Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Record drop in electricity production from coal as rich nations go green
- Conservative manifesto: Party promises green home upgrade drive in pursuit of net zero goal
- Media mogul Bloomberg enters US presidential race, takes aim at Trump
- Heatwaves and storms await as warming forces jet stream north
- I can't wait for Brexit to be over so we can get on with fighting the emergency climate crisis
- Climate change: How China moved from leader to laggard
- Carbon offset gold rush is distracting us from climate change
- Exposure to the IPCC special report on 1.5C global warming is linked to perceived threat and increased concern about climate change
- Regional climate models: 30 years of dynamical downscaling
There is widespread media coverage of new analysis published by Carbon Brief showing that global electricity production from coal is on track to fall by around 3% in 2019, which, if confirmed at the end of the year, would be the largest drop on record. The Times says: “Reductions in burning of the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel in Britain, Germany, South Korea and other developed countries are outstripping increases in China, Vietnam and elsewhere, meaning that the overall total is expected to decline by 3% in 2019. This is significant because critics of efforts by Britain and other countries to stop burning coal often argue that there is little point when China and India keep opening new coal-fired power stations. However, this year India is on course to burn slightly less coal to produce power than last year and there has been a slowdown in the rate of growth in coal-fired generation in China.” BBC News reports the story under the headline: “Coal: Is this the beginning of the end?” It continues: “The record drop raises the prospect of a slowing of global CO2 emissions growth in 2019. But the authors warn that, even with this decline, coal use and emissions remain far higher than the level required to keep the global temperature rise below 2C.” The Press Association, via ITV News, says: “The global fall in electricity production from coal, which is based on analysis for the first seven to 10 months of 2019, comes after decades of mostly rising levels of coal power…The biggest reduction is taking place in the US, despite support for coal power by president Donald Trump, as several large power plants close.” EurActiv notes that the “in Europe, the fall is primarily attributed to the EU’s carbon cap-and-trade system, the Emissions Trading Scheme”. It quotes Carbon Brief’s policy editor Dr Simon Evans, who says: “It’s basically down to the EU ETS. That’s the main driver for people not to run their coal plants at full power.” Bloomberg picks up the point made within the analysis that “the global usage rate for coal-fired generation this year is about 54% and suggests that electricity from the plants, which are built to run at or near capacity for extended periods, is more expensive”. The Sun also carries the story (but is not yet online), as do Le Monde and Les Echos in France.
The Conservative party became the last of the main political parties in the UK to publish its manifesto yesterday and several outlets lead on the party’s environmental offering. BusinessGreen says the Tories have “reiterate[d] the party’s support for the UK’s legally binding target to deliver net-zero emissions by 2050, which was passed into law this summer”, adding that the manifesto includes “plans for £6.3bn of funding to enhance the energy efficiency of ‘disadvantaged homes’”, as well as “aiming to cut energy bills for around 2.2 million households by up to £750 a year”. The Press Association, via Energy Voice, report that the party’s 2050 net-zero target is “a less ambitious goal than other parties have set out, with the Lib Dems promising net-zero emissions by 2045 and Labour pledging to deliver the substantial majority of greenhouse cuts by 2030”. PA adds: “The manifesto seeks to highlight a different approach to tackling climate and environment crises from Labour, saying the Tories believe ‘free markets, innovation and prosperity can protect the planet’. It pledges to work with the market to deliver two million jobs in clean growth in a decade. The Tories say their first Budget will prioritise the environment, with funding for research and development, cutting carbon and an extra £4bn for flood defences, as well as a national plug-in network for electric vehicle charging and a ‘gigafactory’ for building the batteries those cars will need.” Carbon Brief will be adding the Conservative manifesto later today to its new interactive grid, showing where the parties stand on energy and climate change.
