Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Revealed: the 20 firms behind a third of all carbon emissions
- Extinction Rebellion could disrupt Queen opening Parliament, police admit
- Northern California braced for mega power cut
- Nobel Prize in chemistry goes to development of lithium batteries
- Corbyn announces plans to create 67,000 jobs in ‘green industrial revolution’
- Why this ship is spending a year frozen in the Arctic
- The big polluters’ masterstroke was to blame the climate crisis on you and me
- A greener steel industry still looks a long way off
- Living evidence of a fossil survival strategy raises hope for warming-affected corals
- Bias in energy system models with uniform cost of capital assumption
The Guardian has launched a new series titled “The polluters”, which begins with a front-page story looking at new analysis which shows how 20 fossil fuel companies are directly linked to more than a third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the modern era. Using data collected by Richard Heede at the Climate Accountability Institute, the paper lays out how companies including BP, Shell and Saudi Aramco have released 480bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent since 1965. Heede has also written an opinion piece explaining why he thinks fossil fuel giants need to be “reined in”. A video explainer by global environment editor Jonathan Watts describes “why we need political action to tackle the oil, coal and gas companies”, while another piece summarises some of the key facts about the “top 20 global polluters”. There is also a timeline detailing the key moments in history when fossil fuel companies became aware of the threat posed by climate change, and the ways in which they “communicated or obscured the threat to the public”. Environment correspondent Fiona Harvey explains that among the list of 20 big polluters, 12 are state-owned companies, many of which operate in an opaque manner that makes it difficult to hold them to account on climate change.
Another two pieces from the series look at how these issues are playing out around the world. One, based on Guardian analysis with the science and policy institute Climate Analytics, finds that planned coal and gas developments by major companies in Australia would “push the Paris climate agreement goals further beyond reach”. Another looks at how activists in Richmond, California, are suing Chevron, which runs a local oil refinery.
Meanwhile, Shell has announced it will offset the emissions of around 1.5 million road users in the UK under a loyalty scheme, according to Reuters. The same news outlet also reports that seven exploratory oil blocks set to be auctioned by Brazil are the subject of litigation by federal prosecutors, over their perceived environmental harm. According to the Times, mining firm BHP is facing “a shareholder revolt” after investors called on the company to suspend membership of trade groups involved in fossil-fuel lobbying. Finally, the Financial Times reports on comments made by BP’s chief executive Bob Dudley about the anti-fossil fuel movement targeting gas, which he said could hinder ambitions to prevent climate change.
The Daily Telegraph reports that, according to indications by the police, protests underway in central London could force the Queen to abandon her carriage trip to open Parliament. Scotland Yard said they have “contingency plans” in place, after telling Extinction Rebellion leaders that the state opening cannot take place if they are camped on the streets. Reuters reports that London City Airport is braced for disruption after Extinction Rebellion said they would occupy its terminal and shut down operations for three days from Thursday. The Times covers the on-going protests and notes how “affinity groups” of 8-12 people acting autonomously are leading the police on “a merry dance”, as well as making it harder to shut them down. ITV News reports that hundreds of police officers are being drafted in from across the country to cope with the protests in London.
Several publications including the Guardian report on the appearance of the prime minister’s father, Stanley Johnson, at the protests. There, he responded to comments made by his son about the protesters, explaining that he supports the methods being used and is proud to call himself an “uncooperative crusty”. The Daily Telegraph has a piece featuring a variety of people including vicars, ex-police and grandparents protesting with Extinction Rebellion. Vox has published interviews with some of the philanthropists who have chosen to fund climate protesters, including those involved in Extinction Rebellion.
Meanwhile, as she continues her journey across the Americas, the Guardian reports that Greta Thunberg has been honoured by Native American tribal leaders at Standing Rock, the site of major environmental protests in North Dakota. The paper also notes the teenager has become the favourite with bookies to win the Nobel peace prize, which is announced tomorrow.
Electricity is being cut to around 800,000 homes and businesses in northern California in an attempt to prevent wildfires, BBC News reports. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the region’s utility company, has warned the shutdown affecting large swathes of the San Francisco Bay Area could last several days, according to the news site. CBS News reports the emergency measures had been brought about due to a forecast of high winds and “bone dry heat”, which is expected to put pressure on the state’s deteriorating infrastructure. It comes after sparks from power lines last year ignited a blaze that killed dozens of people, in what the Washington Post calls the “deadliest wildfire in state history”. The New York Times notes that the “extraordinary moment” when the power went out “suggested a new layer of vulnerability for California”.
