Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Poland plans $40bn nuclear push to cut reliance on coal
- California wildfires torch record 2m acres as new blazes force evacuations
- Trump will extend drilling ban off Florida, expand it to two more states
- Druridge Bay coal mine plans rejected for second time
- Shorter lifespan of faster-growing trees will add to climate crisis, study finds
- Extinction Rebellion 'criminals' threaten UK way of life, says Priti Patel
- Uber sets goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2040
- Australian scientists say logging, mining and climate advice is being suppressed
- Special report: E-mobility
- Theme issue: Impacts of the 2018 severe drought and heatwave in Europe – from site to continental scale
- Forest carbon sink neutralised by pervasive growth-lifespan trade-offs
Poland plans to press ahead with a $40bn plan to build its first nuclear power plants and could accelerate its phase-out of coal, reports the Financial Times. Setting out its new energy strategy for 2040 yesterday, Poland’s climate ministry said it planned to invest 150bn zlotys ($39.7bn) to build its first nuclear power plants, with the first unit coming on line in 2033, the paper explains. It adds: “Together with 130bn zlotys of investments in offshore wind projects, the nuclear energy would help the central European nation cut its dependence on coal, which last year accounted for 74% of Polish electricity generation, one of the highest levels in the EU.” The strategy, which still needs to be approved by government, would see Poland’s coal’s share in electricity production fall to 37%-56% in 2030 and to 11-28% in 2040, depending on the carbon emission costs, notes Reuters. It adds: “Following the announcement, shares in Polish utilities jumped on the view that these companies would benefit from phasing out coal more quickly.”
Wildfires have burned a record 2m acres of California, reports the Guardian, with fires forcing thousands of people to evacuated and the smoke causing “some of the worst air quality in the world”. According to the California department of forestry and fire protection (“CalFire”), the area burned this year is now larger than the state of Delaware, surpassing the annual state record of 1.96m acres in 2018, the paper explains. It adds: “More than 14,000 firefighters are struggling to contain dozens of fires across California, which is in the grip of a record heatwave and is forecast to experience potentially calamitous windy conditions in the coming days.” CalFire said that three major fires were burning in Fresno, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, reports Reuters, adding that it had increased staffing in preparation for “critical fire weather.” Overall, there “dozens of large blazes burning in Washington, Oregon and California”, adds another Reuters piece. One US military pilot drafted in to help with evacuations described the conditions as “worse than combat”, reports a third Reuters article.
At the same time, California utility Pacific Gas & Electric is imposing intentional power shut-offs to prevent extreme weather from igniting new wildfires, reports Axios. Yale Climate Connections warns that autumn could “deliver the worst” of California’s 2020 fire season. It says: “[The offshore wind season – the period in autumn when California’s most destructive fires tend to rage – is just getting under way. New research indicates that the state’s autumn fire season has gotten more dangerous in the past 30 years, and human-induced climate change may only accentuate this trend in decades to come.” The New York Times has collated all its articles on the connection between climate change and California’s wildfires. Carbon Brief has previously written explainers on how climate change is affecting wildfires across the world and specifically in the US.
US president Donald Trump has said he will sign an executive order to extend the ban on oil drilling on the eastern Gulf of Mexico off Florida beyond 2022, reports Reuters, as “he seeks to win support ahead of the 3 November election”. Speaking at a campaign event in Florida, Trump said he would also expand the ban to Florida’s Atlantic coast and to the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, the outlet explains, adding: “The Trump administration has worked to expand US oil and gas drilling but drilling off Florida has prompted fierce opposition by tourism, real estate and environmental interests.” Trump declared himself “a great environmentalist” during his speech, notes the New York Times. The decision “surprised energy industry executives by reversing the administration’s earlier pledges to open those waters to exploration”, says Politico. It also surprised Trump’s own administration, the outlet notes: “A congressional aide who works on the issue said their office had gotten no advance heads-up from the White House.” The new move is expected to be carried out by presidential memorandum, it continues: “That vehicle – the same one the Obama administration used to withdraw parts of Alaska from drilling – would have the same impact as a Congressional moratorium, an industry source added.” In a statement, Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott said: “I applaud this announcement today, which is a result of the many conversations we have had over the years and is a huge win for Florida,“ reports Bloomberg. In response to Trump, Democratic nominee Joe Biden tweeted: “You don’t have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling,” reports the Hill. The Independent and Axios also have the story.
