Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU: Poland’s resistance leads to EU leaders’ climate battle retreat
- US: Biden administration unveils California offshore wind plan
- Exxon Mobil faces off against activist investors on climate change
- UK banks’ support for deforestation firms topped £900m last year
- Global heating: Study shows impact of 'climate racism' in US
- China looks to ocean for cheaper way of cooling power-hungry data centres
- It is suicidal for Tories to bludgeon us into complying with net-zero pledges
- Cutting aid undermines the vision of Global Britain
- Vicious circles: Violence, vulnerability, and climate change
- Disproportionate exposure to urban heat island intensity across major US cities
Poland has argued at a European Council meeting that current EU emissions rules are geared towards the “rich” as leaders try and decide how to divide up emissions cuts among members of the bloc, Politico reports. The EU has agreed to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 and to become climate neutral by mid-century, but leaders have been engaged in “a fierce scrap over how those often painful reductions should be apportioned”, the news website adds. It says that leaders emerged with “a bland policy-free final statement” rather than engaging with Poland’s demands for a greater flow of money and richer nations taking responsibility for a greater share of emissions cuts. The Financial Times reports that the Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki opposed forthcoming plans to extend the EU missions trading scheme (ETS) to include the car and building industries, arguing that it would impact poorer countries the hardest. Nevertheless, the newspaper says that European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said Brussels intended to continue with the planned ETS extension, but would initially set up a separate system for these sectors to minimise consumer impact. It also notes that Poland was supported by neighbours including Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltics, while Sweden, Denmark and Germany argued for higher emissions targets on eastern economies. EurActiv quotes Bulgarian president Rumen Radev before the summit saying that, without further measures, poorer EU nations would become poorer.
Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse via the Guardian reports that Poland’s government has defied an injunction by the top EU court calling for the immediate closure of a major brown coal mine, which is on the border with Germany and the Czech Republic. According to Politico, the Polish government announced it had reached a deal with the Czech Republic to end the lawsuit over the future of the Turów mine. However, it adds that Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš denied that a deal had been reached.
The US federal government plans to open more than 250,000 acres off the California coast to wind power development, according to the Los Angeles Times. The move by the Biden administration would allow wind projects to be built in federal waters in two locations, northwest of Morro Bay and west of Humboldt Bay, which could generate an estimated 4,600 megawatts (MW) of electricity, the newspaper adds. The New York Times says the move marks “the most significant action the federal government has taken to promote wind energy along the West Coast”, adding that it is part of the administration’s wider plan to significantly expand renewable energy and shift the nation away from fossil fuels. Bloomberg notes that the move came despite longstanding concerns from the US military that wind turbines would complicate military training exercises in the region. It notes that the proposed windfarms would “help satisfy a California goal to rely on only carbon-free energy by 2045”, adding that pending environmental analysis and public consultation wind leases could be sold by the government “as soon as mid-2022”.
Meanwhile, another Bloomberg piece reports that France’s electric-grid operator is considering floating wind turbines, but says developers must contend with sea swell that can harm floating substation equipment and buildup of shells and seaweed.
In more US news, Reuters reports that Senate Republicans plan to unveil a “counteroffer” to president Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion infrastructure plan tomorrow. The piece notes that while Biden’s proposal includes a strong focus on “fighting climate change and boosting social programmes”, the Republicans’ approach is “limited to roads, bridges, airports, waterways and broadband access”. Another Reuters piece notes that Democrat senator Ben Cardin is preparing legislation that would provide a tax credit to keep existing nuclear power plants running, a move that is supported by the Biden administration.
Exxon Mobil’s management is set for a major challenge at an annual shareholder meeting today as activists contest the election of one-third of the company’s board, the New York Times reports. Investors concerned about the environment led by activist hedge fund Engine No. 1 have argued that the oil and gas company has not invested enough in clean energy, the newspaper notes. It says that Engine No. 1 aims to defeat the election of four of the company’s 12 director candidates with four of its own, adding that analysts could not recall an election in which board candidates nominated by Exxon had lost.