The chemistry Nobel has been awarded to three scientists behind the development of lithium-ion batteries, according to Science. The nine million kronor (£738,000) prize is split between three researchers: Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino. The BBC coverage includes a comment from another scientist that the lithium-ion battery, which is used in mobile phones, laptops and electric cars, had “enabled the mobile world”. The Guardian includes a comment from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prizes, that the technology has “laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society, and are of the greatest benefit to humankind”.
Jeremy Corbyn has announced plans to create 67,000 jobs and 37 wind farms as part of his party’s “green industrial revolution”, which he said will also bring regeneration funds to coastal towns. The Labour leader said the new developments would be built with a mix of public and private money, and will increase the national capacity for wind energy fivefold, with enough energy for 57m households. The Scotsman also has the story.
BBC Future has a piece describing the world’s largest polar expedition, which has just set off for the Arctic on a year-long mission to document changes in the ice that will inform climate models. Carbon Brief’s science writer Daisy Dunne is also on the expedition and you can follow her progress on Twitter.
In a comment piece to accompany the new “polluters” series, Guardian columnist George Monbiot laments the way in which he says fossil-fuel companies have created a system that “resolves them from responsibility”. “Even as their own scientists warned that the continued extraction of fossil fuels could cause “catastrophic” consequences, the oil companies pumped billions of dollars into thwarting government action. They funded thinktanks and paid retired scientists and fake grassroots organisations to pour doubt and scorn on climate science. They sponsored politicians, particularly in the US Congress, to block international attempts to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. They invested heavily in greenwashing their public image,” he writes. Monbiot says such efforts “continue today”, citing advertisements by Shell and Exxon that “create the misleading impression” they are switching from fossil fuels to renewables. “In reality, Shell’s annual report reveals that it invested $25bn in oil and gas last year. But it provides no figure for its much-trumpeted investments in low-carbon technologies. Nor was the company able to do so when I challenged it,” he says. Monbiot continues by stating that “the biggest and most successful lie it tells is this: that the first great extermination is a matter of consumer choice”. Faced with rampant consumerism that leaves individual choices “lost in the noise”, Monbiot says it is the “system we need to change, rather than the products of the system”. He concludes by calling on people to join Extinction Rebellion protests in a bid to drive change.
A piece by Michael Pooler in the Financial Times discusses the potential for replacing coke with hydrogen in steel manufacture in a bid to cut the sector’s emissions, a process that “remains in its infancy”. He says European steelmakers are “leading the charge” in this area, potentially making a serious contribution to any future plans for carbon neutrality across the region. For now, the “main stumbling block” is the cost of clean hydrogen produced with renewable energy, the piece notes. “A helping hand may, however, come from the new European commissioner for climate, Frans Timmermans. He has suggested a “carbon border tax” on imports from countries with laxer environmental rules, and therefore cheaper production costs, Pooler writes: “Hydrogen-powered steelmaking may appear a distant prospect for now. But if it does happen, it would be nothing short of the most revolutionary change in the industry since the English inventor Henry Bessemer patented a method for mass-producing the metal in the 1850s.”
The authors say the conventional thinking means that there is “little hope of recovery” for reef-building corals under climate change. However, their own research suggests that “coral fossils hint at the existence of environmental stress–triggered survival strategies unreported in extant colonial corals”. More specifically, they have documented a “survival strategy in which isolated polyps from coral colonies affected by warming adopt a transitory resistance phase, in turn expressing a high recovery capacity in dead colony areas”.
The study examines some of the recent research that has evaluated the feasibility of 100% renewable energy-based energy systems in different world regions. The authors conclude that there is a flaw in ones that assume a uniform cost of capital (CoC) throughout the world. For example, “Bogdanov et al. shows the lowest LCOEs [levelised cost of electricity generation] for solar photovoltaic (PV)-based systems in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan, which seems at odds with the high investment risks and very low installed capacity in both countries”. They conclude: “We therefore argue that using uniform CoC can lead to distorted policy recommendations.”
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