Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Record ocean heat in 2020 supercharged extreme weather
- Land ecosystems rapidly approaching ‘temperature tipping point’, study says
- Solving climate crisis will be at centre of Biden's job agenda –Deese
- Carbon footprint of imported goods could be included in emissions target, minister says
- China pushes technical solutions in race to meet climate goals
- Poland's PGG says coal mine closure plan unlikely to change despite EU climate targets
- The climate outsider tackling Britain’s global warming mission
- Rising temperatures and increasing demand challenge wheat supply in Sudan
New data shows that the amount of heat the world’s oceans contain hit the highest levels in recorded history last year, reports the Guardian. The study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, says that the global ocean absorbed 20 more “Zettajoules” of heat last year than it did in 2020, the paper explains. It continues: “More than 90% of the heat trapped by carbon emissions is absorbed by the oceans, making their warmth an undeniable signal of the accelerating crisis. The researchers found the five hottest years in the oceans had occurred since 2015, and that the rate of heating since 1986 was eight times higher than that from 1960-85.” Co-author Prof John Abraham tells the newspaper that “ocean warming is the key metric and 2020 continued a long series of record-breaking years, showing the unabated continuation of global warming”. In addition, “warmer oceans supercharge the weather, impacting the biological systems of the planet as well as human society”, says Abraham: “Climate change is literally killing people and we are not doing enough to stop it.” Abraham also writes a piece for the Guardian, in which he explains that “all of this affects humans. Warming oceans are creating more powerful storms, like cyclone Yasa, which recently hit the South Pacific”. He adds: “Some areas are becoming wetter, with heavier rainfall and flooding. Simultaneously, other areas are becoming more dry, with more intense heatwaves, droughts, and wildfires. We have seen these effects manifest with wildfires in Australia, the western US, and other locations.” Lead author Dr Lijing Cheng tells the i newspaper that rising water temperatures are also having a devastating impact on marine life. Mass bleaching of corals, marine heatwaves and rising sea levels are just some of the “broad and serious impacts” ocean warming is having on marine ecosystems, he says. MailOnline also covers the research.
New research suggests that the land’s ecosystems are approaching a “temperature tipping point”, beyond which they could switch from soaking up CO2 to releasing it to the atmosphere, reports the Independent. The study, published in Science Advances, uses a major global dataset to study how the land is responding to temperature change, the paper explains. It finds that the point at which rates of respiration – the process by which plants produce energy for growth and causes CO2 to be released – start to exceed rates of photosynthesis – where plants absorb CO2 – occurs around 25C, the paper says. It continues: “This ‘constitutes a powerful tipping point for the land sink of carbon’, the authors say, beyond which the ability of plants to absorb CO2 could start to rapidly decline. At present, less than 10% of land ecosystems experience temperatures that are past the optimum for photosynthesis.” However, adds the i newspaper, if future greenhouse gas emissions are very high, “within 30 years up to half of plants could suffer temperatures beyond that threshold”. Lead author Dr Katharyn Duffy tells the paper that this would result in “a feedback into climate change – as plants are taking up less carbon there’s more in the atmosphere, which leads to more warming…I think we’re going to end up seeing a lot of chaos and struggle in the biosphere”. Co-author Dr Christian Schwalm tells Inside Climate News that “seeing such a strong temperature signal globally did not surprise me”, adding: “What I was surprised by is that it would happen so soon, maybe in 15 to 25 years, and not at the end of the century.”
Brian Deese, the incoming top economic White House adviser, said yesterday that tackling climate change by boosting investments in new technologies will be at the centre of the Biden administration’s job creation agenda, reports Reuters. Speaking that the Reuters Next conference, Deese said: “I think what you are going to see across the president-elect’s rescue-and-recovery strategy is an approach that puts solving the climate crisis at the centre of creating jobs.” Rejoining the Paris Agreement will be “just the first” step towards working with other countries on climate, Deese said, adding that Biden will work quickly bringing together the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases to “increase our collective ambition on emissions reductions”. He explained: “Part of…our diplomatic strategy and our economic strategy has to be to work with other countries to push them, push their ambition, even as we have to demonstrate our ability to come back on the stage and show leadership on this issue that has been absent for the last couple of years.“
Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that Biden yesterday named Samantha Power, the former US Ambassador to the United Nations, as his choice to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID). In a statement, the Biden transition team said: “Power will rally the international community and work with our partners to confront the biggest challenges of our time – including Covid-19, climate change, global poverty, and democratic backsliding.”
Finally, Inside Climate News looks at how the narrow majority the Democrats now have in the Senate “gives them extraordinary power to elevate climate change as a major priority” and to “take up the more than 120 pieces of legislation that House Democrats have included in a roadmap for a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050”.
