Today's climate and energy headlines:
- More than 11,000 homes in England to be built on land at high risk of flooding
- Climate change gets first mention in G20 finance communique of Trump era
- Australian power prices forecast to fall by 7% by 2022 as cost of renewables drops
- JP Morgan warns of end to human life in climate report
- Environmentalists must stop talking hot air
- Revealed: The carbon offsetting 'Wild West'
- A very hot year
- Tech titans find their climate conscience
- Long‐term impacts of permafrost thaw on carbon storage in peatlands: deep losses offset by surficial accumulation
There is continuing coverage of flooding across the UK media. The Guardian and Unearthed carry a “joint analysis” revealing that “more than 11,000 new homes are planned to be built on land at the highest risk of flooding in the regions battered by the worst winter storms in a generation”. The Guardian continues: “An analysis of planning documents reveals that 11,410 new homes have been planned for land the government considers high-risk in the seven English counties where thousands of properties have been devastated by flooding since November.” The Sunday Times reports that “Britain should be preparing for its seas and tidal rivers to rise by up to 6.5ft in the next 80 years, according to the scientist in charge of protecting Holland against flooding and sea level change”. As part of its campaigning against foreign aid, the Sun on Sunday carries an “exclusive” showing that “almost £8m of British taxpayers’ money has gone to flood defence schemes in countries abroad in the past four years”. An accompanying editorial in the Sun on Sunday argues: “Vast sums lavished on foreign aid while hard-working Brits struggle. It’s a familiar complaint. But it makes the blood boil to hear that almost £8m in taxpayers’ money has been spent on flood defences abroad over the past four years while vast areas of this country are swamped.” In the Sunday Telegraph, environment secretary George Eustice writes: “Defra [the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] has always acted with great urgency when tackling flooding around the country – but what is clear to me is that the crisis of flooding is not receding and is a defining feature of climate change in this country. Climate change is making the UK warmer and wetter, and we will be visited by extreme weather more frequently in the future. So we need to shift gears, to ensure we adapt and become more resilient. Now, as an independent nation, committed to net-zero and nature recovery, we have a huge opportunity to make nature’s power part of the solutions we need so urgently. We can’t tackle the climate crisis without the farmers that manage our land, and I’ve long been clear that farmers should be rewarded with public money for public goods, such as putting in place measures to help prevent flooding. Leaving the EU means we can reassert our world-leading position on climate change and environment policies and design our own system which provides such incentives and benefits for our own country.”
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Simon Wren-Lewis, an emeritus professor of economics and fellow of Merton College, Oxford, writes: “Beyond the folly of austerity, the failure to enact measures that could have prevented flood damage illustrates something else about the attitude of Conservative governments in general, and this one in particular: a lack of interest in evidence. The Pitt review in 2007 collected all the evidence available at the time, and made clear recommendations that spending on flood defences needed to adapt to a reality where periodic, severe flooding would become normal…Part of the answer lies in the failure of the broadcast media, with only a few honourable exceptions, to hold Conservative governments to account. I have not seen any television reports on the recent flooding that have mentioned austerity – let alone the Pitt review.” In the Observer, Gaby Hinsliff writes: “With every flood, public anger over the climate crisis is surging.” As Boris Johnson continues to face criticism for not visiting flood victims, the Sun reports on Prince Charles visiting flood victims where he “blames global warming declaring he knew it ‘would happen’”.
Reuters reports that finance officials from the world’s 20 biggest economies (G20) agreed yesterday to reference climate change in their final communique for the first time since Donald Trump became US president. However, they stopped short of calling it a major risk to the economy. Reuters adds: “The US blocked including climate change on a list of downside risks to global growth that had won agreement by nearly all other G20 delegates, but ultimately agreed to permit a reference to the Financial Stability Board’s work examining the implications of climate change for financial stability…several G20 sources said it marked progress toward greater recognition of the economic risks posed by climate change.” The Guardian and New York Times also cover the story.
The Guardian reports that, according to Australia’s Energy Security Board, retail electricity prices are tipped to fall by 7.1% by 2022 – an average saving of $97 per household. It adds: “In its latest report on the health of the national electricity market, to be released on Monday, the ESB credits new low-cost renewable generation for driving down wholesale prices and warns that severe weather and ageing coal power plants are threatening reliability of supply. The ESB found that 16% of Australia’s electricity was generated by wind and solar in 2018-19, and the share of these renewables is forecast to increase to 27% in 2022 and 40% in 2030 – short of the target of 50% by 2030 that [the opposition] Labor proposed before the last election. Lead by Tasmania, which uses almost 100% renewables, and South Australia, with 53%, Australia is in the top tier of renewable share alongside Ireland, California, Germany, Spain and Portugal.” [Some 37% of UK electricity generation in 2019 was from renewables, as Carbon Brief reported.]
