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Daily Briefing

19.08.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Ozone recovery helps reduce global warming
Ozone recovery helps reduce global warming

News.

Ozone recovery helps reduce global warming
Financial Times Read Article

New research suggests that the recovery of the ozone layer is helping the planet avoid 2.5C of additional warming by the end of the century, reports the Financial Times. The global ban on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were restricted by the 1987 Montreal Protocol, has allowed the ozone layer in the stratosphere to recover following years of thinning, the paper explains: “The study modelled what the Earth would look like if CFCs had continued to be used, and found that by the year 2100 the resulting ozone depletion would have caused extensive damage to vegetation due to ultraviolet radiation. This damaged vegetation would not absorb as much CO2 from the atmosphere, meaning that natural ‘sinks’ [of] CO2 would be diminished, and more CO2 would be in the atmosphere.” The higher levels of CO2 would have contributed an additional 0.8C of warming, says the Press Association, which adds: “As well as depleting the ozone layer, CFCs are also powerful greenhouse gasses. If their use had continued unchecked, by the end of the century they would have boosted global warming by another 1.7C – meaning temperatures would have risen 2.5C overall just from their use.” This would have been in addition to the warming being caused by emissions of other greenhouse gases, says the Independent. Lead author Dr Paul Young tells the outlet that “it would likely have been pretty catastrophic”. He added: “While it was originally intended as an ozone protection treaty, the Montreal Protocol has been an extremely successful climate treaty. It has not only controlled the emissions of highly potent greenhouse gases but, as we show, through protecting plants and the land carbon sink, has led to avoided additional CO2 increases.” BBC News and Forbes cover the study, while Young has written a piece for the Conversation, in which he notes: “For its effectiveness in acting on dire scientific warnings, it’s tempting to think of the Montreal Protocol as a model for climate negotiations. Yet with just a handful of companies making CFCs and alternative chemicals readily available, the ozone issue was far more straightforward than reducing emissions from fossil fuels.”

Court blocks a vast Alaskan drilling project, citing climate dangers
The New York Times Read Article

A federal judge in Alaska yesterday blocked construction permits for an expansive oil drilling project on the state’s North Slope that was designed to produce more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, reports the New York Times. The paper explains: “The multibillion-dollar plan, known as Willow, by the oil giant ConocoPhillips had been approved by the Trump administration and legally backed by the Biden administration. Environmental groups sued, arguing that the federal government had failed to take into account the effects that drilling would have on wildlife and that the burning of the oil would have on global warming. A federal judge has agreed.” In her opinion, Judge Sharon L. Gleason of the US District Court for Alaska wrote that when the Trump administration permitted the project, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management’s exclusion of greenhouse gas emissions in its analysis of the environmental effects of the project was “arbitrary and capricious”, the paper notes. It adds: “Mr Biden’s decision not to fight the Willow project, despite his pledged commitment to combating climate change, was widely seen as a political effort to win the good will of Lisa Murkowski, the moderate Republican senator seen as a potential ally of the administration in an evenly split Senate.” The paper notes that the White House and Interior Department did not respond to requests for comments, while a spokesperson for ConocoPhillips tells the Washington Post that the company “will review the decision and evaluate the options available regarding this project”. Environmental groups and Alaskan tribes that had been fighting the project hailed the court decision, reports Politico. “Today’s court win recognises that our land and our people deserve dignity and a pursuit of greater meaning,” said Siqiñiq Maupin, executive director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic. The Hill and Wall Street Journal also have the story.

In related news, Reuters reports that a US offshore regulator said yesterday that efforts to resume a federal oil and gas leasing program are underway and would soon bear results following a court decision ending a suspension. Reuters also covers a new report from the environmental group Earthworks, which finds that oil producers such as Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are burning off gas in the largest oil field in the US without required Texas state permits. A third Reuters piece reports that ExxonMobil sees its investments in Brazil’s offshore helping the company achieve a goal of lowering carbon emissions in its oil and gas production, according to country head Juan Lessmann. He told an event organised by Brazil-Texas Chamber of Commerce that crude oil from the offshore fields, known as the pre-salt, generates fewer emissions per barrel due to its higher quality and the production technology employed. The Hill has a piece on how “the Biden administration managed to draw criticism from both Republicans and progressives last week when it called on other countries to produce more oil amid high gasoline prices in the US”.

