Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Kerry: US 'hopeful' it can work with China to tackle climate change
- Biden infrastructure plan draws attacks from right, left
- Oil companies defeat New York City appeal over global warming
- Climate-concerned gardeners demand UK ban on peat compost
- Central banks should turn green
- The Guardian view on the US infrastructure plan: Joe Biden's bold bet
- If we want to fight the climate crisis, Sadiq Khan is the only choice for London mayor
- Future increases in Arctic lightning and fire risk for permafrost carbon
- Declining greenness in Arctic-boreal lakes
- Half of global methane emissions come from highly variable aquatic ecosystem sources
US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry has said the US is hopeful it can work with China to tackle climate change, reports Reuters, despite longstanding disagreements that have affected the bilateral relationship. Speaking to reporters during a visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Saturday, Kerry said “our hope is that we’re going to be able to deal with yes, China”. He added: “President Biden has made it clear and I’ve made it clear: none of the other issues we have with China – and there are issues – is held hostage to or is engaged in a trade for what we need to do on climate.” Kerry told CNBC that President Biden’s focus on tackling climate change is “not a counter to China”. He said: “I think that this is a huge economic opportunity, not just for the US with people all around the world…This is not about China, this is not a counter to China. This is about China, the US, India, Russia, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Australia, a bunch of countries that are emitting a pretty sizeable amount, the US and China the most.” The Hill also has the story.
Also reporting on Kerry’s visit to the Middle East, the Hill says that the US and UAE have said they will help finance decarbonisation in the region and the global community at large. A statement attributed to the two nations says: “We will also cooperate closely to make new investments in financing decarbonisation across both the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the wider international community and help the most vulnerable adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change…We will particularly focus our joint efforts on renewable energy, hydrogen, industrial decarbonisation, carbon capture and storage, nature-based solutions, and low-carbon urban design.” The US also issued a joint statement with climate leaders from UAE, Kuwait, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Iraq, Jordan, Sudan and Oman, the outlet notes. The countries say they are “committed to accelerate climate action”, adding: “In this critical decade for climate action, we believe that investments in renewable energy, ecosystem-based approaches, nature-based solutions, climate-smart agriculture, carbon capture technologies, and other low-carbon solutions will support sustainable economic growth and job creation.” Writing in the National – an English-language daily newspaper published in Abu Dhabi – Dr Nawal Al-Hosany, a permanent representative of the UAE to the International Renewable Energy Agency, says that Kerry’s visit “will advance the UAE-US bilateral action on climate”. Kerry and his UAE counterpart Sultan Al Jaber “agreed to set up bilateral working groups to advance our nations’ shared global climate agenda, and contribute to regional and global sustainable development”, says Al-Hosany. She adds: “With time running out to limit global warming, and mere months to go before COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, close collaboration remains vital – not just between the UAE and the US, but also with our respective allies.”
From the Middle East, Kerry’s 10-day Asia tour yesterday moved on to India, explains Reuters. Bloomberg says that John Kerry is in New Delhi this week “to push Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to boost its climate ambitions as it considers announcing a net-zero target ahead of a virtual summit later this month”. Kerry will meet representatives from government, the private sector and NGOs during the next few days, says the Hindustan Times. A US embassy spokesperson said that Kerry will focus on mitigating fossil-fuel use in India and increasing low- and zero-carbon investments, and described India as a “critical part of the solution to the climate crisis”, the outlet explains. Urmi Goswami, the editor of the Economic Times – an Indian English-language business-focused daily newspaper – says that getting India to commit to net-zero “is not on the special envoy’s agenda, rather the focus is on collaborating so that India can meet the targets it has set for itself”.
Meanwhile in India, Reuters reports that the country’s annual electricity demand fell for the first time in at least 35 years in the financial year to March – “mainly due to strict coronavirus-induced lockdowns across the country”. Bloomberg reports that Coal India’s shipments “touched a four-year low in the 12 months through March, after the pandemic crushed demand for the commodity”. And Bloomberg also reports that India’s environment ministry has again delayed anti-pollution guidelines for coal-fired power plants, extending the compliance deadline by as much as two years.
