, Politico reports that Republicans are calling for the US climate envoy John Kerry to resign from the National Security Council over claims that he “revealed sensitive information about Israeli military operations to Iran”. Kerry “categorically denied the allegations” in a tweet on Monday, according to the Hill. It adds that the New York Times and other outlets reported on leaked audio that supposedly showed Iranian Foreign Minister saying that Kerry told him Israel had attacked Iran’s interests in Syria at least 200 times.
In other US news, the Financial Times reports that British oil and gas company BP has submitted an application to provide US customers with renewable electricity generated by wind, solar and natural gas. It adds that the company is creating a new subsidiary called “BP Energy Retail” to sell electricity to US customers “at market-based rates”. Finally, the Hill reports that in a “Politico Playbook” interview, energy secretary Jennifer Granholm emphasised that the Biden administration would prefer to meet its renewable energy goals through legislation than executive action.
Associated Press reports the comments of Li Gao, the director general of the Department of Climate Change in China’s Environment Ministry, who has said that, according to the newswire, China “will play a less dominant role in its energy mix and that, despite plans to build new coal-fired power plants, the country won’t use it on a wide scale”. Li is quoted as saying: “In the past, it (coal) was the main source of power. In the future it will play the role of providing flexibility for the power grid. And now we still need a certain amount of coal…but we will not develop coal on a wide-scale basis, that’s very clear and that’s strictly regulated.” AP adds: “Li acknowledged that China was still building new coal power plants, but he emphasised that they were unlike traditional coal plants and would not emit as much as plants did previously. Climate experts have long advocated for a ban on new coal power plants, which would be a significant step.”
Meanwhile, another AP story, via the Independent, says that Germany and China have agreed to step up their cooperation in combating climate change. AP quotes Svenja Schulze, Germany’s environment minister, saying: “We need to do everything possible to lower greenhouse gas emissions faster than planned so far. Along with the big industrialised countries we also need China for this.” The agreement comes ahead of the two countries’ Cabinets holding a bilateral meeting tomorrow.
In other China news, Xinmin Evening News reports that Shanghai is planning to build a residential community with the theme of “carbon neutrality”. The community, described as the first of its kind in the world, is expected to use renewable energy and building materials that can “absorb carbon dioxide (CO2)”, the state-affiliated outlet says. It would also prioritise zero-emission transport and have high “green coverage” with mostly local plants, it adds. Li Cundong, secretary-general of Architectural Society of China, says he looks forward to seeing “authentic green architecture, smart transport, efficient energy management” and carbon sequestration technology in the project, state-run People’s Daily Online reports.
Meanwhile, Shu Yinbiao, chairman of major electricity-generating company Huaneng, has told a forum that China’s electric power sector would go through three stages before peaking its carbon emissions, reports China Energy News. According to Shu, also a scientist, China’s demand for electricity would “increase continuously” and then “gradually slow down” – before the power sector reaches “zero-carbon”. He also praised China’s wind and solar power sectors – whose installed capacity measures 280 gigawatts (GW) and 250GW, respectively – says International Energy Net.
In a separate article, International Energy Net quotes Wang Dongwei, director at the Office of the Expert Committee of the State Power Investment Corporation (SPIC), who spoke at a different forum. Wang said that wind and solar power were the “inevitable choice” of achieving carbon neutrality, adding that the SPIC aims to peak emissions in 2023. Wang expected the global electric power sector to become carbon neutral around 2035. The international automobile industry could hit the goal between 2045 and 2050, he added.
US agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack has dismissed claims that president Biden plans to stop Americans from eating meat in an effort to combat climate change, Politico reports. “Conservative lawmakers and commentators over the weekend spread false claims that Biden’s recent pledge to curb greenhouse gas emissions included a proposal to cut red meat consumption by 90% and limit Americans to about four pounds per year”, the outlet continues. The “conservative ire” was triggered by a Daily Mail article that “baselessly speculated” on measures that could achieve Biden’s climate pledge, according to the Washington Post. The Independent adds that right-wing commentators try to shift the climate conversation away from “systemic change or corporate action” to focus on negative impacts to individuals “wherever possible”. It continues: “This right-wing tactic goes back decades and has its roots in the fossil fuel industry”, and adds that since the “environmental awakening” of the 1970s, “industry has done everything it can to redirect demands for change away from corporations and back onto individuals”.
The New York Times carries a comment piece by Paul Krugman – an opinion columnist for the newspaper. Krugman says that on Friday, Larry Kudlow – the “top economic advisor” in the Trump administration – announced on Fox News that Biden’s climate plans would make Americans stop eating meat. Krugman calls the Daily Mail article that triggered the backlash “sleazy”, adding that the paper included a “deceptive graphic” that made it seem like meat cuts were “an actual administration proposal”. He adds that “neither Kudlow nor other Republicans touting an imaginary war on meat saw any need to check out their story”. Meanwhile, a separate analysis piece in the Washington Post runs under the title, “Fox News’s latest straw man is made of red meat”, and an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by editorial writer Mariel Garza calls the episode a “mini kerfuffle in the bizarro world of conservative media”. A final piece in the Washington Post reports that while Biden has not put restrictions on meat consumption, “science says beef should be on the chopping block”, as14.5% of global emissions from from livestock.
