Today's climate and energy headlines:
- PM under pressure to appoint COP 26 head as Gove tipped for job
- Big Oil under fire: Exxon's market value has crumbled by $184bn
- Trump withholding $823m for clean energy, Democrats say
- The government's mixed messages on eco cars are rapidly alienating the public
- The Guardian view on HS2: let the train take the strain
- Renewable energy will power new era of foreign policy
- Why fossil fuel producer subsidies matter
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is under “increasing pressure to appoint a new president of [COP26]”, reports the Guardian, saying that “experts [have] warn[ed] [the] ongoing vacancy is damaging the UN climate summit’s prospects of success”. The paper adds that “Michael Gove [is] emerging as the most hotly tipped choice”. It explains: “Gove has a strong reputation among environmental campaigners, having impressed them with his energy as environment secretary under Theresa May, when he drew up a 25-year environment plan and new environment and agriculture bills.” The Independent also reports that Gove is “tipped to lead” the COP26 summit, adding that “Labour later suggested [Jeremy] Corbyn’s predecessor as party leader, former climate change secretary [Ed] Miliband, would be a good choice.” Press Association has a piece on why former prime minister David Cameron turned down the role of COP26 president and Reuters reports the comments of Johnson’s “political spokesman”, saying the UK wanted a “heavy hitter” to take the position. The spokesman is reported saying the president should be able to “handle themselves on the world stage”. The Daily Telegraph reports that “allies” of former prime minister Theresa May are lobbying for her to get the role, saying “she has the stature”, while a Sun “exclusive” reports claims that Johnson launched a foul-mouthed tirade against Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon at a meeting on COP26 in Number 10. The Evening Standard reports the comments of Tom Burke “who has advised three environment secretaries”, saying that Johnson will “weaken” international efforts on climate change if the COP26 summit is a failure. A comment in New Scientist says: “The most pressing global issue of our time has again been reduced to a tawdry political row…But to reduce this to a reshuffle politics story is to utterly miss the big picture…The urgency to get the summit back on track couldn’t be greater, as the planet keeps reminding us.” Meanwhile, BusinessGreen has a piece “decoding” the seven-point plan for COP26 set out by the sacked former president designate of the meeting, Claire O’Neil.
Separately, the Guardian and others report that Johnson clashed in parliament with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, who, the paper says, accused the prime minister of “failing spectacularly” to respond appropriately to the scale of the climate challenge. The paper reports Corbyn asking of Johnson: “Considering his monumental failure in advance of COP26, isn’t it really just a continuation of his climate change denial statements that he was regularly making up until 2015?” ITV News says the pair had a “heated row over climate change”. The broadcaster says: “[T]he prime minister deflected criticism, branding Mr Corbyn’s comments ‘beyond satire’, adding: ‘This is the first major economy in the world to have set a target of carbon neutral by 2050.’” Press Association reports on the exchange under the headline: “PM rebuffs claims he is reviving climate change denial beliefs.” MailOnline also reports on the debate, saying Johnson “accused Jeremy Corbyn of a ‘grotesque failure’ to understand UK efforts to tackle climate change”. A Guardian podcast asks whether Johnson “understands” climate change, while BusinessGreen wonders if “Johnson really ‘get[s]’ the climate challenge”. An editorial in the New Statesman points to a 2015 article by the prime minister in which he wrote: “[G]lobal leaders were driven by a primitive fear that the present ambient warm weather is somehow caused by humanity; and that fear – as far as I understand the science – is equally without foundation.” It says “one has to doubt the sincerity of [Johnson’s] apparent conversion”. It adds: “Far from achieving the lofty ambition of net-zero emissions by 2050, the UK is forecast to miss its carbon targets for 2023 to 2027 by 5.6% and for 2028 to 2032 by 9.6%.” Another Guardian story reports: “Boris Johnson must flesh out plans for the UK to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 if he is to make a success of the COP26 climate summit, campaigners have said.”
