Today's climate and energy headlines:
- November 2020 was world’s warmest on record
- UK admits giving concessions on hybrids to protect car plants
- Hydrogen power: Firms join forces in bid to lower costs
- US green groups say honeymoon is over, turn up heat on Biden
- Companies must step up to tackle climate change
- The Paris agreement five years on: is it strong enough to avert climate catastrophe?
- The environmental impacts of palm oil in context
- Adequately reflecting the severity of tropical cyclones using the new Tropical Cyclone Severity Scale
- Economic footprint of California wildfires in 2018
There is continuing coverage of the latest analysis from the EU climate monitoring service Copernicus, with the Independent reporting that November 2020 was the warmest November since records began. The paper says that across Europe the January-November period was 0.5C warmer in 2020 than in 2019 and “at least 0.4C warmer than the average temperature in 2006, which was previously the warmest autumn”. The outlet quotes Carlo Buontempo, director of the Copernicus Climate Change Service: “Globally, November was an exceptionally warm month compared to other Novembers and temperatures in the Arctic and northern Siberia remained consistently high, with sea ice at its second lowest extent…All policymakers who prioritise mitigating climate risks should see these records as alarm bells and consider more seriously than ever how to best comply with the international commitments set out in the 2015 Paris agreement.“ The outlet adds that, with just a few weeks of the year left, satellite data shows 2020 to be “roughly on par” with the warmest calendar year on record, 2016. The Washington Post also reports on this story, adding that, according to Copernicus, 2020 is “almost certain” to be Europes hottest calendar year. Folllowing on from a recent WMO announcement that 2020 is on track to rank in the top three warmest years on record globally, the paper adds that “global average temperatures during November were 0.77C above 1981-2010 levels”, despite the presence of a cooling La Nina event this year. The Hill also covers this story.
Meanwhile, the Independent reports on analysis from the 2021 Climate Change Performance Index (CCPI) , an annual report tracking countries’ annual emissions, renewable energy development, and national and international climate policies. The online newspaper says that, according to the producers of the CCPI, “no country is doing enough to keep global temperature rise well below 2C”. It reports that the CCPI is put together by Climate Action Network, NewClimate Institute and Germanwatch to track the progress of “57 countries plus the EU, which together account for around 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions”. It adds that that US ranked the worst for climate policies, while the UK came second to Sweden. However, the UK was “given an official ranking of fifth”, because, according to the paper, the authors left the first three spots blank to “reflect the fact that no country is currently doing enough to limit global warming to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels.” BusinessGreen adds that the EU has risen in the CCPI from 22nd place last year to 16th place this year thanks to “growing climate policy ambition”.
The UK introduced concessions into its rules to decarbonise new vehicles to protect the future of British plants owned by Japanese manufacturers Toyota and Nissan, the Guardian reports. Plans to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030, allowing the purchase of some hybrids until 2035, were first revealed last month. However, the newspaper adds that “a last-minute modification, buried in the proposals” will allow the sale of “full hybrids”, such as the cars made by Toyota and Nissan that have a limited electric range, but lower emissions than petrol-only cars. According to the outlet, these plans have “angered green groups”, who claim that the amendment “undermines the policy”. It adds that in a “highly unusual move for Toyota”, the car manufacturer has warned that “it will not invest in its British operations in the future” if their hybrids are outlawed, as both Nissan and Toyota will struggle to convince their headquarters in Japan to invest in Britain if they “cannot sell that cars they produce in the UK”. The Guardian also reports on Toyota, stating that the car manufacturer “will not invest in building battery electric cars in Britain at its next round of investment in 2027”. This would mean the first zero-emissions Toyota cars would not be built in the UK until 2034. However, at the same time, Toyota is “preparing to launch multiple zero-emission battery electric vehicles” for countries such as the UK with “the strictest rules.”