Elsewhere in the US, the New York Times says a report “commissioned by federal regulators overseeing the nation’s commodities markets has concluded that climate change threatens US financial markets”. The report for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission concludes that “a world wracked by frequent and devastating shocks from climate change cannot sustain the fundamental conditions supporting our financial system”, the paper says. The report “is the starkest warning to date by a US financial regulator over the stresses that markets will face from climate change”, says Politico.
Also in the US, Reuters reports in an “exclusive” that, according to sources, “Trump has instructed that dozens of oil refiner requests for retroactive waivers from US biofuel laws be denied amid concerns the issue could cut into his support in the Farm Belt”. The newswire explains: “The move, in the form of a direction to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), marks the end of an effort by the refining industry to come into compliance with a January court decision that ruled the Trump administration should not have given out some waivers in previous years.”
An application for an opencast coal mine near England’s Northumberland coast have been rejected by the government for the second time, reports BBC News. The plans for a site at Highthorne near Druridge Bay were originally approved by Northumberland County Council in 2016 and subsequently by a government planning inspector, the outlet explains. However, “the scheme was thrown out by the then communities secretary Sajid Javid in March 2018”. The company behind the application, Banks Mining, successfully challenged this decision in the High Court, but the current communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, has now rejected the scheme. In his final decision letter, Jenrick said the proposal was “not environmentally acceptable” and “not likely to provide national, local or community benefits which clearly outweigh its likely impacts”, reports the Press Association. The mine would have produced nearly 3m tonnes of coal and would have been the biggest in the UK, the PA notes. However, BBC News adds, Jenrick’s decision states it may be challenged in the High Court.
In other coal news, Reuters reports that “Zimbabwe’s government has banned mining in game reserves following concerns from conservationists who accused two Chinese companies of exploring for coal in the biggest national park, Hwange”.
And elsewhere in the UK, BBC News also reports that Aberdeen City Council’s has been criticised for seeking advice on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from a fossil fuel company. The authority said it had formed a partnership with BP to help it reach its decarbonisation targets and become a “climate positive city”, the outlet says, but “Friends of the Earth Scotland said that while the council’s intentions might be laudable it was falling for BP’s ‘greenwash’”.
A new study finds that trees that grow rapidly have a shorter lifespan, which could make them less effective as long-term stores of carbon, the Guardian reports. It continues: “Trees grow faster in warmer conditions, and this should act as a natural brake on global heating, as they take up and store more carbon dioxide from the air as they grow. But the new study casts doubt on this beneficial cycle, finding that the faster trees grow, the sooner they die – and therefore stop storing carbon.” Some fast-growing trees, including conifer species in cold regions, have long been known to show shorter lifespans, the paper explains; however, the new research shows “that the relationship between faster growth and shorter lifespan appears to hold good across tree species and latitudes”. Writing in the Conversation, two of the study co-authors say their findings “indicate that faster growth results in faster tree death, without real long-term increases in carbon storage”. They add: “These model predictions are not only consistent with observed changes in forests dynamics in the Amazon but also with a recent study reporting an increase in tree death across the globe.” MailOnline also covers the study.
Elsewhere, Climate Home News reports that a draft version of the fifth edition of the UN’s Global Biodiversity Outlook says that governments have failed to meet any of the internationally agreed 2020 goals to halt plant and wildlife loss.
UK home secretary Priti Patel has said that Extinction Rebellion (XR) activists are “so-called eco-crusaders turned criminals” who threaten key planks of national life, reports the Guardian. In a speech to the annual conference of the Police Superintendents’ Association yesterday, Patel described XR as an “emerging threat”, the paper reports. Patel said that XR was “attempting to thwart the media’s right to publish without fear nor favour”, and claimed their campaign of civil disobedience was “a shameful attack on our way of life, our economy and the livelihoods of the hard-working majority”. She added: “I refuse point blank to allow that kind of anarchy on our streets…The very criminals who disrupt our free society must be stopped. And together we must all stand firm against the guerrilla tactics of Extinction Rebellion.” The Guardian says that, in response to XR’s tactics, there have been talks between police chiefs and the Home Office about changes to specific sections of the 1986 Public Order Act. It adds: “The Guardian understands that changes could include lowering the threshold at which police can place restrictions. One change could mean the prospect of ‘disruption’ is enough to impose tough conditions, not ‘serious disruption’ as the act currently states.”
