Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Labour would 'radically transform economy' to focus on climate change
- Kathy Castor named to lead restored House panel on climate change
- Petition against French climate inaction gathers two million votes
- Cabinet papers 1996-1997: how Australia worked to water down Kyoto climate targets
- Limit on fracking quakes will stop shale gas development, says Ineos
- Climate change: Huge costs of warming impacts in 2018
- How to rescue the global climate change agenda
- The case for 'conditional optimism' on climate change
- The story of 2018 was climate change
- FT series: Climate control
- Global sea-level contribution from Arctic land ice: 1971–2017
- Decline in climate resilience of European wheat
- Mangrove canopy height globally related to precipitation, temperature and cyclone frequency
In an interview with the Guardian, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s shadow business secretary, has said that a future Labour government would oversee an economic revolution to tackle the climate crisis, using the full power of the state to decarbonise the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in struggling towns and cities. “It could not be made clearer to us and people are starting to realise how incredibly dangerous this situation is,” she says, adding: “There is no option but to radically transform our economy…We have to tackle climate change in a really radical way, the evidence is crystal clear. But this is also a wonderful opportunity to invest in those towns and cities that have felt neglected for a very long time…this has to be – and will be – a genuine transformation of the economy.” The Guardian says: “Labour has brought together a team of experts including leading industry figures, engineers, scientists, consultants and academics, who will report back with a comprehensive plan in the new year, outlining what a sustainable energy mix would look like, how to achieve it – and what benefits in terms of jobs and investment it would bring. Initial findings from the group suggest that to meet its current targets, Labour would by 2030 need to: increase the UK’s installed offshore wind capacity sevenfold; bring all 24m homes in the UK up to the highest efficiency standard; triple the UK’s installed solar capacity.”
The Guardian also has an interview with shadow treasury minister Clive Lewis, who has said that politicians must “show leadership” on taking personal choices to tackle climate change, such as by reducing their meat intake and taking fewer flights. Meanwhile, The Sun “exclusively” reports how energy bills could “soar by £2,000 a year under Corbyn”, according to an “in-depth study of all Jeremy Corbyn’s energy, climate change and nationalisation plans by the Conservative party”.
In the US, the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, has appointed the Florida Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor to lead a special committee on climate change. AP explains: “The climate panel is similar to one that Pelosi created when Democrats last controlled the House, from 2007 to 2011. It was eliminated when Republicans took the majority [eight years ago].” It adds: “The membership and exact scope of the panel remain to be determined, but Pelosi said it would play a key role in shaping how Congress responds to the threat of global warming while creating good-paying, ‘green’ jobs. The Maryland representative Steny Hoyer, the incoming House majority leader, said last week the climate committee would probably not have legal authority to demand documents under subpoena. But he added that he did not think the panel would need subpoena authority, since experts will be ‘dying to come before them’.” Politico says the “House Democratic leadership has battled with some members of the caucus’ progressive wing over the scope and authority that panel would have”. The Hill says that the new panel is not “the plan climate activists and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez championed”. It adds: “The panel isn’t expected to have some of the powers demanded by progressive, such as subpoena power or legislative authority — meaning it can’t pass bills to the floor for a full House vote. Castor also refused to mandate that all committee members reject political contributions from fossil fuel companies, saying it would violate the First Amendment. Progressives, including Ocasio-Cortez’s office, already are criticising the new panel as an insufficient step forward.”
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that “GOP lawmakers are increasingly turning to a new refrain for their position on climate change, calling for ‘innovation’ as the policy solution”. It adds: “Many Republicans have seemingly settled on innovation as their primary position to counter progressive Democrats who have grown louder in their calls for a Green New Deal [see Carbon Brief’s recent explainer], with its emphasis on renewable electricity, and as the United Nations and federal government issue reports saying time is running out to dramatically cut emissions.” Separately, NBC’s influential “Meet the Press” Sunday programme has devoted an hour to climate change. Axios explains why “this matters”: “It’s a rare star turn for climate change on the Sunday shows and potentially a sign of growing political prominence for a topic that’s typically a second-tier focus in national elections and on Capitol Hill.” The Guardianreports that Michael Bloomberg used his appearance on the show to “slam Donald Trump’s inaction on climate change…and said any candidate for president in 2020 – he himself might be one – must have a plan to deal with the problem. At the same time, retiring California governor Jerry Brown likened the fight against climate change to the fight against Nazism during the second world war, saying: ‘We have an enemy…perhaps very much devastating in a similar way.’” Axios also reports that democrat leadership candidate Elizabeth Warren “broadly supports the idea” of a Green New Deal. USA Today reports on how, for the Democrats, “the next two years in Washington are likely to be more about making a case to voters than actually scoring significant victories on climate change”.
