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's visit to China: Focuses on climate change cooperation, has broader symbolic significance
- Paris agreement spells ‘terminal decline’ for oil prices
- "14th Five-Year Plan" China is expected to build 8 nuclear power units every year
- US trade representative uses her first speech to call for action on climate change
- Advances mean all new US vehicles can be electric by 2035, study finds
- EU drafts plan to delay decision on labelling gas a 'green' investment
- JPMorgan unveils goal to support $2.5tn in climate-friendly investments
- ‘Enormous sum of money’: $40m windfall from NSW environmental offsets sparks calls for inquiry
- Google and Nasa release amazing timelapse of how Planet Earth has changed over 30 years
- Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study shows
- The green games: the Prime Minister’s big plan to rebrand Britain
- The pandemic remade every corner of society. Now it's the climate's turn
- To save the planet, focus on corporate-tax free riders
- The value of US coral reefs for flood risk reduction
- Intensification of El Niño-induced atmospheric anomalies under greenhouse warming
US climate envoy John Kerry’s visit to China has “symbolic significance to some degree” and shows the United States’ willingness to cooperate with China on “some global topics”, an expert tells Shanghai-based The Paper. Zhang Tengjun, assistant researcher at the China Institute of International Studies, says that Kerry will likely report the Biden administration’s carbon-reduction targets for 2030 to China during the trip. Apart from meeting his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua, Kerry might meet “other Chinese officials through video”, the state-affiliated news outlet reports. In a commentary programme aired by China’s English-language state broadcaster CGTN, host Kate Kui says Kerry’s visit “is critical for the steps needed to address climate change globally”. Kui notes that Kerry is expected to raise several points during his meetings, “including the construction of China’s coal-fired power stations, a detailed emission cuts plan from the US and the two nations’ contribution to developing countries on clean tech”. Kui wraps up the show by saying global-warming discussion should not take place “in a fantasy land of [the] politically impossible”. Meanwhile, Reuters and the South China Morning Post report that Chinese president Xi Jinping will attend a climate leaders summit video conference with France and Germany on 16 April.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the US “hopes to restore its shattered credibility when it hosts a climate change summit next week by pledging to cut its greenhouse emissions by at least half and securing agreements from allies for faster reduction”. The newswire notes that EU lawmakers, corporations and environmental groups are urging the US to pledge a 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. Bloomberg reports that the US administration is “considering singling out methane for significant reductions” as part of its pledge.
Politico adds that the US wants world leaders to announce their own emission targets at the summit, and that “India, Canada and South Korea are all being leaned on by the Biden administration”. The outlet reports that “no country is more complex or critical than China”, adding that the EU and US are trying to convince Beijing to commit to capping its growth by 2025 instead of 2030. According to the New York Times, Kerry is “pressing China to do more to address global warming”, but is facing “an emboldened Beijing leadership that thinks the United States has lagged behind”. The paper adds that Beijing think the US has “much ground to cover” after having left then rejoined the Paris Agreement, and quotes the Global Times – a Chinese newspaper – which says: “The US has neither the moral standing nor the real power to issue orders to China over climate issues.” Bloomberg reports that John Kerry is “trying to secure new commitments from world leaders” ahead the Earth Day summit, but adds that “if new goals are the measure of success, the meeting is shaping up to be a disappointment”. And a separate Politico piece says that Biden is “coming up empty” on new pledges, adding that “most foreign leaders are expected to show up empty-handed” to the summit.
The Financial Times covers a new report by Wood Mackenzie, which finds that “there are just two years of rising consumption left if Paris climate agreement commitments are taken seriously”. According to the paper, limiting warming to 2C would mean cutting oil consumption faster than producers’ cartel OPEC could cut supplies, meaning there would be no need for companies to find any new supplies after 2030. It says that by the 2030s, oil prices would be around $40 a barrel and would fall to less than $20 per barrel by the 2040s, under a 2C pathway. [Last year, Carbon Brief analysis of figures from oil major BP suggested the world had already passed “peak oil” demand.]
