Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Norway supreme court verdict opens Arctic to more oil drilling
- Trump loyalists aim to block Biden's goal to rejoin Iran and Paris agreements
- Asia’s developing economies shun coal
- Australia's Santos Narrabri gas project approval faces court challenge
- President-elect Joe Biden has made climate change one of his central priorities
- The five biggest climate stories of 2020
- Impacts of Covid-19 and fiscal stimuli on global emissions and the Paris Agreement
- Subsea permafrost carbon stocks and climate change sensitivity estimated by expert assessment
Norway’s supreme court yesterday upheld government plans for Arctic oil exploration, reports Reuters, dismissing a lawsuit by campaigners who said they violated people’s right to a healthy environment. The verdict upholds rulings by two lower courts, the newswire explains, “rejecting arguments by Greenpeace and the Nature and Youth group that a 2015-16 oil licensing round giving awards to Equinor and others had breached Norway’s constitution”. It adds: “While the case was specifically about 10 exploration licenses awarded four years ago, the campaigners had hoped that their appeal would set a precedent limiting the oil industry’s Arctic expansion.” The judges said that the right to a clean environment did not bar the government from drilling for offshore oil, reports the New York Times, and that Norway did not legally carry the responsibility for emissions stemming from oil it has exported. The paper adds that the case “was the first climate-change litigation to be brought under the environmental provisions of Norway’s Constitution, and was among the highest-profile cases in a series of climate-change lawsuits brought by activists in Europe and elsewhere”. The court ruled 11-4 in favour of the government, says DeSmog, noting that “the four dissenting judges found the government had made procedural errors in its oil licensing decision”. The Daily Telegraph also has the story.
In related news, the Financial Times reports that UK Oil & Gas has won a legal challenge brought by a climate activist in the High Court. The paper explains: “A judge dismissed claims that Surrey county council failed to assess the full environmental impact of the Horse Hill oilfield when giving consent for long-term production at the development.” The claims had said the council needed to take into account the greenhouse gas emissions that arose from the burning of products made using the oil drilled from the site, the paper says: “The judge highlighted that, if successful, the challenge would have had far reaching implications. It would have meant that all indirect carbon emissions ‘resulting from the use or consumption of end products emanating from [any] development’ would need to be assessed, not just those from an oil project.”
Two prominent Trump loyalists in the US Senate are reportedly pressing the president to submit the Iran nuclear deal and the Paris climate agreement to the chamber for ratification, reports the Guardian, “in a last-minute attempt to scupper Democratic plans to take America back into the accords”. In a letter obtained by RealClearPolitics, Texas senator Ted Cruz urges both Trump and Mike Pompeo – the secretary of state – to submit the pacts to the Senate, which could pave the way for a vote that would fail to achieve the two-thirds needed to ratify them – “thus blocking Joe Biden’s efforts to bring the US back in line with international allies”, the paper explains. South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham has been “ploughing a similar furrow”, the Guardian adds. Graham tweeted that the “Senate should be on record in support or opposition to any decision to reenter Paris climate accord”. Meanwhile, E&E News says the next four years will be a “turkey shoot” for climate sceptics who are preparing to fight efforts by the Biden administration to restrict the use of fossil fuels. The outlet explains: “That’s how multiple outside energy advisers to the Trump administration view their new role: as agents of opposition during the presidency of Joe Biden and his governmentwide effort to address climate change.”
In other US news, Axios reports on analysis by Rhodium Group, an emissions research firm, which says the Covid-19 relief and spending deal is the US government’s “most significant action on climate and energy in over a decade”. The analysis estimates that the cumulative 15-year effect of just two aspects of the deal – tax credits for carbon sequestration projects and phasing down of hydrofluorocarbons – “would more than counteract the impact of two big Trump-era decisions: weakening vehicle emissions standards and rolling back methane rules for the oil-and-gas sector”, the outlet explains.
New coal-power investments in Asia’s developing economies are declining rapidly as “governments implement clean energy policies and pressure intensifies from environmentalists”, reports the Financial Times. The paper continues: “Policy changes touted by energy ministries and politicians in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Bangladesh could mean just 25 gigawatts of new coal-power projects will remain in pre-construction planning stages in 2021. That is an 80% reduction from the 125GW planned five years ago, according to a report from the Global Energy Monitor.” The moves are in line with similar cancellations in India, the FT says, “where planned coal projects will fall to 30GW, from 238GW in 2015”. The report notes that “the cancellations are a major blow to coal’s hopes in Asia”, the paper adds.
However, at the same time, the Financial Times also reports that “the price of thermal coal, used to generate electricity in power stations, has surged in the past two months as key consumers in China, India, South Korea and Japan rushed for supplies”. The paper adds: “Since the start of November, high energy Australia coal – the benchmark for the vast Asian market – has climbed 45% to $80 a tonne, according to a price assessment from Argus, while its South African equivalent is up 65% to about $100 a tonne.”