Environment secretary George Eustice says the UK could set targets to reduce emissions that include the carbon footprint of consumer products and imports, the Daily Telegraph reports, “in a move that would be a world first”. Speaking to the Environmental Audit Committee, Eustice said that “there’s a growing recognition that simply measuring emissions as a country isn’t necessarily the right thing to target and looking at consumption based measures, probably in the longer term, does make more sense”. Eustice added that the government had initiated the process to adopt consumption-based targets: “We’ve had some initial discussions with the Treasury. There’s an openness in government to over time moving towards more of a consumption based target.“ Eustice noted that the reason the government had not yet embraced consumption emissions targets was a lack of precise data to accurately calculate them, the paper explains. Earlier this month, Carbon Brief published a guest post that suggested an alternative accounting method that divides trade-related emissions among trade partners in proportion to the economic benefits they derive.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports the comments of prime minister Boris Johnson when asked about the UK’s ambitions for its climate change summit in November. Speaking to the Liaison Committee yesterday, Johnson said: “I’m becoming more and more obsessed with what we can do.” He added that the green agenda provided an opportunity to aid economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. BusinessGreen reports the comments of Labour leader Keir Starmer at a meeting convened yesterday by a host of green groups. He said: “Tackling the climate emergency is the defining challenge of the next decade…It must be at the heart of our rebuild from this pandemic. The way we rebuild will determine the kind of society we live in, and the kind of planet we live on, for generations to come.”
In other UK news, BBC News reports that a £2.5m project to protect a river valley from the effects of climate change has been approved. It says: “Improvements to the River Skell in North Yorkshire aim to protect properties – including the historic Fountains Abbey – from flooding, and improve the habitat for wildlife. BBC News also reports that “new laws could see burning traditional house coal banned entirely in Wales within two years”. And the Daily Telegraph reports that oil refiner Essar plans to produce large quantities of hydrogen at its Cheshire refinery “in a boost to government efforts to increase uptake of the clean-burning fuel”. (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer for more on hydrogen.)
China will promote large-scale carbon capture projects and track methane emissions from fossil fuel extraction as part of its contribution to global efforts to tackle climate change, reports Reuters. It continues: “In new policy guidelines, China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) vowed to make climate action a performance indicator for government officials. It also said controlling carbon emissions would be at the heart of a coordinated programme to protect and restore the country’s environment, which has been damaged by decades of breakneck industrial growth.” In the new guidelines, “the MEE said it would promote the construction of large-scale carbon capture, utilisation and storage demonstration projects. China has several carbon capture projects in operation, but none has been economically viable”, the newswire explains, adding: “The MEE also said it would deploy advanced satellite technology to track land-use changes, another major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, and encourage industries such as steel, power generation and chemicals to formulate their own plans to bring emissions to a peak.”
Poland’s state-owned coal mining company Polska Grupa Górnicza (PGG) does not expect to change its timetable to close its coal mines by 2049, reports Reuters, despite tougher European Union climate targets agreed in December. Following a meeting between coal trade unions, the government and PGG representatives, PGG chief executive Tomasz Rogala told Reuters: “Tightening the EU’s emission reduction targets to 55% does not affect this timetable, although I am aware that there are public concerns that due to pressure from the EU this plan may accelerate.” Speaking shortly before the talks, Rogala said PGG’s mine closure plan still needed approval from the European Commission, which critics say will be difficult to secure, notes Reuters. The outlet adds: “A Polish official said in October that talks with the Commission seeking approval for PGG’s plan would start ‘within days’. But it is not clear if Poland has formally sought approval.”
“Alok Sharma is down to one job, but it’s a big one.” So begins a feature by Politico senior climate correspondent Karl Mathiesen on the scale of the task facing the former business secretary in leading November’s COP26 UN climate summit in Glasgow. He continues: “Rather than presiding over tortured debates on new international law, Sharma’s goal is to convince every country on Earth to set a date for reaching net-zero emissions, plus new climate targets for 2030.” Fortunately for Sharma and the UK, “momentum is flowing in their direction”, says Mathiesen: “After Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential election, China’s surprise announcement of a 2060 carbon neutrality target and the EU’s December deal on a new 2030 climate goal, COP26 officials are focusing attention on the rest of the G20 group of countries — responsible for around 80% of global emissions.” The “very specific demands” of COP26 means that “Sharma’s role will be different from the COP presidents who preceded him…Instead of being an honest broker whose focus is reaching a deal acceptable to all countries, he’ll be pressing leaders to make politically fraught decisions to slash emissions, scrap coal mines and boost investments in green technologies”. However, notes Mathiesen, Sharma is “not a global diplomatic heavyweight, unlike former US Secretary of State John Kerry, who Biden appointed as his climate envoy”. As a result, “Sharma will have to prepare the ground for [Boris] Johnson, who is likely to do one-on-one outreach to peers like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping”, he says.
New research warns that Sudan – which has the “world’s hottest wheat-growing environments” – could see domestic production struggle under rising temperatures. Using crop modelling and different climate and socioeconomic scenarios, the study shows that “despite the use of adjusted sowing dates and existing heat-tolerant varieties, by 2050, Sudan’s domestic production share may decrease from 16.0% to 4.5–12.2%”. This could “increase dependency on imports and threaten food security for millions”, says an accompanying News & Views article.
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