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Daily Briefing

02.12.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Poverty, not climate breakdown, caused Madagascar’s food crisis, finds study
Poverty, not climate breakdown, caused Madagascar’s food crisis, finds study

News.

Poverty, not climate breakdown, caused Madagascar’s food crisis, finds study
The Guardian Read Article

A number of publications cover a new rapid attribution study that finds, says the Guardian, that “[p]overty and a heavy reliance on annual rains are the key factors behind the devastating food crisis in southern Madagascar not climate breakdown”. The paper adds that the analysis “did not show a convincing link to global heating, despite the World Food Programme describing it as the ‘world’s first climate-induced famine’”. It adds: “The researchers said their work nonetheless highlighted the ‘moral imperative’ to reduce poverty and improve infrastructure in places that would suffer increasingly extreme weather as global heating mounted.” The New York Times says the scientists “did not find that a warming climate was making prolonged droughts significantly more likely” in southern Madagascar. It notes that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “determined that droughts in Madagascar as a whole will likely increase if global average temperatures rise by more than 2C Celsius – a higher level of warming than the 1.2C that was considered in the new analysis”. The paper continues: “It may seem counterintuitive that global warming does not contribute to a clear increase in the likelihood of drought. Scientists have found, however, that the relationship is not so simple. Climate change generally causes more intense rain events, but it also shifts rainfall patterns.” It quotes study authors explaining that droughts are caused by a complex combination of factors. One of them is quoted saying: “We have this predominant narrative these days that droughts are driven largely by anthropogenic climate change…It’s not a bad narrative, because they are – it’s just not everywhere and not in every single case.” According to Reuters, the crisis in southern Madagascar “highlights vulnerabilities that will only worsen as global temperatures continue to rise, scientists for the organisation [behind the new research] said”. It quotes study co-author Dr Friederike Otto saying: ““The drought strongly shows what a very narrow range of possible weather we are actually adapted to…We are not even adapted to the present day. And so it (climate change) will only make things more difficult for these regions in the world.” Associated PressCNN and Carbon Brief also cover the new research.

Separately, Bloomberg has an explainer on “how science links global warming to extreme weather”. It cites Carbon Brief’s review of attribution studies as finding that 70% of the more than 400 extreme weather events studied since 2011 were made more likely or more severe as a result of warming. In other reporting related to weather extremes, the New York Times has a feature on the aftermath of flooding in British Colombia in Canada, which says: “Washed-out roads and destroyed bridges are just some of the devastation afflicting residents of the western province and could signal what climate change will bring in the future.”

COP26: UK 'nowhere near' meeting targets agreed at Glasgow climate summit
BBC News Read Article

The UK is “nowhere near” meeting its climate targets, BBC News reports, citing a new post-COP26 update from the government’s official advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC), which calls for tougher policies to help close the gap. The broadcaster says: “The government insists that it will meet all its climate change targets.” It quotes CCC chief executive saying of the UK, in relation to the Glasgow Climate Pact call for countries to strengthen their targets: “If it sets tougher targets that will simply widen the gap between ambition and delivery. What we really need is to strengthen delivery – and show the world that it can be done.” The Guardian reports the CCC as saying the UK must “walk the talk” on climate action. It says: “The UK has one of the most ambitious 2030 emissions targets in the world, according to the government’s official advisers, but it does not have all the policies in place to deliver it. In particular, the CCC said, the government must produce a robust plan for cutting emissions from farming, which produces 10% of UK emissions, and address a gap in behaviour change policy for shifting diets away from meat and dairy and limiting rising demand for flying.” The paper adds: “The CCC said COP26 delivered an increase in ambitions to cut carbon emissions worldwide but the current climate policies of countries did not come close to achieving these aims and would mean a catastrophic 2.7C of global heating. It said the success of COP26 could only be measured by the actions that follow in the coming year and beyond.” Press Association also has the story.