The Independent also reports on electric vehicles, stating that the UK’s “first station solely for electric cars”, opened in Essex yesterday. According to the paper, the station has a total 36 electric car charging points as well as shops, meeting pods and electricity-generating exercise bikes for those waiting for their vehicles to charge. The outlet adds that the site was build by Gridserve who are planning another 100 “all-electric stations” over the next five years. Toddington Harper, the founder and CEO of Gridserve, tells the outlet that the initiative will help “move the needle on climate change” by “updating the traditional petrol station model for a net-zero carbon world”. The Guardian also covers this story, adding that the vehicles will be charged with 100% renewable energy sourced from the UK’s “first subsidy-free solar farms” in Bedfordshire and that the charging power will be enough to “add 200 miles of driving range in 20 minutes”. The newspaper also says that the standard rate for electricity will be 24p per kilowatt hour of energy, giving the average charge for an electric vehicle from 20% to 80% a cost of “under £10”. The Daily Mail runs a prominent piece reviewing the electric service station asking: “Is Britain’s first all-electric forecourt a vision of the future…or enough to drive you round the bend?”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times says that the EU is “set to introduce recycling targets” for the disposal of batteries from electric vehicles from 2030. The same edition of the Financial Times reports on a warming from Continental, one of the worlds largest car suppliers, which says that “the transition to electric vehicles is happening too rapidly and at the expense of people’s lives”. Finally, the Guardian runs a ‘long read’ piece entitled, “The curse of ‘white oil’: electric vehicles dirty secret” which discusses the danger to the environment of the “lithium gold rush”.
The world’s biggest “green” hydrogen developers have joined forces to expand the production of hydrogen 50-fold in less than six years and to radically drive down the cost in a project called the “Green Hydrogen Catapult”, BBC News reports. It adds: “The companies involved include ACWA Power, CWP Renewables, Envision, Iberdrola, Ørsted, Snam and Yara.” According to BBC News, the firms hopes to reduce the cost of hydrogen to $2 per kilogram, which would make the fuel cost competitive, according to recent analysis. The Financial Times adds that green hydrogen “typically costs anywhere between $3.50 and $8 per kg”. Reuters reports that the project will “require investment of around $110bn” and create over 120,000 jobs. Business Green also covers the story. The Times also reports on hydrogen, saying that “Scottish householders will be first to test the low-carbon technology for cooking and heating”. Reuters says that Japan plans to “make hydrogen a major power source by 2030”. (Learn more about hydrogen in Carbon Brief’s new in-depth Q&A.)
There is continuing coverage of president-elect Joe Biden’s preparations for his new administration and his potential early moves on climate policy. Reuters reports that US environmental groups which supported Biden’s campaign are “shifting to a new more adversarial role now that he has been elected, launching a pressure campaign to make sure he delivers on his promises to fight climate change”. Jamie Henn, director of environmental group 350.org’s Fossil Free Media, tells the newswire that “the honeymoon ended at the altar when the networks pronounced Biden president-elect…It’s Biden’s call if he wants that pressure with him or against him.” Even before Biden takes office, environmental groups say “they will hold Biden to campaign promises to take strong executive action on climate change and take an all-of-government approach to tackling the crisis”, Reuters says, noting that Biden has already been criticised for some selections for his core team. Meanwhile, Biden’s latest pick is Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, to run the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), reports the New York Times. Becerra is the first state attorney general to create an environmental justice bureau., the newspaper notes, which focused on the “unequal effect pollution and other forms of environmental damage have on health in the most vulnerable communities”. The appointment matters because “Biden’s campaign envisioned a substantial role for HHS in addressing the public health effects of global warming and pollution”, explains Axios. This included a plan to launch an “Office of Climate Change and Health Equity” at the department, it adds. The Washington Post also provides some background on Becerra.
In commentary about Biden, Rachel Franzin – a staff writer at the Hill – looks at how the new administration could “champion climate action in 2021”. This could include reducing US emissions, persuading other world leaders to set more ambitious climate goals, and reducing fossil fuel production on public land, she says. In Axios, energy and climate change reporter Amy Harder notes that Biden “faces a tough balancing act as he calls for more global action on climate change while also reassuring the world that America is on board for the long haul”. Harder notes that the limitations of Biden’s “domestic political agenda” – including a Congress that is “likely to remain divided” – a new emissions pledge under the Paris Agreement is “likely to lean more heavily than ever before on non-federal action, which there’s been a lot of over the last four years”. Finally, Wall Street Journal “global view” columnist Walter Russell Mead has a piece on why he thinks “climate finance may foul the economy”, while the Los Angeles Times looks at the “climate battle” that is heating up in California around banning natural gas in new homes.