In related coverage, BBC News says that a new report has warned the government not to rely on new technologies such as carbon capture and storage or hydrogen. It explains: “The government had hoped that both technologies would contribute to emissions reductions required by 2050. But the report’s authors say ministers should assume that neither carbon capture and storage (CCS) nor hydrogen will be running ‘at scale’ by 2050.” BBC News adds: “The new technology report comes from a government-funded consortium of academics from Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham, Bath and Imperial College London.” Finally, BBC News reports that the government has launched a “£50m plan to create [a] first all-electric bus town”.
Some $184bn has been “wiped off Exxon’s market valuation since its 2014 peak”, reports CNN, adding that the oil major’s stock “plunged to nine-year lows” this week “after posting dreadful results”. CNN continues: “The energy sector of the S&P 500 was easily the biggest loser over the last decade, generating a total return of just 34%, according to Refinitiv…That decline also reflects the world coming to grips with the climate crisis. Energy stocks are in the penalty box because of heightened concerns about carbon emissions and the rise of socially-conscious investing.” Separately, the Financial Times reports that coal giant Peabody Energy has “axe[d]” its dividend in the face of low prices for the fuel, adding: “[I]nvestors concerned about the climate impacts of burning coal have also shunned the sector, raising producers’ cost of capital.” Bloomberg covers a report from the thinktank New Economics Foundation, which argues that central banks should “purge coal-related assets from their balance sheets and set rules discouraging the financial system from financing polluting industries”. And the Financial Times reports that the UK pensions regulator is “being urged to carry out an urgent investigation into whether pension scheme trustees are complying with a new obligation to make public their investment policy on climate change”.
In related developments, the Guardian reports that Barclays, the “the biggest European financier of fossil fuel companies”, is “under pressure from UK’s powerful Investor Forum to adopt stricter climate policies”. Several outlets including Reuters and the Guardian report that Greenpeace climate protestors blocked entrances to BP’s headquarters in London with solar panels and oil barrels yesterday, to mark the first day of new chief executive Bernard Looney. The Times reports that Looney “sings a different tune” on his first day. It explains: “The new chief executive of BP has joined Instagram because he wants to ‘engage directly with society, especially younger people and those who disagree with BP’, the company said.” Writing in the Daily Mail, columnist Ruth Sunderland says Looney “needs to make a transition from Big Oil to Big Green Energy – and that will be no mean feat”. The Financial Times reports that Equinor, the Norwegian oil and gas major, has “has made one of the most ambitious pledges among its peers, saying it will cut the carbon intensity of the energy it produces by half by 2050”. Another Financial Times story reports that Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser has “lashe[d] out at ‘grotesque’ environmental protests” against his company while third story from the same paper says the firm has been “rebuke[d]” on its environmental record by its largest shareholder, BlackRock.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that UK taxpayers are “funding African fossil fuel projects worth $750m”, according to NGO Global Witness. It continues: “The Private Infrastructure Development Group (PIDG), which relies on the UK taxpayer for two-thirds of its funding, committed $750m to fossil fuel projects between 2002 and 2018.” DeSmog UK also has the story.
Bloomberg reports that the Trump administration is withholding “nearly a billion dollars for a clean energy program it has unsuccessfully tried to cut”, citing “congressional Democrats”. It explains: “The unspent funds now amount to $823m in the Energy Department’s [Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy] that provides grants and other financial assistance for alternative energy, electric vehicles and energy efficiency, according to Democrats on the House Science Committee, which is holding a joint subcommittee hearing on the topic.”
