Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Rishi Sunak budget: Chancellor to cut red diesel subsidy
- Rio Tinto boss pledges zero emissions by 2050
- Europe's infrastructure at high risk from climate change: UN study
- Japan to tighten policy on exporting coal power to developing countries
- Lord Teverson: To reach net-zero and end fuel poverty, it’s essential we upgrade the energy efficiency of existing homes
- No, a trillion more trees and baby-step oil company reforms won't fix global warming
- The effects of anthropogenic greenhouse gases and aerosols on the inter-decadal change of the South China Sea summer monsoon in the late 20th century
There is some speculation in the UK press about the contents of the upcoming budget, soon to be announced by the recently appointed chancellor Rishi Sunak. The Times says he is “preparing new environment taxes” including restrictions on the “red diesel” used by some off-road vehicles and machinery, for which the chancellor is expected to cut subsidies. The paper reports that according to “allies” of the chancellor he “is shifting more of the cost of meeting climate change targets from consumers to business as he finalises the budget”. It also notes Sunak is considering backing off from ending the 10-year freeze on fuel duty “amid a mounting backlash from Tory MPs”. The Financial Times, on the other hand, reports that the chancellor will delay “some of the government’s biggest decisions”, including fuel duties, until the autumn budget.
Meanwhile, ahead of Brexit negotiations starting next week, Reuters reports that the EU will say the UK must uphold EU climate change targets and environmental standards following the transition period. While both the UK and the EU have launched ambitious climate targets, there have been consistent concerns from environmental groups that the UK will be forced to accept lower standards in order to agree post-Brexit trade deals, the newswire notes.
And as COP26 preparations continue in the UK, Scotland’s Herald reports on some strongly worded comments by Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), to the Scottish parliament’s environment committee. He said both the UK and Scottish governments had been “crap” at working together on climate action and needed to be “better all round”. Elsewhere, Climate Home News reports that Switzerland has joined a very small group of countries that has confirmed to the UN ahead of COP26 that it will enhance its emissions reduction target for 2030 – although it did not indicate when this plan will be submitted.
In the latest case of a big polluter announcing its own climate pledge, the Financial Times reports that mining giant Rio Tinto has pledged to cut its emissions to net-zero by 2050 and invest $1bn over the next five years in climate projects. The paper notes that “Rio does not produce fossil fuels and does not sell carbon”, but its Scope 3 emissions, those produced by its supply chain and customers, are very high due to the production of iron ore. Nevertheless, “Rio has refused to set goals for its Scope 3 emissions”. Another piece in the Financial Times reports on Volkswagen’s chief executive Herbert Diess telling the paper he wants to employ a young climate activist to “aggressively” challenge his company’s environmental policies. Reuters reports that the Catholic religious order, Jesuits in Britain, intends to cut fossil fuels from its $500m equity portfolio due to the failure by businesses to respond adequately to climate change.
Following BP’s net-zero announcement last week, the Washington Post reports that the oil major is withdrawing from “at least two trade groups” – the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Western States Petroleum Association – due to its climate policies. A piece in Bloomberg says BP’s climate plan “doesn’t add up” to net-zero.
There is also continuing coverage in the Guardian of the announcement that loans for Arctic oil drilling and coal mining will be phased out by the bank JP Morgan Chase, which it says is the “world’s largest financier of fossil fuels”. It says the decision is “a notable step for the bank”, which has put $75bn towards shale fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris Agreement. Axios asks “why big banks are breaking up with some fossil fuels”.
European countries must prepare their transport infrastructure for impacts of climate change or face hundreds of millions of dollars in repair costs, according to a new report launched by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), and reported by Reuters. Among the changes noted in the report are extreme weather, such as landslides and floods, as well as rising temperatures causing railway tracks to buckle.
The New York Times reports that following mockery by the US president himself, his administration has “unexpectedly” called off a project set to protect New York City from hurricane-induced flooding. Donald Trump had made derogatory comments on Twitter about the Army Corps of Engineers’ expensive proposal to build a giant sea wall, according to the paper. Bloomberg reports on a $100bn plan by the island-state of Singapore to protect itself from temperatures and flooding “way higher” than the Paris Agreement targets imply. In more regional news, Reuters reports that the low-lying Indonesian capital Jakarta has flooded for the second time this year.
Tighter restrictions could be placed on Japanese exports of coal power to developing nations “in an effort to deflect mounting international criticism over the nation’s energy policy”, the Japan Times reports. The announcement was made by environment minister Shinjiro Koizumi, who said the decision “brings Japan one step closer to achieving carbon neutrality”, according to the news site. Reuters notes that the Japanese government intends to launch a review into the issue by the end of June, and that the move comes after global pushback against Japanese support for new coal-fired plants in Indonesia and Vietnam, alongside new plants being constructed in Japan.
An opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Prof Frank Jotzo and Prof John Wiseman considers what they see as the inevitable demise of coal: “There is no doubt coal will disappear from Australia’s energy system, too. The question is just how quickly, and how messy this process will be. It is in the hand of governments to make the transition palatable”. Another piece in the same paper has comments by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull slamming his own Liberal party for their climate action and warning of a “catastrophic” future if Australia does not move towards net-zero.
A pair of opinion pieces published by PoliticsHome consider different strategies that they see as integral to achieving the UK’s net-zero target. According to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Teverson, “locally managed and properly funded national infrastructure” is required to convert the nation’s highly inefficient housing stock. “The task is clear. To reach zero carbon our most cost-effective strategy is one of seriously upgrading the energy efficiency of our national housing stock, starting with the fuel poor. It’s not the only tool in the box, but it’s an essential one,” he writes. A second piece by Labour’s Lord West says nuclear power will be essential to meet the nation’s clean power targets. “Our nation lacks a coherent future energy policy and our civil nuclear programme is in disarray. Nuclear power is an “infrastructure project” that we must get right. Our nation needs to re-enter the race and take back the lead that was so disastrously thrown away by successive governments,” he says.
The Daily Telegraph has published a piece suggesting the electric transport revolution “isn’t as green as you think” due to e-waste from the new cars. Carbon Brief has previously published an analysis exploring the lifetime emissions of electric vehicles, in response to misleading media reports on the topic.
Reflecting on pledges by the likes of BP to take climate action, an editorial in the Los Angeles Times is not optimistic about the impact such grand statements will have: “Of course, baby steps by a handful of oil-and-gas companies aren’t going to do much to combat overall emissions. Similarly, the Trillion Trees Initiative, which President Trump touted in his State of the Union address, won’t do an awful lot, either. In fact, it’s one of those fig-leaf solutions that offers a pretence of significant action against global warming while ignoring the most pressing problem — the burning of fossil fuels in the first place.” It concludes that “far, far more needs to be done”, particularly regarding the conversion of the energy system of renewables, and says while such a transition will be expensive: “It must be done before the supposedly most intelligent of the animal species manages through greed and wilful ignorance to propel the collapse of global ecosystems”.
Climate change played a “dominant role” in driving down rainfall from the South China Sea summer monsoon from the period 1964-81 to 1994-2011, a new study finds. The study uses modelling to assess the impact of both human-produced greenhouse gases and aerosols on changes to the South China Sea summer monsoon over the late 20th century. Greenhouse gas emissions may have weakened rains by warming the tropical Pacific, which is associated with weakened ocean-air circulation patterns, the authors say.