Meanwhile, in other election-related news, the Daily Mirror, which is currently running a climate campaign, reports that there is now a “race to get two million young people concerned about climate change registered to vote”. And the Press Association says that, according to the Woodland Trust, “hundreds of thousands of people have signed up to a mass tree-planting campaign to tackle climate change”. This follows a raft of tree-planting pledges in the manifestos and several newspapers launching tree-planting campaigns, including the Daily Mail, which carries a piece by John Humphrys urging readers to join the “crusade to plant up to a million trees to make Britain greener and healthier”. Also, the Sunday Times reveals that “two leading power companies [National Grid and SSE] have quietly shifted ownership of their British operations into offshore companies to protect against Jeremy Corbyn’s threat of cut-price nationalisation”. And the Guardian reports that “ScottishPower has begun plans for a major expansion of onshore windfarm projects across Scotland in anticipation of a government U-turn on support for wind power projects”.
Many US publications report that Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, has formally announced that he has entered the race to be the Democratic presidential nomination. Reuters says he is “a moderate with deep pockets unabashedly aiming to beat fellow New Yorker Donald Trump in the November 2020 election”. Bloomberg is also well known for his strong advocacy on climate change. Reuters adds: “Bloomberg’s belated entry into the race – just three months before the first of the state-by-state party nominating contests – reflects his skepticism that any of the other 17 Democratic candidates can unseat the Republican president…Bloomberg will face significant disadvantages because of his late start, which means he will be playing catch-up with rivals who have been putting together campaign staffs for months.”
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that hundreds of students disrupted the annual Harvard-Yale football game over the weekend in a climate-change protest: “They invaded the field in New Haven, Connecticut, at half-time, demanding that the two elite US universities stop investing in fossil fuels. As officials appealed for them to leave, spectators and some players also joined the protest, US media report. About 50 people were escorted from the field by police, while others left voluntarily.”
The Sunday Times reports that the jet stream is being “shrunk” by climate change, according to Tim Woollings, associate professor of atmospheric physics at the University of Oxford. He tells the newspaper: “The planet is warming rapidly due to humanity’s greenhouse gases. It means the whole of the Earth’s tropical belt is likely to expand, pushing the jet stream north so it shrinks in size and accelerates.” The paper explains that this “means that Britain is at growing risk of more violent storms in winter and searing heatwaves in summer…Woollings suggests that, as the world warms, the jet stream will spend more of the winter across the British Isles and go further into Europe, letting storms keep their power as they reach the UK. In summer it is likely to shift further to the north than now, opening Britain to hot air from the tropics…Scientists have long been reluctant to link weather events to climate change but, said Woollings, the number of extremes means connections can be made. He cited the stormy winter of 2013-14 as the first evidence that the jet stream was altering.”
Writing in the Independent, the Conservative minister Zac Goldsmith says that “as a lifelong environmentalist I long for the day our national conversation moves beyond Brexit, so that we can shift our focus to critical priorities like protecting our natural environment and tackling climate change”. He adds: “Given the sheer scale of the crisis we face, I would never pretend any government in the world is doing enough to tackle it, but despite the political paralysis, I am proud of the leadership the Conservative Party has shown on these issues.” In the Daily Telegraph, the conservative commentator (and trustee of climate sceptic lobby group Global Warming Policy Foundation) Charles Moore laments that the “the Tories…go into this election signed up to the idea that the end of the world is nigh”. He continues: “When they make arrangements to prevent this (‘zero carbon’) by 2050, they look weak beside the zealots who want to move even faster. It should be 2030, shouts Labour (with a get-out clause slipped in to please its carbon-emitting trade union backers). The Tories won’t kill new petrol cars till 2040, whereas Labour will do it by 2030. And so on.” He concludes: “Climate change is indeed a serious matter, but not an emergency.”
Meanwhile, in the Independent, Green party MP Caroline Lucas argues that “Boris Johnson’s plan to ignore the Channel 4 climate debate shows utter contempt for the greatest issue of our time”. She adds: “Johnson must reverse his decision to snub this unprecedented debate and show that his party has more than reusable straws and drinks stirrers as a response to the greatest crisis of all time. A climate debate between leaders befits the gravity of this situation.” The Conversation carries a piece by a range of academics examining whether “Labour’s green industrial revolution [can] tackle the climate crisis”.