Meanwhile, oil and gas company Royal Dutch Shell has “urged” investors to vote for its new climate strategy, the Guardian reports, “despite warnings that the plan does not go far enough to meet the Paris climate goals”. The strategy includes producing less oil and more renewable energy to reduce the carbon intensity of Shell’s energy by 20% before the end of the decade, according to the paper. However, shareholder activist group Follow This will put a much more ambitious alternative climate strategy to shareholders at the annual general meeting, the paper adds, which would require Shell’s absolute emissions to drop by 25-45% by the end of the decade. According to Bloomberg, the plans will be put to a vote next month. Shell has urged the board to reject the plan from Follow This, calling it “redundant” and saying its own plan is a “more comprehensive strategy”, the outlet adds. Reuters reports that Shell is “playing down the risk of stranded assets as it prepares to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming decades” in its document to investors. According to the newswire, the acknowledgement that some reserves of oil and gas could be “worthless” is a “rare admission” from the company. Meanwhile, a piece in the Independent asks “How serious is Shell about helping to tackle the climate crisis?”.
In other oil company news, the Times reports that BP has “called time” on Foinaven, which became the UK’s first Atlantic oil field to gain approval in 1994. The area has since become a particular focus for BP and Shell, the paper notes, and accounts for the bulk of their UK operations. Finally, a story in the Guardian discusses the environmental impacts of the “thousands of abandoned oil wells” on the Permian basin of the US. It notes that as oil costs drop, these abandoned wells are “likely to proliferate” and asks who will pay the clean-up costs.
State-affiliated Jiemian News reports that China hopes to build eight nuclear power units every year between 2021 and 2025. The installed operational capacity of nuclear power in China is set to reach 120m kilowatts (120 gigawatts, GW) by 2030 – enough to supply 8% of total domestic electricity generation – the report says. It cites Zhang Tingke, deputy director of the China Nuclear Energy Association. South China Morning Post reports that five nuclear units, with a total capacity of 4.9GW, have been approved to be developed by the China National Nuclear Corporation. Elsewhere, China’s State Grid pledges to replace 151.5bn kilowatt hours (terawatt hours, TWh) of coal power this year, International Energy Net reports. The State Grid published the goal – among many other targets – on Wednesday in an updated company report, the website says. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China’s coal output rose by 16% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, largely due to winter heating and industrial activity. A separate Reuters piece reports that China’s daily crude oil “throughput” was 19.7% higher in March this year than last year and a final Reuters piece notes that the country’s 2021 imports of crude oil are set to grow by 3.4% this year compared to last year.
In other news from the country, China Dialogue reports that China’s aluminium production is “a barometer for China’s green recovery”. And the South China Morning Post outlines the findings of a new report, which finds that Chinese insurance providers are particularly at-risk from climate change due to their “relatively low reinsurance coverage”.
US trade representative Katherine Tai has used her first speech to “ma[k]e a case… for using trade policies to fight climate change”, the New York Times reports. Tai spoke about the need to address illegal logging and overfishing and promised to enforce environmental rules in the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, according to the paper. She also criticised the World Trade Organisation for being “part of the problem” while offering no solutions regarding the environment, it adds. According to the paper: “Her speech is another example of how the Biden administration is seeking to address climate change across the vast machinery of the federal government – not just in agencies typically associated with environmental stewardship.” Biden’s chief climate adviser Gina McCarthy has praised the “whole-of-government approach” to tackling climate change, according to the Hill.
Separately, Reuters reports that the US and Brazil are “at an impasse” on a deal to halt the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. According to the newswire, Brazil wants money upfront to pay for protecting its rainforests, while the US “is insistent on seeing results first”. Climate Home News reports that Biden promised $20bn towards protecting the Amazon rainforest, but that “negotiations with Jair Bolsonaro’s government are fraught”. An official from the US state department tells the website that it wants “a very clear commitment to ending illegal deforestation” and “tangible steps to increase effective enforcement of illegal deforestation”. US officials have also engaged with indigenous leaders in Brazil, who “complain their interests in the region are ignored or attacked by their own government”, the website notes. It adds that over 200 Brazilian NGOs have “warned the US against giving money to Bolsonaro’s government without strict conditions”. Agence-France Presse via the Straits Times also covers the negotiations.
