Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Leading countries blocked from speaking at UN climate summit
- Greta Thunberg to Congress: ‘You’re not trying hard enough. Sorry’
- Trump administration to revoke California’s power to set stricter auto emissions standards
- Earth warming more quickly than thought, new climate models show
- Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns
- Fossil fuel divestment has ‘zero’ climate impact, says Bill Gates
- Why I broke the law for climate change
- Disentangling the causes of the 1816 European year without a summer
- Winter climate change and the poleward range expansion of a tropical invasive tree...
Major economies, including Japan and Australia, will not be invited to speak at the UN climate change summit being hosted by secretary-general António Guterres in New York next week, according to the Financial Times. Continued support for coal in these nations goes against Guterres’ demands to stop building new coal power stations, reduce fossil-fuel subsidies and commit to net-zero emissions by 2050, the paper notes. It reports that the UK’s Boris Johnson and France’s Emmanuel Macron will, however, deliver new climate pledges, alongside dozens of other heads of state. The Guardian reports that fossil-fuel executives are holding an invite-only forum with environmentalists and governments on the sidelines of the summit, in a move branded by campaigners as “greenwashing”. The same paper also reports on the Global Climate Restoration Forum, a new effort to push governments and corporations to support technologies that suck greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, which is being launched at the UN in New York.
Ahead of the summit, Climate Home News reports that China and India, among the world’s largest emitters, are demanding rich countries provide financial support for them to increase their climate plans. Separate statements by the two nations called for rich countries to fulfil their pledges to mobilise $100bn per year by 2020 for developing countries to deal with climate change impacts. EURACTIV has an article looking at how wealthy countries are “still failing” on these commitments. A lengthy piece in Nature looks at where climate finance is currently being directed around the world – and why, as it stands, “it’s not enough”.
Reuters reports on China’s position paper for the conference in which the country says it will try to persuade others to support “nature-based solutions” to tackle the causes of climate change. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on young activists in China trying to convince Beijing to take more radical action to cut emissions. Reuters also reports that investors are “turning heat on Big Oil” as the summit approaches, with a report by investor project the Transition Pathway Initiative concluding that only 31 out of 109 energy firms are aligned with commitments governments have made under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
A group of young climate activists led by Greta Thunberg were praised at a meeting of the Senate climate crisis task force on Tuesday for their efforts to “combat one of the most urgent and politically contentious threats confronting world leaders”, the Guardian reports. However, their words were rebuffed by the young activist from Sweden. “Please save your praise. We don’t want it…Don’t invite us here to just tell us how inspiring we are without actually doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything,“ said Thunberg, according to the Guardian. Vox reports that the teenager had used “her superpower of shaming adults on Senate Democrats”.
The Hill reports that Barack Obama met with the 16-year-old climate activist as part of her Washington DC trip to lobby lawmakers and that the former president had noted Thunberg was “unafraid to push for real action”. CNN, HuffPost and a number of other publications also have this story. The Washington Post has a video of the two meeting. Intelligencer has a profile of Thunberg outlining her story under the headline: “It’s Greta’s world.”
The Trump administration intends to revoke California’s long-standing right to set stricter standards for cars and trucks to cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, reports the Washington Post. The paper says the move is the latest step in part of a wider campaign to backtrack on Obama-era policies intended to tackle climate change. The Los Angeles Times also has the story, noting that the move, expected today, will put the state and the administration on a path to years of court battles. It notes that the Environmental Protection Agency, which is behind the announcement, had no comment on the plan which is thought to have been in the works for almost as long as Donald Trump has been in power. The New York Times carries a quote from an environmental lawyer who calls the move “unprecedented and a tremendously big deal”. The LA Times says the official announcement is expected while the president is in California for a campaign fundraising trip. CNN, Politico and Reuters also report the story.
Separate models produced by two major research centres in France suggest that by 2100, if CO2 emissions continue unabated, average temperatures could rise 7C above pre-industrial levels, according to AFP. The French models are the first to be released from a new generation of around 30 climate models known collectively as CMIP6, which are expected to underpin the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s next major report in 2021. (For more, see Carbon Brief’s recent guest post on the topic.) AFP reports that their new figures are up to 2C higher than the equivalent scenario in the previous IPCC report from 2014 and the scientists behind the models say they suggest the Paris Agreement target of staying “well below” 2C of warming will be challenging. MailOnline and France24 also carry the story from AFP.
