Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Record growth in renewable power in 2020 set to become ‘new normal’, says IEA
- US: Colonial Pipeline starts limited shipments amid fears of fuel shortages
- UK: Environment lawyer fined £5k for contempt in Heathrow case
- In brokering US-China climate cooperation, Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry deserve much credit
- Forests the size of France regrown since 2000, study suggests
- US: Drought emergency declared in 41 California counties
- Biden should embrace a carbon tax
- Net-zero: despite the greenwash, it’s vital for tackling climate change
- The severity and extent of the Australia 2019–20 Eucalyptus forest fires are not the legacy of forest management
- Reduce aviation's greenhouse gas emissions through immediately feasible and affordable gate electrification
There is widespread coverage of the latest report published by the International Energy Agency (IEA). Its latest analysis finds there was a “record surge in global renewable power” in 2020, the Independent reports. According to the online newspaper, the IEA report that global renewable power capacity increased by 280GW in 2020 – and is set to grow by a further 270GW and 280GW in 2021 and 2022, respectively. Heymi Bahar – lead author of the report and senior analyst at the IEA – tells the outlet that 2020 will be “remembered as a step change for growth”. The expansion in renewable capacity in 2020 was 45% greater than the increase in 2019, marking the “biggest jump since 1999”, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Times reports that the new additions are “overwhelmingly driven by wind and solar”. It adds that, according to the IEA, “renewables were the only energy source for which demand increased in 2020 despite the pandemic, while consumption of all other fuels declined”. The Guardian notes that 45% of the new capacity came from new wind and solar projects in China, Europe and the US. China is “at the heart of the renewable energy industry’s growth”, the newspaper notes, although it is also the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gasses. Bloomberg leads with the less positive framing: “Renewable power growth to plateau after record gain in 2020.” It notes that “green power will have to develop much faster to reach the world’s climate goals”, adding that government programmes that supported renewable development in China, the US and Vietnam stopped at the end of 2020. Reuters, S&P Global, CNBC and BusinessGreen also cover the report, plus Carbon Brief has published its own analysis of the new IEA forecast.
In other energy news, the Financial Times reports that AES Brasil, an arm of US power group AES, is planning to “reduce the country’s reliance on hydropower” by introducing new wind capacity. Meanwhile, EnergyMonitor runs a piece entitled, “Why the US should push renewables, not gas, in Europe”, by Julian Popov from the European Climate Foundation (which funds Carbon Brief). And the New York Times reports that, according to a recent report from the World Bank, gas flaring declined by 5% during 2020 – mostly due to the lower demand for oil. Meanwhile, E&E news runs a piece entitled: “‘Responsibly sourced’ gas grows despite green washing claims.”
There is continuing coverage of the cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline in the US, which supplies 45% of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel used in the US East Coast. The pipeline resumed limited service yesterday, reports Politico, delivering fuel from North Carolina to a terminal in Maryland. US president Joe Biden said he is receiving briefings on the pipeline’s status, telling reporters that “we’re prepared to take additional steps depending on how quickly the company is able to bring [the] pipeline back to full operational capacity”. However, Bloomberg reports that Colonial’s CEO warned state officials in a private meeting yesterday that supply shortages could occur even as it plans to reopen the line later this week. The Hill and Reuters report that gasoline prices are expected to rise following the attack. The FBI yesterday confirmed that the hacking group DarkSide was responsible for the ransomware attack and said the bureau is working “with the company and our government partners on the investigation’, reports the Hill. BBC News reports the comments on the DarkSide group, who said their “goal is to make money and not creating problems for society”.
The shutdown has “prompted calls from American lawmakers to strengthen protections for critical US energy infrastructure from hacking attacks”, reports Reuters. And the Hill notes that the White House response “hint[ed] at irritation around the government’s lack of control over security operations”. Maggie Miller, a staff writer for the Hill, says that “the attack was shocking in some ways in that it illustrated how vulnerable a critical and large company such as Colonial Pipeline was to increasingly frequent ransom attacks”. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal says the events are “a glaring reminder that cyber vulnerabilities in US energy and other systems are the real infrastructure problem that President Biden should be addressing”. Yet, it argues, “this is the world that the climate-change lobby wants”, adding: “The Biden Administration should be putting money into shoring up cyber vulnerabilities, but instead it’s using the ‘infrastructure’ label to remake the energy economy, squeeze fossil fuels, and make the grid more vulnerable, not less.”