Meanwhile, today will also see a Dutch court rule on a landmark case in which climate activists have tried to force Shell to speed its own emissions cuts, according to Reuters. The piece notes that “the lawsuit marks a first in which environmental groups have turned to the courts to try to force a major energy firm to change strategy”. Sky News quotes activists who say that today the oil industry faces a “day of reckoning” on its climate change policies, as it is challenged both in the boardroom and in court. It notes that besides Exxon and Shell being targeted, a climate proposal that effectively demands Chevron sets an ambitious target to tackle emissions “could pass at its AGM today”.
Separately, the Guardian covers a report from risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft which finds businesses and investors in the world’s largest economies “should brace themselves for a turbulent transition to a low-carbon future because none of the G20 countries are on track to meet their climate ambitions”.
Finally, the Financial Times has a “big read” titled: “Oil producers face costly transition as world looks to net-zero future.” It looks at the struggles that many fossil fuel-dependent economies could face when trying to diversify their economies, faced with global pressure to hit climate targets. The piece quotes Ali Allawi, Iraq’s finance minister, who says that if his nation stays dependent on oil “it could be catastrophic”.
According to new research, British banks provided at least £900m in finance last year to companies involved in deforestation overseas, the Guardian reports. It cites NGO Global Witness, which analysed 2020 data on 300 companies involved in deforestation for soy, palm oil and other commodities and found that more than £900m in financing came from UK-based institutions. The newspaper ties this in with the upcoming UK environment bill, which will be debated in parliament today and “will include requirements for consumer goods companies to carry out due diligence on their suppliers”.
Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports that the Brazilian Supreme Court has ordered police to investigate whether environment minister Ricardo Salles “covered up for criminals cutting down the Amazon”. In more deforestation news, the Daily Mirror has an “exclusive” story reporting that a planning application to fell 111 trees at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate has come as the monarch and Prince Charles “urged people to take part in the ‘Plant a Tree for the Jubilee’ scheme”.
BusinessGreen has a separate piece reporting that UK financial institutions are responsible for “double the UK’s annual carbon emissions”, according to a new report from WWF and Greenpeace. Another piece from DeSmog finds that around a third of the directors of Africa’s biggest bank, South Africa’s Standard Bank, “have close connections to the coal industry, casting doubt on their ability to ensure the organisation’s business is aligned with global climate goals”.
A new study covered by BBC News finds that black people in most US cities are “subject to double the level of heat stress as their white counterparts”. It says the researchers concluded differences were not explained by poverty, but by historic racism and segregation, meaning that people of colour more generally “live in areas with fewer green spaces and more buildings and roads”. This, in turn, exacerbate the impacts of rising temperatures and a changing climate due to the “urban heat island effect”, the news website notes. The study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, is also covered by the Washington Post, as is another study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which examines respiratory hospitalisations at times when heatwaves coincided with elevated pollution levels.
Reuters reports that China is exploring a new way to slash the energy consumption of its computer data centres, which require a large amount of energy for cooling purposes. The southern Chinese province of Hainan has begun work on a commercial data centre under the sea – described as the first of its kind in the world – to solve the problem, the report says. It adds that power costs comprise up to 70% of the operating expenses of a data centre in China. Separately, a piece in the Nation argues that the future of renewable energy “depends on China” because of the nation’s dominance in the world’s rare-earth supplies.
Separately, environmental experts have said there are areas for the US and China to collaborate on climate change despite the escalating political tensions between them, China Daily reports. The state-run publication writes that a “win-win” situation is likely to happen if the two nations team up for new energy, electric vehicles and green infrastructure. Meanwhile, Jeff Nesbit writing in the Conversation explains why the US-China climate talks are “essential” for the world. Nesbitt writes: “China and the US together represent 43% of global carbon dioxide emissions. They worked together to make the Paris Agreement happen. They will have to push each other to make it a success.”
In other China news, Zhejiang province has launched a series of financial measures to help companies peak their carbon emissions and reach “carbon neutrality”, reports Zhejiang Daily, the region’s official newspaper. A government instruction says that the province will try to increase its “green loans” by 400bn yuan (£44bn) and expand its green bonds by 50% year on year by the end of 2021, the report says. Furthermore, the Securities Times reports that climate change can be “five times as lethal as Covid-19” to mankind while reporting on the death tolls of a series of extreme weather events in China recently. The state-run outlet attributes its claims to relevant findings from Bill Gates’s book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”.
