Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Record-breaking heatwave blamed for spike in deaths in Pacific north-west
- UK: Gas and car bills to soar under green revolution
- French court orders government to act on climate in next nine months
- US: House, setting a marker for talks, passes $715bn infrastructure bill
- UK: Change needed to tackle climate crisis, Queen says
- Arctic’s ‘last refuge’ for polar bears and walruses vulnerable to climate crisis, study says
- China: 5G technologies to play key role in hitting carbon targets
- How to live in a climate ‘permanent emergency’
- How climate change will widen Europe’s divides
- Accelerated sea ice loss in the Wandel Sea points to a change in the Arctic’s Last Ice Area
- Sea level‐driven marsh migration results in rapid net loss of carbon
The extreme heatwave that has shattered temperature records in the Pacific north-west “is being blamed for hundreds of deaths and thousands of emergency calls and hospital visits in the region”, the Guardian reports. The paper continues: “As cooler temperatures began to bring some relief to the region, which has sweltered under record-setting temperatures of up to 118F (47C) over the last five days, health officials were just beginning to take stock of the horrendous health effects of the heat on the region’s population. In Oregon, state officials blamed the heat for 62 deaths. In Washington, the Seattle area alone reported 13 deaths, while at least 486 ‘sudden and unexpected’ deaths have been reported in British Columbia, Canada, which officials say represents a 195% increase above normal.” The New York Times says that “the casualties – in overheated cars, stifling apartments, older homes, workplaces, homeless encampments – reflect the particular dangers of extreme heat and the potential for devastation as climate change dramatically amplifies normal temperature fluctuations”. The Associated Press (via HuffPost) reports that “an excessive heat warning remained in effect for parts of the interior north-west and western Canada” yesterday. CNBC also reports on the number of deaths. The Guardian reports on its frontpage the comments of several scientists, including Prof Sir David King, the former UK chief scientific adviser, who said: “Nowhere is safe…who would have predicted a temperature of 48-49C in British Columbia?” BBC News has a “visual guide” to the heatwave. See Carbon Brief‘s media reaction summary for more details of the event.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “a wildfire that began after three days of record-breaking temperatures has destroyed most of the small western Canadian town of Lytton and damaged a nearby hydro power station”. The newswire adds: “Lytton, in central British Columbia, was evacuated a day earlier. This week it broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times.” The Daily Telegraph says that “the wildfire season is just beginning, and officials fear that the extreme heat combined with a lack of rainfall could lead to widespread forest fires if the heatwave is followed, as expected, by electrical storms”. BuzzFeed News has published an interactive webpage that with charts and maps below that “will update to track current wildfires and air quality, compare the 2021 season to previous years, and monitor the weather conditions that make fires more likely to ignite and spread quickly”. And Reuters reports that the US West faces a “little-known effect of raging wildfires: contaminated water”.
In a frontpage story, the Times reports that “ministers have drawn up radical plans to reduce carbon emissions that would increase gas bills and the cost of running a car by hundreds of pounds a year”. The plans form part of what the paper calls a “carbon reduction scheme” – it goes on to explain that this is a proposed expansion to the UK’s emissions trading scheme, which would “cover emissions caused by heating buildings and transport, including petrol and diesel vehicles”. The article says that “under the proposals, the average cost of running a petrol car could rise by more than £100 a year and the average gas bill could increase by as much as £170, almost a third”. The paper says that it “has been told that the prime minister does not want to include petrol in the scheme amid concerns that it would penalise motorists”, while the government “said last night that no decisions had been made”. The consultation for the trading scheme will begin before the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow in November, the paper notes, adding that “the policy is seen as critical if the government is to meet its legal commitment to reduce emissions in 2030 by at least 68% compared with 1990 levels”.
Elsewhere in the UK, the i newspaper reports that Coventry is being lined up for the UK’s next “gigafactory” as the Government eyes up to eight car battery sites across the UK by 2040. The paper continues: “Tata, the Indian industrial giant that owns Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), is understood to be in the final stages of negotiation with the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) to back a £1bn project at Coventry Airport with up to £100m in state aid.” It adds that the “deal is expected to mirror the one revealed by the government and Nissan in Sunderland” yesterday. The Times reports that “it is understood that Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, is in discussions with at least six companies interested in setting up further gigafactories”. Commenting on the Nissan announcement, a Times editorial says that “Britain’s success in securing the Nissan investment highlights the vital role that government support and subsidies will play in determining which countries emerge on top from the transition to clean energy”. And Times chief business commentator Alistair Osborne describes the £100m of government support as a “no-brainer”. The Financial Times Lex column says: “Chinese battery maker Envision will provide more than half of the capital for the collaboration. The UK government will get a fillip via jobs for a depressed city. The troubled Japanese carmaker stands to gain most.”
