Today's climate and energy headlines:
- PA moves to restrict powerful planet-heating gases in air conditioners and fridges
- Antarctic ‘doomsday glacier’ may be melting faster than was thought
- Quitting coal power ‘single most important’ step in six months before COP26, says IEA chief
- Nine arrests in London as climate activists glue themselves to bridges
- Brazilian Amazon released more carbon than it absorbed over past 10 years
- Rewild oceans to meet UK’s net-zero goals, campaigners say
- Victorian government pledges to slash state’s carbon emissions by 50% by 2030
- US: Top New York restaurant Eleven Madison Park goes vegan
- The UK must try harder if it is to lead the world on climate
- The government’s embrace of ‘clean hydrogen’ helps no one but the fossil fuel industry
- Weather extremes over Europe under 1.5 and 2.0C global warming from HAPPI regional climate ensemble simulations
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed an 85% cut in the production and import of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) in the US over the next 15 years, the Guardian reports. HFCs are gases widely used in air conditioning units, heat pumps and fridges, but the newspaper adds that they are “thousands of times more powerful at trapping heat than CO2”. The New York Times reports that this is “the first significant step the EPA has taken under President Biden to curb climate change”. According to Reuters, the EPA says this move “will play a big part in US plans to halve its greenhouse gas emissions this decade”. The newswire adds that the proposal would stop the equivalent of 9m tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere. The Financial Times notes that a global HFC phaseout could “avoid up to 0.5C of warming by 2100”, according to the EPA. The Hill and the Wall Street Journal also cover the news.
In other US news, the Guardian reports that the Indian Point nuclear plant has been shut down, “ending a long political standoff”. According to the newspaper: “Environmentalists and politicians have described the plant as a threat to millions”. It adds: “critics say in the short term, [the closure of the plant] means lost jobs and increased emissions”. Meanwhile, the Guardian reviews Biden’s first 100 days in office including his handling of the “climate crisis” and a separate Guardian piece reports that Biden “faces pressure to drive gasoline and diesel cars out of the US”. Axios reports that US climate envoy John Kerry has disclosed “millions in income from finance” from a stock portfolio that he has liquidated since taking office, adding that Kerry is “among the wealthiest members of the Biden administration”. In other news, the South China Morning Post reports that “polar research can help thaw US-China relations”.
The Guardian carries a range of news and feature pieces on melting glaciers, following the publication of new research papers last week on the topic. (Carbon Brief covered a study which finds that glacier melt has accelerated over the past two decades.) The first Guardian piece reports that the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica – “nicknamed the doomsday glacier” – is at risk of breaking up. This is according to a new study which shows that more warm water is flowing underneath the glacier than previously thought, the newspaper adds. A separate Guardian piece notes that receding glaciers are causing rivers to dry up through a phenomenon called “river piracy”, in which water from one river is “diverted into another”. The Guardian also covers a warning from scientists that an increasing number of people are “being threatened by flooding caused by glacial lakes bursting”. Meanwhile, a separate Guardian piece covers a funeral that was held for the Oregon glacier in October. The piece quotes Anders Carlson, president of the Oregon Glacier Institute who says the glacier is “like a rotting carcass of its former self”. The Guardian runs a final news piece on glaciers entitled: “As glaciers disappear in Alaska, the rest of the world’s ice follows.” Meanwhile, MailOnline covers a new report, which shows that Germany’s glaciers are “melting faster than anticipated”.
The Guardian also carries a feature comparing images of glaciers today to images taken in the early 1900s and in an analysis piece the Guardian notes that glaciers were already 8m thinner on average in the early 2000s than 50 years earlier. Finally, the Guardian carries a feature piece on American adventurer Garret Fisher entitled: “The man on a mission to reveal the ‘souls’ of vanishing glaciers.”
Fatih Birol, the chief executive of the International Energy Agency (IEA), says that ending the burning of coal for electricity is the “single most important issue today” for tackling climate change, reports the Independent in an “exclusive” interview. Birol tells the outlet that “coal plants are today responsible for about one-third of all emissions and it is therefore important to do two things when it comes to coal…One, to not build new coal plants and second – maybe more critically – to come up with a plan for dealing with existing coal plants, especially in Asia”. He also tells the paper that the “burning question” is how richer countries are going to provide incentives to other countries to close their coal plants: “In Europe and the US, we have coal plants but they are on average about 40 to 43 years old, which is close to the retirement age of about 45 years. But in Asia, the average age is about 11 years old – they are far from retirement.” Despite the ongoing need for progress, Birol tells the outlet that two things make him “optimistic” ahead of the COP26 climate talks in November: “Firstly, I was very impressed with the recent climate leaders summit, which boosted international climate momentum. And, secondly, I recently had a long and comprehensive meeting with Alok Sharma – [the former UK minister appointed COP26 president designate] – and his plans and ambitions made me believe that the UK can pull off an excellent outcome for the world from COP26, and that Glasgow will go in the history books alongside Paris.”