Separately, the Guardian reports that “Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions have dipped slightly on the back of new clean energy and a sharp fall from agriculture due to the drought, but the decline was almost entirely wiped out by surging industrial pollution”. It adds: “Official data released on Monday revealed national emissions were down 0.3% in the year to September. Emissions from electricity generation fell 2% (3.6m tonnes of CO2) as the now-filled renewable energy target boosted invested in solar and wind power. Pollution from agriculture fell even further – 4.1m tonnes, or 5.8% – due to the impact on livestock of the historic eastern seaboard drought and north Queensland floods. But fugitive emissions, released during coal and gas extraction, were estimated to have jumped 6% (3.3m tonnes).”
Meanwhile, in a third article, the Guardian notes that a “fresh outbreak of stupidity in the political debate has been triggered by Labor’s decision last week to sign up to a net-zero target by 2050”. It has a Q&A asking “is it a controversial ambition and will the [government] coalition adopt it?” An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald says: “At a minimum, Australia needs bipartisan agreement on the broad brushstrokes of climate policy so businesses can invest with confidence. That is why the Morrison government should consider closely the speech opposition leader Anthony Albanese made on climate policy on Friday rather than use it to score political points.” Finally, the New York Times has a feature headlined: “The fires are out, but Australia’s climate disasters aren’t over.”
There is continuing coverage of a report sent to clients by economists at the bank JP Morgan which concludes that the human race could “cease to exist” without massive worldwide action to tackle global warming. The Daily Telegraph says: In an alarming document sent to clients, they said that deaths, immigration and conflicts will soar as the planet heats and water supplies dry up. Famines will increase and species will be wiped out. All this will have a devastating impact on economic growth and the stock market, the report’s authors David Mackie and Jessica Murray said. The impact of climate change has been massively underestimated, they said, adding: ‘Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive’…According to JP Morgan’s research, titled Risky business: the climate and the macroeconomy, the impact of climate change will be broad and devastating. The economists call on world leaders to introduce a global carbon tax to prevent a meltdown, saying no other measure is likely to be enough. The note stands in stark contrast with earlier climate reports from the investment bank, which have been far more reserved in their language. JP Morgan is one of the world’s most prominent financiers of fossil fuel projects.“ The Guardian also covers the report.
There is widespread reaction in the UK media to the government’s proposed banning of the use of coal and wet wood for domestic heating. An editorial in Saturday’s Daily Telegraph says: “Most people want to do their bit to help the environment. The problem is that the goal posts keep shifting (wood-burning stoves and diesel cars are encouraged one minute, discouraged the next) and trust is undermined by false promises…All of this erodes the credibility of the green agenda, which is a great shame as much of it is admirable and the kind of practical conservation that many people already do as a matter of instinct…From this mix of confused aims and bad policy, the Conservatives have to create a coherent, practical agenda that wins hearts and minds through reason, not compulsion.” In the Sunday Telegraph, climate sceptic Charles Moore argues: “The Leave victory in the 2016 referendum, and its confirmation in last December’s general election, showed how dramatically the ‘people from somewhere’ had rejected control by the ‘people from anywhere’. Yet the false doctrine of climate emergency is treating people from somewhere as if they were people from nowhere. If Boris Johnson is not careful, he will face both electoral and economic emergencies as a result.” Ross Clark, another climate sceptic, takes a different view in the Spectator: “I can’t wait for the ban on horribly polluting solid fuels. My only regret is that the government is not banning bonfires at the same time. Do that and finally, we who live in the country will be able to breathe air as clean as those who live in smokeless zones.” An editorial in the Yorkshire Post says: “The government’s measures appear sensible. It has not attempted to ban stoves or open fires, which would have been deeply unpopular and impossible to police. The new restrictions will allow the burning of dry wood and manufactured solid fuel when household coal is no longer sold, and that means the comfort of a roaring fire remains with us for a wee while yet.” The Guardian has published “everything you need to know about the phasing out of polluting domestic fuels”. It says “the restrictions on domestic coal use and wet wood are a drop in the ocean” when it comes to having a positive impact on the climate. The Daily Telegraph’s environment editor Emma Gatten reports that “the ban on coal and wet wood could cost households up to £469m over the next ten years, according to government estimates”.