A petition launched by four French NGOs to protest at France’s failure to take measures to curb global warming has collected nearly two million votes in just over a week, according to Radio France International. It adds: “Unsatisfied with the French government’s response, climate crusaders launched a massive protest on 8 December, followed by a petition on 18 December. In just a week, it collected close to two million votes, making it the most popular petition ever in France – significantly more than the Yellow Vest movement, at just over a million. The petition was launched by four French NGOs: Notre affaire à tous, le Fondation pour la nature et l’homme, Greenpeace France and Oxfam France.”
The Guardian takes a deep look at how the Australian government of 1996 “worked to water down Kyoto climate targets”, according to newly released cabinet papers. The official records were released by the National Archives of Australia on Tuesday and cover John Howard’s first two years as prime minister. The papers reveal “Australia’s increasing isolation on the international stage” of global climate action and that “the cabinet actively considered walking away from Kyoto altogether”, according to the Guardian.
The Times reports that shale gas is unlikely to be developed in the UK unless strict limits on earthquakes caused by fracking are relaxed. This is according to Ineos, the company with the country’s biggest exploration rights. The Times adds: “Ineos, the petrochemicals giant controlled by Jim Ratcliffe, an outspoken advocate of fracking, has amassed rights to explore across vast stretches of northern England. Ministers have enthusiastically backed the development of shale gas, but have also set strict limits on the earth tremors caused by fracking, the process used to extract the gas. The government’s rules force companies to cease fracking for 18 hours after causing a tremor measuring more than 0.5 on the Richter scale. Over the past two months Cuadrilla, the only company to frack in the UK so far, has been forced to halt its operations in Lancashire six times after tremors above the threshold. Tom Crotty, an Ineos director, said: ‘It would be difficult to see the industry develop successfully with a 0.5 operating limit.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph reports that the UK government “has just days to address growing fears that an EU ban on power station subsidies will plunge the energy sector into crisis”. The paper adds: “The business select committee has called on energy minister Claire Perry to set out how she will plug a £1bn black hole by 7 January, almost two months after the European Courts of Justice ruled existing taxpayer support was illegal. The judgment has thrown energy policy into disarray. The subsidies were at the heart of contracts designed to secure electricity supplies and keep Britain’s lights on. The freeze threatens to drive smaller power generators out of business and trigger an investor exodus from the industry.” Carbon Brief recently published a detailed Q&A on what is likely to happen next to the UK capacity market after the surprise EU rulin
Many publications in the UK have covered a report published by Christian Aid that identifies 10 extreme weather events events in 2018 that cost more than $1bn each. BBC News’s coverage begins: “Extreme weather events linked to climate change cost thousands of lives and caused huge damage throughout the world in 2018, says Christian Aid…Scientists have shown that the chances of heat waves in Europe were influenced directly by human-related warming. Other events, say the authors, are due to shifts in weather patterns, said to be a consequence of climate change. According to the report the most financially costly disasters linked to rising temperatures were Hurricanes Florence and Michael, with costs said to be around $17bn for the former, and $15bn for the latter.” The Daily Telegraph adds: “Commenting on the report, Dr Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Penn State University in the US, said the this summer’s ‘unprecedented’ weather was the ‘face of climate change’.” The Daily Express and Reuters are among the many outlets carrying the story. Meanwhile, many publications have reported the on-going extreme heatwave in Australia. The Daily Telegraph says “Australia’s vast continent is sizzling through extreme heatwave conditions this week, with temperatures reaching record highs and emergency services on high alert for bushfires”.
The Washington Post also looks back on the extreme weather of 2018 and describes it as a “raging, howling signal of climate change”. Meanwhile, the Press Association reports that, according to the National Trust, extremes from Arctic temperatures to a sizzling heatwave resulted in a roller-coaster year for the UK’s wildlife.
