Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Restoring natural habitats key for UK to meet CO2 targets, says new report
- No UN climate talks to be held in 2020, as interim meeting postponed again
- Britain's Drax to pilot carbon capture with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
- Shell plans major restructuring around climate drive, CEO tells employees
- Amazon pledges $2bn venture capital fund to invest in clean energy
- UK electric buses boosted by innovative £20m battery deal
- UN says seeking to verify Arctic heat record
- Your climate disaster tax bill is growing
- Negations in uncertainty lexicon affect attention, decision-making and trust
A new report by the Wildlife Trusts says restoring degraded natural habitats, such as peatland and coastal marsh, is crucial if the UK is to meet its climate change targets, says Reuters. Published today, the report – entitled “Let Nature Help” – identifies habitats that, if restored, could absorb around a third of the UK’s CO2 emissions, Reuters says. It adds: “The report says the country’s peatlands store around 3.2bn tonnes of CO2 but are heavily degraded, while the UK’s coastal seagrass meadows, another important carbon store and habitat for young fish, have halved since 1985. Saltmarsh and inland wetlands have also suffered large declines.” Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, urged the government to restore degraded areas in order to tackle both the climate crisis and the collapse of wildlife populations and habitats around the UK, says the Guardian. “Nature in the UK is in a sorry state and important habitats are damaged and declining,” he said. “Efforts to cut our emissions must be matched with determined action to fix our broken ecosystems so they can help stabilise our climate. Restoring nature in the UK needs to be given top priority.” Writing the “Thunderer” column in the Times, Bennett says: “We have no hope of stopping climate change unless we can restore the abundance of nature. And we have no hope of stopping the crisis in biodiversity unless we tackle climate change and – more to the point – the root causes of both.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that leaders of 21 rural councils across England have joined forces to demand their inclusion in the Government’s £100bn infrastructure spending and its green agenda. In an open latter, the Countryside Climate Network, which represents mostly Conservative councils covering a quarter of the population, says rural areas have been overlooked in green investment, despite being on “the frontline’ of the effects of climate change, the paper notes.
In related news, Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey has a feature on the UK’s progress towards net-zero emissions. Harvey says: “As the first anniversary looms this Saturday of the signing of the net-zero pledge into law, there has been little concrete action, and no clear roadmap on how to meet the goal.” She continues: “Asked by the Guardian what measures had been taken on net-zero in the past year, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) cited only: The consultation on bringing forward the phaseout of petrol and diesel cars from 2040 to 2035; £800m for carbon capture and storage; and plans to double the UK’s international climate finance funding from £5.8bn to £11.6bn.” Also in the Guardian, global environment editor Jonathan Watts continues his road trip around the UK looking at the economic recovery after coronavirus. He travels to Hartlepool, where “some see an opportunity to emerge from the past into a greener future”. And, finally, in the Guardian, columnist George Monbiot writes that “as we rebuild our economic life, we should do it on green principles, averting a crisis many times greater than the coronavirus: climate breakdown and the collapse of our life-support systems”. This means, he says, “no more fossil fuel-based infrastructure. Even existing infrastructure, according to climate scientists, could push us past crucial thresholds. It means an end to megaprojects whose main purpose is enriching construction companies”.
There will be no UN climate negotiations this year, reports Climate Home News, after preparatory talks scheduled in October were postponed for a second time into 2021. The intersessional meeting – which takes place every year in Bonn, Germany, between UN climate summits – will not be able to go ahead on the proposed dates of 4-12 October, the outlet notes, and a new date for the meeting is yet to be decided. The decision was taken by the UN Climate Change bureau at short notice on Monday evening, CHN says, after the German government announced last week it would extend a ban on large events until at least the end of October, to avoid a new wave of coronavirus infection. In a statement, UN Climate Change secretariat said the decision was based on the need to ensure “the well-being and safety of all involved under the current travel restrictions and guidelines from local German health authorities”. COP26 President-designate and UK business secretary Alok Sharma said it was “disappointing that the Bonn Subsidiary Body October meetings will no longer take place as planned”, reports BusinessGreen. He added: “Despite this postponement we must not lose momentum in our work to accelerate global climate action.”