Meanwhile, in other UK comment, Dan Hannan argues in the Daily Telegraph that “cults”, such as Extinction Rebellion, should “be tolerated, but not humoured”. He adds: They are free to disseminate whatever crazy ideas they like. But when they act outside the law – gluing themselves to buildings and vehicles, blockading streets, causing criminal damage – they should be treated the same as any other group of yobs who decide to smash things up.“ Also in the Daily Telegraph, Nick Timothy says that “Left” keeps putting itself on the “wrong side of…cultural questions…They back not the law-abiding public, but anarchists who in the name of ‘climate justice’ illegally disrupt public transport and vandalise green public spaces.” And in the Daily Mail, John Humphrys writes about why “helicopters dumping snow to replenish barren pistes is proof that we’re on a slippery slope to disaster”.
In a frontpage “exclusive”, a Daily Telegraph investigation “reveals” that “consumers trying to offset their emissions are at risk of being ripped off in a ‘Wild West’ unregulated carbon market”. The article continues: “With the trading of carbon credits enjoying a boom, concerns have been raised about offsetting projects around the world. Environmentalists have warned that offsetting could be doing more harm than good because it makes people wrongly believe they are not having an environmental impact. It comes as the Telegraph became one of the first media organisations in the world to gain access to an illegal sapphire mine in a Madagascan conservation zone which is used to generate carbon credits but has seen increasing rates of deforestation. Separate satellite analysis for The Telegraph also revealed that trees are being cut down at a project in Brazil used for offsetting by both British Gas and the International Air Transport Association.” A follow-up article in the Sunday Telegraph says that “the government has been warned not to rely on carbon offsetting to reach its net-zero goals, after a Telegraph investigation revealed major flaws in some schemes”. It quotes Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr, who says: “We are concerned that ministers will be tempted to put the government’s stamp of approval on carbon offsetting in their forthcoming aviation strategy. This would be a terrible mistake. Carbon offsetting looks like an easy way out but in reality it’s a dead end.” Writing in the Daily Telegraph, environment editor Emma Gatten says: “Offsets provide a convenient way for corporations to convince us that the way we live now won’t have to change if we have hope of limiting the impact of climate change. But consumers risk being fooled into thinking they are contributing to a greener future.”
In a lengthy feature for the New York Review of Books, veteran climate activist and author Bill McKibben looks at the year ahead: “Political change is uncertain – despite the remarkable activism of Extinction Rebellion across the UK, December’s elections there seemed little affected by the issue – and even when it comes it is slow. A new president and a new Senate would still mean a Washington rusted by influence and inertia. And winning this battle one national capitol at a time is a daunting challenge given the short time physics is allowing us. A small but growing number of activists are also looking at a second set of targets—not Washington, but Wall Street…in mid-January the world’s largest financial firm, BlackRock, announced that it was taking broad, if still tentative, steps to include climate change in its analyses of potential investments…That’s perhaps the most encouraging news about climate change since the signing of the Paris climate accords, because if these pillars of global capital could somehow be persuaded to act, that action could conceivably be both swift and global. Anything is worth a try at this point, because we’re very nearly out of time.”
An editorial in the Financial Times looks at the pledge made last week by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to create a $10bn fund for climate change: “US business, including Big Tech, is waking up to the risks of climate change – and trusting in science to find solutions. Donations such as these can give a vital boost to research into technology that could be transformative in the long-term battle to halt rising global temperatures…Yet there are dangers in being seduced by tech entrepreneurs’ belief that innovation can find silver bullets…The Amazon chief’s generosity is also related to the power of employee pressure. More than 8,700 Amazon staff last April signed an open letter to the founder demanding the company cut its carbon emissions…As popular anger builds, company bosses will find out that enacting eco-friendly policies is a business necessity rather than a branding exercise.”
A long-term study of northern permafrost finds that carbon lost to the atmosphere through thawing may be offset by carbon gains made at the soil surface. Northern peatlands store a third of the world’s soil carbon, a store which has slowly accumulated over the last 10,000 years. The authors say: “Our results rule out both large rapid losses and large gains of carbon following thaw in peatlands, which greatly helps to constrain projections of carbon cycling at high latitudes in a warming world.”
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