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:
- ‘Polluter elite’ must be target of policies to tackle climate crisis, report says
- Ministers accused of failing to show commitment to UK net-zero target
- John Kerry seeks environmental pact with President Xi on trip to China
- Australia: PM getting warmer on net-zero target with new climate tsar
- France bans short flights if there’s a train
- EU chief adviser says credibility of green finance rules at risk
- China's first 'carbon neutrality' technology innovation centre is established in Sichuan
- The climate emergency is here. The media needs to act like it
- Trump abandoned the climate. This is Biden’s moment.
- A carbon registry leaves polluters with nowhere left to hide
- Nitrogen deposition accelerates soil carbon sequestration in tropical forests
The wealthiest 10% of people were responsible for almost half of the rise in CO2 emissions between 1990 and 2015, the Independent reports. This is according to a new report from the Cambridge Sustainability Commission on Scaling Behaviour, which says government policies should focus on the “polluter elite” in tackling the climate crisis, the paper adds. BBC News says: “The world’s wealthy must radically change their lifestyles to tackle climate change, a report says.” It adds that the “wealthiest 5% alone – the so-called ‘polluter elite’ – contributed 37% of emissions growth between 1990 and 2015”. According to the Guardian, the authors want to “deter SUV drivers and frequent fliers” and encourage the wealthy to insulate their homes. They also “urge the UK government to reverse its decision to scrap air passenger duty on UK return flights” and want ministers to reinstate the green homes grant, the paper adds.
Meanwhile, a separate piece in the Independent reports that the poorest nations are “struggling to deal with the climate emergency” due to a combination of debt, climate change and environmental degradation.
Environmental campaigners have accused the government of showing a “lack of commitment” to the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, after it took steps that “appear to contradict the policy” the Financial Times reports. It adds that the government is also facing criticism for not publishing plans on how it would reach the net-zero goal, the Financial Times reports. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that COP26 is “one of the last chances” to get on track for the Paris agreement, but that “major figures in the global climate talks” have “expressed concern to the Guardian” that “a series of missteps by the government is in danger of undermining the UK’s leadership and the success of the talks”. It adds: “Boris Johnson must urgently take control of the UK’s presidency of vital UN climate talks, amid a shower of green policy setbacks and growing concern over the lack of a coherent all-government climate strategy, senior international figures have said.”
In other UK news, Bloomberg reports that energy firm EDF is planning to sell the West Burton B gas-fired power station, having already announced plans to close its West Burton A coal plant – meaning it will no longer operate any fossil fuel-fired power generation in Britain.
In continuing coverage of US climate envoy John Kerry’s planned visit to China this week, the Times reports that he is expected to become the first high-ranking member of the Biden administration to visit China. It adds that “if confirmed,” Kerry would meet with China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, who “is said to have made contact with Kerry when he was appointed in February”. A piece in the South China Morning Post reports that – according to “a person familiar with the situation” – Chinese president Xi Jinping is “likely” to take part in the US-convened Earth Day climate summit on 22-23 April. This would come after Kerry travels to Shanghai to meet Xie Zhenhua, the paper adds, and could “open up a narrow path to cooperation amid a deepening rift”. Meanwhile an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post by Iva Dim, a senior research fellow at Strategic Pan Indo-Pacific Arena, says that there is a “growing need for climate leadership from China, the US and India – the world’s worst polluters”.
In other US news, the New York Times reports that the Indian Point nuclear power plant – which currently provides around 25% of New York City’s power – is planning to shut down. The lost output will be mainly filled by generators that burn fossil fuels, the piece adds.
An “exclusive” report on the frontpage of the Australian reports that a senior position has been created in prime minister Scott Morrison’s administration to “coordinate the government’s climate strategy and provide advice about emissions reductions”. The move is “raising expectations” that Morrison could “endorse a target of net-zero by 2050 within months”, the paper adds, although it cites “government sources” saying that no official decision has been made on this target yet. The paper adds that last month, former foreign minister and ambassador to Turkey and Israel, James Larsen, was appointed to the position of deputy secretary and climate coordinator, thereby “elevating the issue”.
An editorial in the Australian – under the headline: “Softly, softly on climate may deliver elusive results” – says the Morrison government is “demonstrating a quiet determination to progress the nation’s climate change response through good process and considered action rather than grand gesture and public posturing”. It says that the appointment of Grant King to head the advisory Climate Change Authority and the creation of a new climate change coordinator role show that the government is “gearing up” ahead of COP26 this November. It adds that Morrison is among 40 leaders who will attend President Biden’s Earth Day climate change summit and that climate will be a “key issue” at the G7 summit in June. The government is “under pressure” to announce a net-zero by 2050 pledge, the piece adds. It concludes that the challenge for Morrison is to “accept good advice from Mr King that the public can understand and is willing to support” and that Australia and other world leaders “must play their part in deed as well as word”. Sky News Australia carries an interview with former resources minister and outspoken supporter of coal Matt Canavan, in which he calls net-zero targets the “biggest scam since you last received an email from Nigeria”.