France’s top administrative court has ordered the government to take “all necessary additional steps” within the next nine months to enable it to reach its climate targets or face possible sanctions, the Guardian reports. In a final ruling published yesterday – with no possibility for appeal by the government – the Council of State said that France was not on track to meet its goal of achieving a 40% cut in emissions from 1990 levels by 2030, the paper explains. The court, therefore, “instruct[ed] the government to take additional measures between now and 31 March 2022 to hit the target”. A spokesperson for the council said it would assess the state’s actions after the deadline and could issue a fine if measures fell short of what was necessary, reports Reuters. It adds that the court’s stance “has raised questions about credentials of President Emmanuel Macron as a champion of fighting climate change ad affirms the binding nature of greenhouse gas reduction targets contained in legislation”. The latest ruling comes after the city of Grande-Synthe in northern France, along with environmental NGOs, filed a complaint in 2018 over insufficient climate action, says Politico. And EurActiv reports the comments of Green MEP and Grande-Synthe’s former mayor, Damien Carême, who said that “this ruling by the Council of State is historic: for the first time in France, the State is ordered to act by its own justice system because of its climate inaction”. He added: “I hope that this ruling will sound the death knell for political cynicism. People are no longer fooled and I welcome similar legal actions in other EU countries.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Reuters reports that Spain’s carbon emissions fell below 1990 levels last year, helped by more renewable energy, a drop in coal-fired power and an economy slowed by the Covid pandemic. In a statement released yesterday, the environment ministry said that CO2 emissions fell by 13.7% in Spain in 2020 from 2019 levels to 272m tonnes, about 6.4% less than in 1990, the newswire explains. Reuters also reports that scientists are again covering northern Italy’s Presena glacier with long strips of cloth to reflect the sun’s rays and prevent the snow beneath from melting. The process has been carried out every year since 2008, the outlet says. And a third Reuters piece reports that Germany will in July have 1m electric cars on the road, hitting its target six months late.
The US House of Representatives yesterday approved a five-year, $715bn transportation and drinking water bill that “would do more to combat climate change than the Senate’s bipartisan measure embraced by President Biden”, reports the New York Times. The paper continues: “Democratic leaders see the bill as a baseline for talks with the Senate aimed at producing the largest investment in infrastructure since Dwight D Eisenhower began the interstate highway system in the 1950s. The House measure, which would authorise a 50% increase over current spending levels, passed by a vote of 221-201, largely along party lines, a break from past infrastructure bills and a mark of how polarised Congress has become.” House Democrats “emphasised the billions that would go toward electric car and truck charging stations, zero-emission transit vehicles and shoring up roads, bridges, tunnels and rail lines to withstand severe weather and rising seas driven by a changing climate”, the paper says, adding that “funding for Amtrak would be tripled, to $32bn, and high-speed rail planning would be underwritten”. However, “just how the House Democratic vision of infrastructure will be melded with the deal struck by five Republicans and five Democrats in the Senate is anything but clear”, the paper cations. It notes that “the House bill and the Senate deal are not far apart in spending numbers on traditional infrastructure”, but only two Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill. The Hill reports the comments of House majority leader Steny Hoyer, who said: “This bill is designed to be a part of the president’s jobs bill. It is not a substitute for the jobs bill.” Reuters and CNN also have the story.
Meanwhile, the Hill also reports that the majority of House Democrats have written to President Biden to urge him to ensure a bipartisan infrastructure package includes climate provisions. In the letter, 134 House Democrats called for the final version of the package to include five key climate provisions, the outlet explains, including environmental justice provisions and creation of high-quality union jobs in the clean energy sector. Politico describes the letter as “a signal that Democrats across the ideological spectrum want strong climate change action as part of any legislative action this year”.
In related US news, Bloomberg reports that a proposed 2.6-gigawatt wind farm off the Virginia coast took one step closer to development yesterday after the Interior Department said it “would draft an environmental impact statement on the $7.8bn project, a critical early step in the permitting process”. The New York Times looks at Biden’s “two-step strategy to cut tailpipe emissions”, which includes “restor[ing] the standards to roughly the level set by President Barack Obama” and “then, tighten[ing] them even further, with an aim of making the electric car the dominant vehicle sold in the US”. Finally, Reuters reports that John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy for climate, told reporters yesterday that countries developing new oil, gas and coal projects should make sure they come with technology that can reduce the emissions to zero. He said: “It’s a real challenge and nobody can duck it…There’s an incumbent responsibility on any country that says it’s going to have a new project to make sure that there’s no emissions coming out of it.”