Sales of diesel cars fell another 36% in the UK in January, notes an editorial in the Daily Telegraph, which blames the decline on “mixed messages from the government”. It says: “Many bought diesel cars because they produce less CO2. Buyers thought they were doing their bit for the planet only to be told that the particulate emissions were unacceptable, effectively rendering the cars unsaleable.” It continues by noting that sales of hybrids, particularly plug-in hybrids, have risen rapidly. “Yet motorists who have switched to these, again for the best of green intentions, are now told that this is wrong, too. The government is saying that the sale of new hybrids will be banned within 15 years because they are not really green after all.” (A news story on the frontpage of the Daily Telegraph reports that plug-in hybrids can emit up to three times as much CO2 as official test figures suggest, because owners often fail to plug them in.) The paper’s editorial concludes: “We acknowledge that a move to non-carbon transport is inevitable and in many ways welcome since it is less polluting. But the country has to be brought along with the policy not bullied by virtue-signalling politicians.” An editorial in the Sun says the government’s plan to end sales of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 is “just a giant leap in the dark” and argues the “wheels are already coming off the government’s electric car revolution”. It goes on to assert that EV sales make up just 1.6% of the total. [The latest figures show that in January 2020, battery EVs made up 2.7% of sales and plug-in hybrid EVs made up another 3.2%, with hybrids adding another 6%.] The Sun editorial also asks why EV subsidies are due to be ended. (A late breaking Daily Telegraph story says chancellor Sajid Javid has “performed an about turn over plans to scrap government grants for electric cars”). The Sun wonders: “How will people afford these cars unless prices plummet, which experts say is unlikely in the foreseeable future?” [Expert forecasts suggest EV purchase prices will reach parity by the mid-2020s.] In a comment piece for the Sun, columnist Rod Liddle asks: “So when will Boris Johnson’s government tell us that hybrid cars are the new diesel?” Liddle writes: “We were all urged to buy hybrid cars, as a useful compromise between petrol, diesel and all-electric. And, as usual, we do as we’re told…The real reason for banning hybrids is that – whisper it quietly – they were not quite as efficient at lowering emissions as was originally thought.” Liddle concludes by questioning the climate benefits of battery EVs: “Soon…we’ll be driving around, silently, in electric vehicles. Fine. Or at least fine until some number cruncher discovers, a little late in the day, that actually electric cars are more damaging to the environment than petrol cars.” [A Carbon Brief factcheck published last year and in the process of being updated shows that the lifecycle CO2 emissions of a Nissan Leaf EV driven in the UK in 2019 would be three times lower than for an average conventional car.]
The planned HS2 high-speed rail link “can only work as part of an integrated transport plan designed to cut carbon”, says an editorial in the Guardian. It continues: “Transport traditionally comes off a poor second to the NHS and schools. Under the Tories it has been roads that have received the cash.” It adds: “Transport is the UK’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, which have been flat since 2008. HS2’s conservative estimate is that over 120 years it will not cut carbon emissions. Yet without a ready alternative to free up space on the rail network there will be no way of tempting people out of cars, trucks and planes.”
“From coal and whale oil to crude and shale, the geopolitical map has been moulded by the need to control energy supplies,” writes Labour’s shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner in the Times Red Box. He goes on to argue: “All that is changing. The transformation in energy that is seeing the world move from fossil fuel to renewable technologies will bring with it new power relations that will profoundly shape our century.” Gardiner concludes: “The map of the modern world, its trade routes, the power of its nation states and its military battles have all been fashioned by the exploitation of fossil fuel energy. New renewable technologies do not rely upon these geographically concentrated stocks and for that reason they can disperse power and create new alliances as every country taps into the geothermal, hydro, solar, tidal, wave and wind energy it possesses. Managing this energy transformation is the fundamental issue of international relations in the 21st century.”
A new analysis challenges previous research finding that fossil fuel subsidy removal would lead to limited emission reductions. Using a sector-specific model, the new research “how the emission reductions from producer subsidy reform could be more material [than previous work] suggested”. The authors of the new analysis add: “Fossil fuel producer subsidies delay a low-carbon transition in ways both material and political, and they deserve greater attention and transparency in global modelling analyses, as well as in policy-making.”
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