In other US news the Los Angeles Times reports that California will use surveillance satellites to “sniff out greenhouse gas ‘super-emitters’”. The government will partner with Carbon Mapper to launch satellites in 2023, using $100m in funding from philanthropic groups, the paper reports. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor reports that the US power sector is “decarbonising faster than expected” according to new research, while Bloomberg notes that a US startup is planning to build “the first zero-emission gas power plant”. And InsideClimate News reports that “Trump-allied Florida governor”, DeSantis, has recognised the threat of climate change but “hasn’t embraced reducing carbon emissions”.
The Guardian reports that advances in technology and battery costs “should allow all new cars and trucks sold in the US to be powered by electricity by 2035”, according to new research. The study finds that buying an electric car will cost the same a petrol vehicle in around five years time and that “rapid electrification of transport would save about $2.7tn in driver costs by 2050”, the newspaper adds. It notes that transport is currently the largest source of emissions in the US and that at present, electric vehicles make up only 2% of all cars in the US. Many American drivers are currently “put off” by the price and by concerns over the availability of recharging points, the paper adds. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that EV drivers want “contactless payments and clearer charge point pricing”. This is according to the results of a poll by the Electric Vehicle Association, the paper notes.
Meanwhile, a separate piece in the Guardian reports that a Sydney-based company is planning to import affordable EVs from China that will sell for almost A$10,000 less than the current cheapest model on the market. “The race to bring an affordable electric car to Australia is about to kick into high gear ”, the paper says. And Reuters reports that Lebanon is launching its first electric car. The vehicle is “billed as cheap and green”, according to the newswire, although sceptics question the impact of the car, as the country is “reliant on fossil fuels for electricity”.
The EU plans to delay a decision about whether to label natural gas power plants as a sustainable investment, according to a draft document seen by Reuters. The European Commission is due to publish the first section of its “sustainable finance taxonomy” – a list of economic activities that can be classed as green investments – on 21 April, the newswire reports. It adds that the decision on whether to label natural gas as green energy or fossil fuel is “among the most contentious issues” and notes that EU countries are split over the decision. Bloomberg and EurActiv also cover this development.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “energy firms, businesses and traders” from the EU and Britain have “urged the two sides to link their carbon markets”. The newswire notes that Britain quit the EU emissions trading system and set up a UK carbon market during Brexit, but that Brussels and London have agreed a post-Brexit trade deal to “consider linking the schemes”. This would allow UK and EU firms to buy carbon permits from one another, the outlet notes, but negotiations have not begun yet. In other news, Reuters reports that the CEO of the PGE – the Polish group that owns the EU’s biggest carbon-emitting power plant – says that “coal has obviously to be scrapped as a power source”. Meanwhile German energy company Uniper is seeking a court ruling on whether the decision from the Netherlands to shut all coal-fired power plants in the country is legal, Reuters reports. And Euractiv reports that, according to new analysis by energy think tank Ember, gas has now overtaken lignite as Europe’s largest source of power emissions.
The US’s largest bank by assets – JPMorgan Chase – is pledging to facilitate $2.5tn of “climate conscious” transactions over the next decade, the Wall Street Journal reports. The paper notes that the bank lent some $40bn to oil and gas companies last year and NGO Rainforest Action Network considers it the worlds biggest financier of fossil fuels. Meanwhile BusinessGreen reports that Apple has launched a “first-of-its-kind” forestry fund of $200m, which aims to remove “at least” 1m metric tonnes of CO2 every year. The project is launched in partnership with “banking giant” Goldman Sachs and green NGO Conservation International the Restore Fund, the outlet adds. The Daily Mail also covers this story. And Reuters reports that Facebook has signed a renewable energy deal in collaboration with Mumbai-based CleanMax. According to the newswire, the companies are working together to supply renewable energy to India’s electrical grid. It adds that CleanMax will own and operate the “portfolio of wind and solar projects” and that Facebook will buy the power off the grid using “environmental attribute certificates or carbon credits”.
