Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Putin, Xi, Pope join 40 leaders at Biden's climate summit
- 101 Nobel laureates call for global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty
- New EU target to cut carbon emissions by at least 55% disappoints experts
- China: Installed capacity for ‘new energy’ storage to exceed 30GW in 2025
- Climate change: Shipping industry calls for new global carbon tax
- 'Big words, and little action': Greta Thunberg’s must-read letter to the world
- Biden promises big on climate change. Delivering will be much harder.
- Greens freshen air of stale German politics
- Red alert for the planet: UN chief’s call to phase out coal by 2030
- Joe Biden’s driving a revolution in the land of the car
- Boris’s big green gamble risks fuelling a new Brexit-style revolt against the elite
- Overshooting tipping point thresholds in a changing climate
- Equity is more important for the social cost of methane than climate uncertainty
- Overriding water table control on managed peatland greenhouse gas emissions
Many publications continue to preview the “leaders climate summit” being hosted today and tomorrow by US president Joe Biden, with Bloomberg reporting that the heads of state of all 40 nations invited to the talks will attend the event. These include the leaders of Russia and China, with the website adding: “The leaders of some of the world’s top-emitting countries will appear alongside officials from smaller, island nations that are already dealing with the consequences of a warming planet.” It says the summit will also include executives from major corporations as well as sessions on topics such as “nature-based solutions to climate change”. Bloomberg adds: “Friday’s summit will focus on unleashing technological innovation necessary to curb emissions and the economic opportunities of climate action.” It quotes US climate envoy John Kerry saying: “If we don’t have people signing on to raise ambitions by 2020 to 2030, we don’t get to where we need to go by 2050.” BBC News reports that the US will use the summit to “attempt to re-assert its global leadership on climate change”. The broadcaster quotes “a senior Biden administration official” saying: “The expectation for all countries is that the ambition has to be increased immediately.” It also quotes the official pointing to Australia and saying: “At the moment, I think that our colleagues in Australia recognise that there’s going to have to be a shift.” The Guardian also reports the comments under the headline: “Biden administration says Australia needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions sooner.” The Guardian says Australian prime minister Scott Morrison will use to the summit to “seek international partners to develop low-emissions technology”. The New York Times reports on Canada, saying it is the only G7 nation whose emissions have increased since the 2015 Paris deal, as a result of oil sands exploitation. It adds: “Prime minister Justin Trudeau of Canada will arrive for president Biden’s climate summit on Thursday with an outsize reputation for being a warrior in the global fight against climate change. But one facet of Canada’s economy complicates his record: the country’s insistence on expanding output from its oil sands.”
The Financial Times says China’s Xi Jinping is to join the summit “bolstering hopes of co-operation between the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters despite tensions between Beijing and Washington”. The Hill reports: “US climate envoy John Kerry emphasised what he said was progress on negotiating with China on carbon emissions Wednesday, saying Beijing had described climate change as a ‘crisis’ for the first time”. The Hill has another piece leading on the attendance of Xi and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The Financial Times has already launched a live blog on the summit. BusinesGreen reports that UK prime minister Boris Johnson is to tell the summit: “Let the history books show that it was this generation of leaders that possessed the will to preserve our planet for generations to come.” It reports that he will use his speech to the meeting to say: “If we actually want to stop climate change, then this must be the year in which we get serious about doing so. Because the 2020s will be remembered either as the decade in which world leaders united to turn the tide, or as a failure.” The Press Association, via Belfast Telegraph, also previews Johnson’s speech, reporting he will say leaders must “get serious” about tackling climate change. In a comment trailed on the paper’s frontpage, former UK climate secretary Amber Rudd writes for the Independent about how the UK can make COP26 a success. The Guardian reports: “As world leaders meet to discuss the climate crisis, campaigners say wealthier countries need to do more.” It adds: “Developing countries are increasingly concerned that their need for financial assistance to cope with the climate crisis will go unmet.”
A series of comment and analysis pieces discuss the summit, with a piece in Foreign Policy by China analyst Lauri Myllyvirta arguing that rather than cooperation: “Sino-US competition is good for climate change efforts”. He says that the “superpowers can spur each other on”. The Guardian has an article arguing: “Xi Jinping is likely to push back against US claim to global leadership, but both know their interests overlap on tackling [the] environment.” E&E News, via Scientific American, carries the views of “leading experts” on “what they see as the likely moves” at the summit. One tells the outlet: “[S]he’ll be looking to see whether Kerry’s recent diplomatic efforts have encouraged action from countries such as Japan, South Korea and Canada, which have yet to announce their revised targets.” Associated Press, via US News, says Biden will use the summit “to cajole other nations to ratchet up the pollution-cutting promises they made in 2015’s Paris climate agreement”. An article for China Dialogue says: “The summit could stoke a collective sense that finally – after decades of negotiations – this is the pivotal year for climate.” The Conversation has a Q&A on what the summit could achieve. Vox says Biden’s “climate leadership will be tested at the Earth Day summit”, adding: “China, Russia, and India may be reluctant to reengage on US terms at the climate summit.” A piece for the Daily Telegraph says, ahead of the summit: “World leaders have not even started discussing how climate change targets will impact people’s everyday lives, the United Nations (UN) has admitted.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times follows reporting earlier in the week with the news that the Biden administration is expected to announce a target of cutting emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030, citing “people familiar with the administration’s thinking”. It adds: “That marks a significant acceleration of the Obama administration’s pledge to cut emissions by 26-28% by 2025.” The Hill also has the story, citing “a person familiar”.