Finally, Reuters reports that, according to the official Xinhua news agency, China faces a heavy flood season with 71 rivers already exceeding warning levels and meteorological authorities warning that global warming is driving more extreme weather.
An editorial in the Sun, a UK tabloid newspaper, warns that the Conservative government has been “grossly underestimating” the cost of transitioning the nation’s economy to net-zero. “It is suicidal to set arbitrary dates — for banning petrol car sales, gas boilers or for net-zero itself — without thinking FIRST how to take the public with you,” it says. The piece begins by noting the higher costs of electric cars and then the potential move to ban gas boilers in homes from 2035. It says that heat pumps, which could replace gas boilers, “are also eye-wateringly expensive — and arguably inadequate for many UK properties”. The editorial adds: “Brits cannot or will not find thousands of pounds to fulfil some random Government promise made to lure green votes or impress others at the COP26 climate conference.” The Sun has also published a comment piece by Conservative MP and self-styled “Brexit hardman” Steve Baker, who warns that Downing Street “could be facing a crisis bigger than the 1989 poll tax which led to unrest” over the costs of net-zero. Baker has recently joined the board of a climate-sceptic lobby group called the Global Warming Policy Foundation. [The Climate Change Committee, which advises the UK government, has noted that transitioning the nation to net-zero could result in a GDP boost of around 2% within a decade. More information on its estimates for the cost of net-zero by 2050 can be found in this Carbon Brief piece.]
A Guardian piece by columnist George Monbiot also criticises the lack of government action on its net-zero target, although unlike the Sun he argues for more drastic action rather than less. “Encouraging us to drive less and use our feet, bicycles and public transport more; taxing frequent flyers; refitting our homes; reducing the amount of meat we eat,” are among some of the strategies Monbiot says the government should be pursuing.
Meanwhile, a Daily Telegraph opinion piece by “media trainer” Robert Taylor describes efforts to improve the energy ratings of UK homes as “government virtue-signalling”. He refers to a story that says mortgage lenders may have to guarantee that the homes they cover have a higher average Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating from 2025. “It doesn’t take a genius to work out that lenders will therefore be less inclined to offer mortgages to the millions of people living, or wanting to live, in older homes. Such homes will therefore lose value…If this doesn’t affect you, then great. Congratulations. But millions of us are set to be disadvantaged.” Taking a more positive note, the Daily Express has a piece by energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan praising the UK’s offshore wind industry.
An editorial in the Financial Times argues that while Boris Johnson’s vision of “global Britain” is in some ways taking shape, citing the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year, the decision to cut the international aid budget from 0.7% of gross national income to 0.5 per cent is “eroding its soft power”. The piece also notes: “Climate campaigners note overseas development assistance helps to fund climate change projects and support climate-vulnerable countries. Funding cuts damage trust from developing nations, vital to making the UK’s COP26 presidency a success.”
Many of the conditions that affect a region’s vulnerability to climate change also “increase the likelihood of climate–conflict interactions”, according to new research. The paper develops a “unified conceptual model” by connecting three fields of research: the determinants of social vulnerability to climate change, climatic drivers of armed conflict risk, and societal impacts of armed conflict. The authors use Afghanistan and Yemen as examples of “war-torn regions” that “have harboured severe humanitarian crises, compounded by climate-related hazards”, and conclude that these compounding effects can result in “a vicious circle locking affected societies in a trap of violence, vulnerability, and climate change impacts”. One of the authors has previously written a Carbon Brief guest post about climate-conflict research.
A new study finds that, on average, people of colour in the US are exposed to a greater surface urban heat island effect than “non-Hispanic whites”. The authors combine surface urban heat island data with census tract-level demographic data to determine who lives in the areas most affected by extreme temperatures. The research finds that “the average person of colour lives in a census tract with higher surface urban heat island intensity than non-Hispanic whites in all but 6 of the 175 largest urbanised areas in the continental US.” The authors add that a similar trend is seen for “people living in households below the poverty line relative to those at more than two times the poverty line”.