Uber is pledging to eliminate all emissions from every trip booked on its platform globally by 2040, reports Bloomberg. Yesterday the ride-hailing company unveiled a series of new targets, the outlet explains: “It committed to spending $800m by 2025 to help drivers switch to battery-powered electric vehicles (EVs). By 2030, the company expects all rides in the US, Canada and Europe will take place in EVs, a promise that will be extended around the world by 2040. It also pledged that all electricity used to power those rides would be carbon-free by that year.” Uber acknowledges that achieving their electrification goals rests on factors that they don’t control, says Axios: “It also requires steps by policymakers and other industry participants to spur EV and charging infrastructure deployment.” The move follows the release of Uber’s first-ever environmental impact report, based on data from every single Uber ride taken in the US and Canada from 2017-19, notes the Financial Times: “According to the report, emissions per ‘passenger mile’ had gone down overall, since improved algorithms had reduced passenger-less travel. But based on the average vehicle occupancy rate in the US, its emissions per passenger mile still outstripped those of privately owned vehicles.”
In the UK, the government has marked today’s “World EV Day” with a series of announcements designed to help accelerate the shift towards plug-in vehicles and make it easier for businesses to pilot the use of electric vans, reports BusinessGreen. This includes a £12m funding package from the Department for Transport and R&D agency Innovate UK that will “enable a series of competitions for some of the most promising EV technologies”, the outlet explains, as well as a £9.3m scheme from Highways England that will allow businesses to try EVs for free before they buy.
New research suggests that Australian scientists are being prevented from speaking openly about their work and their advice is being suppressed by government and industry when it comes to the impact of logging, mining, land-clearing and climate change, the Guardian reports. It continues: “A study by the Ecological Society of Australia, published in the journal Conservation Letters, surveyed 220 scientists across government, industry and academia on the extent to which their work had been suppressed. Forms of suppression include not being able to present or publish results, changes being made to findings before the work is released and self-censorship due to fear of retribution.” The study’s lead author tells the Guardian: “In reality, these findings may be the tip of the iceberg…It reflects on a type of corruption that’s going on in the system.” The paper finds that modifications included substantive changes to a text or story “that downplays, masks, or misleads about environmental impacts”, the Sydney Morning Herald adds. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald also reports that last season’s climate-related disasters cost insurers in Australia A$5.4bn.
The Financial Times has added a series of articles to its ongoing special report on electric vehicles (EVs), which says that “from autonomous cars to e-scooters and flying taxis, the shift towards smarter transport is changing how we get around”. The new articles cover: the slow uptake of electric technology in the marine industry; how Formula E technology is crossing over “from racetrack to road”; how the passenger car industry is favouring EVs over hydrogen; why demand for EVs in Europe is strong despite Covid-19; the challenges facing the nascent electric air taxi industry; new trials of wireless charging; how Microsoft has “quietly built up a sizeable automotive business aimed at supplying carmakers with ‘connected’ technologies”; and how the EV supply chain is using blockchain
A special set of studies explore how consecutive summer droughts in Europe from 2018-20 has affected, forests, crops and carbon storage. The findings show that, in 2018, Europe’s land carbon sink function decreased by 18% and crops produced the lowest yields in decades as a result of drought. The authors say: “The research presented shows that plants first profited from warm and sunny conditions in spring, but then had insufficient water available to their roots when the summer heatwave hit.”
Across the world, climate change is causing trees to “live fast and die young” – limiting their ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, a study says. The research says that the recent surge in CO2 uptake from trees is likely due to their increased growth rate under warming, but that this stored carbon is likely to be re-released as trees begin to die younger than expected. “Earth system model projections of global forest carbon sink persistence are likely too optimistic, increasing the need to curb greenhouse gas emissions,” the authors say.
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