Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Momentum grows for EU effort to set 2050 climate neutrality goal
- Trump administration unveils rules to help coal industry
- Himalayan glacier melting doubled since 2000, spy satellites show
- Retreating Swiss glacier spurred May's new 2050 climate goal
- Merkel, fallen climate chancellor, has a chance to save her legacy
- I asked the five candidates about climate in the TV debate. None has a clear plan
- Economics of the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet
A number of publications report that EU leaders are set to discuss at a meeting in Brussels today whether the bloc of member states should set a net-zero climate goal for 2050. Politico writes that EU leaders are “coming under growing pressure to support” the move: “In an effort to reach a consensus and bring along skeptical Central European countries, especially Poland, language in the draft conclusions, issued Wednesday and seen by Politico, waters down the commitment to climate neutrality while keeping the 2050 date.” It adds: “All 28 are needed to endorse the goal at the leaders’ summit, and six countries are holding out — Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Croatia, the Czech Republic and Romania (which holds the rotating presidency of the Council, meaning it’s not supposed to take public stances on such issues). The language used in the draft Council conclusions has shifted toward the 2050 deadline, although the latest version uses careful phrasing that falls short of binding the bloc to the target.” Reuters says the leaders will today be “haggling” over the climate goal. The Independent describes the meeting as a “showdown on climate change”. It says there’s been a shift since March when there was more scepticism of the climate goal: “The changing political atmosphere comes after Europe-wide school strikes against climate change, protests by groups like Extinction Rebellion, and a surge in support for Green parties at the European elections.” The New York Times says the EU leaders are “set to decide on Thursday whether they can leap to a future largely free of fossil fuels within the next 30 years”.
Meanwhile, Unearthed reveals documents that it says show that “oil giants BP and Shell have declined to back an EU plan to all but eliminate Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions within the next three decades”. The Guardian also reports on Unearthed’s scoop.
Separately, the Guardian reports on remarks made by John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, in which he says that the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and World Bank are not doing enough to tackle climate change. He says: “I’m angling towards one [a new body] because I don’t think the existing ones are working effectively at the moment. They have an inability to intervene in the new economic circumstances.”
Many publications, particularly in the US, cover the Trump administration’s new “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, which the Financial Times describes as a pro-coal “new front” in the US president’s attack on climate policies enacted by his predecessor. The new rule pushes coal-fired power plants to become more efficient, which, says the FT, “could mean they will run more often and for longer, helping support US demand for coal”. The newspaper adds: “States including New York and environmental groups are promising to challenge the new rules in court. The resulting legal battles are likely to drag on into 2021, by which time it is possible there will be a Democratic president who could change policy.” The Guardian says the plan would “roll back the US government’s only direct efforts to curb coal-fired power plant pollution that is heating the planet”. ABC News says: “A senior [Environmental Protection Agency] official says the list of technologies approved by the agency [for making coal plants more efficient] does not include carbon capture or technologies to capture and store carbon, because the agency found it was not cost effective.” InsideClimate News says the “EPA concedes its new plan for regulating power plant emissions would be only a tiny fraction cleaner than having no regulation at all”. The Independent’s headline says: “US sets back efforts to fight climate change in favour of supporting coal industry.”
In other US-related news, the Washington Post joins others, including Axios, in reporting that Donald Trump’s nominee to serve as the next ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Knight Craft, “publicly broke with him on climate change” during a nomination hearing in Congress yesterday: “Craft, now the US ambassador to Canada, stressed to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that ‘human behaviour has contributed to the change in climate. Let there be no doubt.’ She later added: ‘I also understand that fossil fuels have played a part in climate change.’”
Meanwhile, Reuters says that New York state lawmakers have passed “one of the nation’s most ambitious plans to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050”. It adds: “If signed into law, it would make New York the second US state to aim for a carbon-neutral economy, following an executive order signed by then California governor Jerry Brown last year to make that state carbon neutral by 2045. The marathon session stretched past 2 a.m. Thursday before the votes were tallied with 104 in favour to 35 against.” Separately, the Guardian carries a piece saying that “defending against rising seas could cost US communities $416bn in the next 20 years”.