Several outlets report what the Guardian calls “an open letter to world leaders” in which “former presidents, scientists, novelists and religious leaders are urging governments to commit to a rapid and just transition away from fossil fuels”. The letter calls for “a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty”, the Guardian says, with signatories including the Dalai Lama. It adds: “The letter, which comes before a key international climate conference to be held in Glasgow this year, calls on world leaders end any new expansion of oil gas and coal production, phase out existing fossil fuel extraction in ‘fair and equitable’ way and to invest in a ‘transformational plan’ to ensure 100% access to renewable energy globally.” According to CNN, the letter “calls for fossil fuels to be phased out”. The Hill also has the story. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor reports: “Limiting oil and gas extraction in rich countries could allow some emerging producers to develop, but the world’s diminishing carbon budget also makes this a pathway fraught with risk.”
Separately, Prince William and David Attenborough are among signatories to a letter to the Times, which calls for action on “the most pressing challenge in human history: stopping the climate emergency”. It adds: “If we do not act in this decade the damage to our planet will be irreversible, affecting not only those of us alive today but the future of generations to come.” The Times has a frontpage news article reporting on the letter.
There is continuing coverage of the provisional EU deal on cutting emissions to 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, with the Guardian reporting that the goal “has been described as a ‘farce’ by environmental groups”. The piece notes that the European Parliament had called for a higher 60% goal and quotes one MEP explaining that despite lengthy negotiations with representatives of member state governments, they had been unable to negotiate a change to the “at least 55%” target: “We tried, I don’t know how many times, but it was not possible.” BBC News quotes European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen saying the bloc’s target of net-zero by 2050 will be set down in law. The broadcaster says that the deal agreed yesterday “sets a limit on the levels of CO2 removal that can count towards the 2030 target”. It adds that the commission will announce a package of climate laws in June to support the plans. EurActiv says the EU deal came after 14 hours of talks that ended at 5am. It adds: “EU negotiators also decided to establish an independent scientific advisory body, the [15-member] European Scientific Advisory Board, to advise policymakers on the alignment of EU policies with the bloc’s climate neutrality goal.” Reuters notes that the EU climate deal “still needs formal approval from parliament and national governments”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the European Commission is “facing a political and scientific backlash over its decision to delay part of its landmark classification system for investors in an attempt to resolve a dispute about how to label energy sources such as natural gas and nuclear power”. The paper adds: “The delay and the inclusion of forestry and bioenergy as forms of green economic activity were fiercely criticised by expert groups, prompting a walkout from environmental NGOs and consumer bodies which have been involved in the two-year consultation process.” Another Financial Times article says the dispute over green finance rules reveal “cracks in Europe’s unity over green policies” that are “hard to miss”. Separately, Reuters reports that the commission yesterday “deflected concerns over its drive to formulate rules requiring companies to show investors how climate change will affect their activities, saying that waiting for a global approach could take years”. The Times reports: “Investment funds and other financial products should have ‘green labels’ to help consumers assess their impact on the climate, according to MPs.”
An analysis piece at Politico looks at “Europe’s plan to tax the world into climate ambition” via a “carbon border adjustment mechanism” (CBAM). The piece explains: “[A]s it starts to turn the screws on polluters at home, [the EU] is moving to protect itself from the inaction of others. The EU hopes that the threat of the CBAM will be enough to get other countries to fall into line.” The piece adds: “The White House has been sending urgent messages to the EU that it wants Brussels to put its CBAM policy in the deep freeze. State Department climate lawyer Sue Biniaz said the discussion with the EU was ‘fraught with complexity on both sides of the equation.’ She said a US carbon border tax was not an ‘extremely active possibility’.” A comment for Politico by columnist Mujtaba Rahman argues: “A European climate tax would force major emitters to fulfill their green pledges.”