In other coal news, the Guardian reports that financial support from British banks for companies involved in the coal industry has actually increased since the 2015 Paris Agreement, according to campaign groups. The paper explains: “UK lenders provided loans and underwriting services worth $30.3bn (£21.9bn) to companies that sold or burned coal, or provided coal industry services, during 2019, the latest year for which complete data is available, according to research by the campaign groups Reclaim Finance and Urgewald. That represented a significant increase compared with $21.5bn in financing provided in 2016.” The biggest UK provider was Barclays, the paper reports, followed by HSBC and Standard Chartered. Reuters reports that the European Commission warned yesterday that Poland’s plan to extend the life of a coal mine in Turow until 2044 could mean the region will not get access to the European Union’s flagship green transition fund. And Reuters and Inside Climate News both report on planned coal-plant closures in the US.
In China, Zou Ji – president of Energy Foundation China, a non-governmental research group – has said the probability of the country reaching peak emissions nationwide by 2025 “was high”, reports the South China Morning Post. Zou notes that their “thorough analysis of the provincial data from 2010 to 2018” shows that “13 provinces and municipalities – which account for 43% of China’s emissions – have reached peak emissions”. And finally, a comment piece in the South China Morning Post by Iva Dim, a senior research fellow at Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena, warns that “China’s coal investments in Indonesia is at odds with its climate ambition”.
There is extensive media coverage of this weekend’s Extinction Rebellion protests in the UK. The “rebellion of one” protests involved hundreds of activists across the country individually blocking roads, wearing signs displaying their “fears for the future”, the Guardian reports. Extinction Rebellion said in a statement that they are protesting because the government is “moving too slowly on cutting emissions”, according to the newspaper. It adds that protesters “glued themselves to bridges in London” on Saturday and nine people were arrested. Outlets including ITV news noted that Saturday’s protest began at 11am – exactly two years after Parliament declared a climate emergency. Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph and the Scotsman report that protesters blockaded the Faslane nuclear submarine base on Friday and the Independent carries a video of a protester being removed from the middle of a road. Meanwhile, the Daily Express and MailOnline report that home secretary Priti Patel has criticised the protests, saying that they use “dangerous tactics” and that she would “not be delivering on my promise to the law-abiding majority” if she did not crack down on them. And MailOnline calls the activists “fanatics” in its coverage.
The Guardian reports that three students from the UK are suing the government over claims that “their human rights are being breached by the government’s failure to act decisively on the climate crisis”. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that young activists are “breathing new life into the long-running debate over climate justice” by framing climate change as an ethical issue and Climate Home News reports that youth climate court cases have become “a global trend”. The Financial Times carries a comment piece by Margaret Heffernan, a former CEO, entitled: “Courts can no longer protect companies from climate flak”. In other news, the Guardian reports that activists have dropped a legal challenge to a coal mine in New South Wales in Australia, after an agreement on environmental offsets was approved.
Britain’s coastal waters store 50m tonnes more carbon than all of the UK’s forests, according to a new report by campaign groups the Marine Conservation Society and Rewilding Britain, the Independent reports. The campaigners say that rewilding oceans would help the UK to reach its target of net-zero by 2050 and they urge the government to treat the practise with the same urgency as reforestation, the outlet adds. According to the Times, the groups have called for 30% of UK waters to be designated as “Highly Protected Marine Areas” by 2030, thereby restricting harmful practises such as bottom trawling and dredging. BusinessGreen and Sky News also cover the report.
The government of the Australian state of Victoria has pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 50% by 2030, reports the Guardian, which says the “long-awaited climate targets…outstrip commitments made by the Morrison [federal] government”. The paper continues: “The plan, announced on Sunday, will see Victoria power all government-owned enterprises, including schools and hospitals, by renewables by 2025. The plan also includes $20m to reduce emissions in the agricultural sector, another $15.3m for a carbon farming programme, and a $3,000 payment for Victorians who buy zero-emissions vehicles.” The state government said it would put Victoria “at the forefront of Australia’s climate change action” by reducing emissions by 28-33% by 2025 and 45-50% by 2030 compared with 2005 levels, the paper reports, adding: “The announcement was welcomed as ambitious but sober by a major industry lobby group. Conservationists said it did not go far enough for the state to play its part in meeting science-based emissions reduction targets.” The new targets “bring Victoria into line with jurisdictions such as South Australia, which recently announced its own plan to cut emissions by 50% of 2005 levels by 2030”, says the Sydney Morning Herald. However, ABC News notes that the targets “are on the lower end” compared with those recommended by an expert panel in 2019, which suggested targets of 32-39% and 45-60% below 2005 levels for 2025 and 2030, respectively.