The Queen met climate experts in Edinburgh yesterday and said that tackling climate change will mean a change to “the way we do things”, reports BBC News. The Queen and the Princess Royal visited the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute (ECCI) ahead of COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, the outlet explains. Speaking to experts from Climate XChange, an independent research group that advises the Scottish government, the Queen said that climate change “mean[s] we are going to have to change the way we do things really, in the end”. The i newspaper says that “it is unusual for the Queen to speak so candidly in public about a major global and political issue”. The Press Association (via the Belfast Telegraph) notes that, while the Queen “showed off her green credentials” by arriving for the royal visit in a hybrid car, prime minister Boris Johnson “admitted he is still reliant on vehicles powered by fossil fuels”. During a tour of a Nissan car factory in Sunderland – to promote the launch of a new electric model and huge battery plant – Johnson said he is driven around in a “variety of machines” which are still run on “hydrocarbons”, the newswire reports. Johnson added that he is aiming to phase them out as “conveniently and economically” as possible.
Meanwhile, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon told delegates at the Austrian World Summit that COP26 must be a “global turning point” to help people across the world benefit from the transition to net-zero, reports the Press Association. At the virtual conference, Sturgeon said: “The climate crisis – with its inter-related threats of climate change, nature loss and pollution – remains the single biggest challenge the world faces,” the newswire says. She added: “One of the great injustices of the climate crisis is that the people and countries who are worst affected are usually those who have done least to cause it. At Glasgow, their needs must be recognised, and their voices must be heard. The Scottish government is determined to help with that process.“ The Scotsman also has the story.
New research suggests that a “last refuge” for polar bears and walruses in the Arctic Ocean may be more vulnerable to a warming climate than previously thought, the Independent reports. The research focuses on the Arctic’s “last ice area” – a region north of Canada and Greenland where the sea ice is thicker and older and, therefore, expected to persist for longer as temperatures continue to climb, the paper explains. However, “last summer scientists observed an episode of extreme melting in this region, with sea ice levels falling to a record low of 50% on 14 August”, the paper says, adding that the research finds that “global heating is partially to blame”. Scientists consider the area to be an important last refuge for Arctic marine mammals, including polar bears, ice-dependent seals and walruses, says BBC News. Luisa von Albedyll, an ice-dynamics researcher with the Alfred Wegener Institute in Germany, tells the New York Times that the region “is not as stable as we used to think”. The Times also covers the study, which is included in the “new climate science” section below.
China Daily, a state-run newspaper, reports that “superfast” 5G technologies could play a “key role” in the decarbonisation of China’s energy sector, driving the country’s efforts to peak its emissions before 2030 and achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060. Experts said that 5G could be used to produce “smart” batteries efficiently, manage electricity and heat in an “intelligent” way and minimise uncertainties of a new power system that is “more carbon neutral”. S&P Global Platts reports that China’s steel prices are likely to stay on an “up trend” in the “long run”. The publication attributes the prediction to the country’s efforts to curb carbon emissions “through quota trading and implementation of carbon-free metallurgical technologies”.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences has pledged to develop a monitoring system for China’s agricultural industry and rural villages to help them achieve the 2030/2060 emission goals, reports People’s Daily. The state-run newspaper says that the institute – which is affiliated with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs – has promised to enhance a series of emission-reducing measures on top of “ensuring the national food security and effective supply of important agricultural products”. National Business Daily focuses on how Chinese automobile manufacturers flock to release their decarbonisation plans. An expert tells the publication that the realisation of “carbon neutrality” is a “massive systematic project” for China’s auto industry. He says that carmakers should also assess the carbon emission levels of their supply chains.
Elsewhere, Haiwai Net, the international edition of People’s Daily, says that the White House has “hit its abacus wrongly” – a Chinese saying for making the wrong decision – after the Biden administration imposed sanctions on solar companies from Xinjiang. The US has ordered bans on exports and imports of solar products to and from several Xinjiang-based firms due to reports of Uighur “forced labour” there (read last week’s China Briefing). China has firmly denied all allegations of human rights violations in Xinjiang.
