Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Protest calls for Australian prime minister Scott Morrison to be sacked over a 'lack of action' on climate change as out-of-control bushfires burn
- Bank of England chief Mark Carney issues climate change warning
- Renewable energy milestone reached in 2019
- Climate crisis fuels year of record temperatures in UK, says Met Office
- When Greta Thunberg met Sir David Attenborough
- Bushfire tragedy shows need for climate leadership
- Divergent consensuses on Arctic amplification influence on midlatitude severe winter weather
- Climate change now detectable from any single day of weather at global scale
- Global and regional impacts differ between transient and equilibrium warmer worlds
There has been extensive global media coverage over the past fortnight of the continuing bushfires devastating large parts of Australia. Beyond the detailed daily reporting of the damage and deaths being caused by the fires, a large proportion of the coverage has focused on the reaction – or lack of reaction – by Australia’s political leaders, particularly prime minister Scott Morrison. The Daily Mail reports today that protests are now being planned for Friday where protestors will carry banners saying: “Sack ScoMo! Fund The Firies, Climate Action Now!”. The paper adds: “The [demonstrators are] looking to ‘place the blame on the people that deserve it’ singling out Scott Morrison and New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian…It comes as at least 150 bushfires are burning in NSW on Sunday and an overall deathtoll of 24 people. Mr Morrison first came under fire when he went away to Hawaii with his family mid-December as massive bushfires continued to burn.” BBC News has produced a visual guide showing how extensive the fires are: “Record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought have fuelled a series of massive bushfires across Australia. The fires, burning since September, have intensified over the past week, with a number of towns evacuated.” [The year 2019 was the hottest and driest on record for Australia.] Associated Press has published a Q&A on “how climate change, other factors stoke Australia’s fires”. It says: “Australia’s unprecedented wildfires are supercharged thanks to climate change, the type of trees catching fire and weather, experts say.” It adds: “‘They are basically just in a horrific convergence of events,’ said Stanford University environmental studies director Chris Field, who chaired an international scientific report on climate change and extreme events. He said this is one of the worst, if not the worst, climate change extreme events he’s seen…Scientists, both those who study fire and those who study climate, say there’s no doubt man-made global warming has been a big part, but not the only part, of the fires.” The Guardian has an explainer on the question of “how effective is bushfire hazard reduction on Australia’s fires?” It is, in part, a response to claims by climate sceptics and supporters of Scott Morrison that arsonists and environmentalists’ opposition of “prescribed burning”, rather than climate change, are to blame. The Guardian quotes Prof David Bowman, the director of the fire centre research hub at the University of Tasmania, who says: “It’s ridiculous. To frame this as an issue of hazard reduction in national parks is just lazy political rhetoric.” The Guardian also reports on the views of former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott who has been criticised after claiming in an Israeli broadcast interview that the world is in the “grip of a climate cult”.
The fires have produced striking imagery, not least the sight of thousands of dead animals left behind in the embers. The Guardian says that “millions” of animals have been killed with “many dozens” of threatened species affected. It adds: “So far, the Australian bushfire season has burned through about 5.8m hectares of bush, known across the world for its unique flora and fauna. Ecologists say the months of intense and unprecedented fires will almost certainly push several species to extinction. The fires have pushed back conservation efforts by decades, they say, and, as climate heating grips, some species may never recover. Climate scientists have long warned that rising greenhouse gases will spark a wave of extinctions.” The Independent also reports that “conservationists and wildlife experts are anxious that raging bushfires sweeping through Australia have resulted in ‘catastrophic losses’, amid fears an entire species may have been wiped out”. BBC News’s Reality Check team examine the question: “How do we know how many animals have died?” It follows a widely reported claim by one expert that almost half a billion animals have already been killed by the fires.
Meanwhile, the Australian media has been reflecting on the extent of global media coverage the fires have attracted. The Adelaide Advertiser has compiled a collection of clippings from around the world showing how “newspapers and magazines from around the globe have been responding with horrified disbelief”. It notes how one image in particular has been used: “Matthew Abbott’s searing photo featuring a kangaroo bounding in front of an inferno in Lake Conjola, NSW, was splashed across front pages all over the world.” [It was featured on the front pages of the UK’s Financial Times, Guardian, Times and Daily Telegraph.] Meanwhile, the Guardian looks at how “the Australian, Rupert Murdoch’s flagship newspaper, has defended itself against criticism it downplayed unprecedented bushfires by failing to put a picture of the disaster on the front page of an edition, even as newspapers across the world featured the harrowing scenes”. It adds: “The Australian has been consistent on one front. Throughout the bushfire season it has kept up its coverage of climate denialism.”