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Amazon – the five biggest tech companies in the US – are being criticised by environmental advocacy groups for “not putting enough financial support behind lobbying for pro-climate public policy”. The companies have “touted a wide array of sustainability initiatives”, the paper notes. However, it adds that according to a new report, only 4% of the disclosed lobbying activity of “Big Tech” was devoted to climate policies, while “Big Oil” has devoted an average of 38% of their disclosed lobbying activity to climate-related policies. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor reports on the most recent “Climate Check report”, which finds that climate change is impacting operations and causing a “scarcity of resources” for many companies. A further Energy Monitor piece reports that “a lack of finance is the biggest battier to companies transitioning to net-zero”.
A Guardian “exclusive” reports that environmental consultants from a company that advised the Australian government on developments in New South Wales have made millions of dollars by selling “conservation offsets” for the developments to state and federal governments. According to an investigation by the newspaper, environmental consultants “bought land in the area and profited from taxpayer-funded offsets”. The paper notes that offsets “allow developers to compensate for the environmental damage they cause in one area by undertaking work to deliver an equivalent environmental benefit in another”, but adds that offsetting is “beset with problems” including the 20-year delay in delivering environmental protection.
In other Australia news, the Guardian reports that the opposition climate change minister, Chris Bowen, has warned that climate change could cause almost 1m Australians to lost their jobs. Queensland will face “the brunt of any failure to act”, the paper adds, with an economic contraction of 8% by 2050 and 14% by 2070 forecast. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that German energy company RWE is planning to bring Australian “green” hydrogen to Europe.
A 37-year timelapse of our planet made of over 20m satellite photos has been launched on Google Earth, the Daily Telegraph reports. The Timelapse project is the world’s first “civilian Earth observation program”, the paper notes, and allows scientists and NASA and Google to “guide the viewer through changes including forest change, urban growth, warming temperatures, sources of energy, and our world’s fragile beauty”. BBC News reports that this is the biggest update to Google Earth in four years, and that Google is “heavily marketing the tool as a way to raise awareness of climate change and other environmental issues”.Bloomberg adds that to create the tool, Google Earth partnered with NASA, the US Geological Survey, the EUs Copernicus Climate Change Service and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab. The tool includes a “storytelling mode” featuring videos in 2D and 3D of 800 different places on the planet, the Independent adds. MailOnline notes that these videos will also be available on YouTube.
A new white paint has been created that reflects 98% of sunlight and infrared heat, the Guardian reports. In tests, the pain cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature even in strong sunlight and the aim is to use it to cool buildings and reduce reliance on air conditioning, according to the newspaper. The Times adds that painting a 100sq ft roof with the pain would provide a cooling power of 10kW, “more powerful than the central air conditioners used by most houses”. Engineers claim that this is “the whitest paint yet” the MailOnline adds, as paints currently on the market designed to reflect heat only reflect 80-90% of sunlight. Air conditioners and electric fans accounted for nearly 10% of global electricity use by 2018, the Independent notes, and this figure is expected to rise to nearly 40% by the year 2050.
In other new research, Bloomberg reports that coral reefs off the US coast are providing $1.8bn in flood protection to property owners per year. The paper adds that individual reefs off Hawaii and Florida “do particularly valuable duty”, according to the new study. Meanwhile, MailOnline reports that rising temperatures could result in “more bland tasting coffee”, according to a team from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. And InsideClimate News reports on new research that shows the falling price of solar is making it more “accessible to people with lower incomes”.
The UK government is “determined” to turn November’s COP26 climate summit into “a great event to put Britain on the map” says Katy Balls, deputy political editor of the Spectator, in this week’s cover story for the magazine. “The word in Whitehall is that the event will be ‘bigger than the Olympics’,” Balls says, adding that the government still sees COP26 as a “significant moment” despite the disruption to the event caused by Covid-19. She says: “America is also eager to greenwash its reputation on the world stage: just hours after becoming president, Biden restored the US to the Paris agreement, which aims to stop global temperatures from rising more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. The UK team has set itself an even more ambitious target, closer to 1.5C. The UK also hopes to take credit for bringing China’s president Xi Jinping, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi and Biden together to save the planet.” Balls says that Britain wants to use COP26 to turn itself into “a global force with great PR”, calling the event as “the bright green star on the government’s uncertain horizon”, and adding that it is “the subject which animates the prime minister most these days”. However, Balls notes that some civil servants are “worried about the tone being wrong and are trying to dial down expectations”.