Co-founder of 350.org Bill McKibben has penned a lengthy piece for the New Yorker considering the role fossil-fuel financing plays in climate change. “Political leaders are not the only powerful actors on the planet…those who hold most of the money also have enormous power,” he writes. “Their power could be exercised in a matter of months or even hours, not years or decades. I suspect that the key to disrupting the flow of carbon into the atmosphere may lie in disrupting the flow of money to coal and oil and gas.” According to McKibben himself, the piece is “by far the longest” opinion piece the nearly century-old magazine has ever run. The environmentalist concludes by noting that even if the small group of NGOs currently taking on banks and insurers to cut off fossil fuel finance see some success, “victory is far from guaranteed”. He notes that the changes that must take place in financial institutions are small compared to the wider global changes climate change will bring, and says relatively speaking they “have it easy”. “No one should actually be a master of the universe. But, for the moment, the financial giants are the masters of our planet. Perhaps we can make them put that power to use. Fast,” he concludes.
With this week’s news about attacks in the Gulf threatening the planet’s water supply, McKibben also writes a piece for The Guardian on the premise that running on renewables will enable the world to “relax”. “No one will ever fight a war over access to sunshine,” he says.
As a counterpoint to Bill McKibben’s optimistic New Yorker piece, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has stated that fossil-fuel divestment has so far “reduced about zero tonnes of emissions”. In a front-page interview with the Financial Times, the billionaire philanthropist questions the “theory of change” proposed by McKibben and other campaigners backing divestment, and says efforts should go instead towards investing in innovative new technologies that cut emissions. “I don’t know the mechanism of action where divestment [keeps] emissions [from] going up every year. I’m just too damn numeric,“ says Gates. The FT piece features a quote from Richard Brooks, divestment campaigns co-ordinator at 350.org, comparing fossil fuel divestment to efforts to stem the flow of money into 1980s South Africa, which he says was “definitely a contributing factor” to the apartheid system’s collapse.
In a comment piece for Nature, lawyer Farhana Yamin describes her journey from being a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and an adviser in the UN climate negotiations to protesting with Extinction Rebellion and being arrested for civil disobedience. “Why did I, an international environmental lawyer, break the law? Having spent three decades failing to get governments to pay attention to the climate crisis through advocacy at the highest levels, I felt that activism was now crucial. I wanted to show how ridiculous it is that a law-abiding (indeed, law-making) mother of four should be handcuffed while the world’s major polluters remain unaccountable for ecocide,” she writes. Yamin explains her role on the group’s political strategy team, coordinating with government, and describes the surprise that some of her climate colleagues felt when she joined the movement. She also praises the young people who are rising up to protest climate change ahead of the UN climat summit in New York next week. “Building regenerative political communities — in which humans and nature co-exist — needs committed, courageous people to stand up for what they believe in, repeatedly, for a long time to come,” she concludes.
In a separate piece in the Scotsman, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland Dr Richard Dixon writes about how impressed he has been by the growing youth movement. “I’ll let you into a secret. I’ve been to lots of rallies and marches in my life, but in the last decade I can’t usually be bothered to listen to the speeches, it mostly feels like I’ve heard it all before,” he says, referring to strikes that had at seen gatherings of thousands of young people. “But the children outside Parliament gave speech after speech that was really worth listening to.”
A new paper seeks to confirm the cause of the European ‘year without a summer’ in 1816 that brought “anomalously cold conditions and unusual wetness, which led to widespread famines and agricultural failures”. “The cause has often been assumed to be the eruption of Mount Tambora in April 1815,” the researchers say, “however this link has not, until now, been proven”. Using climate models and “state-of-the-art event attribution methods”, the study finds that natural variability “can explain only about a quarter of the anomalously cold conditions”. However, in model runs including the forcing by the Tambora eruption “makes the European cold anomaly up to 100 times more likely, while the precipitation anomaly became 1.5–3 times as likely”, the researchers say. This suggests a “large fraction of the observed anomalies” can be attributed to the volcanic forcing, the study concludes.
Warming winter temperatures could see the invasive tree species “Brazilian pepper” expand “northward and transform ecosystems in north Florida and across much of the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic coasts of the US”, a new study says. Since introduction in the 1800s, the invasive non‐native tree Schinus terebenthifolius (Brazilian pepper) has “invaded ecosystems throughout south and central Florida to become the state’s most widespread non‐native plant species”, the study says. Examining the potential for range expansion in a 2C, 4C and 6C warmer world, the researchers find a “strong…relationship between minimum temperature and Brazilian pepper presence”. The results “underscore the importance of early detection and rapid response efforts to identify and manage the northward invasion of Brazilian pepper in response to climate change”, the study concludes.
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