Drax and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) will launch a pilot project this autumn to capture CO2 emissions from the UK firm’s biomass power plants in the north of England, Reuters reports. It continues: “Drax will test patented MHI solvents to see how they capture emissions produced when biomass wood pellets are burned in a 12-month pilot which is expected to capture 300 kilograms of CO2 a day but this is not yet expected to be stored.” It is the second carbon capture system Drax is trialling at the power plant, notes BusinessGreen, “having previously teamed up with Leeds firm C-Capture on a project which saw around one tonne of CO2 prevented from entering the atmosphere each day”. Drax Group CEO Will Gardiner tells the outlet that “we’re very pleased to be working with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on this exciting pilot which will further our understanding of the potential for deploying BECCS [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage] at scale at Drax taking us closer to achieving our world-leading ambition to be a carbon negative company by 2030.” (Carbon Brief has previously published a history of BECCS.)
Also in UK energy news, the Financial Times reports that the UK’s nuclear energy industry says it could cut the price of power from new large power stations by more than half as it presses ministers for a “prompt” decision on government financing to support construction. It continues: “A report from the Nuclear Industry Association claims that the next generation of plants could be delivered at a cost to the consumer of £60 per megawatt hour, and subsequent reactors for as little as £40/MWh, if the government can agree a financing mechanism to cut capital costs, which account for about two-thirds of the total bill.” A cost of £40/MWh would represent a 57% reduction on the £92.50/MWh that was “controversially guaranteed by the government” for the new nuclear plant – currently under construction – at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, the FT adds.
In an “exclusive”, Reuters reports that Royal Dutch Shell will announce a major restructuring by the end of the year as the energy company prepares to accelerate its shift towards low-carbon. Company sources tell the newswire that, in an internal video, CEO Ben van Beurden told employees that the restructuring would involve job cuts as part of broad cost reductions, although no figures have been decided yet. “Ben spoke about positioning the company in the energy transition,” one of the sources says. “The company will announce the new shape of the organisation by the end of the year.” The Times also has the story. In other Shell news, the Washington Post reports that US financial services firm Wells Fargo will buy 150 megawatts of solar power from Shell Energy, “a move that demonstrates widening corporate interest in renewable energy even among some of the strongest supporters of fossil fuels”. The deal is “modest”, the Post says – meeting about 8% of the company’s global energy needs – but “it carries symbolic value”. The paper explains: “Wells Fargo, the second-biggest lender to fossil fuel companies over the past four years, is buying carbon-free electricity from Shell, a company that’s been in the oil business since the 1880s. The deal also shows the appeal of solar projects even in the midst of the punishing economic downturn brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic.” And Reuters reports that the UK’s supreme court will hear Nigerian farmers and fishermen appeal to pursue claims against Shell next week, over spills in the Niger Delta.
Meanwhile, Reuters also reports that the price of oil futures slipped yesterday after initially hitting the highest levels since before the coronavirus pandemic. Prices rose early, after US President Donald Trump tweeted that the trade agreement with China was “fully intact”, the newswire explains, before dipping as the market braced for reports expected to show swelling US crude inventories. In his regular column, Reuters market analyst John Kemp says “Brent [crude oil] futures prices have risen by more than 80% over the last two months, the fastest increase at any point for more than a quarter of a century, as the market has rebounded from its worst crisis in decades”.