The front cover of this week’s issue of Time features a lengthy piece by senior correspondent, Justin Worland, on climate change awareness in recent decades and current governments’ climate policies on climate. “For decades, the idea that climate change touches everything has grown behind the scenes”, Worland says, but now leaders are “spurred by alarming science, growing public fury and a deadly pandemic” and are “waking up” to the idea that “climate is everything”. Worland charts the warnings of scientists, activists and economists in the past decades, but says that the issue “remained a marginal concern for most” until 2018, with the publication of a UN report and the beginning of the climate strikes. The climate conversation initially “took a back seat” when Covid-19 hit, he continues, but the pandemic soon reminded people of “the risks of ignoring science”. According to Worland, “the sharpest turnaround [in climate opinion] is in the US”, as a president who “denied climate change” has been replaced by one who has made it an “organising principle of economic policy”. Worland notes that since World War II, “pursuit of economic growth has driven politics”, but that people are now taking more of an interest in the climate. “You too may notice the signs of climate seeping in your world,” he says, such as better fuel economy on your car or rising cost of flood insurance. Throughout the piece, Worland refers to Gina McCarthy – Biden’s national climate adviser – and her deputy Ali Zaidi. He closes by quoting Zaidi, who says that many of the negative impacts of climate change are “like death-by-1,000-cuts situations in which we don’t realise we’re being affected by the climate”. However, he quotes McCarthy saying that people are gaining interest in climate change because “it’s now being presented as an opportunity. It’s now being presented as a hopeful message”.
The most important international negotiation this year for climate change is not COP26, says economics editor of the Financial Times Chris Giles. Instead, he says “the one to watch is the discussion over the tax challenges arising from multinationals and digitalisation at the OECD in Paris”. According to Giles, the “fundamental economic problem” for both climate change and taxing multinationals is “free riders”, and the solution to both problems is “based on principled and muscular unilateralism”. Giles notes that the UK has cut its emissions by almost 50% since 1990, but adds that when including “embedded carbon imports”, the country’s footprint it “50% higher than terrestrial emissions”. He says that it will be necessary for advanced economies to “price carbon higher”, but they need to ensure that domestic efforts “do not simply end up generating emissions abroad”. Carbon border taxes will be needed on embedded emissions, he says, to stop consumers from “shifting carbon dioxide to the equivalent of low carbon-tax jurisdictions, just as they shift profits today to countries with low corporate taxes”. He concludes that if a deal on tax is prevented at the OECD, then we should “wave goodbye to the prospect of a solution to global warming”.
Coral reefs can help mitigate flood damages through coastal protection. This study created a fine-scale, national valuation of the flood risk reduction benefits of coral habitats to people, property, economies and infrastructure. Across 3,100 km of US coastline, the top-most meter of coral reefs prevents the 100-year flood from growing by 23%, avoiding flooding to 53,800 people, $2.7 billion in damage to buildings and US$2.6 billion in indirect economic effects. Hazard risk reduction benefits of US coral reefs to exceed $1.8 billion annually. Many highly developed coastlines in Florida and Hawaii receive annual benefits of over $10 million per kilometer of reef. This quantification of risk reduction can help open up new opportunities to support reef management with hazard mitigation funding.
The El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) has a profound influence on global climate and ecosystems. Determining how the ENSO responds to greenhouse warming is a crucial issue in climate science. Despite recent progress in understanding, the responses of important ENSO characteristics, such as air temperature and atmospheric circulation, are still unknown. This study used a suite of global climate model projections to show that greenhouse warming drives a robust intensification of ENSO-driven variability in winter tropical upper tropospheric temperature, tropical humidity, subtropical jets and tropical Pacific rainfall. Under global warming, even if the ENSO’s sea surface temperature remains unchanged, the response of tropical lower tropospheric humidity to the ENSO amplifies, which in turn results in major reorganization of atmospheric temperature, circulation and rainfall. These findings reduce uncertainty in the ENSO response to greenhouse warming.