Elsewhere in US comment, the Washington Post publishes an article by Mike Sommers, the president and CEO of lobby group the American Petroleum Institute (API), explaining “why need to produce more energy and meaningfully advance environmental progress”. The article is sponsored by the API.
An environmental lawyer has been fined for sharing a supreme court ruling on Heathrow airport’s third runway before the result was officially announced, the Guardian reports. Lawyer Tim Crosland deliberately shared the court ruling that the “highly controversial” third runway planned at Heathrow is legal, according to the paper. It adds that Crosland is from the campaign group “Plan B” that first brought the legal case against Heathrow’s owners. The Press Association, via the Belfast Telegraph, notes that Crosland was given a £5,000 fine, but could have faced two years in prison. A separate Press Association story in the Belfast Telegraph adds that Crosland “described breaking the embargo as ‘an act of civil disobedience’, saying: ‘I have no choice but to protest the deep immorality of the court’s ruling.’” Meanwhile, the Guardian notes that groups opposing planned expansions to eight airports in the UK have written a letter to ministers, warning that they “must suspend all airport expansion plans until it sets out how they fit with its legally binding climate targets and the advice of its own experts”. And the Times and Daily Telegraph report that a trial of Extinction Rebellion protestors accused of blockading the printing works at Bruxbourne was delayed after a defendant glued his hand to the dock.
In other UK news, the i newspaper has published an “exclusive” piece entitled, “Boris Johnson’s manifesto pledges ‘off course’ after pandemic with no progress on key issues, experts say”. According to the outlet, researchers have warned that “very little progress” has been made on “the most challenging promises” in the Conservative manifesto – including reaching net-zero emissions. Meanwhile, Reuters reports G7 countries “should invest $10tn to stoke climate-friendly recovery”, according to a report requested by Johnson. And the Daily Express reports that, according to a survey run by WWF, “the vast majority of people [in the UK] believe there should be legal targets on repairing and reversing damage to nature”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that plans for Scotland’s first power plant with carbon capture and storage have been revealed. And BusinessGreen reports that the government has confirmed that it is “tightening the rules governing its renewable subsidy regime ahead of the fourth round of clean power contract auctions later this year”.
A column in Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post praises the roles the Chinese and US climate envoys, Xie Zhenhua and John Kerry, have played in “brokering” the Beijing-Washington climate cooperation. The piece is penned by Hong Kong’s former undersecretary for the environment, Christine Loh. Loh says that “tributes should be paid” to Xie and Kerry for “hashing out” the joint statement in Shanghai last month. The Strategist, the commentary and analysis site of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has a column titled: “The limits to US–China climate cooperation.” The author, Prof Minxin Pei from the Claremont McKenna College, notes that China and the US might be trying to use climate cooperation to stop their relations from souring further, “but the path ahead is strewn with geopolitical landmines” due to a series of “hot-button issues”.
In Chinese-language media, state-run chinanews.com
Elsewhere, Prof Pan Jiahua, a member of the National Climate Change Committee, has urged that China’s efforts to achieve the “carbon neutral” target should not “go astray”, state-affiliated financial outlet Yicai reports. Pan is quoted stating “there is no shortcut” to the goal. He says many companies are focusing on cutting non-CO2 emissions or using carbon sinks, but the most “direct” and “reliable” way is to change the energy structure. On the Financial Times’ Chinese site, Xu Lin, chairman of the China-US Green Fund, writes that China needs a “more systematic incentive mechanism”, including carbon financial and carbon evaluation systems, to achieve “carbon neutral”. Meanwhile, an editorial in the Financial Times says that a “green revolution” in China will “drive commodity prices”. And Moritz Kraemer, the chief economic adviser of Acreditus, writes in the South China Morning Post that “China has more to gain from fighting climate change than other countries”.
A new study suggests that an area of forest the size of France has “regrown naturally across the world” since the year 2000, BBC News reports. According to the outlet, the restored forests could take in 5.9Gt of CO2 – more than the annual emissions of the US. It adds that the Atlantic forest in Brazil and boreal forests in northern Mongolia have been identified as “regeneration hotspots”. However, environmentalists are warning that “vastly” more trees are being burned and cut down each year, Sky News notes. BusinessGreen notes that the analysis was published by Trillion Trees – a collaboration between World Wildlife Fund (WWF), BirdLife International, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) – as part of a two-year research project. Researchers have used more than 30 years of satellite data and surveyed local experts at more than 100 forest regeneration sites for this analysis, it adds.