An Australian community group has launched a court challenge against a multi-billion dollar Narrabri coal seam gas project, reports Reuters, “saying an independent panel that approved the development failed to consider its climate impacts”. The outlet continues: “The action was launched by the Environmental Defenders Office, a not-for-profit legal firm, on behalf of a group of 100 residents and farmers from the town of Mullaley, about 110km south of Narrabri in northern New South Wales (NSW).” The community group is asking the NSW Land and Environment Court to declare the approval for the Narrabri project invalid, the outlet explains. The legal firm’s chief executive David Morris explains to the Guardian that instead of considering whether the carbon emissions from the project were acceptable, the panel had compared the predicted emissions with hypothetical reductions in emissions that may occur if gas from Narrabri displaced the use of coal in electricity generation. “There wasn’t any evidence that it would [displace coal],” he said.
In other Australia news, the Guardian reports on new analysis that shows “greenhouse gas emissions from road transport in Australia have nearly returned to pre-pandemic levels”. However, the paper adds that “the amount of electricity being generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind continues to break records, with October seeing almost one-third of electricity being generated by clean sources”. The New York Times reports that four people have been charged after lighting a campfire that sparked huge bushfires on Fraser Island off the northeastern coast of Australia in October. And the Guardian also reports that Australia’s federal resources minister has warned parliament’s joint standing committee on trade and investment growth to “do its job” after the group deferred a decision on whether to conduct an inquiry into the climate policies of banks and insurers.
The Washington Post has published a series of articles on US President-elect Joe Biden’s potential moves on climate change. “Biden says that the crisis demands a coordinated, whole-of-government response, and that the US is running out of time,” this introduction explains: “Whether he will be able to transition the country to a greener future will depend on many factors – science, money and political will, among them.” The articles cover the scale of Biden’s task, how the US can regain credibility within the Paris Agreement, and where the money might come from for Biden’s climate policies. They also explore the implications for oil and gas companies, how Biden’s policies could reduce the destruction from wildfires, and why it could take years for Biden to restore the wildlife protections removed by President Trump.
Robinson Meyer, staff writer at the Atlantic, picks out the five biggest stories of the year that “many people might have missed”. The “most important story of 2020”, says Meyer, was “President Xi Jinping’s announcement that China would aim to start reducing its carbon pollution by 2030 – and achieve net-zero by 2060”. Meyer continues: “His promise, which came in two sentences in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in September, was a total surprise. But it was crucial.” China’s vow is “significant in its own right”, says Meyer, and “it shows, too, that China’s ruling party is worried about climatic turbulence”. However, the move “points to a more important development than even that”. Meyer says: “If Xi can figure out how to peak China’s carbon pollution while the country still grows economically, then China could fashion a new kind of development model for other countries to follow. Such a model wouldn’t just reduce existing emissions from China, but prevent future emissions from other countries – because they would be able to follow China’s lower-carbon path.” Meyer’s other big stories of the year include the EU strengthening its climate goals, the lessons learnt from dealing with Covid-19, how the markets “began to consider the cost of climate change”, and the new bipartisan bill that the US Congress just passed.
Elsewhere, Chloé Farand, senior reporter at Climate Home News, also looks back at the big climate stories of the year, BuzzFeed News photo director Kate Bubacz picks out the images that reveal “what the grim reality of climate change looked like in 2020”, and Andrea Thompson, associate editor at Scientific American, also has five big climate stories of 2020. DeSmog UK deputy editor Richard Collett-White has the outlet’s 2020 highlights, and DeSmog reviews how climate change has featured in court cases around the world this year. Finally, Carbon Brief yesterday tweeted a thread of some of its climate coverage during 2020.
Global CO2 emissions over 2020-24 will be 4-6% lower compared to a baseline scenario with no Covid-19 pandemic, a new study forecasts. The study explains that “global economic interdependency via supply chains means that blocking one country’s economic activities causes the emissions of other countries to decrease even without lockdown policies”. However, with fiscal stimulus plans to recover the economy, “global emissions will increase by 1.05 Gt (0.74%) during the period of 2020 to 2024, with the ongoing stimuli”, the authors note. This means that “smart policy is needed to turn pandemic-related emission declines into firm climate action”, they add.
New research surveys experts to draw conclusions on the stores of carbon in subsea permafrost and potential future emissions of CO2 and methane. Undertaking a “structured expert assessment with 25 permafrost researchers”, the study estimates that the subsea permafrost domain contains around 560bn tonnes of carbon in organic matter and 45bn tonnes in methane. While “it appears that subsea permafrost is relatively stable on centennial to millennial timescales”, the study says that “future projections are substantial relative to carbon release and uptake in the terrestrial permafrost zone”.
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