The FT joins several newspapers in publishing end-of-year editorials about climate change. It begins: “The depressing reality about climate change is that we could solve the problem, at manageable cost, but are failing to do so. This failure is due to a mixture of blindness and self-deception”. It concludes: “The tragedy is that while the scientists and technologists have won the argument, the climate sceptics and deniers have effectively won the policy debate: we are doing far too little, far too late. It is now essential to transform the discussion from fear of what the carbon-transition will cost to hope for the opportunities it will bring. What is needed now are people and organisations — above all, politicians — able and willing to persuade humanity that a promised land of sustainable prosperity for all is within our collective reach.” An editorial in the Observer says it has five ideas that any government could used as a “blueprint for a better Britain in 2019”. One is “slowing global warming”. It adds: “The government must do more to advocate for global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and set out a plan for the UK to produce net-zero carbon emissions before 2050, including bringing forwards the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars to 2030.” A New York Times editorial looks back at the three years of climate inaction since the Paris Agreement was sealed. In particular, it regrets the Trump administration: “They will deserve…history’s censure for doing virtually nothing to move to a more responsible energy future — and for not doing so at just the moment when the world needed the kind of leadership that Mr Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry (and Bill Clinton and Al Gore before them), tried to provide.” An editorial in the Irish Independent asks: “Are we content to become a nation of climate change deniers by default, subscribing to the Donald Trump philosophy of selective delusion?…As a small island with large, low-lying coastal areas exposed to sea-level rises linked to global warming, we should be leading the charge to effect change; not leading the list of laggards doing nothing.”
US commentators specialising in climate change have been busy over the holiday period. In Vox, David Roberts “lays out the case for pessimism and the case for (cautious) optimism, pivoting off a new series of papers from leading climate economists”. He continues: “There is no such thing as ‘game over’ or ‘too late’ or ‘screwed’ or ‘no hope’. It is certainly not the case that, as the latest slogan has it, ‘we only have 12 years to act’. That is nonsense, even if, in some cases, it’s motivational nonsense…Market developments will never be enough…But our history is replete with miraculously rapid changes. They have happened; they can happen again. And the more we envision them, and work toward them, the more likely they become. What other choice is there?” In the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman offers his opinion on the proposed Green New Deal. “Democrats can surely do for climate change what they did for health care: devise policies that hugely improve the situation while producing far more winners than losers. They can’t enact a Green New Deal right away – but they should start preparing now, and be ready to move in two years,” he says. In the Wall Street Journal, Holman W Jenkins Jr asks: “Will 2019 See Climate Maturity? The left favours green socialism, while the right discovers the uses of a carbon tax.” He concludes his article: “When Donald Trump finally exits the building, the left assumes he will leave behind a politics of troglodytes vs. the woke: All the left’s dreams will finally become actionable. Don’t buy it. If climate politics reaches its overdue maturity, it will advance on the right rather than the left, and under the barely noticed aegis of tax reform, which the Western world will need anyway to get its economies growing again.” In contrast, Justin Gillis in the New York Times argues to “forget the carbon tax for now”, adding: “The climate movement has, I fear, turned this potentially useful tool into a fetish. Discuss any aspect of the emissions problem these days and you will quickly hear somebody say, “A price is the answer,” or equivalent words. You hear that from the lips of politicians, from newspaper editorial boards, from utility executives and even from the heads of oil companies. Yet the put-a-price-on-it mantra is proving, in practice, to be a political failure.” The New York Times also has an op-ed by sociologist Arlie Hochschild who says that “new polls suggest Republicans’ views on global warming may be at a tipping point”. Paul Bledsoe, an academic specialising in environmental policy, runs through 30 years of “going nowhere fast” on climate change in the New York Times: “Progress has been made in fits and starts, but not nearly enough has been done to confront the planet-altering magnitude of what we have unleashed.” In the Guardian, William Westermeyer, a senior policy adviser during the Reagan and Bush Sr presidencies, argues that his old agency, the US Office of Technology Assessment, “should be revived – in 2019 the world will need its expertise more than ever”. The New York Times has also published an in-depth interactive feature charting how much damage Trump’s “retreat on the environment” have caused in various locations across the US. It includes a feature by Eric Lipton examining what impact “easing the war on coal” has had on a coal-plant town called Thompsons near Houston, Texas. Mark Lynas, in CNN, writes on “why President Macron’s u-turn is a warning for climate leaders”. In the Atlantic, Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University, writes on what “deniers of climate change and racism share”. “The denial of climate change and the denial of racism rest on the same foundation: an attack on observable reality,” he says