In other news from the UK, the Times reports that the government “may intervene to cut carbon permit costs”. It explains: “The British trading system includes a ‘cost containment mechanism’ that kicks in if prices exceed a threshold based on recent months’ trading prices.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the Drax power station in Yorkshire is “accelerat[ing] [is] push to biomass”, aiming to double production of the fuel “despite critics”. The paper says the company “has aimed to reposition itself and BECCS [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage] as essential parts of the UK’s decarbonisation plan, and hopes to install the technology at one of its units in 2027”. [Most of the subsidies Drax currently receives for burning biomass are set to expire in 2027.] The Daily Telegraph says Drax has no plans to keep its last remaining coal units open. It quotes chief executive Will Gardner saying the units have been required “several times over the last few months – frankly more than we expected” but adding that this did not change the company’s plans to shut them down by next September.

Separately, the Times reports that the new farm subsidy scheme for England, published today, has been been described by conservation groups as a “huge disappointment”. The Guardian also has the story, saying some of the measures required to qualify for payments “would be routine for many farmers anyway”.

2021 hurricane season was third most active
BBC News Read Article

The 2021 Atlantic hurricane season was the third most active on record, BBC News reports, after 21 named tropical storms, including seven hurricanes. It says the season follows the first and second most active hurricane years in 2020 and 2015 respectively. The broadcaster includes a section titled: “What role does climate change have in tropical storms?” It says “scientists expect climate change to make huge storms worse” but there is “medium confidence” that the global frequency of tropical cyclones will decrease or remain unchanged. The Independent also covers the 2021 hurricane season, reporting it as the sixth year in a row of above-average activity.

Conflict, Covid and climate change fuelling record numbers of people in need of international aid
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

The number of people needing humanitarian assistance will reach record levels next year, reports the Daily Telegraph, citing the annual Global Humanitarian Overview from the UN. It says 274 million people will need food, shelter and protection next year, according to the report, equivalent to one in 29 of the world’s population. The paper says the 250% increase in the number of people needing humanitarian assistance since 2015 is “driven by a confluence of political instability, increased displacement levels, climate impacts and the effects of Covid-19”. It adds: “The report also warned how the number of climate-change related disasters was increasing, with a total of 389 recorded in 2020. It said financing for climate adaptation is still woefully insufficient and does not prioritise the countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis.”

Prepare for more extreme weather, Britons warned in wake of Storm Arwen
The Guardian Read Article

Speaking after Storm Arwen left 30,000 homes in the UK without power, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has, reports the Guardian, “warned the country needs to be prepared for more extreme weather due to the climate crisis”. The paper says electricity will not be restored to all homes until at least the end of the week, according to the Energy Networks Association (ENA). Press Association reports that 97% of homes initially affected by power cuts. The Financial Times also has the story, reporting: “The geographical spread and the number of people affected by the storm was on a scale not seen since 2005, the power companies said. Engineers were having to repair damage at 4,500 sites [on the electricity grid], according to the ENA. At one site alone, 100 poles had been snapped in half.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph says: “Storm Arwen highlights the need for reliable energy.” It continues: “Those who would rapidly ditch traditional energy sources in the rush to net-zero need to say what would replace them in these circumstances.”

US climate envoy Kerry says China, India, Russia must do more to tackle warming
Reuters Read Article

China, India, Russia, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa should do more to tackle warming according to US climate envoy John Kerry, reports Reuters. It quotes him saying, in an interview with the newswire, that they “are going to have to step up” before adding: “And we have to help them. This is not just unloaded responsibility on them.”

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the EU will not strengthen its climate pledge next year, citing the European Commission’s chief spokesperson. It notes that this is despite the Glasgow Climate Pact agreed last month, which “requested” all countries “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 targets next year. The publication cites a commission official saying the EU’s targets are already in line with the Paris Agreement target and therefore do not need updating. [The full pact wording included various qualifiers, asking countries to strengthen their pledges “as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal…taking into account different national circumstances”.]

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that leaders from Pacific islands “threatened by rising sea levels said they were disappointed with the Glasgow Climate Pact”.