Reuters also reports that government officials and corporate executives said yesterday that Guyana and Suriname expect continued exploratory drilling over the next two years by oil majors in their joint offshore basin after a string of recent discoveries. The Guardian notes that Guyana’s vice-president has said the country will seek much better terms for any future oil deals than their contract with ExxonMobil. It adds: “The tiny South American country has become one of the most desired oil exploration spots after an ExxonMobil-led group, which also includes the US-based exploration firm Hess Corp and the Chinese oil company CNOOC, discovered about 9bn barrels of recoverable oil and gas off the coast. But a Guardian-Floodlight investigation on Tuesday highlighted concerns about both the terms of the deal and the environmental consequences for Guyana.”

Athens official blames wildfires on ‘criminal lack of preparedness’
Financial Times Read Article

The official in charge of protecting Greece’s capital from the effects of rising temperatures has criticised the “criminal lack of preparedness” by the world’s political leaders, reports the Financial Times, as the Mediterranean region endures one of the hottest summers on record. In an interview with the paper, Eleni Myrivili – chief heat officer of Athens – said the fires that had reached the outskirts of the city and devastated more than 120,000 hectares of the Aegean nation were only a foretaste of what was to come. She said: “This is . . . the beginning of an irreversible devastation, a ravaging of ecosystems and livelihoods, due to climate change and the criminal lack of preparedness for extreme heat.“ The FT notes that Athens is among a small group of cities that have appointed a dedicated chief heat officer to provide a focal point for the response to rising temperatures, along with Miami-Dade County in the US and Freetown, capital of Sierra Leone”. Meanwhile, Greek firefighters continued to battle a wildfire raging through one of the last remaining pine forests near Athens and said that homes could be at risk, reports Reuters. It says that “more than 500 wildfires have broken out in recent weeks across the country, ravaging swathes of forest and forcing the evacuation of thousands of people”. Lefteris Kosmopoulos, deputy local governor of the Western Attica region, told state TV that “the flames are huge. I do not know what will happen, the fire is approaching homes”.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that a wildfire burning in the hills behind the French Riviera resort of Saint-Tropez since Monday has killed at least two people. The newswire continues: “Some 1,100 firefighters as well as water-bombing aircraft are fighting the blaze that has scorched more than 7,000 hectares of land and forced the evacuation of several thousand people from their homes and campsites. Firefighters have so far been unable to contain the blaze as a strong ‘mistral’ wind fans the flames across a tinderbox landscape. New fires broke out on several flanks during Wednesday.” Local prefect Evence Richard told a news conference that two people had been killed and 24 hurt, among them five firemen, the newswire says, adding: “Waves of extreme heat have hit much of the Mediterranean region in recent weeks, with wildfires in Spain, Greece and Turkey raising uncomfortable questions over global warming and countries’ preparedness.” The Guardian also has the story.

In the US, Reuters reports that “an incendiary mix of strong, shifting winds and drought-parched vegetation stoked two of California’s largest wildfires on Wednesday, with thousands of people chased from their foothill and forest homes in the Sierra Nevada range”. The Guardian reports that the Caldor fire – the smaller of the two fires – has levelled the town of Grizzly Flats, leaving two people in hospital with serious injuries. The paper adds: “Thousands more structures still lay in the path of the fast-moving fire. On Wednesday morning, the blaze was 0% contained, with crews desperately working to contain the damage. The destruction in Grizzly Flats came as dangerously dry and windy weather continued to fuel huge blazes across the American west and prompted the nation’s largest utility to begin shutting off power to tens of thousands of customers.”

In related comment, Tim Flannery – an Australian zoologist and environmentalist – writes in the New Statesman that “this may well be remembered as the year of the megafire”. He says: “This summer across the northern hemisphere, from the Greek island of Evia to south-western Turkey, California to Russia, large numbers of people are confronting the fire-beast close-up. Some have already lost their lives, and many, many more their homes and economic security. Sadly, those people are in the vanguard of a great global change, for while there have always been forest fires, the blazes are becoming larger, the fire season longer, and the burns more damaging almost everywhere. That’s because climate change has altered, in a fundamental way, the nature of wildfires.” And in the Daily Mail, health journalist John Naish has a feature on southern Europe’s “Lucifer heat dome”, which concludes: “We would do well not to dismiss this Lucifer visitation as a meteorological quirk – it may well be an alarming vision of the future that is rapidly heading our way.”

