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:
- Kerry urges top polluters to cut emissions now
- Global heating pushes tropical regions towards limits of human livability
- Investigation: The climate-conflicted board directors leading the UK's banks
- Biden administration backs nation’s biggest wind farm off Martha’s Vineyard
- Wang Yi: 'China has always been a practitioner of ecological civilisation and an activist in global climate governance'
- Pumped storage hydropower can help fuel the clean energy transition
- Oil giants prepare to put carbon back in the ground
- A global analysis of subsidence, relative sea-level change and coastal flood exposure
- Ecosystem services benefits from the restoration of non-producing US oil and gas lands
- The greenhouse gas emissions of indoor cannabis production in the US
BBC News reports that US climate envoy John Kerry met with Boris Johnson and other “senior UK figures” yesterday to discuss plans for two upcoming international climate summits. Kerry later told BBC Newsnight that “the UK – along with other major nations – must deliver their proposed emissions cuts”, and “praised the UK for phasing out coal”, as well as for its “ambitious” climate targets. Kerry noted that the world’s top 20 polluters produce 81% of global emissions between them and said that “China, the US, Russia, India, the EU, Korea, Japan and others all have to be part of this effort”. When asked about the UK’s “controversial new coal mine” planned in Cumbria, he replied “the marketplace has made a decision that coal is not the future”. Kerry’s visit “is the latest sign of the new administration’s dramatic break from the approach to climate issues under Donald Trump” according to the Press Association, via the Belfast Telegraph, which notes that COP26 president Alok Sharma also met with Kerry during his visit. The Financial Times adds that Kerry is in Brussels today for “a whistle-stop tour”, noting that his is “the first international trip by a senior member of the Biden administration”. Meanwhile, the Herald notes that Biden will host a leaders’ summit on climate change on 22 April.
In other COP26 news, the i newspaper and BusinessGreen report that Amber Rudd – the UK’s former home secretary who was also the UK’s climate and energy minister at COP21 in Paris – has called on Alok Sharma to appoint more women to the UK’s climate negotiating team. Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports that South Sudanese officials want the country to become carbon neutral by 2030 through “a rollout of renewable energy and mass tree planting”. However, the outlet notes that this will “hinge on international support” and that 90% of the estimated $100bn cost would need to come from external sources. The piece adds that UK aid for South Sudan could fall from £110m to £45m between 2021-22.
The Guardian is among many outlets highlighting a Nature Geoscience paper which finds that global warming above 1.5C could push tropical regions near the equator above “the limit of human adaptation”. The paper notes that above a “wet-bulb temperature” – a combined measure of heat and humidity – of 35C, people can no longer cool themselves down through sweating. In its coverage of the study, the Independent quotes the lead author of the research, who says that the tropics are “the most humid places on Earth”. Meanwhile, the New York Times notes that “the combination of heat and high humidity has already reached dangerous levels in parts of the world”.
In other research news, the New Scientist reports that “Colorado’s legal cannabis farms emit more carbon than its coal mines”, according to a new study in Nature Sustainability. The piece notes that legalising cannabis in several US states has led to a “booming industry” and that most cannabis is grown indoors where “climate control systems and high-powered lights” are required. According to the i newspaper, which also covers the research, emissions from cannabis production are “largely attributed to electricity production and natural gas consumption from indoor environmental controls”. A separate article in the New Scientist covers new research which finds that “billions more people could have difficulty accessing water if the world opts for a massive expansion in growing energy crops to fight climate change”. According to the outlet, the study shows that “the water needed to irrigate enough energy crops to stay under the 1.5C limit would leave 4.58 billion people experiencing high water stress by 2100 – up from 2.28 billion today. That is 300 million more people than a scenario in which bioenergy with carbon capture and storage isn’t used at scale and warming spirals to a devastating 3C.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that temperatures in the Arctic Ocean “were much warmer last month than the average for the past two decades”. This is according to new research from Europe’s Copernicus Climate Change Service. The Hill also covers this research, adding that December-February temperatures this year were 0.6C above the 1991-2021 season average across Europe, and Arctic sea ice extent was “lower than average in the Arctic and Antarctic regions during February”. Meanwhile, the i newspaper reports that, according to new research, lab-grown mince meat could be “as cheap to buy as conventionally farmed meat by the end of the decade”. Cultivated meat “could cause 92% less global warming and 93% less pollution than conventional beef”, according to two new studies covered in BusinessGreen. In other news, Reuters covers new research showing that humans have “degraded or destroyed roughly two-thirds of the world’s original tropical rainforest cover”, noting that this weakens a “key natural buffer against climate change”. Meanwhile, the Guardian, Phys.org and the Daily Telegraph cover new research which shows that forests and wetlands are “worth more” when “left to nature” than when farmed, due to the ecosystem services they provide.