A new draft regulation requires China’s installed capacity for ‘new energy’ storage to surpass 30 gigawatts (GW) in 2025, reports state news agency Xinhua. The National Development and Reform Commission and the National Energy Administration have drafted the document and are currently seeking public feedback, it says. Separately, an article from state-run chinanews.com
Elsewhere, Liu Baohua, former director of China’s National Energy Administration, has been expelled from the Communist Party and dismissed from public-serving duties for accepting bribes, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Meanwhile, China’s Central Ecological and Environmental Inspection Team has “interviewed” 428 Communist Party and government leaders and held 96 more accountable over various violations in the latest round of national investigation, reports state agency China News Service. The inspectors have got 13,478 tip-offs on environmental issues from the public and dealt with 11,039 of them since the campaign began earlier this month, the report adds.
Finally, China has launched the 2021 “Year of Green Development and Environmental Protection” with central and eastern European countries, reports CCTV. The Ministry of Ecology and Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, among other government organs, inaugurated the year-long campaign with 16 nations’ embassies on Tuesday in Beijing, the station says. Participating countries include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Czech Republic and Montenegro, explains chinanews.com.
The global shipping industry “is calling on the world’s governments to tax its carbon emissions”, reports BBC News. It says the call comes from “[g]roups that represent more than 90% of the global fleet”. The piece quotes Guy Platten, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), telling the broadcaster: “A global solution is the only one that’s going to work.” It adds: “As well as the ICS, the call has backing from the shipowner’s organisation Bimco, Cruise Lines International Association and the World Shipping Council.”
In an “exclusive” letter published by the British edition of Vogue magazine, climate activist Greta Thunberg criticises the “so-called ‘climate targets’” expected at the leaders climate summit being hosted today and tomorrow by US president Joe Biden. She says of goals for net-zero by 2050: “They will call these hypothetical targets ambitious. However, when you compare the overall current best-available science to these insufficient, so-called ‘climate targets’, you can clearly see that there’s a gap – there are decades missing where drastic action must be taken.” Specifically, Thunberg says “these targets could be a great start if it wasn’t for the tiny fact that they are full of gaps and loopholes”. These include, she says: “[L]eaving out emissions from imported goods, international aviation and shipping, as well as the burning of biomass, manipulating baseline data, excluding most feedback loops and tipping points, ignoring the crucial global aspect of equity and historic emissions, and making these targets completely reliant on fantasy or barely existing carbon-capturing technologies.” She concludes: “The gap between what needs to be done and what we are actually doing is widening by the minute…Until we can address this gap, no real change is possible. And no solutions will be found. Our emperors are naked – let’s call them out. And please, mind the gap.”
An editorial in the Washington Post says of the expected new US climate pledge to cut emissions 50% below 2005 levels by 2030: “Such promises are easy. Making good on them, and on this one in particular, is hard.” Like another recent editorial from the paper, the piece argues for a carbon tax: “What’s missing [from Biden’s proposals] is an economy-wide policy that would cut demand for fossil fuels in every industry in every state. A substantial, steadily rising carbon tax would ensure emissions reductions happened even if some of Mr. Biden’s government-funded green projects failed because it would dampen underlying demand for fossil fuels.” In a comment for the New Statesman, trailed on the magazine’s frontpage, Adam Tooze assesses Biden’s climate plans so far, asking: “[I]s the investment programme big enough, and will it actually reduce emissions?” He argues that the amounts currently on the table are “far short of any reasonable estimate of the investment needed”. Tooze concludes: “The original Green New Deal vision had it right. Spend at the scale demanded by the climate emergency, take care of the funding when the macroeconomic balance dictates it.”
An editorial in the Financial Times, trailed on the paper’s frontpage, welcomes the German Green Party choosing Annalena Baerbock as its first-ever candidate for chancellor: “The Greens’ political ascendancy looks unstoppable. No governing coalition now seems plausible without them whereas Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, long the natural party of government, could conceivably be consigned to opposition. After years of stultifying grand coalition, political flux can only be a good thing.” The piece adds: “The choice of Baerbock shows moderates are firmly in control of her party, a once raucous environmental protest movement riven between radicals and pragmatists.” It concludes: “[T]he party is bringing fresh air to German politics. More of the same is the last thing Germany needs.” For the Daily Telegraph, columnist Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes under the headline: “Ascendant Greens will turn Germany and Europe upside down.” He points to Green manifesto policies, writing: “Expect a ban on sales of combustion engines by 2030, and a regulatory squeeze on overpowered trophy cars. Expect a halt to domestic short-haul flights wherever trains are viable. Prepare for a German carbon tax of €60 a tonne in two years.”
In a comment for the Sydney Morning Herald, UN secretary general says this is a “pivotal year for humanity” and time for “bold climate action”. He calls for “net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by mid-century” and says: “Even more urgent is for governments to match this long-term ambition with concrete actions now.” Guterres adds: “Phasing out coal from the electricity sector is the single most important step to get in line with the 1.5C goal…There is simply no reason for any new coal plants to be built anywhere…COP26 must signal an end to coal.”