Online retailer Amazon says it will launch a $2bn venture capital fund that will focus on technology investments to reduce the impact of climate change and support sustainable development, reports Reuters. It continues: “The Climate Pledge Fund will invest in companies across industries such as transportation and logistics, energy, storage and utilisation, manufacturing and materials, and food and agriculture, the e-commerce giant said.” Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said: “The Climate Pledge Fund will look to invest in the visionary entrepreneurs and innovators who are building products and services to help companies reduce their carbon impact and operate more sustainably”, reports City AM. BusinessGreen adds: “The move comes just days after Amazon announced the first three partners – Verizon, Reckitt Benckiser (RB), and Infosys – have joined The Climate Pledge group, committing alongside Amazon to delivering net-zero emissions by 2040.” Axios comments: “It’s part of a growing move by tech giants into funding climate-friendly companies and technologies – even as they remain under fire over their business deals with oil companies.”
One of the UK’s biggest battery companies has secured a loan to help increase the UK’s electric bus fleet by taking ownership of the batteries inside scores of UK buses, reports the Guardian. It adds: “Zenobe Energy has secured a £20m loan from NatWest to finance enough batteries to power about 100 electric buses owned by private transport firms and councils around the UK. The energy storage experts will own the bus batteries and lease them to the bus operators as part of a service contract…This novel ownership scheme effectively splits the ownership of an electric bus between the transport company, which owns the body of the vehicle, and Zenobe, which will own the battery which powers it.” At the same time, BusinessGreen reports that the UK government announced 10 multi-million pound grants yesterday in support of a range of innovative new-zero emission vehicle technologies. Assigned through the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) – the joint government-industry venture tasked with accelerating the shift towards net-zero road transport – the projects will “develop cutting edge technology for the next generation of electric taxis, cars, and vans in order to help drive the industry further away from its reliance on fossil fuels”, BusinessGreen explains. In related news, Bloomberg reports that electric vehicle charging stations “are finally about to take off” and BusinessGreen reports that “the UK’s ‘first ever’ successful test flight of a commercial-scale, electric aircraft took place at Cranfield Airport yesterday”.
There is continued coverage of the potentially record-breaking temperatures in the Arctic in recent days. EurActiv reports that the UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has said it is working to verify reports of a new Arctic record temperature of 38C in a Siberian town over the weekend. WMO spokesperson Clare Nullis told reporters that the region of eastern Siberia is known for extreme temperatures both in winter and summer months, EurActiv adds. “Temperatures above 30C in July are not unusual, but obviously 38C is exceptional,” she said. National Geographic says “the record-setting high is much more than a quick spike for the Russian Arctic, where months of extreme heat may have dangerous consequences”. Carbon Brief tweeted a thread yesterday giving more context on the potential record, including why it should not be confused with reports of land surface temperatures hitting 45C in the same region.
Writing in the New York Times, Paul Bodnar and Tamara Grbusic – climate finance researchers at the Rocky Mountain Institute – say that the US government’s spending on climate-related disaster recovery is a “rapidly rising fiscal threat”. Delving into the increasing damages, Bodnar and Grbusic warn that “to fund climate disaster expenses of the magnitude described…the federal government would have to significantly escalate its borrowing”. To reduce their exposure, the authors recommend that the government could “cut greenhouse gas emissions and ramp up spending to reduce property exposure to climate-fuelled storms and droughts”. They conclude: “We have a choice between a carbon tax and a spiralling climate disaster tax. In a fast-approaching future where higher public spending and escalating debt will require higher levels of taxation, a carbon tax is a prudent choice. It can provide an important source of revenue, encourage industries to decarbonise and lower the danger of further credit rating downgrades – all while decreasing future disaster risk by reducing emissions.”
A new study assesses perceptions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uncertainty language through psychology experiments. (The IPCC uses a likelihood scale of “virtually certain” – 99-100% probability – through to “exceptionally unlikely” – 0-1% probability.) The experiments find that participants were less likely to misinterpret the positive language (likely to virtually certain) than the negative language (unlikely to exceptionally unlikely). The authors say: “Our results suggest that the negative verbal framing of probabilities used by the IPCC is not neutral and has implications for how climate information is interpreted by decision-makers.”
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