Meanwhile the Sydney Morning Herald reports that Australia’s energy minister Angus Taylor has rejected an allegation that he “pressured an energy agency to alter its modelling to favour gas”. This comes as an anti-corruption advocate has warned that political donations are “undermining public confidence in plans for a gas-fired economic recovery”, the piece notes. Elsewhere, the Guardian notes that emissions in New Zealand rose by 2% between 2018 and 2019, largely driven by the energy sector and a rise in methanol production. This takes the country “a step in the wrong direction” from its goal of net-zero by 2050, the piece notes.
The French government has approved a ban on domestic flights that could be completed by train in under 2.5 hours, the Times reports. This is the first measure of its kind in Europe, according to the newspaper, and was first proposed by the Citizens’ Climate Convention. However, the paper adds that the move has been “widely criticised”, with airline industry backers saying the measure is “a further blow to a sector in crisis because of the pandemic” and environmentalists saying that Macron “should have gone further”. The Guardian notes that the climate convention originally recommended a ban on all flights that could be taken by train in less than four hours, but the time was reduced after “strong objections” from certain regions and the Air France-KLM airline. BBC news adds that connecting flights will not be affected by the rule. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that campaigners have called for regional airport expansion to be suspended in the UK, after Southampton was given permission to extend its runway.
The head of the group advising the EU on its green finance rules has “urged Brussels to resist political pressure to weaken them”, Reuters reports. The outlet notes the deadline of 21 April for the EU to publish the first section of its “sustainable finance taxonomy”, a list that will decide which economic activities can be labelled as “green investments”.
Meanwhile, in other EU news, EnergyMonitor reports that the emissions trading system (EUETS) has “stood strong” throughout the pandemic, but that the EU vice-president for the green deal has publicly announced that he is against including road transport in the scheme.
Separately, Reuters says that according to a new survey, EU and US buyers are “warming up” to the idea of electric vehicles, but continue to have concerns over the price, while the South China Morning Post reports that electric vehicles could make up 45% of the global car market by 2050.
China has set up its first “carbon neutrality” technology innovation centre in the south-western province of Sichuan, reports the official Science and Technology Daily. The centre was established by Sichuan University, together with the province’s key scientific and research institutions and leading enterprises, the article says. Its “core” mission is to research and implement “leading” and “key common” technologies “at the forefront” of the “carbon-neutral” industry, the newspaper says. It will also coordinate and promote modern engineering technologies and “disruptive” technologies, it adds.
Meanwhile, Zhang Lei, chief executive officer of energy technology company Envision Group, has said that “carbon neutrality” is a “far-reaching, low-carbon new industrial revolution” that could allow China to “change lanes” and overtake other countries. Zhang made the remarks at a talk show from state broadcaster CCTV, attended by three industry experts. Zhang considers the emissions target a “historic opportunity” to help the Chinese industrial system take off.
Elsewhere, China’s National Development and Reform Commission has ordered coal mines to increase their coal production output to match “the highest yield in winter”, reports news portal Sina, citing official Stocks Daily. The authority issued the order after electric power companies had reported high coal prices and low coal storage for summer, the report says. These companies also suggested the nation establish a “stable” quota system for imported coal, it adds.
A piece in the Guardian announces that ahead of Earth Day on April 22, the newspaper is “partnering with newsrooms around the world in a joint initiative calling on journalists to treat the climate crisis like the emergency it is”. The piece notes that global emissions fell by 10% in 2020 as a result of covid lockdowns, but that in the coming months they are expected surpass pre-pandemic level. It highlights that two years ago, the Guardian changed its language around climate change, “eschewing terms like ‘climate change’ for the more appropriately urgent ‘climate emergency’”. The Guardian is now joining the “Covering Climate Now” initiative, the piece says, made up of more than 400 newsrooms and a combined audience of almost 2bn people. Prominent publications involved in the initiative include La Republica and Asahi Shimbun. On Earth day, the group will be publishing stories on the theme: “Living through the climate emergency”, according to the piece. It includes the full statement coordinated by Covering Climate Now that begins :“The planet is burning. It’s time for journalism to recognise that the climate emergency is here.” The statement adds that “words matter” and that “to preserve a livable planet, humanity must take action immediately.” The media’s response to Covid-19 is a “useful model” of how to report on an emergency and call out disinformation, it concludes, as “[w]e need the same commitment to the climate story”.
