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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- No place for new fossil fuels if world is to reach net zero by 2050, says landmark report
- Greenland ice sheet on brink of major tipping point, says study
- UK: Sales of peat compost to gardeners to be banned from 2024
- US: Supreme Court gives big oil a win in climate fight with cities
- China: Xinjiang's Daqo factory opens doors to counter forced labour claims
- UK: Rolls-Royce seeks private funds to power nuclear project
- Europe’s climate leaders 2021
- Coal industry feels heat as Germany doubles down on climate goals
- Critical slowing down suggests that the western Greenland Ice Sheet is close to a tipping point
- Atmospheric blocking drives recent albedo change across the western Greenland ice sheet percolation zone
- Historical and future drought impacts in the Pacific islands and atolls
There is widespread media coverage of the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), entitled “Net-zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy sector”, which was published this morning. (Carbon Brief has published an in-depth piece unpacking the report.) The Independent reports that the IEA has proposed a “first-of-its kind blueprint for how the global energy sector can effectively end its contribution to the climate crisis by the middle of the century”, which it calls the “New Zero Roadmap”. BBC News reports that the IEA has outlined 400 steps on the road to net zero – including ending the sale of new fossil fuel-powered boilers by 2025 and new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2035. The report also calls for emissions from energy generation to reach net-zero by 2035 in “advanced economies” and by 2040 globally, according to the outlet. The Guardian adds that, according to the report, the development of new oil-and-gas fields “must stop this year” to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, and no new coal-fired power plants can be built. Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, tells the newspaper: “If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year.”
The Wall Street Journal, Times, i newspaper and Climate Home News all lead with the finding that fossil fuel expansion and investment must stop to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The Financial Times notes that, according to the report, global investment in energy also need to increase from $2tn to $5tn by 2030. It adds that coal demand would need to drop by 90%, gas demand by 50% and oil demand by 75% by 2050. It continues: “‘We need a historical surge in investment’, said Fatih Birol, head of the IEA, adding that this would add 0.4% annually to GDP growth. ‘The bulk of it needs to be in clean energy.” Reuters reports that, according to the IEA, “the window of opportunity for reaching net-zero emissions by mid-century is narrowing unless the world radically changes the way energy is produced, used and transported”. The Washington Post notes that, according to the report, even if current climate goals from all countries in the world are achieved, the pledges “still fail to cover 22bn tons of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide in 2050”. The New York Times adds that other academics and environmentalists have made similar recommendations around cutting emissions, but this is “the first time the IEA has outlined ways to accomplish such drastic cuts in emissions”. BusinessGreen and Energy Monitor also cover the report. And the Independent has published a separate piece asking what the roadmap means for fossil fuels in the UK.
A large section of the Greenland ice sheet may be nearing a tipping point that, if crossed, would make accelerated melting “inevitable even if global heating was halted”, the Guardian reports. This is according to new research in which the authors “detected the warning signals of a tipping point” in a the Jakobshavn basin – the fastest melting basin in Greenland, and one of the biggest. The newspaper notes that, given uncertainties in the research, the ice sheet “might already be at the point of no return, or be about to cross it in the coming decades”. It adds that the “ice equivalent to 1-2 metres of sea level rise is probably already doomed to melt”. Reuters also covers the study.
In other new research, Reuters covers a paper which finds that warming in the Arctic tundra is leading to increased wildfires and thawing permafrost emissions that are “not fully accounted for in global emissions agreements”. The Hill adds that there are currently no global climate models that include abrupt thawing, soil combustion and how fires could affect permafrost vulnerability. It adds that, according to the researchers, policymakers should factor Arctic emissions data into climate models, carbon budgets and risk assessments of warming. Meanwhile, Scientific American and MailOnline report on a paper published last week, which finds that “tree farts” from “ghost forests” are releasing carbon emissions that are not being currently accounted for. And the Times reports that wildfires are becoming more frequent across Britain due to climate change. According to the newspaper, scientists have warned that fire services “must prepare for ‘more flammable landscapes’ similar to Spain and the US.”
The sale of peat compost will be banned by 2024 in the UK, the Guardian reports. According to the newspaper, UK peatland stores three times as much carbon as its forests, but “the vast majority [of peatlands] are in a degraded state”. It adds that £50m will be given to support the restoration of 35,000 hectares of peatland by 2025 noting that this is about 1% of the UK’s total peatland area. MailOnline adds that tree planting is set to treble,. The Daily Telegraph also covers the announcement.
In other UK news, the Times reports that Britain’s water regulator, Ofwat, has outlined a £2.8bn green investment plan. This news is also covered in Reuters and BusinessGreen. And BBC News reports that the UK government has announced a “ ‘net-zero’ equivalent for nature” – a legally binding target for 2030 to drive action to halt the decline of nature and wildlife”.