In other Australia news, the Guardian reports that Energy Australia has confirmed it will proceed with a new 300 megawatt (MW) peaking power plant in the Illawarra in New South Wales capable of using a blend of green hydrogen and natural gas. The paper notes that the confirmation follows “a threat from the Morrison government to intervene in the market to ensure there are not shortfalls once the ageing coal-fired power plant at Liddell in the Hunter Valley closes in 2023”. The Financial Times has a “Big Read” on Australia’s “coal mining dilemma”. It says: “The acknowledgment that coal, which is more polluting than any other fuel source, has a shrinking lifespan is an accepted fact in many boardrooms and mining communities in Europe, the US and China, where preparations for an energy transition away from fossil fuels are already under way. But in Australia, the world’s second-biggest exporter of coal by volume, discussions around phasing out fossil fuels remain contentious and risk inflaming the nation’s ‘climate wars’ – a bitter 15-year battle between conservatives and progressives which has contributed to the ousting of three prime ministers in recent years.” And finally, the Australian Associated Press reports that more than 50 health and medical groups have written to the federal government to ask it to prioritise health in Australia’s plan to reduce emissions, decarbonise the healthcare sector by 2040 and implement a national strategy on climate, health and wellbeing.
There is widespread media coverage that Eleven Madison Park – a top restaurant in New York – has made the decision to serve only vegan food when it reopens next month. The Guardian reports that chef Daniel Humm posted a statement on the restaurant’s website saying that the modern food system is “simply not sustainable”. The Wall Street Journal carries an interview with Humm, who tells the newspaper: “Our practices of animal production, what we’re doing to the oceans, the amount we consume: it is not sustainable. If Eleven Madison Park is truly at the forefront of dining and culinary innovation, to me it’s crystal clear that this is the only place to go next”. The Independent also carries this quote in its coverage of the story. The Washington Post, the Standard and Business Insider also cover the story.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times Lex column carries an opinion piece comparing meat-eating and vegan diets. The piece notes that “vegans have a reputation for virtue signalling”, but that “climate-friendly lifestyles are gaining in popularity”. It adds that the meat and dairy industries are “serious contributors to global warming”, and that the average global diet contains 288% of the recommended amount of red meat. It concludes: “plenty of fruit and vegetables, spiked sparingly with animal protein, is good for the person and the planet”.
The Amazon rainforest released 20% more CO2 into the atmosphere over the past decade than it absorbed, Agence-France Presse via the Guardian reports. This is according to new research, which finds that deforestation from fires and clear-cutting rose nearly four-fold in 2019, the newswire adds. It notes that Brazil saw a “sharp decline” in environmental protection since president Jair Bolsonaro was sworn into office on 1 January 2019. The Independent also covers the research, saying that the Amazon has “flipped” from a sink of carbon to a source.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that investors are urging Brazil to “use green bonds to save the Amazon”. The paper says that according to a group of Brazilian investors, issuing sovereign green bonds “could satisfy Brazil’s demands for capital while bolstering its green credentials”. And a separate piece in the Financial Times covers new research which finds that Chinese banks are “the second largest financers of commodities implicated in tropical rainforest deforestation”.
The FT columnist Martin Wolf says the UK must be “both an example and a leader” on climate change, despite the fact it is the world’s 16th largest emitter: “So how is it doing? The answer is: not well enough. Unlike lunatic Republicans, the Conservatives do not deny the science…But neither progress nor policies are as good as they should be. If the UK is to be a model and leader, it must try harder.” He then moves to discuss possible steps the government could take: “If the UK were to tax energy-intensive tradeable activities more heavily, they would shift offshore even faster. That would be politically unacceptable and is also quite likely to end up increasing global emissions. The answer has to be a border tax adjustment. That might even accelerate a move to global limits.”