US President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan drew new criticism from the political right and left over the weekend, reports the Wall Street Journal, “underscoring the difficult road ahead for the $2.3tn effort”. The paper continues: “In a spate of Sunday television interviews, Republicans continued to criticise the size and sweep of the proposal unveiled Wednesday aimed at addressing climate change – as well as the corporate-tax hike proposed to pay for it…Republicans criticised the plan for devoting more to spending on mass transit, as well as electric vehicles and charging stations, than on roads, bridges and water infrastructure.” Democrats, however, have said that the plan does not go far enough, the paper notes, citing the example of Senator Bernie Sanders, who “listed climate change as the first thing Congress will likely move to increase funding for as it turns Mr Biden’s proposals into a bill”. The Guardian reports that Republicans opposed to the plan “claimed…that it was effectively a partisan tax hike that allocated too much money to electric vehicles and other environmental initiatives”. Reuters says that Biden faces “the prospect of all-out political war with Republicans” over the plan. The newswire reports the comments of Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, who said that he is “going to fight them every step of the way, because I think this is the wrong prescription for America”. He added: “That package that they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side.”
The Hill reports that Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm suggested that the White House is open to passing the plan using budget reconciliation – a parliamentary process that requires a simple majority to pass bills, thus avoiding the Senate’s usual 60-vote threshold – if no Republican lawmakers support the legislation. Speaking to CNN, Granholm said: “As [Biden] has said, he was sent to the presidency to do a job for America, and if the vast majority of Americans, Democrats and Republicans, across the country support spending on our country and not allowing us to lose the race globally, then he’s going to do that.” A spokesperson for Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said yesterday that the Senate Parliamentarian – the upper chamber’s official adviser on procedural matters – has ruled that reconciliation can be used an additional time to pass legislation without Republican votes, reports Politico. The outlet explains: “Schumer had asked the parliamentarian for permission to revisit the fiscal 2021 budget resolution that Democrats already deployed to pass Biden’s $1.9tn pandemic aid package, hoping to unlock a second attempt at reconciliation. If Democrats choose to reuse that budget measure, they’ll have at least three – and possibly more – opportunities to use reconciliation to pass a host of their priorities before the midterm elections.” The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, CNBC and CNN all report this story, while the Washington Post reports that Democrat Senator Joe Manchin has said he would vote against President Biden’s proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, instead saying the rate should be set at 25%. The paper adds: “Even if all other Democrats support the plan, Manchin’s opposition would likely be enough to kill it because the Senate is split 50-50 between Democrats and Republicans.”
In related coverage, E&E News says that a “clean electricity standard for the power sector” is the “backbone” of Biden’s plan to use infrastructure spending to advance climate policy, and it “has the potential to be the most aggressive ever enacted by the federal government”. The aim of “achieving 100% carbon-free electricity by 2035” is “at minimum – a significant symbolic milestone in the US push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”, the outlet says. The Hill notes that the problem facing Biden “is now convincing skittish Democrats to back the effort”. Reuters reports that White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy has said that the Biden administration would seek to pass a national clean energy standard through Congress. The Financial Times looks at how Biden throws the “weight of US government behind clean energy”, but also on the backlash that Biden faces from Republican-led states. The FT “Energy Source” column also has a first-look at the plan, while David Roberts picks out the “coolest parts” for his Volts newsletter.
Reuters reports on its new poll of the US public that shows many of the initiatives in the infrastructure plan “are widely popular on their own”, including 66% supporting tax credits for renewable energy. However, the newswire adds, “support declines when the initiatives are packed into a Democratic bill and sold as a Biden-backed plan”. Politico reports that “Labour groups, echoed by Republicans in Congress, are cautioning that Biden’s plan to hitch the jobs recovery to massive green energy investment could backfire because of the quality of employment it will create and the economic devastation it could cause on rural communities”. However, economist Dr Gernot Wagner writes for Bloomberg that “jobs vs. environment is an old trope whose time has passed”. He explains: “Cutting CO2 isn’t about stopping economic activity…Re-guiding market forces toward fully decarbonising economies implies more economic activity, more jobs, not less.”