Meanwhile, Euractiv reports that the UK will launch its own emission trading system (ETS) this week, but adds that it will have no link to the EU system. According to the outlet, “with no sign of a link to the European Union’s market, prices could end up being more volatile than the EU’s”. Reuters notes that when Britain quit the EU’s carbon market in 2020, as part of leaving the EU, the two sides agreed to give “serious consideration” to linking their carbon markets. However, it reports that there is currently “no sign of negotiations starting on a link – stoking fears among emitters that having separate schemes could put British and EU firms on an uneven footing”. Reuters also carries an “explainer” of the UK’s new ETS system.
A separate Reuters piece reports that the European Commission has weighed in on a “politically fraught decision”, saying that the EU may need to classify natural gas as a green investment. And EurActiv reports that the European Commission “was sent back to the drawing board on the EU’s renewable energy directive overhaul after an internal assessment of its draft proposal concluded that it failed to analyse the potential environmental risks of increased bioenergy use”.
The Supreme Court has ruled in favour of fossil fuel companies in a “major climate case” against the mayor and city council of Baltimore, the New York Times reports. It continues: “Baltimore filed its suit in July 2018, arguing that the companies’ ‘production, promotion and marketing of fossil fuel products, simultaneous concealment of the known hazards of those products, and their championing of anti-science campaigns’ harmed the city.” However, Monday’s ruling will send the case back to federal courts, which fossil fuel companies “prefer”, according to the newspaper. This case has been “a major point of contention” in about 20 similar cases that have been filed across the US, it adds. The Wall Street Journal reports that oil companies originally asked for the case to be moved to the federal system, because “some of their oil-and-gas exploration efforts have come at the behest of the federal government”, but that a federal judge denied the request in 2019. Yesterday’s decision, by a 7-1 ruling, sends the case back to the federal appeals court for further proceedings. The Hill notes that the decision “did not delve” into the climate issues, instead focussing on whether the case should be heard in federal or state court. The outlet notes that, according to critics, corporate clients have a “better chance at winning in federal court.” The Wall Street Journal runs an editorial under headline, “The Supreme Court makes it harder for cities to duck federal courts”, and the Washington Post also covers the ruling. Meanwhile, the Hill reports that Sierra Club and two other local environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against the Biden administration, “alleging that the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) has been derelict in handling mine cleanup in West Virginia”.
In other US news, the Washington Post reports that the Biden administration has outlined plans to cut emissions from federal buildings. According to the newspaper, the government will implement “building performance standards” for all federal facilities and establish a new “Energy Star” standards for heat pumps. It adds that the Energy Star standards will “include electric-vehicle chargers in commercial settings and a cold-climate designation for heat pumps, which are used to heat or cool homes and buildings”. However, the paper notes that no timeline has been set for developing the performance standards or releasing specific benchmarks yet. Reuters also covers the announcement. And the New York Times reports that a wildfire encroaching on the outskirts of Los Angeles this weekend is “a warning that California could face an unusually early fire season this summer as a severe drought takes hold.” Inside Climate News has a story on the impact of California’s droughts on farming towns.
A major polysilicon factory has become the first Xinjiang-based solar company to open its doors to foreign media since allegations of forced labour in the sector surfaced, reports Bloomberg. Daqo New Energy, a US-listed firm, is “breaking ranks in an attempt to shield itself from potential US sanctions over China’s treatment of the Uyghur minority group in Xinjiang”, Bloomberg says in an article. In a separate video report, Daqo’s CFO tells a Bloomberg journalist: “We have not ever participated in any of the labour-transfer programmes.” Another video post follows Colum Murphy, Bloomberg’s China government reporter, as he tours Daqo.
Meanwhile, China’s state-run newspaper Global Times says that “‘forced labour’ lies won’t beat down Xinjiang solar firms”. The publication’s journalist Zhang Dan highlights the “humming production lines with robots” and “a small number” of workers at the Daqo facilities. Zhang states that the scene is “in stark contrast to stereotypes and accusations”. The piece comes after media outlets – including BBC and CNN – reported on new research of alleged “forced labour” from China’s Uighur Muslims in the global production of solar panels.
Separately, officials of seven Chinese provinces were “reminded” of the nation’s energy-control goals after their regions’ energy intensity increased – instead of falling – in the first quarter of this year, reports financial outlet Caixin. [Energy intensity is the energy use per unit of GDP.] The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state macroeconomics planner, demanded the officials “resolutely” take down certain “dual-high” projects, state news agency Xinhua reports. Finally, state-run China Daily reports that the country’s national Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) could be “a significant lever” for the carbon emissions reduction and structural optimisation of the steel industry.
The Rolls-Royce-led consortium is seeking £300m to fund small “modular” nuclear reactors in Britain, the Times reports. According to the newspaper, the government has promised to invest up to £215m into small modular reactors, and the group hopes to also “unlock up to £300m private sector match-funding”. It adds that the design for the reactor will be assessed by British safety regulators this autumn. The Financial Times reports that the process is expected to take up to four years, but that the companies hope to complete their first 470MW plant by the early 2030s. It adds that this would be capable of generating enough electricity for 1m homes. The Daily Telegraph also covers the story.