The governor of California, Gavin Newsom, has extended his existing the emergency drought order to cover 41 of California’s 58 counties, the Los Angeles Times reports. According to the newspaper, the order now covers 30% of the state’s population, who are being urged to save water wherever possible. “Under the proclamation, state officials will consider ways to conserve water, improve water quality and move water to where it is needed most”, the newspaper notes. The San Francisco Chronicle adds that Newsom had previously resisted declaring a drought emergency “despite calls from elected officials in both parties”. The governor said that the drought worsened in many counties because of higher-than-average temperatures in April and early May, which “caused snowmelt to evaporate or seep into the ground rather than gradually flow into rivers and streams”, it adds.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that less predictable rainfall patterns are causing “water supply problems” in São Paulo – the largest city in Brazil.
The Washington Post carries a comment piece by co-chairs of the Aspen Economic Strategy Group – former US treasury secretary Henry M Paulson Jr and Erskine B Bowles, chief of staff to president Bill Clinton. Paulson and Bowles argue that Biden “deserves credit for his actions to date on climate change”, but say that the US “need to take a bold step forward” on carbon pricing. A carbon tax is supported by 67% of Americans, they add, and is “embraced by a bipartisan consensus of economists and increasingly supported by the business community”. They say that a carbon tax could be “highly progressive” if revenue is used for projects such as investing in poorer communities, or supporting workers affected adversely by the clean energy transition. The Climate Leadership Council estimates a $40 per ton carbon tax would reduce US emissions to 50% below 2005 levels by 2035, they notes, and this would incentivise other nations to reduce emissions. “Putting a price on carbon would advance America’s leadership role in the world”, they add. They conclude: “We believe that, by embracing a carbon tax, president Biden could help restore America’s infrastructure, fiscal strength and leadership at a time when all are sorely needed.”
Steve Smith, the executive director of the Oxford Net Zero initiative, Richard Black, an honorary research fellow at Grantham Institute, and Thomas Hale, an associate professor at Oxford University, discuss the concept of net-zero emissions in a comment piece for the Conversation. “It might seem odd to find supporters of climate action debating the merits of a concept that science shows to be essential for halting climate change…yet that is where we ind ourselves with the concept of ‘net-zero’”, they say. They add that the term “net-zero” was only included in the Paris agreement after a “a determined push by activists and vulnerable countries”, and the term is now “the defining lens through which many governments, businesses, NGOs and other types of entity view decarbonisation”. However, they note that many activists have pointed out flaws in net-zero targets, including oil and gas companies that plan to pay for offsets instead of reducing emissions. The authors were “among researchers publishing the first analysis of the robustness of net-zero commitments”, which found that 60% of entities of a net-zero target have “some robustness measures in place”, according to the piece. They conclude: “Rather than tarring all net-zero pledges with the same critical brush, we would advocate differentiating serious targets from those set for greenwashing… Despite the imperfections, widespread strengthening of net-zero targets, specifically to generate steep emission cuts in the next decade, offers the most viable route to implementing the Paris Agreement and so preventing the most dangerous impacts of climate change. We should get net-zero right – not get rid.”
Meanwhile, Labour MP Mathew Pennycook has penned an opinion piece for PoliticsHome, titled: “Government is failing to act on the climate emergency.” Pennycook argues that it has been two years since the Commons declared a climate emergency, but that “few, if any, would argue that the period since has been marked by a response commensurate with that declaration”.
The “massive geographic scale and severity” of the 2019-20 wildfires in Australia is best explained by a “historically anomalous drought coupled with strong, hot dry westerly winds that caused uninterrupted, and often dangerous, fire weather over the entire fire season”, a new study says. Sampling 32% of the burnt area, the researchers show the “overwhelming dominance of fire weather in causing complete scorch or consumption of forest canopies in natural and plantation forests”. In contrast, “past logging and wildfire disturbance in natural forests had a very low effect on severe canopy damage”, the researchers say. For more on the 2019-20 fires, see Carbon Brief’s media reaction piece published at the time.
New research estimates the emissions and economic implications of electrifying gate operations to provide power to aircraft when they are idle during turnaround. Analysing more than 2,300 airports around the world, the authors “show that complete electrification could yield greenhouse gas reductions of 63-97% per gate operation relative to current practice, with greater reductions correlated with low-carbon electricity”. Shifting to complete gate electrification “could save a high-traffic airport an average of $5-6m in annual climate economic damages relative to estimates of current practice”, the study says.
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