In one of his last interviews as the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney has told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the “world will face irreversible heating unless firms shift their priorities soon”. BBC News reports Carney as saying that the financial sector has begun to curb investment in fossil fuels, but that it is acting far too slowly. He warns that pension funds analysis shows “that if you add up the policies of all of the companies out there, they are consistent with warming of 3.7-3.8C”. The interview was part of Greta Thunberg’s guest-editing of the Today programme. Carney, who will soon start his new role as a UN special envoy for climate action and finance, adds: “The concern is whether we will spend another decade doing worthy things but not enough…and we will blow through the 1.5C mark very quickly. As a consequence, the climate will stabilise at the much higher level.“ The Daily Telegraph carried the story as a frontpage splash under the headline: “Pension fund investments held by millions could be rendered worthless by climate change crisis, warns Mark Carney.” The Telegraph also has an opinion piece by pensions minister Guy Opperman explaining why he is “delighted” with Carney’s “intervention”. And in an editorial, the Daily Telegraph says: “He estimated that 80% of coal and half of developed oil reserves could be stranded by the move away from fossil fuels. But how will investors know? Most of us rely on pension funds to make the best decisions on our behalf and are often unaware of the mix of investments that have been made. Greater clarity about the way portfolios are invested is needed and firms need to be far more transparent about their commitment to net carbon zero.”
Separately, the Daily Mail covers a report by fund manager Aviva Investors which claims that “around £33tn could be wiped off the value of global stock markets because of climate change” – if average global temperatures rise by 6C by 2100. It adds that “shares could fall by as much as 30% if global warming is not controlled”. Meanwhile, a report by Christian Aid looking back at the cost of climate disasters in 2019 has received media attention. The Guardian notes the report showing that “climate breakdown played a key role in at least 15 events in 2019 that cost more than $1bn (£760m) in damage, with more than half of those costing more than $10bn each”. It adds: “The study published…was compiled before the full effects of the Australian wildfires could be assessed.” ITV News says that “climate change-related extreme weather hit every populated continent in 2019, harming and displacing millions of people and costing billions…The most financially costly disasters identified by the report were wildfires in California, which caused $25bn (£19bn) in damage, followed by Typhoon Hagibis in Japan, which cost $15bn (£11bn).” However, the Daily Telegraph has published a dismissive opinion piece by climate sceptic Ross Clark who claims that Christian Aid is “a left-leaning charity which seemingly likes to paint a pictures of climatic Armageddon to obscure the significant success of global capitalism, combined with emergency aid, in reducing the number of hungry people in the world”.
Several UK-based publications carry new figures published by the National Grid showing that, according to the Financial Times, “[Great Britain] reached a clean energy milestone in 2019, [getting] more of its [electricity] from zero carbon sources than fossil fuels for the first time since the industrial revolution”. It adds: “Figures from National Grid, which is responsible for balancing supply and demand in Britain’s electricity network, showed that almost half of the country’s [electricity] came from non-polluting sources over the year. Wind, solar, nuclear and hydro energy [including imported electricity] accounted for 48.5% of the UK’s power [supplies], while fossil fuels made up 43%. The remaining 8.5% of electricity [supplied] last year came from biomass and waste.” The Guardian explains that “following a dramatic decline in coal-fired power and a rise in renewable and low-carbon energy, 2019 was the cleanest year for electrical energy on record for Britain”. Carbon Brief will tomorrow publish its own analysis of 2019’s data for UK power generation.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Denmark sourced close to half its electricity consumption from wind power last year, a new record for the Nordic country and an important step in realising one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets”. And in India, the Economic Times reports that “India is all set to cross the 100GW renewable energy capacity mark in 2020 and can make rapid strides towards the ambitious 175GW clean energy target by 2022 provided the government keeps a close eye on key issues and deals with those well in time”.
The Guardian reports new analysis published by the Met Office showing that “a series of high temperature records were broken in the UK in 2019 as a consequence of the climate crisis”. The newspaper adds: “The hottest temperature ever recorded in the UK was exceeded on 25 July in Cambridge, where the thermometer hit 38.7C (101F). The record for the hottest February day was also broken, with Kew Gardens in London recording 21.2C on the 26th.” The Met Office also looked back over the past decade, says the Guardian: “Eight high temperature records were broken in the last decades, but only one for a low temperature [during 2018’s “Beast of the East” event]…The UK climate is warming, the Met Office said, but this does not mean every decade will be significantly warmer than the one preceding it. The 2010s were the second hottest and second wettest decade in 100 years, slightly behind the 2000s. This is partly the result of a cold year in 2010, but the Met Office said such years occur much less frequently now than in the past.“ BBC News runs the story under the headline: “Climate change: Last decade UK’s ‘second hottest in 100 years”.