Finally, in an “exclusive”, Reuters reports that the White House has directed the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study how using renewable fuels to power electric vehicle charging could generate tradable credits under the nation’s biofuels programme. The newswire adds: “The move could give the fledgling US electric vehicle industry a big boost by granting it fresh incentives and a new revenue stream. But the idea would introduce new actors like Tesla Inc into a programme that has already bitterly divided the oil and corn industries.” And Politico reports on how “a battery plant dispute in Georgia pits Biden’s climate goals against US trade policy”.
A federal appeals court has rejected New York City’s effort to hold five major oil companies liable to help pay the costs of addressing harm caused by global warming, reports Reuters. In its ruling in favour of BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, the Second US Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan said the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions should be addressed under federal law and international treaties. On Thursday, circuit Judge Richard Sullivan wrote for a three-judge panel: “Global warming presents a uniquely international problem of national concern…It is therefore not well-suited to the application of state law,“ the newswire reports. A New York City spokesperson said that officials were disappointed the court did not hold the companies “accountable for the environmental damage they knew their products would cause”, reports the Hill. It adds: “Separately, Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Rhode Island are currently suing fossil fuel companies on similar grounds.” Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that the attorneys general of those US states – plus the District of Columbia – yesterday called on President Joe Biden’s Justice Department to withdraw legal briefs filed in support of fossil fuel companies in litigation during the Trump administration, arguing they contradict the new president’s position on climate change. In a letter to US Attorney General Merrick Garland, the officials asked him to inform courts that the Justice Department no longer supports those briefs in pending litigation, the newswire explains. At the same time, the Hill reports that a panel of federal appeals judges yesterday “nixed a Trump administration rule that would have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting greenhouse gas limits on multiple polluting industries”. The rule, finalised just before President Trump left office, only allows greenhouse gas limits on power plants, exempting activities like such as oil and gas production and iron and steel manufacturing, the outlet explains.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the Opec+ alliance of oil-producing nations voted on Thursday to increase output gradually from May. The group will collectively increase output by 350,000 barrels a day in May, another 350,000 b/d in June and around 441,000 b/d for July, the FT says. The agreement “was a compromise between Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader, and Russia”, says the Wall Street Journal: “Saudi Arabia had sought to maintain cuts, sceptical of a quick return in oil demand during the pandemic. Russia, meanwhile, has said the world already needs more oil to feed resurgent economies in many regions.” The Hill also has the story.
In other oil and gas industry news, the Guardian reports that fossil-fuel companies “received billions of dollars in tax benefits from the US government as part of coronavirus relief measures, only to lay off tens of thousands of their workers during the pandemic”. The paper continues: “A group of 77 firms involved in the extraction of oil, gas and coal received $8.2bn under tax-code changes that formed part of a major pandemic stimulus bill passed by Congress last year…Despite this, almost every one of the fossil-fuel companies laid off workers, with a more than 58,000 people losing their jobs since the onset of the pandemic, or around 16% of the combined workforces.” Inside Climate News also has the story.
Finally, a DeSmog “exclusive” reports that last year’s Hurricane Zeta “nearly caused ‘another Deepwater Horizon catastrophe”’ in the Gulf of Mexico. The Financial Times reports that the energy group Total “has rejected campaigners’ calls to withhold payments to Myanmar’s military junta from its offshore gas project in the country, saying that doing so would break the law and put local employees in danger”. The FT also reports that rising sales of groceries are helping filling stations “offset dwindling volumes at the pumps”. And Bloomberg opinion columnist looks at how “Saudi Arabia can thrive in a post-oil world”.