The FT’s “Big Read” focuses on how “Beijing’s U-turn on renewables is triggering alarm” ahead of COP25 climate talks in Madrid, which starts a week today. Leslie Hook, reporting from Baoding, writes: “Concerns over the impact of climate change have never been higher. But the gap between what countries should be doing, and what they are actually doing – pumping rising levels of carbon dioxide into the air – has never been greater. With the US withdrawing from the Paris climate accord, an increasing amount of attention is on China. The country is both the greenest in the world, but also the most polluting. It has more wind and solar power than anybody else, yet it is also the world’s biggest builder of new coal plants. Last year, its emissions hit a record high, accounting for more than half of the global increase in energy-related CO2 emissions in 2018, according to the International Energy Agency. This year, Chinese emissions are expected to grow about 3% from 2018…China’s investment in renewable energy fell 39% in the first half of this year, compared with the same period in 2018, according to data from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Beijing yanked subsidies for solar panel projects in the middle of last year, and is shrinking those for wind, causing an abrupt shift.” Meanwhile, as editorial in the New York Post says that “Pretty much everything the rest of the world is doing to reduce carbon emissions is being neutralised by a single big, bad actor – and it’s not the US under President Trump, but the People’s Republic of China”. And the FT carries the views of Pascal Canfin, a French En Marche MEP in charge of the European Parliament’s influential environmental affairs committee, who says that coal-dependent economies like Poland should not rely on large amounts of EU taxpayers’ money to fund their green transitions.
Cavendish, a former head of the Downing Street policy unit who is now a Harvard senior fellow and FT columnist, argues that: “Thanks to climate change, a rash of organisations are now offering to absolve guilt over polluting if we pay them to ‘offset’ carbon, sometimes by planting trees. While their motives may be admirable, this new gold rush could prove to be a dangerous delusion…This kind of offsetting has a 20-year history and has helped pioneering companies address the impact of their supply chains. But it is much easier to buy the credit than verify the reduction – especially if it takes place on another continent and might have happened anyway…It would be tragic if virtue signalling through offsetting became more admired than concrete efforts to reduce emissions at source.”
Meanwhile, in the Guardian, Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz writes that it is time to retire GDP (gross domestic product) as a metric: “GDP was humming along nicely, rising year after year, until the 2008 global financial crisis hit. The global financial crisis was the ultimate illustration of the deficiencies in commonly used metrics…For a long time I have been concerned with this problem – the gap between what our metrics show and what they need to show…These concerns have now been brought to the fore with the climate crisis. It has been three decades since the threat of climate change was first widely recognised, and matters have grown worse faster than initially expected…It is clear that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we assess economic performance and social progress.”
Being exposed to the IPCC’s special report on 1.5C is linked to “greater perceived threat from climate change and increased climate change concern”, a new study says. Using a nationally representative sample of the Norwegian public, the researchers find that “exposure to the report had a weaker association with perceived threat and climate change concern among politically right-leaning individuals, compared with their left-leaning counterparts”. In addition, the study finds that for people who self-identified as being on the far-right end of the political spectrum, being exposed to the report had no impact on their climate change concern.
A new review paper looks back at the main issues and achievements of Regional Climate Models (RCMs) since they emerged 30 years ago. RCMs were “intended to fill the gap between the global but coarse estimates of Global Climate/Circulation Models (GCMs)”, the researchers say. Over the past three decades, “RCMs provided data to inform policies and helped to increase knowledge of the present climate and the impacts of global warming at regional level”, they add. The authors also put forward a “controversial claim aimed at starting a debate in the climate community”, namely that “the cycle of RCM research has reached an end for informing policies. This is because these models have recently been superseded for that purpose by high-resolution GCMs and Earth System Models”.
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