Separately, the Washington Post reports on a new study in Nature Climate Change which shows that “for the first time, scientists have detected the ‘fingerprint’ of human-induced climate change on daily weather patterns at the global scale”. The newspaper adds: “If verified by subsequent work, the findings…would upend the long-established narrative that daily weather is distinct from long-term climate change. The study’s results also imply that research aimed at assessing the human role in contributing to extreme weather events such as heat waves and floods may be underestimating the contribution.”
There has been widespread coverage of Greta Thunberg’s guest-editing of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on 30 December, where she chose, among a number of other features, to do a brief Skype conversation with Sir David Attenborough. (The whole show is now available as a podcast.) The Sun has published a supportive opinion piece by Katie Glass, which concludes: “Whatever you think of Greta Thunberg – it’s clear she has helped shift opinions…Thanks to the 16-year-old Swedish climate change campaigner many more of us are eco-warriors these days. Whichever box we ticked in the election, millions of us vote green with our lifestyles. A recent survey of Sun readers showed 87% recognise climate change is real and that 73% of us worry more about our environmental impact now than they did five years ago…But if we want real change we’ve got to move beyond blame. It puts people off environmental issues when campaigners hector and shame them…Greta seems to know this. She is much calmer than she used to be when speaking in public.” However, the Daily Telegraph chooses to focus on the views of another Today guest-editor, the climate sceptic Charles Moore, who used his show to include an interview with Matt Ridley, a climate sceptic who, like Moore, formally supports the climate sceptic lobby group known as the Global Warming Policy Foundation. (Moore also included another GWPF supporter on his show, as highlighted by Bob Ward at LSE’s Grantham Research Institute.) Moore claims that the BBC “tells us we shouldn’t support Brexit and we should accept climate change alarmism and we have to all kowtow to the doctrines of diversity”.
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that in a video narrated by Sir David Attenborough posted on social media, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have announced a global prize to tackle climate issues, pledging “a decade of action to repair the Earth”. It adds: “Five winners will receive the Earthshot Prize every year between 2021 and 2030. The cash prize will be for individuals or organisations who come up with solutions to environmental problems. Prince William said the world faces a ‘stark choice’ to continue ‘irreparably’ damaging the planet or ‘lead, innovate and problem-solve’.” The prize was featured as a Daily Mirror front page splash under the headline: “A decade to save the world.”
There has been extensive global reaction to Australia’s continuing bushfires with many papers publishing editorials and comment pieces. An editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald says: “Human-induced climate change is raising temperatures and reducing spring rains in our region, turning the bush into a fire trap every summer. That is what scientists are saying…The Herald argues that in this bushfire crisis, government has an essential role to play…Australians increasingly are looking to the government to take national and global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop the terrifying advance of climate change. These are problems we can solve together but the government must lead.” An editorial in the Financial Times criticises how Scott Morrison’s government has reacted to the crisis: “Global warming requires a global response. But that response will never come if wealthy nations such as Australia continue to behave as if climate breakdown is a problem for others. Mr Morrison is now paying a political cost for his inaction. A far higher price will be paid in future for the bleak litany of climate failures his government represents.” An editorial in the Guardian says: “The crisis unfolding on his watch is unprecedented. His reckless disregard for the principal cause must cease.” An editorial in the Times says: “Despite the best efforts of activists and governments alike, many still regard the threat of climate change as both nebulous and distant. Not so, when the flames lick at your door.” The Daily Telegraph’s editorial asks” “Is Australia ground zero in the climate change crisis?” It adds: “Morrison recently won an election on the environment debate: many rural and working-class Australians agreed with him that the country can balance conservation with growth. Ultimately, it’s an issue that’s even bigger than Australia, and will require honesty.” An editorial in the Independent dwells on Morrison’s “remarkable complacency”, but adds: “No scientific paper, no protest, not even a speech by Greta Thunberg can make the case for action to save the planet more eloquently than the sheer graphic scale of these events.” An editorial in Canada’s Globe and Mail says that the fires show the “perils of ignoring climate-change threats”.