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports that a group of experts, conservationists and scientists have written to the UK government to urge a ban on the sales of peat compost after a goal of a voluntary phaseout by 2020 proved an “abject failure”. In a letter to environment secretary George Eustice, seen by the Guardian, the group writes that a ban on compost containing carbon-rich peat is a “vital step” if the government “wants to show global leadership on the climate crisis before it hosts the COP26”. The paper notes: “In a survey by the Wildlife Trusts published on Friday, just one of the 20 leading garden retailers – Travis Perkins – said it would end peat compost sales in 2021. The trusts said there was no sign of the government’s long-awaited peat strategy.” BBC News reports the comments of Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, who said: “The time for voluntary agreements is over – the sale of peat must end now. Countless promises have been broken and targets missed, with the result that precious peatland habitats are still being unnecessarily destroyed in the name of gardening.” BusinessGreen reports that the retailer Co-op is to stop selling peat-based compost and begin rolling out alternatives across its 1,100 UK stores and forecourts. The Financial Times Lex column says “the £24bn UK horticultural industry has been lamentably slow to phase out peat”, adding: “It is likely to have missed a 2020 target of eliminating peat from retail compost by a country mile. Consumers can force the pace by preferring peat-free compost and plants, creating a business opportunity for suppliers.” The Daily Mail also has the story.
Elsewhere in UK news, Climate Home News reports that the country has pledged to lead a push to increase funding to help vulnerable nations cope with the worsening impacts of climate change at the G7 meeting it is hosting in June. The Daily Telegraph reports on possible problems with a shift from gas central heating to heat pumps. And the Daily Telegraph also reports that government ministers are being urged not to let workers in the oil and gas sector “wither on the vine” amid concerns about the extent of new jobs in greener energy.
President Biden’s proposed infrastructure plan “involves several bold bets whose outcomes should be closely watched in America and beyond”, says a Guardian editorial. It continues: “Mr Biden’s central proposition is that the federal government can resume the activist role in economic growth that it played in the mid-20th century under leaders from Franklin Roosevelt to Richard Nixon. This comes with a second twist, that the activist role can deliver tens of thousands of well-paid and unionised climate change and clean-technology jobs, rather than those that involve pouring concrete or boosting fossil fuel consumption.” Spending on energy-efficient housing, construction and electric vehicle incentives are “the right priorities”, the paper says, yet “whether they go far enough is more doubtful”. It adds: “In a country with more than 276m vehicles, the planned 500,000 vehicle charger points by 2030 will not go far, for example. But improved high-speed broadband in rural and urban America is desperately needed, not least to reduce inequality. More traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges, rail and disaster resilience are part of the package. Airports, on the other hand, come low down the pecking order.”
Elsewhere, New York Times opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo says the plan “is far and away the most ambitious climate change idea ever proposed by an American president”. In fact, it is “gargantuan”, he says, and “if a version manages to pass Congress at anywhere near its current scope, it would constitute a historic level of spending to mitigate the climate crisis”. However, Manjoo continues, “here is the stark shame of our current political moment: Huge as it sounds, the Biden plan is not nearly big enough”. He explains: “Rather than inspiring optimism, then, the vast size of the proposal sets up a disheartening conundrum for anyone looking forward to a habitable future on this fragile planet: Any plan bold enough to effectively address climate change seems unlikely to survive the American political system. And any bill that can survive our politics may not make enough of a dent on the climate.” Finally, writing for the MailOnline, broadcaster Piers Morgan describes the plan as a “reckless tax-hiking green gamble that could kill off America’s post-Covid economic boom”.
A “green” revolution is under way in central banks, a Financial Times editorial says. It continues: “Everywhere, monetary policymakers are pondering how to address the reality of global climate change. And it is ‘how’, not ‘if – hardly any central bankers think they can do their job if they ignore the issue.” Central banks “must understand what economic and financial risks climate change brings”, the paper argues: “In their roles as guardians of financial stability, they should act to protect against these like they would any other risk. They should do the same with their own balance sheet through regulations and by pricing climate risk into the terms on which they take collateral from banks. This basic risk management requires no particular ‘green’ political sympathies; even the most conservative central banker should endorse this.” A “more radical and more contentious” idea is “whether central banks should go beyond this defensive approach and contribute to decarbonisation directly”, the paper notes. Ultimately, “it is for democratic governments to decide central banks’ mandates”, the editorial says: “The question is whether it is wise for governments to ask their central banks to actively promote decarbonisation. Two things are clear. It makes little sense for central banks to act at cross-purposes with governments’ broader economic goals. But broader mandates need broad political backing to be sustainable.”