A number of publications have published end-of-year reviews with a focus on energy and climate change. David Leonhardt in the New York Times says: “I wanted to write my last column of 2018 about the climate as a kind of plea: Amid everything else going on, don’t lose sight of the most important story of the year…Nothing else measures up to the rising toll and enormous dangers of climate change. I worry that our children and grandchildren will one day ask us, bitterly, why we spent so much time distracted by lesser matters…To anyone who worries about making a case for climate action based on the [growing number of extreme] weather [events], I would simply ask: Do you have a better idea?” Mike Small for DeSmog UK publishes a list of the “climate heroes and villains of 2018”. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl protestor, and the Extinction Rebellion are among the heroes, with the likes of Owen Paterson MP and Spiked’s Brendan O’Neill cast as the villains. Meanwhile, DeSmog UKreporter Chloe Farand lists seven things to “look out for” on climate and energy in 2019. Bob Berwyn of InsideClimate News looks back through his “science reporter’s journal” at the most noteworthy climate science studies published in 2018. Ed Crooks in the Financial Times assesses the “five biggest energy stories” of 2018, which include “energy storage became the hottest new technology investment” and “strains emerged in the US-Saudi alliance”. Nick Butler, also in the FT, looks ahead at the “energy issues to watch in 2019”, which include “first and most immediate is the impact of US sanctions on Iran”. The Guardian has published a picture gallery of “America’s year of extreme weather”. DeSmog’s Sharron Kelly also looks back at a “year of deadly climate disasters and an ‘ear splitting wake-up call’”. In Vox, Umair Irfan and David Roberts write that “climate and energy news in 2018 actually wasn’t all bad”, adding that there are “three big trends…helping us address the climate crisis: better technology, cheaper technology, and more ambitious policies”. In the Guardian, environmental correspondent Fiona Harvey discusses “reasons to be hopeful about the environment in 2019”. And in a second Guardian article, Emily Mulligan looks at the role of collective action in tackling climate change.
The Financial Times has published a special series of articles on how climate change is impacting a range of sectors: “As in any great disruption there will be winners and losers from this change. FT reporters examine some of the industries that will be most affected.” The sectors it examines include aviation, shipping, oil majors, lighting, mining, banking, steel, renewables in India and insurance. The FT’s output over the holiday period also includes an op-ed by former BP CEO John Browne who writes that “the energy industry must engage with climate change”. Arun Majumdar, founding director of the US’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, writes that the “Earth needs a huge investment to solve energy’s pollution problem: one idea is to charge producers for the CO2 they emit, then pay the cash to citizens”. In a “big read” feature in the FT, Anjli Raval and Attracta Mooney focus on “money managers: the new warriors of climate change”, adding that “spreadsheet-analysing investors in control of trillion-dollar funds are forcing polluters to change”. Separately, Ed Crooks argues that “US energy independence is not the shining prize it seems”. Nick Butler says that there will be “winners and losers as the oil price falls towards $50”, adding that “the market is awash with oil and it will take something much bigger than the minor reduction agreed by Opec to bring a new balance”. Another “big read” in the FT focuses on China’s efforts to develop hydrogen fuel cells. And in two notable news stories, the FT reports that “clean technology offers hope for Teesside transformation” and “banks pushed to cleanse their balance sheets of climate risk”. Finally, another story in the FTnotes how Blackwater founder Erik Prince has plans to launch a fund for electric car battery metals.
Melting land ice from the Arctic contributed approximately 23mm to global sea levels between 1971 and 2017, a new study suggests. The researchers use data for 17 glacier and ice caps to develop a “semi-empirical” estimate of the annual sea level contribution from seven Arctic regions. Greenland is the principal source of meltwater, the study says, contributing 46% of the Arctic total, followed by Alaska (25%), Arctic Canada (14%) and the Russian High Arctic (7%). The authors suggest the estimate “represents the most accurate Arctic land ice mass balance assessment so far available before the 1992 start of satellite altimetry”.
The climate resilience of European wheat in most countries has declined during the last 5-15 years, a new study suggests. Using 101,000 cultivar yield observations, the researchers show a decline in the response diversity of wheat in farmers’ fields in most European countries after 2002–2009. The “assessment suggests that current breeding programs and cultivar selection practices do not sufficiently prepare for climatic uncertainty and variability”, the authors warn.
Rainfall, temperature and cyclone frequency explain 74% of the global trends in the maximum canopy height of mangroves, new research shows. Using remotely sensed measurements and field data, the study analyses the height of mangrove forests around the world and the amount of carbon they store. The tallest mangrove forests are in Gabon, which reach as high as 63 metres, the authors note. The findings imply “sensitivity of mangrove structure to climate change”, the study concludes. A second paper, published in PNAS, provides “a model framework for describing global dispersal and connectivity in mangroves”.
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