China is mining much more coal again and that's boosting its factories

Big Chinese factories are “staging a recovery” as recent power shortages that “held back production” in the country start to ease due to a boost in coal supply, CNN reports. Citing official statistics released on Tuesday, the network says that “a government survey of manufacturing activity increased to 50.1 in November from 49.2 in October” using an index for measuring activity. It adds: “It was the first reading above 50 – indicating expansion rather than contraction – in three months.” The Financial Times has the same story, saying that “Chinese manufacturing activity increased slightly in November, as power supply shortages eased and commodity prices stabilise”. The newspaper adds: “Thermal coal futures traded on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange at Rmb1,040 ($163) on Tuesday, down from a high of Rmb2,301 last month.” The electricity supply in the five provinces and regions overseen by China Southern Power Grid “is stable and improving”, Reuters reports, citing the state economic planner. The authority noted that coal-fired power plants had enough coal stock to last more than 20 days on average, the newswire says. A separate Reuters report states that “Chinese coking coal and coke futures advanced on Wednesday, buoyed by supply concerns, as coal imports from Mongolia were disrupted by the recent outbreak of the Omicron coronavirus variant”.

Staying on the topic of coal, Daily Mail Australia reports that “crippling power shortages in China have forced the communist regime to back down from their ban on Australian coal”. The website says that China’s “tough-talking Wolf Warrior diplomats quietly softened their stance with tens-of-millions shivering and in the dark – allowing in 2.8m tonnes of Australian coal in last month”. Meanwhile, the Guardian writes: “Intensive agriculture combined with major coal production has put huge pressure on water resources and sucked the earth dry, leaving the city of Taiyuan, with a population of 5 million, and the surrounding area suffering some of the highest subsidence rates in the world.”

Chinese financial publication Caixin reports that “China is predicted to see an 81% reduction in its accumulative climate-related losses by 2100 if it achieves its carbon neutrality target”. However, the country’s climate change losses “would amount to $189tn if it just achieves the targets under the commitments made in its National Determined Contributions (NDCs)”, the outlet says. It cites a study published by Tsinghua University’s Institute of Energy, Environment and Economy (IEEE) in Beijing and Chatham House, an independent policy institute in the UK. State broadcaster CCTV says that the Ministry of Transport has instructed all regions to “go all out” to ensure the transporting tasks of coal, natural gas and other energy commodities through this winter and next spring.

Comment.

France: the battle over wind power stirs up the election
Sarah White and Victor Mallet, Financial Times Read Article

A Financial Times “big read” says “heavy investment in windfarms is vital to meeting net-zero goals but the sector is becoming a contentious political issue”. Looking at the issue in the context of the upcoming French election it says conservative politicians have joined calls for a €2.4bn offshore windfarm to be stopped. “What would normally be a local dispute has spiralled into a polarising national election issue as France gears up for what could be a tumultuous campaign. Grumblings over the Saint-Brieuc plans have been swept up in a broader backlash against windfams that is hogging airtime in television debates and has become a rallying cry on the right.” The piece notes: “Although support for wind power is strong among the French public, concerted opposition has already sharply slowed investment plans – even before the issue became so prominent in national politics.”

Bloomberg 50: Hoesung Lee, the UN’s climate change czar fighting global warming
Eric Roston, Bloomberg Read Article

The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hoesung Lee, is featured the “Bloomberg 50” list of “people and ideas that defined global business in 2021”, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The citation for Lee reads: “In August he guided almost 200 countries to unanimous agreement on a report that found humanity has raised the global temperature by 1.1C, making the planet hotter than it’s been in 125,000 years.” It adds: “The [IPCC sixth assessment report’s working group I] states that human-caused heating is ‘unequivocal’ and will continue until emissions cease. After the report was published, UN secretary-general António Guterres called it ‘code red for humanity’.” [Carbon Brief has an in-depth summary of the WG1 findings.]

Science.

Was Australia a sink or source of CO2 in 2015? Data assimilation using OCO-2 satellite measurements
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Read Article

A new study estimates that Australia was a carbon sink of -0.41PgC in 2015, if emissions from fossil fuels are excluded. The authors use “a regional-scale atmospheric transport–dispersion model and a four-dimensional variational assimilation scheme” to estimate carbon fluxes in Australia over 2015. The study finds that most of the carbon uptake occurred in the savannas of northern Australia and the sparse vegetation in western Australia. The authors add that this paper is an update on a previous estimates, which estimated that Australia was a carbon source of 0.09PgC in 2015.

THE BRIEF

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.