The Financial Times presents its inaugural listing of “Europe’s Climate Leaders” in this interactive article. The new listing, compiled by research company Statista, “details impressive corporate progress in fighting climate change, it also underlines the scale of the challenges still confronting business leaders and politicians”, the paper says. It continues: “The 300 companies listed below are those that achieved the greatest reduction in their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions intensity between 2014 and 2019. Emissions intensity is defined as tonnes of emissions of CO2-equivalent per €1m of revenue.” The UK “is home to by far the largest number of companies on the list, 93 in total, followed by Switzerland and Germany, with 35 each”, the paper notes, while “financial services is the top-performing sector”. In first place in the list is fashion company Superdry, followed by the Italian telecoms firm Fastweb and the London Stock Exchange Group.
Elsewhere in the Financial Times, business columnist (and former environment correspondent) Pilita Clark warns of a “looming net-zero car crash”. She writes that companies and investors “face rising pressure to be both environmentally and financially sustainable at a time when the green technologies they need are still on the drawing board; government policy support is paltry and a small group of influential but poorly understood umpires are judging their progress”. Also in the FT, a news feature looks at how the “Say on Climate” campaign faces its “first big test at investor meetings”. The campaign “has enlisted global investors to press dozens of companies to set out their plans for dealing with their greenhouse gas emissions and to allow investors to regularly review the strategy”. The piece notes that “Unilever, Nestlé, Glencore and Moody’s are among the companies that have pledged to introduce the vote on climate plans this year, and more have promised to do so next year”.
In related reporting, DeSmog says that “three dozen Christian organisations and institutions from across the world – including dioceses from the Church of England – announced their divestment from fossil fuels today and urged leaders to take greater action on climate change ahead of major global summits this year”. The Financial Times has a special report on how technology companies are racing to “clean up” their act as cloud energy use grows. And Los Angeles Times business columnist Michael Hiltzik asks whether Telsa founder Elon Musk is “trying to destroy bitcoin over environmental concerns”.
Last year’s “hard-won agreement” between the German government and the country’s coal-producing regions to phase out coal power by 2038 looks “increasingly obsolete”, writes Financial Times Berlin bureau chief Guy Chazan in a news feature. A new climate law – adopted in response to the “groundbreaking judgement” by Germany’s constitutional court last month – means “Germany must now become carbon neutral by 2045 rather than 2050, and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 65%, rather than 55%, by 2030”, Chazan says. This “will probably require Germany to shut its coal-fired power plants much more quickly than envisaged in the 2020 deal” he continues: “That could have a huge knock-on effect on some of Germany’s most problematic industrial regions such as the Lausitz in the east of the country, an area traditionally associated with lignite. Also known as brown coal, lignite is one of the dirtiest fossil fuels and has long been a target for environmental campaigners.” However, sceptics warn that “it may be impossible to switch out of coal by 2030”, notes Chazan: “The main reason lies in Germany’s failure to build enough of the wind farms and solar arrays needed to replace the old energy system. Under the current plan, the country is mandated to raise the share of wind and solar in the electricity mix from 43% currently to 65% by 2030. To many, that seems pie in the sky.”
New research warns that central-western Greenland ice sheet “is close to a critical transition”. The stability of the ice sheet “depends crucially on the positive melt-elevation feedback (MEF), by which melt rates increase as the overall ice sheet height decreases under rising temperatures”, the researchers say, and “melting rates across Greenland have accelerated nonlinearly in recent decades, and models predict a critical temperature threshold beyond which the current ice sheet state is not maintainable”. The researchers reveal “significant early-warning signals for a forthcoming critical transition”, which “suggest substantially enhanced melting in the near future”. For more on climate tipping points, see Carbon Brief’s explainer.
Larger grain sizes of snowfall on the Greenland ice sheet have contributed to an overall decrease in its reflectivity (or ”albedo”), a new study suggests. Field measurements show that increased impurities in the snow “are too low to significantly reduce albedo, but larger grain sizes could reduce albedo by at least ∼3%”, the study says. The researchers demonstrate that a recent increase in the frequency of atmospheric high pressure “blocking” weather systems over Greenland “increases grain sizes via several mechanisms and contributes to Greenland’s observed albedo decline and faster melt”. For more on blocking weather patterns, see Carbon Brief’s explainer.
A new paper summarises “what is known and unknown” about drought impacts in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). In the PICTs, “there is almost no ability to tell when a drought will begin or end”, the authors say: “Monitoring, forecasting and managing drought in the PICTs is complex due to the variety of different ways droughts occur, and the diverse direct and indirect causes and consequences of drought.” The study “provides recommendations to guide future research and investment towards minimising the negative impacts of droughts when they inevitably occur in the PICTs”.