Major UN biodiversity summit delayed for third time due to pandemic
The Guardian Read Article

The Chinese environment ministry has announced that a key UN biodiversity summit will be delayed for a third time due to the pandemic, reports the Guardian, which adds that environmentalists pledged the delay would “not mean taking our foot off the pedal”. The paper continues: “In a statement, the Chinese ministry of ecology and environment confirmed that COP15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, would be delayed, and that negotiations for this decade’s targets will be split into two phases so that governments can meet face-to-face in Kunming, China, in the first half of 2022. The talks had been scheduled for October this year after two previous delays due to the coronavirus pandemic. The first phase of the meeting, which will be largely procedural, will be held in the Chinese city between 11 and 15 October, with most people attending virtually. Countries will then negotiate the targets for the global biodiversity framework that governments will aim to meet by the end of the decade in Kunming from 25 April to 8 May 2022.” Zac Goldsmith, the UK government’s minister for the environment, tells the paper: “We need to tackle the biodiversity crisis head on, and this delay will not mean taking our foot off the pedal. As president of the recent G7, we are encouraged to see major progress on finance for nature, on cleaning up global supply chains, on efforts to tackle deforestation and with the global commitment to protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. The upcoming G20 meeting gives us a chance to build on that momentum ahead of COP26 later this year. We will continue to press countries to join us in ramping up efforts to protect and restore nature.” BusinessGreen and Reuters also have the story.

China: Beijing sews up hydrogen energy plan
China Daily Read Article

The Chinese capital city of Beijing aims to have over 10,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road by 2025, reports China Daily. The state-run newspaper says the city also intends to have 37 hydrogen filling stations up and running for the same period under an “ambitious plan” to develop the hydrogen energy industry. The said document is a new five-year plan for the hydrogen industry released by a Beijing authority on Monday, according to China.org.cn, the national online news service. The website notes the plan outlined “major tasks” for industrial chains and relevant applications from 2021 to 2025. Argus Media also covers the story.

Meanwhile, South China Morning Post features the Daxing International Hydrogen Energy Demonstration Zone, a hydrogen business development area “the size of about 300 Olympic swimming pools” under construction in the outskirts of Beijing. The zone is set to contain the world’s largest hydrogen refuelling station, the publication says. It also publishes a video of the zone. China News Service, a state-run newswire, reports that Beijing’s first hydrogen refuelling station for the 2022 Winter Olympics opened on Sunday. The outlet says that the station covers 1,700 square meters and can refuel 50 to 60 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles a day.

Elsewhere, Huang Runqiu, the minister of ecology and environment, has called on the nation to “deepen the tough battle” against pollution by reducing pollution, cutting emissions and strengthening ecology, reports Shanghai Securities Journal. He issued the remarks during a press conference on Wednesday, the outlet says. Huang highlighted the “solid” improvement of the air quality of Chengdu, a major city in south-western China, by praising that the locals can now see a snow-capped mountain more than 100 kilometres away from their windows, according to Cover NewsChina News Service reports that the national emissions trading scheme (EST) will “gradually incorporate more high-emission industries and enrich the trading varieties, methods and entities,” Huang said. The Global Times, a state-run newspaper, also picks up on the official’s comments.

Hydrogen lobby boss quits in row over fossil fuels
The Telegraph Read Article

The chairman of a leading hydrogen industry association has resigned so he can speak out against widespread efforts to keep producing the gas from fossil fuels, reports the Daily Telegraph. Christopher Jackson said he would be “betraying future generations by remaining silent” on his views and could “no longer in good conscience” stay neutral and represent the views of all members of the UK Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association, the paper explains. In a post on LinkedIn, he said: “In 30 years time everyone working in the energy sector today will be asked by the generations that follow us, what we did to prevent the coming climate catastrophe. And as many of you will be aware, it remains my deep personal conviction that one of those wrong answers is blue hydrogen.” Blue hydrogen makes using fossil fuel gas coupled with carbon capture technology, explains BusinessGreen, which adds: “Jackson announced his resignation on Monday, just prior to the publication of the long-awaited UK hydrogen strategy, which confirmed the government’s intention to take a “twin track” approach to scaling the low carbon fuel that will see support provided to both blue hydrogen as well as ‘green’ hydrogen, which is broadly regarded as more climate-friendly as it is produced using renewable energy.”

On the strategy itself, the Financial Times Lex column says that “the government has reasonably hedged its bets, opting to support both green and blue hydrogen production”. Blue hydrogen “has an important transitional role, buying time for demand to develop”, the column says: “BP, though hardly impartial, makes a case for both green and blue. Were the world to just get its hydrogen from electrolysis, the demands on renewables would be ‘just extraordinarily large’ boss Bernard Looney has said. BP reckons that the price of green hydrogen, made in places particularly well-resourced with wind and solar, could compete with blue hydrogen in about 2035.” (For more on the hydrogen strategy, see Carbon Brief‘s Q&A.)

Comment.