The Independent reports that, according to “leading glaciologist” Professor Jemma Wadham, melting from Himalayan and South American glaciers could threaten water supplies for hundreds of millions of people. Wadham tells the online newspaper that retreating glaciers are “potentially leading to a very large humanitarian crisis across the world”, adding that: “In the Himalayas, if we manage to keep global warming to 1.5C we might lose about a third of the ice there. If we carry on the unabated greenhouse gas emissions we lose two-thirds of the ice.” Around 70% of the Earth’s fresh water is stored in glaciers, and the rate of glacier retreat in the Himalayas has doubled since the late 20th century, according to the paper. The Sunday Times also spoke to Wadham and carried comments from her in a lengthy piece about her work in glaciology, her brain surgery and her new book “Ice Rivers”.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that, according to new research, a drop in soot and other pollutants over South Asia driven by the pandemic has led to “cleaner slow” which melts more slowly. The study finds that, overall, the delayed runoff into the Indus River due to the drop in pollution is similar in volume to some of the largest reservoirs in the US.
Project Syndicate carries a comment piece by Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the European Commission with responsibility for climate change, and Josep Borrell, high representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy . The piece begins optimistically, saying that the EU is “emerging as the world’s climate trailblazer” and that “a critical mass is developing globally as more countries strengthen their decarbonisation commitments”. The authors note that inaction on climate change would cost “far more” than climate action and that tackling climate change and biodiversity crises would make everyone “better off, thanks to better jobs, cleaner air and water, fewer pandemics, and improved health and well-being”. However, they add that transitioning to a sustainable economy will have geopolitical effects – in particular, by shifting power away from those controlling fossil fuel supplies to those developing green technologies. “Phasing out energy imports will also help to reduce the income and geopolitical power of countries like Russia”, the piece notes. It adds that there is a risk of “carbon leakage” as long as not all countries’ climate commitments match those of the EU and, so, the EU is working on a carbon border adjustment mechanism. The authors continue: “We know that some countries, even among our allies, are concerned about this. But we want to be clear: setting a price on imported carbon-intensive goods is not meant to be punitive or protectionist.” Their piece concludes: “Geopolitical risk is not an excuse to alter our course or reverse direction. Rather, it is an impetus to accelerate our work toward a just transition for all.”
The Financial Times carries a comment piece by Ashley Nunes – a research fellow at Harvard Law School and director for competition policy at the R Street Institute – arguing that hybrid vehicles should be key the the Biden administration’s plans to tackle climate change. Nunes notes that the solution to high vehicle costs is “purportedly subsidies”, but goes on to say: “But if curbing emissions is what taxpayers’ value (I know I certainly do), then subsidising EVs is, to put it mildly, bonkers”. According to Nunes, underwriting hybrid vehicle sales is “a more pragmatic approach”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that Tesla has recorded its “the biggest profit in history” for the past three months, after “record” sales of electric cars. According to the Times, Elon Musk predicted that Tesla’s Model Y “could become the world’s best-selling vehicle by next year”. Separately, a piece in the Times reports that Anglo-American – a London-listed mining company – has announced plans to reduce the cost of hydrogen-powered vehicles by “eliminating the need for compressed gas tanks”. Meanwhile, the Times reports that a Chinese-built electric car that “hoovers up pollution from other vehicles” could be on the roads in the next two years. And a BBC News piece entitled, “Electric cars: What will happen to all the dead batteries?”, notes that EV batteries are larger and heavier than those of regular cars, contain hazardous material, and “have an inconvenient tendency to explode if disassembled incorrectly”.
The Lex column of the Financial Times discusses the impacts of a “crackdown” on China’s steel industry. China’s second-biggest steelmaker has shut plants in “steelmaking hub” of Tangshan, according to the piece, leading to thousands of lay-offs. It notes that Tangshan is aiming for 30-50% production cuts by the end of the year, adding this this would have a “heavy impact on world supply”, as Chinese crude steel makes up 59% of the market. Steel prices were already “rising sharply”, it continues, concluding: “In the quest for steel that can build the human world without destroying the planet, higher-quality South Korean and Japanese producers have an advantage.”
Approximately 0.5% of total US greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to data centres, a new study says. The researchers calculate – “for the first time” – spatially-detailed carbon and water footprints of data centres operating within the US, which is home to around one-quarter of all data centre servers globally. The authors note that data centres “require a tremendous amount of energy to operate, accounting for around 1.8% of electricity use in the US” and also “large amounts of water…both directly for liquid cooling and indirectly to produce electricity”.
In a “brief communication” paper, a researcher finds that global consumption of poultry and seafood has increased since 1961, but this hasn’t displaced consumption of other meats with larger environmental impacts. Using cross-national panel data for 1961–2013, the study evaluates whether the growth in consumption of “lower-impact meats” – specifically, poultry, fish and aquatic invertebrates – has suppressed other meat sources. The research reveals that “different meat sources have not replaced one another, but rather have been added on top of one another – an example of the displacement paradox”.
New research assesses the reasons behind “discontinuance” of electric vehicle (EV) ownership in California – that is, people who have abandoned a new technology after first purchasing it. Using five questionnaire surveys, the researchers find that “discontinuance in California occurs at a rate of 20% for plug-in hybrid electric vehicle owners and 18% for battery electric vehicle owners”. The main reasons behind these decisions are “related to dissatisfaction with the convenience of charging, having other vehicles in the household that are less efficient, not having level 2 (240-volt) charging at home, having fewer household vehicles and not being male”.