The Times has published a 16-page pullout supplement on climate change, trailed on the paper’s frontpage. The frontcover is headlined: “Climate change now…and what we’re doing about it”. The first two articles were published online earlier this week, but the rest of the supplement contains a range of new pieces focused on a variety of topics and countries. Writing from the US, David Charter examines why Joe Biden’s “radical plans to decarbonise the economy may soon transform American society”. He concludes: “Despite the headwinds, there are signs that Biden’s election victory and his elevation of climate change as one of his top four priorities, alongside the pandemic, economy and racial justice, is unleashing private sector commitment.” Chris Bremner in France writes on why the “Paris climate agreement was a giant leap forward”. In an article that is not yet online, science editor Tom Whipple “presents all the information we need to know” including “whether it’s time to give up steak”. The rest of the supplement includes features with headlines, such as: “EU refuses to be beaten by the British”; “Macron’s big idea: ask the voters to set France’s climate targets”; “No carbon cutting without pain? Let Sweden set you straight”; “The coal addicts of Poland are in a deep hole”; and “Creating renewable electricity is the easy part for Germany”. There are other articles from Australia, China and Brazil which are not yet online. But the Times has also published other features elsewhere in today’s edition including Prof Sarah Bridle on: “How to cut the environmental impact of what you eat.”
In a comment piece for the Daily Telegraph, trailed above the frontpage masthead, columnist Allister Heath says of prime minister Boris Johnson’s climate ambitions: “[T]he biggest danger to his historic project to rebuild Britain in his image comes not from the useless Left, but from another potential populist insurrection from the culturally conservative Right.” Heath continues: “The hair-shirt, hard-Left, anti-materialistic, anti-progress version of environmentalism would be toxic to the Johnson coalition. The real Tory version should be to electrify cars, not ban them; to greenify fuel, not restrict flights; to decarbonise central heating, not to force the public to freeze. But it is a gamble as to whether these technologies will be ready in time, and at what cost.” He adds: “If new technologies fail to arrive, No 10’s eco plan will devastate the living standards of the Tory base.” For BusinessGreen, editor James Murray has an article on Johnson’s pledge to cut emissions 78% by 2035. He writes: “The UK’s world leading new carbon target for 2035 is worthy of celebration, but there are considerable caveats and growing fears about the government’s ‘magic decarbonisation tree’.” Murray concludes: “[I]f the hugely ambitious target is to be delivered then the government cannot rely on its instinctive techno-optimism. Bold political leadership and detailed policy development is also needed.”
Meanwhile, a comment piece in the Times argues that the UK’s decision to cut overseas aid “risks further undermining the country’s hard-won reputation for practicing the values it preaches, and limiting its ability to spur action on some of the world’s biggest challenges”. It points to “issues as diverse as global health security, climate change and the humanitarian system”. In another comment for the Times, columnist Iain Martin writes under the headline: “Britain needs to go green but not at any price.” He points to the forthcoming book by Steven Koonin – titled “Unsettled” – and says: “In saying that climate science is unsettled, Koonin is fighting a lonely battle alongside a handful of allies, although such fightbacks against a misguided consensus often take decades and start small.”
It may be possible to “temporarily overshoot” some slow-onset climate tipping points without triggering a change of system state, a new review paper suggests. Recently developed theory suggests this could be possible “if the overshoot time is short compared to the effective timescale of the tipping element”, the researchers say. They demonstrate this for four tipping elements – the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, Amazon dieback, disruption to the Indian summer monsoon and ice sheet loss – using simple models with prescribed thresholds, which are “driven by global warming trajectories that peak before returning to stabilise at a global warming level of 1.5C above the pre-industrial level”. For more on tipping points, see Carbon Brief’s explainer.
New research estimates the social cost of methane (SC-CH4), which measures the economic loss of welfare caused by emitting one tonne of methane into the atmosphere. Incorporating “key scientific findings and observational constraints”, the authors use global climate models and a collection of integrated assessment models (IAMs). Under a low emissions scenario (RCP2.6) and a very high emissions scenario (RCP8.5), the researchers estimate a multi-model average SC-CH4 of $710 and $933 per tonne of CH4, respectively. These estimates “are smaller than those adopted by the US government under the administration of then-president Barack Obama, even though they incorporate new, higher estimates of the warming effect of one tonne of methane”, says an accompanying News & Views article.
Greenhouse gas emissions from peatlands drained for agriculture “could be greatly reduced without necessarily halting their productive use”, a new study suggests. Using new data from 41 locations in the British Isles combined with published data from sites across all major peatlands, the research finds that the effective water table depth “overrides all other ecosystem- and management-related controls on greenhouse gas fluxes”. As a result, halving the water-table depth in all drained agricultural peatlands around the world could reduce emissions “by the equivalent of over 1% of global anthropogenic emissions”, the researchers say.
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