Many publications have also published a diverse range of opinion pieces. In the Guardian, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd writes that “the government response to the bushfire crisis has been evasive, tepid, tone-deaf and above all, too late”. In New York magazine, David Wallace-Wells argues that the “global apathy toward the fires in Australia is a scary portent for the future”. In the Observer, Nick Cohen says that Morrison “cuts a pathetic figure”, adding: “A leader must speak honestly to his people in a crisis. The sly tactics of climate change denial, the false consoling words that it’s a scare and we can carry on as before, have left Morrison’s words as meaningless as a hum in the background. Nothing he says is worth hearing.” In the Sydney Morning Herald, Nick O’Malley notes that “in international eyes, our leaders have been found wanting not only in planning for such a catastrophe, and not just for the failure of some to match the tenacious heroism of our volunteers, but for their refusal to accept the catastrophic reality of climate change and its link with the burning of coal”. In the Melbourne Age, climate scientist Dr Linden Ashcroft looks at Mallacoota, the town on Victoria’s coast gravely hit by the fires, and says: “As we move into the new decade, I find myself scared of our country and how much damage our wide brown land can inflict on communities. I am more scared for our country and the irreplaceable Mallacoota-esque magic we are already losing.” In the Guardian, another climate scientist writes. Dr Joëlle Gergis says: “As a climate scientist, the thing that really terrifies me is that weather conditions considered extreme by today’s standards will seem sedate in the future. What’s unfolding right now is really just a taste of the new normal…Everyone’s patience has worn thin. The Australian people are justifiably angry and are now demanding true leadership in the face of this climate emergency. We have already squandered more than a decade debating climate policy in Australia. All the while, the clear reality of a rapidly destabilising planet accelerates all around us.” In the New York Times, Paul Krugman says that “the wave of climate-related catastrophes may be changing the political calculus”. He continues: “I’m not a campaign expert, but it seems to me that campaigns might get some traction with ads showing recent fires and floods and pointing out that Donald Trump and his friends are doing everything they can to create more such disasters. Also in the New York Times, the novelist Richard Flanagan says that “Australia is committing climate suicide”. Another novelist, Jennifer Mills, writes in the Washington Post that “in fire-ravaged Australia, climate denial goes up in smoke”. Pilita Clark in the Financial Times says Morrison is “Australia’s singed prime minister”. In the Atlantic, Robinson Meyer writes: “Australia will continue to burn, and its coral will continue to die. Perhaps this episode will prompt the more pro-carbon members of Australia’s parliament to accede to some climate policy. Or perhaps prime minister Morrison will distract from any link between the disaster and climate change, as president Donald Trump did when he inexplicably blamed California’s 2018 blazes on the state’s failure to rake forest floors. Perhaps blazes will push Australia’s politics in an even more besieged and retrograde direction, empowering politicians like Morrison to fight any change at all. And so maybe Australia will find itself stuck in the climate spiral, clinging ever more tightly to coal as its towns and cities choke on the ash of a burning world.” In the Guardian, two fire experts Prof Ross Bradstock and Prof David Bowman ponder on how lives will need to change: “Simply stated, as a nation we are being transformed by drought, heat and fire, to adapt Australians must transform our understanding of these fundamentals, in order to plan, cope and live in a more flammable world.” Writing for ABC News in Australia, Prof Frank Jotzo writes: “For those who see their future in peril, climate change action is not a left-right divisive issue, but one of common sense. The pressure and that will come from the young generation will sweep the climate nay-saying aside. So dear politicians of all stripes: get with sensible climate policy, or be left behind. Your legacy is at stake.” Finally, the Guardian reports that actors Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett used their speeches at the Golden Globes “to link Australian fires to climate crisis”.
A new review paper considers the weight evidence behind the theory that a rapidly-warming Arctic is having a knock-on impact on extreme weather events in mid-latitude winters. Observational studies “overwhelmingly support” the Arctic connection to “winter continental cooling”, the paper says. However, although some model experiments support this, most “show little connection” between Arctic warming and severe midlatitude weather. Overall, these “divergent conclusions” continue to “obfuscate a clear understanding” of the links between the Arctic and midlatitude weather, the authors conclude.
A new approach to attributing the impact of climate change on weather concludes that a warming climate is detectable “on the basis of a single day of globally observed temperature and moisture”. The study uses “statistical learning and climate model simulations” to assess the “relationship between spatial patterns of daily temperature and humidity, and key climate change metrics such as annual global mean temperature or Earth’s energy imbalance”. The fingerprint of climate change “is detected from any single day in the observed global record since early 2012”, the study finds, and “since 1999 on the basis of a year of data”. The study includes an “astonishing result”, says an accompanying News & Views article, that “the anthropogenic signal in global weather remains detectable even after the global mean trend signal is removed”. In other words, the articles say, “the authors identify robust evidence for anthropogenic climate change by virtue of the spatial patterns of weather”.
There are “substantial differences” in the global and regional impacts of climate change between a rapidly warming world and a stabilised climate for the same level of global warming, a new study suggests. Using climate models, the researchers find that “for a given global temperature, most land is significantly warmer in a rapidly warming (transient) case than in a quasi-equilibrium climate”. This results in “more than 90% of the world’s population experiencing a warmer local climate under transient global warming than equilibrium global warming”, the authors say. The results highlight “the need to better understand differences between future climates under rapid warming and quasi-equilibrium conditions for the development of climate change adaptation policies”, the authors conclude.
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