Meanwhile, writing in the Times, the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Lord Browne of Madingley, the former chief executive of BP, reflect on the fact that both of their careers started in the oil industry: “From these common beginnings, and different middles, we now find ourselves united by the climate emergency. We share a belief in the value of science and engineering, and we are motivated too by the duty of care – one of us would say God-given responsibility – we all have to safeguard the future of our planet and its citizens.” They continue: “For a long time, scientific truths about climate change were treated as opinion, something which you might or might not believe depending on your personal point of view. We have come a long way since then. But resolving the crisis still requires commitment to the truth; we owe that to those who will suffer the most if we fail to act…Investors and businesses need to go beyond ‘greenwash’, in which existing activity is creatively re-labelled to advertise its supposed sustainability. The world has seen enough of this. It is time to demonstrate authentic change and an unambiguous contribution to the world’s climate goals.”
In other UK comment, Reuters carries the views of Andrew Norton, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development. Norton argues that if the UK government carries through with its cuts to foreign aid it could be “sleepwalking into COP26 collapse”. He adds: “The UK’s aid budget cuts send entirely the wrong message to world leaders – that under-delivering for vulnerable countries is OK. Britain is putting substantial diplomatic effort into encouraging leaders to step up and support vulnerable countries with climate finance, yet it is backtracking on its own development finance commitments. These aid cuts undermine the UK’s moral authority to show leadership at COP26.”
An editorial in the Guardian welcomes the rise of the Greens in Germany but cautions that “convincing electorates and markets that [a fair transition to a green economy] can be done – and funding the meaningful regeneration of post-industrial regions – is the pivotal task now facing all progressive parties”.
Elsewhere in the Guardian, Mathew Lawrence, who is the director of the Common Wealth thinktank, warns that “targets like ‘net-zero’ won’t solve the climate crisis on their own”. He continues: “Targets are necessary, but they’re only half of the picture. In addition to setting ambitious goals, governments now need to decarbonise the global economy and democratise how it is planned and organised. Our economy isn’t a natural state, but a malleable creation. We still retain the power to reimagine what version of the future it is hurtling towards – and now we must urgently embrace this.” And the lead op-ed in today’s Daily Mail is given over to the climate-sceptic historian Tim Newark, who criticises “radical climate crisis measures”. He adds: “Having heroically battled against Project Fear to win Brexit, it is the supreme irony that our prime minister, Boris Johnson, has allowed the deployment of new Project Fears to justify both lockdown and escalating measures to tackle climate change.” Finally, writing in the Daily Telegraph, the climate-sceptic journalist Charles Moore, who was recently made a member of the House of Lords by Boris Johnson, says the “doctrine of net zero will make mugs of us all”, adding: “There is almost no chance the world will suffer ‘climate catastrophe’ in the coming decade, but there is a clear risk that millions of our citizens will start to shiver.” (Moore fails to declare that he is a trustee of a UK-based climate sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which refuses to reveal the identity of its funders.)
The Guardian carries a comment piece by Richard Dennis, the chief economist at independent thinktank the Australia Institute, entitled “The government’s embrace of ‘clean hydrogen’ helps no one but the fossil fuel industry”. According to Dennis, clean hydrogen is “a BS marketing term that delivers nothing but obfuscation and helps no one but the fossil fuel industry”. He says Australian prime minister Scott Morrison’s support of the idea captures his approach to climate change, adding: “this approach isn’t even new: Morrison has simply dusted off an old polluter playbook and changed a few of the nouns”. Dennis discusses the idea of “clean coal”, which was introduced around 20 years ago and “allowed people (mainly Howard government ministers) to pretend there was no need to stop investing in fossil fuel projects that cause climate change”. He adds that the ideas of carbon capture and storage, clean coal and clean hydrogen “will never go away”, concluding “it will never be invented and it works as a cover story for fossil fuels whether we invent it or not”.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times runs a piece entitled “Energy giants’ lobbying fuels the rise of hydrogen”, which notes that Shall and BP have “staked their futures on natural gas as a less-polluting alternative to oil”. It concludes: “The oil giants have no choice: without hydrogen, the days are numbered for natural gas”. And the Daily Telegraph reports that hydrogen gas “could soon be used in special boilers to heat British homes”.
A new paper presents a “novel dataset of regional climate model simulations over Europe that significantly improves our ability to detect changes in weather extremes under low and moderate levels of global warming”. Derived from a large collection of regional climate model simulations, the dataset consists of 100×10-year simulations and 25×10-year simulations, respectively. The researchers use the dataset to quantify changes in four climate indices under 1.5 and 2.0C of warming. They show that “even for a small signal in projected global mean temperature, changes of extreme temperature and precipitation indices can be robustly estimated”.
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