Scientific American also runs the Covering Climate Now statement, in a piece entitled “We are living in a climate emergency, and we’re going to say so”. In the piece, Mark Fischetti – senior editor of Scientific American – says that the publication will use the phrase “climate emergency” in its coverage of climate change from now on. Fischetti adds that this is “not a journalistic fancy” and notes that as of January, 1,850 jurisdictions in 33 countries had issued climate emergency declarations covering more than 820m people.
On 22 April, the leaders of “more than three-dozen countries” – including the 17 nations responsible for 80% of he worlds emissions – will meet at a virtual summit, an editorial in the New York Times says. The editorial notes: “All eyes will be on the person who organised the summit, President Biden.” This is a “critically important moment” for the US president, the piece adds, and his ideas must be “not only ambitious but also credible”. Biden’s $2tn recovery plan includes “elements of a plausible strategy”, but also demonstrates “failure to end oil and gas drilling much more quickly”, according to the piece. It adds that the plan has two “transformative” parts – a national clean power standard and reducing emissions from cars and trucks. However, the proposal could have “tough sledding in Congress” – partly because Congress includes “many devoted friends of oil and gas”, it continues. However, it adds that there are “encouraging signs of buy-in from big utilities,” for example from General Motors. Biden’s plans “rely on private and public investment”, the piece notes. However, an “overlooked” fact in the discussion about Biden’s plans is that “the economics of clean energy are moving his way”, according to the piece. It notes a “particularly striking” effect on renewables like wind and solar, whose prices now “compete favourably with fossil fuels”. A piece in Vox notes that Biden plans to announce a new 2030 climate target, but asks “will it go far enough?”.
Meanwhile the Washington Post reports that Biden said the size and scope of his $2.25tn jobs plan is “up for negotiation” in a meeting on Monday. This comes after many Republicans have argued that elements including tackling climate change “do not belong in an infrastructure package”, the paper adds. Similarly, Reuters reports: “Biden seeks to showcase bipartisanship in infrastructure meeting with Republicans”. Environmental advocates are “hopeful” that parts of the infrastructure package “can gain traction with lawmakers in Congress”, the Hill reports, while a separate piece in the Hill says that Republicans are set to unveil environmental legislation in coming weeks that “eschews the Biden administration’s focus on energy and carbon emissions in favour of reducing US dependence on so-called critical minerals and an initiative to plant 1tn trees worldwide.” Grist reports that leaked calls show that a new American Legislative Exchange Council is promoting tactics like “nullification” and constitutional convention to prevent Biden’s climate legislation from being passed.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that Biden’s plan to “plug tens of thousands of abandoned oil wells across the US” is being criticised for “rewarding fossil fuel operators who shirk their clean-up responsibilities and hooking the industry on taxpayer bailouts”. Biden’s $2tn intrastructure proposal includes $16bn to clean disused wells and mines, according to the paper. The government say the project would create “hundreds of jobs” and end “hazardous leaks”, it adds, but analysts argue that it will “leave taxpayers footing a bill for past negligence and encourage more bad behaviour in the future”.
“Fossil-fuel producers’ lack of transparency is hampering our chances of halting global warming”, writes Mark Campanale – the founder and executive chair of the Carbon Tracker Initiative – in an opinion piece for the Financial Times. Campanale says that every country believes it “has the ‘right’ to continue fossil fuel extraction,” and that “obligation” to curb emissions could be “undermined by special pleading”. The “furore” in the UK over plans to build a new coal mine in the same year as hosting COP26 summit is “indicative of the contrary positions many countries hold”, he adds. One problem, he continues, is “the lack of transparency by both governments and corporations over how much CO2 is embedded in reserves likely to be developed”, which makes it difficult to determine the worlds remaining carbon budget. To help with this, Campanale says that his initiative and non-profit group Global Energy Monitor are working to develop a publicly available database of all resources in the ground and in production. This will be a standalone tool that can act as a model for a potential UN-hosted registry, he says, adding that the database leaves producer nations with “nowhere left to hide”. He concludes: “a fossil-fuel registry will help governments and international organisations plan for the low-carbon world ahead.”
A new study finds that long-term additions of nitrogen to the soil of nitrogen-rich tropical forests can increase soil carbon stocks by between 7 and 21%. The authors use results from an experiment in which nitrogen was added to a lowland forest in China’s Dinghushan Biosphere Reserve between 2003 and 2014, as well as a meta-analysis of observations from nitrogen addition experiments. They find that as well as increasing the carbon store, the long-term addition of nitrogen accelerates soil acidification and increases physical protection. However, they warn that enhanced carbon sequestration in tropical soils “is not a good reason to justify excess nitrogen emissions to the atmosphere.”