There is extensive media coverage of a new study published in Science Advances which shows that the melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century. The Guardian says that the scientists “combined declassified US spy satellite images from the mid-1970s with modern satellite data to create the first detailed, four-decade record of ice along the 2,000km (1,200-mile) mountain chain”. It adds: “The analysis shows that 8bn tonnes of ice are being lost every year and not replaced by snow, with the lower level glaciers shrinking in height by 5 metres annually. The study shows that only global heating caused by human activities can explain the heavy melting. In previous work, local weather and the impact of air pollution had complicated the picture.” BBC Newssays the images from Cold War spy satellites have revealed the “dramatic extent” of ice loss in the Himalayan glaciers. The New York Times, Reuters, MailOnline, Independent and USA Today also cover the findings – as does Carbon Brief, which includes a number of the images and charts from the study.
Theresa May, the outgoing UK prime minister, has told a podcast hosted by the former chief UN climate negotiator Christiana Figueres, that witnessing the rapid retreat of a glacier she knew from years of walking holidays in the Swiss Alps strengthened her resolve to commit the UK to a net-zero climate target. Reuters reports May as telling Figueres: “My husband and I enjoy walking in the Swiss Alps on our holidays. There is a particular place we go to. And over the last decade, more than a decade probably, at a particular spot, we have seen the glacier retreating at a pace you would not normally expect glaciers to move.” The latest episode of Outrage and Optimism podcast featuring the May interview is free to download.
Yvo de Boer, who was the chief UN climate negotiator from 2006-2010, writes in Climate Home News that since the early 1990s “Germany has been on the front lines of political efforts to agree international action”. However, he adds: “As international momentum accelerated – Germany took its foot off the gas and kept burning coal. You would have thought the Paris Agreement and IPCC 1.5C report might have given Berlin the space it needed to boost German leadership even further. It did not – quite the contrary. Germany seems to have moved to the back seat of EU climate ambition and despite announcing a 2038 coal phase-out date is struggling to set out a clear path for domestic targets to be achieved. This week with the upcoming European Council, Germany has the chance step up again…The stunning success of Germany’s greens in the EU elections and polls showing 81% of Germans want tougher climate action should offer Merkel further comfort that ambition is the only way to go.”
Writing for EurActiv, Caio Koch-Weser, who is a former secretary of state in the German Federal Ministry of Finance and member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, says that “Europe’s people have made clear the gravity of climate change: now political leaders must respond”. He adds: “The EU should come to the September UN Climate Action Summit with a clear commitment to step up its climate commitment in 2020, and to lay out a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.”
The Guardian carries an opinion piece written by the teenage climate campaigner who was selected by the BBC to put a question to the Conservative party leadership candidates during Tuesday night’s live studio debate. Erin Curtis of the UK Student Climate Network writes: “Last night I asked the five candidates vying to be our next prime minister whether they would commit to taking the radical and drastic action necessary to tackle climate change. You may have realised from my reaction to the answers they gave that I was not impressed…Last night demonstrated that none of the candidates on offer have a clear plan for how to address the climate crisis.”
Meanwhile, in the Daily Telegraph, Laetitia Maklouf wonders how best to “reassure” her 10-year-old daughter who is already an “eco-worrier”: “Knowing that they are not alone but part of a massive movement is essential in preventing depression, apathy and/or apocalyptic behaviour…Climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s ‘Fridays For Future’, her weekly strike to protest lack of legislative environmental change, are a great example of this.”
The melting of the Greenland ice sheet may only have “a small effect” on the “social cost of carbon” because “melting is slow and damages are far in the future”, according to a new study by economist Prof William Nordhaus. (The social cost of carbon is a measure of the net economic cost of emitting one additional tonne of CO2.) The research analyses the economic impact of Greenland ice sheet melt by combining long-term economic growth models with climate models. It finds that the “disintegration” of the Greenland ice sheet would add less than 5% to the social cost of carbon.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.
Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email.