An investigation by DeSmog UK has found that “80% of board members at the UK’s five biggest banks have affiliations with environmentally damaging companies”. Sixty-four current directors of Barclays, HSBC, NatWest, Lloyds and Standard Chartered were analysed in the investigation, the outlet reports. It notes that almost a quarter of the bank directors “have a current or past connection to the fossil fuel industry” and adds that there is “a ‘revolving door’ between banks and the fossil fuel industry, which could undermine the banks’ claims to be environmentally progressive actors”. Furthermore, “nearly half of the banks’ directors also have strong ties to other international banks known to support the fossil fuel industry, including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, UBS, and JP Morgan”, according to the analysis. The piece notes that banks are “increasingly facing public pressure to become responsible social actors and tackle the climate crisis by removing their support for high-carbon industries”. However, it adds that although all five banks listed have pledged to align with the Paris Agreement, they have all “faced criticism for not doing more to boost climate commitments”, and campaigners “remain sceptical” about whether they really want to effect change. The Independent covers DeSmog UK’s findings.
The Biden administration in the US “took a crucial step” towards approving a $2.8bn project to build the nations “first large-scale offshore wind farm”, the Washington Post reports. The Vineyard Wind project would consist of 84 turbines generating 800MW of energy – enough to power 400,000 homes – and would begin feeding the New England grid in 2023, the outlet reports. Politico notes that the Interior Department “completed its environmental review” of the wind farm yesterday, adding that it is “a breakthrough for the US offshore wind industry, which has lagged behind its European counterparts and the US onshore industry”. The turbines would stand 15 miles south of the “Marthas Vineyard” island, and sell electricity to utilities in Massachusetts, the Financial Times reports. According to Reuters, this is a “key step” in the Biden-Harris administration plan to double offshore wind capacity by 2030 and decarbonise the power sector by 2035. The Hill also covers the story.
In other US news, the Washington Post reports that the US saw its coldest February since 1989 this year. This is according to new data released yesterday by NOAA, which shows that “during the 11-16 February period, more than 120 all-time cold temperature records were broken across the central and southern US.” The cold “was associated with a deep southward dip in the jet stream that sent polar air plunging to the US border with Mexico”, the paper reports, adding that it “knocked out power to millions in Texas, Louisiana and other states”. The Hill adds that the average temperature across the US last month was 3.2C below the 20th century average. (See Carbon Brief‘s recent article about the Texas blackouts.) Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Elon Musk has announced his plans to construct “a gigantic battery” that will connect to the Texas grid. It adds that the 100MW energy storage project would be able to “power 20,000 homes on a hot summer day”. Reuters also covers this story.
The Hill reports that 12 states filed a lawsuit yesterday to sue the Biden administration “for trying to establish a ‘social cost’ of greenhouse gases to use in agency rulemaking”. The suit reportedly says that “setting the ‘social cost’ of greenhouse gases is an inherently speculative, policy-laden and indeterminate task” and that “assigning such values is a quintessentially legislative action that falls within Congress’s exclusive authority”, the outlet adds. However, it notes that Biden is not the first president to set a social cost for carbon – Obama priced it at $50 per metric tonne, whilst the Trump administration set it at $7 per metric tonne. In other news, Reuters reports that legislation was introduced yesterday to give $6bn to the US postal service to buy “tens of thousands of additional electric delivery vehicles”. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal runs a piece with the subheading: “the administration is enlisting agencies across the government as it aims to unveil in April a revised target for US emissions reductions”. Yale Climate Connections reports that “with a narrowly split House and Senate, Biden’s executive orders and other presidential actions enjoy benefits of going with, not against, the tide of public opinion”.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi has hailed his country for taking “concrete actions on global climate governance”, reports People’s Daily – the official newspaper of China’s communist party. Speaking at a press briefing during the 13th National People’s Congress in Beijing, Wang applauded, among other things, China’s “important contribution to the adoption of the Paris Agreement”. Another state media outlet, Xinhua news agency, suggests that China is confident about reaching its carbon-neutral pledge. In a multimedia article, Xinhua summarises China’s achievement in developing renewable energy sources, cutting down carbon intensity and expanding forest coverage over the past 40 years. And in an interview with state news agency China News, Zhang Rong, president of Xiamen University, says: “China should vigorously develop [its use] of ocean carbon sinks and seize the international commanding point.”