A second FT editorial comments on how farmland is increasingly being seen as an investment. It says: “Farmland offers a chance for funds and investors to mitigate climate change – many investment outfits now have ‘net-zero’ targets. That can be as simple as growing trees or encouraging exhausted soils to regenerate, allowing the land to work as a carbon sink trapping greenhouse gases. Most institutional investors have been buying land for crops rather than more carbon-intensive livestock farms. The UK’s largest private landowner, the Danish retail billionaire Anders Hoch Povlsen, is aiming to rewild his Scottish estate and has, for more than a decade, pursued an intensive strategy of tree planting, including controversial deer culls.”
Also in the Financial Times, columnist John Dizard asks why – despite “consensus that there has to be a global transition to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, if not sooner” and agreement “on the requirement to shift away from fossil fuel” – fossil fuel equities prices have “broadly, been rising since the beginning of the year, and why are many clean energy equities performing weakly, or even declining in price?”
Shadow business secretary Ed Miliband writes in the Guardian that, at a critical time for tackling climate change, the election of London’s mayor will be a “defining question”, adding that the incumbent Labour candidate Sadiq Khan is the person for the job. “Sadiq has been a true climate leader as mayor right from day one,” says Miliband. He cites Khan’s efforts to tackle air pollution and expand the capital’s cycling infrastructure during his time in power, as well as his “green new deal for London” and commitment to making the city “zero-carbon by 2030”. Miliband also emphasises the need for an economic recovery from Covid-19 that is also green, noting that “Sadiq has rightly put green jobs and delivering a green recovery for London at the top of his agenda”. He concludes by noting that in what he views as a “two-horse race” against the Conservative Shaun Bailey, Khan is the only candidate who is a “climate leader”.
Meanwhile, Labour MP Hilary Benn writes in BusinessGreen that if the government approves the expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport it would contradict the advice of its official advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC). In its sixth carbon budget advice, the CCC said there should be “no net expansion of UK airport capacity” unless the sector is on track to sufficiently outperform its trajectory to net-zero, Benn notes. “It is the aviation equivalent of the proposed new Cumbria coal mine about which ministers now appear to be having second thoughts,” he writes. Benn calls on the government to hold a public inquiry into the airport expansion, adding that allowing it to go ahead in the year of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow would be a “big mistake”.
Finally, a feature in Grist examines how the UK’s “green homes grant”, announced by the government last year as the cornerstone of its green stimulus programme, “went very, very wrong”. It says that as the Biden administration prepares to set up a similar home retrofitting programme, it “would be wise to look across the pond for a cautionary tale before rolling out any such programme too quickly”.
Summer lightning in the northern circumpolar region could increase by 113% by the end of the century under a high emission scenario, new research finds. The study uses satellite observations to show the spatial patterns of lightning in the region, and then uses this data in models from the fifth Climate Model Intercomparison Project. The models show a 17% increase in precipitation by the end of the century in areas underlain by permafrost, and a 86% increase in “convective available potential energy” . The authors warn that increased lightning “may induce a fire-vegetation feedback” and could accelerate the positive feedback of carbon release from permafrost.
New research reveals a 15% decrease in the “greenness” of Arctic-boreal lakes between 1984 and 2019. Authors used Landsat satellite imagery to analyse greeness trends in over 40,000 lakes, and find that a decrease in lake greenness is more likely in areas with increased air temperature and precipitation. According to the study, the impact of rapid warming on lake ecology is not fully known, but lake greenness trends can serve as an early indicator of environmental and ecological changes. The authors add that the findings “support the hypothesis that warming has increased connectivity between lakes and the land surface.”
Aquatic systems contribute around half of all natural and human-caused methane emissions, a new study finds. The authors note that, since 2007, there has been an unexplained increase in atmospheric methane levels and analyse methane emissions “from all major natural, impacted and human-made aquatic ecosystems” from 15 aquatic ecosystems to help find the sources. The results show that “aquatic ecosystems contribute (median) 41% or (mean) 53% of total global methane emissions from anthropogenic and natural sources”. The authors argue that aquatic emissions will increase due to urbanisation, eutrophication and positive climate feedbacks, and suggest changes in land-use management to reduce these emissions.
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