The Times has a comment piece by Lord Deben, who chairs the UK’s Climate Change Committee. Deben praises the governments efforts to tackling climate change. He says that he was “very encouraged by the government’s 10-point plan for green economic recovery” and that it shows “real ambition in some absolutely vital areas”, including electric vehicles, heating homes and investment into new technologies, “such as hydrogen and carbon capture and storage”. He continues that he was “delighted” to see the pledge from the water industry to deliver “a net zero carbon water supply by 2030” – the first sector-wide commitment of this kind anywhere in the world. He adds that, while he “would like to see the sector go further in some areas”, it is clear to him that the water industry understands the balance between obligation to the planet and provision of a “vital public service”. Deben suggests that we should “be looking to export this sort of leadership elsewhere” for other countries to follow suit and that “the government too could learn from this example” as it begins to implement the 10-point plan. He ends by stating that “the leadership position shown in the past few weeks by the government and industry alike shows that there is much to be optimistic about. Britain is leading the way.”
The Guardian’s environmental correspondent Fiona Harvey evaluates the success of the Paris Agreement as we near the five-year anniversary of its adoption. “On some measures, Paris could be judged a failure”, Harvey writes: “Emissions in 2015 were about 50bn tonnes. By 2019, they had risen to about 55bn tonnes.” Harvey comments that the 17% drop in emissions due to pandemic lockdowns reveals the “uncomfortable truth” that “even when transport, industry and commerce grind to a halt, the majority of emissions remain intact”, and that “far greater systemic change is needed, particularly in energy generation around the world, to meet the Paris goals”. However, Harvey says that “to judge Paris solely by these portents of disaster would be to lose sight of the remarkable progress that has been made on climate change since”. She points out that this year, “renewable energy will make up about 90% of the new energy generation capacity installed around the world” and that by 2025 it is expected to replace coal as the biggest source of power. “Electric vehicles have also improved much faster than expected”, she adds, and “the world has coalesced around a new target, based on the Paris goals but not explicit in the accord: net-zero emissions”. She continues to say that over two-thirds of the global economy are now “under pledges to reach net-zero carbon around mid-century” and “if all of these countries meet their targets, the world will be almost on track to meet the upper limit of the Paris agreement”. Ahead of hosting COP26 next year, the UK set an NDC last week pledging to cut its own emissions by 68% compared to 1990 levels, by 2030. COP26 will be “the key test” for global ambition on climate change, Harvey says, as “the Paris agreement five years on still provides the best hope of avoiding the worst ravages of climate breakdown”.
A new review article summarises the environmental impacts of palm oil production. Oil palm expansion’s direct contribution to regional tropical deforestation “varies widely”, the paper says, “ranging from an estimated 3% in West Africa to 50% in Malaysian Borneo”. Oil palm is also implicated in peatland draining and burning in Southeast Asia, it adds. This results in “biodiversity declines, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution”. However, the paper notes, “oil palm generally produces more oil per area than other oil crops, is often economically viable in sites unsuitable for most other crops and generates considerable wealth for at least some actors”.
A paper proposes a new “Tropical Cyclone Severity Scale” (TCSS) as a more comprehensive way to categorise tropical cyclones than the traditionally used Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale (SSHWS). A limitation of the SSHWS is that is “only considers wind hazard”, the paper says, whereas a cyclone “can also cause severe conditions through its high storm surges and extreme rainfall, triggering coastal and inland flooding”. The new TCSS “includes all three major TC hazards in its classification”, the authors say, and is also extended to category 6 to “support communication about the most extreme tropical cyclones with multiple hazards”.
The economic damages caused by the California wildfires of 2018 totalled $145bn, a new study says, which is equivalent to 1.5% of the state’s annual gross domestic product. Using a combination of physical, epidemiological and economic models, the researchers estimate the the fires caused $28bn in capital losses, $32bn in health costs and $89bn in indirect losses. The results reveal that “the majority of economic impacts related to California wildfires may be indirect and often affect industry sectors and locations distant from the fires”, the authors note. Carbon Brief has previously published a factcheck on how global warming has increased US wildfires.
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