The planet is in peril. We’re building Congress’s strongest-ever climate bill
Bernie Sanders, The Guardian Read Article

Writing in the Guardian, Bernie Sanders – a US senator and chair of the Senate budget committee – outlines the “good news”from the $3.5tn budget resolution that was recently passed in the Senate. He says it “lays the groundwork for a historic reconciliation bill that will not only substantially improve the lives of working people, elderly people, the sick and the poor, but also, in an unprecedented way, address the existential threat of climate change. More than any other legislation in American history it will transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy”. While the reconciliation bill will “not do everything that needs to be done to combat climate change”, Sanders writes, “by investing hundreds of billions of dollars in the reduction of carbon emissions it will be a significant step forward and will set an example for what other countries should be doing”. Listing the measures proposed in the bill, Sanders notes that, when the resolution passed last Wednesday, “no Republican supported it, and no Republican will support the reconciliation bill. In fact, Republicans have been shamefully absent from serious discussions about the climate emergency”. He concludes: “That means that we must demand that every Democrat supports a reconciliation bill that is strong on solutions to the climate crisis. No wavering. No watering down. This is the moment. Our children and grandchildren are depending upon us. The future of the planet is at stake.”

The Guardian view on buildings: Out with the new! For the planet’s sake
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

“Tearing down old structures and throwing up new ones” is “ruinous for the climate”, says a Guardian editorial. It explains: “While Conservative MPs argue over who is going to foot the bill for green energy for our homes, hardly anyone in Westminster discusses the upfront carbon costs of building houses and office blocks and shopping malls. Yet construction directly accounts for about 10% of our carbon emissions. Turning approximately 50,000 buildings to rubble every year creates two-thirds of all the waste produced in this country. If the UK is ever to translate its net-zero ambitions into reality it will need to change the entire building industry.” A “big obstacle” in encouraging the conversion of existing buildings is that “new is cheaper than old”, the paper says. For example, it continues, “the state encourages the use of the wrecking ball by putting 0% VAT on new buildings; even refurb and repair incurs the full 20%. Given that one advantage of Brexit is that it allows the UK to set its own VAT rates, there is no reason that system should not be reversed”. This is not to say that no new hospitals or houses will ever be built, the paper concludes, but “such measures would make clients, architects and builders more mindful about the materials they have in front of them. They would bring construction within the circular economy”. A separate feature in the Guardian looks at “why carbon-reducing renovations are going to be big business”.

In other UK comment, a Times editorial (not yet online) comments on the progress – reported yesterday – being made by a US facility towards achieving nuclear fusion. The paper notes that advances are also being made by UK research groups, adding: “Ensuring that projects advancing fusion research are well-funded is of vital importance to the world’s efforts to solve the climate crisis. Efforts to reduce the carbon footprint generated by homes and transport are necessary. But there is no viable road to net-zero that does not focus on forms of clean energy.”

Science.

Small targeted dietary changes can yield substantial gains for human and environmental health
Nature Food Read Article

Reducing beef and processed meat consumption by just 10% could reduce “dietary carbon footprint” by up to one-third, according to new research. Scientists present a newly developed “nutritional index” that takes into account factors such as standard serving sizes, life-cycle emissions analyses and dietary risk factors. Using the new index, the researchers classify nearly 6,000 foods into four different classes based on their nutritional benefit and environmental impact. They find that “marginal dietary substitutions”, such as replacing one-half of a serving of beef with legumes or low-impact seafood per day, can result in both “compelling nutritional benefits and environmental impact reductions”.

The Montreal Protocol protects the terrestrial carbon sink
Nature Read Article

A new study finds that the Montreal Protocol – an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out ozone depleting substances – helped to mitigate climate change by protecting plants from damaging UV radiation. The authors run simulations to explore the impact of the Montreal Protocol on the terrestrial biosphere and its capacity as a carbon sink. They find that without the protocol, there would have been 325-690bn tonnes less carbon held in plants and soils by the end of the century. This would have led to an extra 0.5-1.0C in surface warming, they add.

Rapidly expanding lake heatwaves under climate change
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

The spatial extent of extreme warming events in North America’s Great Lakes – known as lake heatwaves – has doubled since 1995, a new study finds. Using daily satellite measurements of surface water temperatures, researchers determined where and when heatwaves – defined as five consecutive days above the 90th percentile of historic temperatures – had been occurring. They found that between 1995 and 2020, the area of the Great Lakes experiencing a heatwave in any given year “demonstrates a noticeable increase…albeit with considerable inter-annual variability”. They conclude: “​​Thus, as lake heatwaves become increasingly long-lived within a warming world, their average spatial extent will likely increase further.” (For more on lake heatwaves, see Carbon Brief’s article from earlier this year.)

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.