Today's climate and energy headlines:
- New BP boss Bernard Looney pledges net-zero emissions by 2050
- PM ‘committed’ to UN climate summit in Glasgow despite London fallback option
- Plant a trillion trees: US Republicans offer fossil fuel-friendly climate fix
- It’s a tough ask, but Britain can make COP26 a success
- Planting trees won’t save the world
- The environmental consequences of climate-driven agricultural frontiers
BP chief executive Bernard Looney has pledged to cut the oil and gas company’s greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 or sooner, according to the Financial Times. The paper calls the commitment “the most ambitious yet” from the sector, which is facing “a backlash as climate change moves up the agenda of shareholders and governments”. BBC News reports Looney said the 111-year-old company must “reinvent” itself in a strategy that will ultimately include more investment in alternative energy sources. According to the New York Times, while other fossil fuel majors such as Royal Dutch Shell and Total have adopted targets to curb emissions, “BP is going further”, with a commitment to hit net-zero on the emissions associated with the oil and gas it extracts and sells. However, news outlets also emphasise the apparent lack of detail in the new BP pledge. The Times reports that Looney’s “big ambitions for change are light on detail”, noting his statement that it was very likely BP would still be producing oil and gas in 2050 – although less than it currently does. The paper says it is “not clear” how BP will decarbonise the oil and gas in produces, although there were mentions of carbon capture and storage technology and “natural climate solutions” to offset emissions. The Guardian has a piece from global environment editor Jonathan Watts examining BP’s statement in depth, looking at “what it says and what it means”. Among other things, he notes: “There is nothing in this statement to suggest BP will move away from previous plans to increase oil and gas production by 20% over the next 10 years. That would be a disaster.” An opinion piece by the Financial Times’ energy editor David Sheppard also notes that “detail is required”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has a piece based on analysis for the paper by Taxpayers for Common Sense in the US, revealing BP, Shell, Chevron and Exxon have made almost $2tn in profits from fossil fuels over the past three decades. It says the findings come as experts say the decades-long fossil fuel boom draws to a close. An “exclusive” story in the Sydney Morning Herald finds that four of Australia’s biggest industry “super funds” have billions of dollars invested in fossil fuel companies “despite taking a vocal stance on climate change”. Another Guardian story reports that Amundi, Europe’s largest asset manager, is backing a shareholder vote to force Barclays to stop providing loans to fossil fuel companies. The Wall Street Journal has a piece examining carbon capture technology, which it says is “winning fans” among oil giants such as Exxon and Chevron. A feature in the Financial Times magazine asks if the world can “kick its oil habit”, and finally, another piece in the Financial Times also has an opinion piece asking if “greenwashing” is “a necessary evil”.
Downing Street has issued an assurance that UK prime minister Boris Johnson “remains committed” to hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, according to the Press Association. The statement comes after it emerged a London venue – the ExCeL Centre – is being lined up as a fallback option to replace the Scottish city. The Guardian reports that when asked about the apparent uncertainty, the prime minister’s press secretary said the plan was still to hold the event in Glasgow, while warning the Scottish government about escalating costs and stating the outcome must represent “value for the UK taxpayer”. It notes the response from Scottish first minister,Nicola Sturgeon, who said Johnson was “playing politics with the biggest issue of our time”.
In a piece on Johnson’s imminent cabinet reshuffle, the Times tips business and clean growth minister Kwasi Kwarteng to take over as COP26 president following the sacking of former Conservative minister Claire O’Neill. The Guardian reports on an upcoming speech set to be given by Liberal Democrat acting leader, Sir Ed Davey, declaring that a cross-party committee of MPs, green campaigning groups, business leaders and climate experts should be assembled to advise the government on the upcoming UN climate summit.
In other news, BBC News reports that the UK government’s proposed ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars could begin as early as 2032, according to transport secretary Grant Shapps. The minister told BBC Radio 5 live it would happen by 2035, “or even 2032,” after last week suggesting the date would come forward from the initial proposal of 2040. The Guardian notes concerns from the car industry, and that Shapps also added any changes to the date would be subject to a consultation.
US Republicans have proposed legislation that would set a goal for the nation to plant a trillion trees by 2050, in a plan that would tackle climate change by “sucking carbon out of the air instead of by cutting emissions”, Reuters reports. The news outlet notes that president Donald Trump, “who has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change”, had actually expressed his support for a massive tree-planting campaign while speaking in Davos last month. The New York Times has a piece about how Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce, influenced the president and helped push the idea of a “trillion trees initiative”. The piece notes that “political strategists described the initiative as part of an effort to steer Mr Trump toward more environmentally friendly messaging without abandoning the development of more planet-warming fossil fuel energy”.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic has a piece looking in-depth at the Trump administration’s “attempt to kill one of America’s strongest climate policies”– namely rules on tailpipe emissions from cars. Mother Jones has a piece examining polling which shows that climate change is the president’s “most unpopular position”, and therefore his “biggest vulnerability”.
A piece in the Times by Rachel Kyte, former special representative of the UN secretary-general and chief executive officer of Sustainable Energy for All, reflects on the current state of the COP26 climate talks, which she says are “dangling from an organisational zip wire”. While she says “currently things look bad”, she also expresses her belief that as with the 2012 Olympics in London, the UK will be able to pull off a successful event. Among the requirements are a big diplomatic push and a strong relationship with the EU. “The eyes of the world will on the UK in November. If Britain were to fail to help deliver a successful negotiation, the ramifications will be profound, globally, but also for Britain’s Brexit-weakened reputation as a pragmatic force. There’s no turning back, no alternative. We need to get it done.”
The Daily Telegraph has a piece co-authored by Bank of England governor and COP26 finance advisor Mark Carney and work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey, warning that pension schemes “must disclose” their plans to fight climate change. “We will be hosting COP26 to show global leadership and to agree more ambitious action to reach net zero globally in the coming decades,” they write. “Now we must ensure that the UK continues to lead the world in creating a green economy. Pension funds look after the savings of those in retirement and those that will later retire. People must be able to see and understand whether their funds are invested in line with the values that they hold.”
Following the US president’s support for a massive tree planting campaign, and a recent paper in the journal Science concluding that planting one trillion trees was “the most effective climate change solution to date”, a group of scientists write in the New York Times that this thinking is a “dangerous diversion” from climate solutions. “Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050,” they write. “Even a 16-year-old can tell you that.”
Another opinion piece in Nature suggests that adopting a carbon tax could support and restore ecosystems such as tropical forests that help to tackle climate change. The authors note that Costa Rica and Colombia have already done this, and say that billions could be raised to invest in natural habitats that benefit the climate if the scheme was rolled out elsewhere.
Climate change may open up new “agricultural frontiers” for cultivation, a new study suggests, but this could be at the expense of releasing the carbon that that land currently holds. The researchers modelled “multiple major global commodity crop suitability changes due to climate change, to estimate the impacts of new crop suitability on water, biodiversity and carbon storage”. The findings reveal locations that “become newly suitable for one or more crops” in future, the researchers say. These “cover an area equivalent to over 30% of the current agricultural land on the planet”, the study notes. However, “frontier soils contain up to 177bn tonnes of carbon, which might be subject to release”, the study says, while also risking “major potential impacts on biodiversity in tropical mountains” and “on water resources downstream…in high latitude lands”.