In a New York Magazine “Intelligencer” long read, David Wallace-Wells writes that “even in the middle of a permanent climate emergency, this heatwave [in the Pacific north-west] is an extraordinary event”. The extreme heat suggests that “in certain places and on certain days, at least, even the terrifying distant future is already here”. Discussing how people respond to climate-related disasters, Wallace-Wells says: “Climate activists, often privately despondent themselves, have long worried about the costs of alarmism as a rhetorical strategy, warning it would end not in panicked action but fatalism and despair. What worries me more, as an avowed alarmist, is not that dire warnings inspire leaders and potential activists to give up but that, in shifting our expectations, they encourage us to count as successes any merely catastrophic outcomes that fall short of true apocalypse – and make us see what should be freakish showcases of climate horror nevertheless on a continuum with ‘normal’ rather than as signs of profound ecological disjuncture.” He adds: “Adaptability is a virtue, or at least a tool, in a time of cascading environmental change like the one we are stepping into now. It is also a painkiller or a form of climate dementia.” The article warns that “we are living already in the muddy thick of climate difficulty, some of us sunk deeper into it than others, but we can’t let ourselves be satisfied for keeping our heads out of the muck”. He says: “Simply because tens of millions of people in Canada and the US are living through the heat dome, however many thousands die from it, and will survive the fire season to come, however much they choke on its smoke, it would be criminal to look back on what is happening now and will happen in the months ahead and think, ‘We managed’.”
Writing in the Guardian, Justin Shaw – creator of the Seattle Weather Blog – says that “the heatwave gripping our part of the country has gone from significant to sickening. When a city like Seattle, nestled up against the cool waters of Puget Sound, bakes in triple-digit heat for three days in a row, it’s not a good sign”. In a piece for the i newspaper, Dr James Dyke – a senior lecturer in global systems at Exeter University – writes: “For too long climate change has been discussed as a distant threat, something that we have time to address…Well, now it’s here, and it’s going to destroy more communities and kill more people until we actually do what we have been saying we will do for the past 30 years – stop burning fossil fuels.” In the Vancouver Sun, Alejandro Adem, who is the president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and a professor of mathematics at the University of BC, says “research is our best tool for dealing with climate change”. And in related comment, Financial Times Magazine life and arts columnist Simon Kuper looks at how to “cope with the climate apocalypse”. He writes: “The rule of thumb is that the safest regions in the future will be the ones that currently have relatively mild or cold climates. Perversely, this means that the best places to escape climate disaster are precisely those that emitted most carbon in the past: northern Europe and the northern US.”
In the first chapter of Politico’s new “The Road to COP26” series – which is on the cover of its weekly print magazine – the outlet looks at how climate change “isn’t just coming for Europe. It’s coming for the European Union”. The article continues: “Europe’s north will struggle with floods and fires, even with warming at the lowest end of expectations – the Paris Agreement limits of 1.5 or 2C above the pre-industrial global average. But the south will be hammered by drought, urban heat and agricultural decline, driving a wedge into one of the European Union’s biggest political fault lines.” The latest scientific research suggests that “everywhere in Europe will change – especially if appropriate countermeasures are not taken immediately – and that those disruptions will deepen existing divides, with profound implications for the Continent’s grand political project”, the article says. The piece discusses potential impacts in turn – including heatwaves, impacts on agriculture, and the risks of infectious diseases – and ends with a section on the potential for a deepening north-south inequality. The piece says: “All the experts that Politico spoke with suggested that Europe’s more fortunate northerners would eventually be called upon to support their sweaty southern neighbours, just as it has offered payments for fossil fuel-producing regions to help workers ease out of polluting jobs. That moment could come sooner than many expect. In Spain, the countryside is being consumed by desert, and Minister for the Ecological Transition Teresa Ribera is charged with holding back the sand. Unless Europe invests now in protecting the most affected places, she said, it risks a ‘worst-case scenario’ and ‘a terrible political debate – all across Europe’ over where to save and ‘where we must give up’.”
Last year’s record-low sea ice concentrations in the Wandel Sea – a part of the Arctic Ocean northeast of Greenland “where thick, old sea ice is expected to endure longer than elsewhere” – were caused by a combination of climate change and natural variability, a new study says. Researchers used satellite data and models of sea ice to determine which factors had the biggest influence on the record lows in August 2020. They found that, on top of the climate-change-induced thinning, abnormally strong winds pushed ice out of the area, allowing the ocean to warm and further melt the ice. “With continued thinning, more frequent low summer sea ice events are expected,” the authors write, adding that this part of the ocean is “less resilient to warming than previously thought”.
The landward march of salt marshes due to sea level rise – a process known as “marsh migration” – may reduce the total carbon stored in those marshes and their neighbouring forests by up to 50% within a century, according to a new study. Scientists surveyed vegetation types and quantified carbon stocks at four test sites in rapidly migrating marshes around the northeastern US’s Chesapeake Bay. Although wetlands – such as marshes – accumulate carbon quickly, they found that the total carbon stored in the adjacent forests “greatly exceeds” that of the marshes. The authors conclude that the carbon lost from the forests “may never be replaced”.
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