Meanwhile, China Dialogue runs a comment piece by senior researcher Shi Yi entitled: “The 14th five year plan sends mixed message about China’s near-term climate trajectory.” Yi says that China’s plan – released last Friday – mentions China’s new goal of net-zero emissions by 2060 just once and sets lower targets for 2025 than expected. However, she adds that, unlike the two previous five-year plans, this plan does not set economic growth targets. Experts “welcomed this break from the growth-at-all-costs mentality”, but “were disappointed that the plan only takes ‘baby steps’ towards decarbonisation”, according to Yi.
A comment piece from former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has been published in the Financial Times discussing the use of hydropower in Australia and worldwide. Turnbull says that “fluctuations in energy supply and demand due to lockdowns” show that renewables such as wind and solar cannot be relied upon alone to provide power and explains that he decided to “make pumped storage hydropower a national priority” in 2017. Australia’s 2GW Snowy Hydro 2.0 project is currently under construction and “will be the largest energy storage facility in the southern hemisphere” when completed in 2025, according to Turnbull. More than 90% of the world’s electricity grid storage is currently “pumped storage hydropower”, he says, adding that pumping water uphill during times of low demand and releasing it to supply electricity to the grid when demand is high is “a proven, low-cost, long duration storage technology that can operate for decades”. Turnbull notes that “despite being a proven technology, developers around the world are struggling to get new projects off the ground”, adding that “low-carbon infrastructure with significant upfront costs needs to be incentivised by governments”. He says “there is a real risk that storage capabilities will not keep up with renewable generation” as it takes longer to build a pumped hydro system than a solar farm. He concludes that “we have to start building the storage capabilities to make renewables reliable and until green hydrogen is widely available and affordable, pumped hydro is the best solution”.
The New York Times carries a feature piece by journalist Stanley Reed on the topic of carbon capture and storage. Reed introduces Andy Lane – ex-manager of “the construction of enormous facilities for extracting and transporting natural gas” – who is now working on the Teesside carbon capture and storage project for BP. Lane’s new role in storing carbon emissions from a group of chemical plants in northeast England in a reservoir under the North Sea, Reed says, noting that this “essentially aims to reverse what he has spent much of his career doing”. Reed adds that although carbon capture and storage sounds “deceptively simple”, it “has proved to be hugely expensive, and it has not caught on as rapidly as some advocates hoped”. However he says that in the past month, Biden has promoted the idea, Exxon Mobil announced $3bn investment into low-carbon efforts including carbon capture” and Elon Musk promised a $100m prize for the best carbon-capture technology. He adds that carbon capture and storage is “fast becoming a focal point of attention in prime minister Boris Johnson’s government” and that in last Wednesday’s budget announcement, chancellor Rish Sunak called the Teesside project “the future economy of this country”. Reed concludes that “if BP can put together a package including government support that provides sufficient profits for the company, the power plant could begin operating in around five years.”
In related news, the Hill reports that the US Department of Energy has “announced two major initiatives that will put more than $75 million in projects that seek to make industry more efficient and advance carbon capture technology”. Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm announced $52.5m for industrial assessment centres which “use federal funds to research energy conservation in industrial settings”, it adds. The paper also quotes a statement from Granholm that “these programs are proof that big climate investments can help small businesses reduce their emissions and increase their efficiency, while saving them thousands of dollars.”
Coastal areas around the world with land subsidence are seeing relative sea level rise as much as four times faster than the global average, a new study says. The researchers quantify global average relative sea level rise of 2.5mm per year over the past decade. However, they say, “as coastal inhabitants are preferentially located in subsiding locations, they experience an average relative rise up to four times faster at 7.8 to 9.9 mm/yr”. The coincidence of subsidence with major population centres means that the problem “has global social and economic implications”, an accompanying News & Views article says.
Restoring lands after oil and gas development in the US could bring ecosystem services benefits worth $21bn, a new study estimates, at a cost of $7bn. Calculating the 50-year present-value net benefits of restoring oil and gas lands in the conterminous US, the researchers identify more than 430,000 restorable wells that occupy more than 800,000 ha of land. Such restoration “will have benefits at the local, regional and national scales”, the authors say, “including food security, protection of biodiversity and restoration-related job opportunities”.
New research calculates the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis cultivation in the US. Undertaking a life-cycle assessment, the researchers put the greenhouse gas emissions per kg of dried flower at a range of 2,283 to 5,184 kg of CO2-equivalent. These emissions are “largely attributed to electricity production and natural gas consumption from indoor environmental controls, high-intensity grow lights and the supply of CO2 for accelerated plant growth”, the authors say.