Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Siberia heatwave almost impossible without climate change, study says
- Trump weakens environmental law to speed up infrastructure projects
- Oil giants including Exxon set first joint carbon target
- UK ministers plan ‘Green Investment Bank 2.0’
- China's economy rebounds after steep slump, US tensions, weak consumption raise challenges
- Joe Biden gives a big, bold, normal speech on climate change
- The hydrogen revolution is marvellous chance for Britain, if it does not throw away the prize
- Reaching 1.5 and 2.0C global surface temperature targets using stratospheric aerosol geoengineering
There is widespread coverage of a new study which, the Daily Telegraph reports, has found that the recent Siberian heatwave would have been “almost impossible without man-made climate change”. BBC News reports the same line, in coverage that led last night’s News at Ten on BBC One. Its story adds that the scientists behind the new findings describe them as “unequivocal evidence of the impact of climate change on the planet”. The Guardian quotes the report saying the human fingerprint on an extreme event “has rarely, if ever, been clearer”. The New York Times says the results found the heatwave to have been made 600 times more likely due to warming, under a headline that reads: “That Siberian heatwave? Yes, climate change was a big factor.” It quotes study author Dr Friederike Otto saying the event might have been expected only once in every 80,000 years without climate change and, even now, would only be expected to recur every 130 years. The Financial Times also picks up on this point, adding that according to Otto: “The silver lining is that this is still a very rare event. With today’s levels of greenhouse gas emissions, it will only happen once in a lifetime and if we manage to get to net-zero gas emissions relatively soon, these events will continue to be rare.” Associated Press notes that the rapid attribution study on the heatwave was carried out in two weeks and has been published ahead of peer review, but is based on peer-reviewed methods. [See Carbon Brief’s interactive map of earlier extreme event attribution studies.] The new findings are also covered by, among others, the Washington Post, CBS News, New Scientist, InsideClimate News, Press Association, the Evening Standard, Metro and Earther. Carbon Brief also has the details of the new research.
US president Donald Trump has announced changes to a Nixon-era environmental law as a “historic breakthrough”, reports BBC News. It calls this “a controversial move to allow [major infrastructure] projects to go ahead with less oversight”. The move will allow for a shorter review process for “mines, roads, pipelines and power plants” under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), which BBC News says is “considered the bedrock of environmental safeguards in the US”. The broadcaster adds: “Environmentalists have condemned the changes as a cynical attempt to avoid scrutiny and circumvent the communities most affected by pipelines and other projects.”
The New York Times says Trump’s move “unilaterally weakened one of the nation’s bedrock conservation laws”. It adds: “Revising the 50-year-old law through regulatory reinterpretation is one of the biggest – and most audacious – deregulatory actions of the Trump administration…The revisions, if they hold up in court, are expected to lead to more permitting for pipelines and other projects that worsen global greenhouse gas emissions.” The paper adds that because the move comes so close to the November election, it could be reversed by the signature of the next president and “simple majority votes on Capitol Hill” under the Congressional Review Act. The New York Times continues: “[I]n one of the most bitterly contested provisions, the rule would free federal agencies from having to consider the impacts of infrastructure projects on climate change. It does so by eliminating the need for agencies to analyse a project’s indirect or ‘cumulative’ effects on the environment and specifying that they are required to only analyse ‘reasonably foreseeable’ impacts.” The Hill also reports that the changes would “remove requirements to consider climate change before proceeding on a project”. Reuters reports: “[C]ritics say [the move] will sidestep the need for public input, especially from low-income and minority communities”.
Bloomberg reports the move by Trump as “seen helping polluters”. It adds that the decision was “cheered by developers, manufacturers and the oil industry”. The website notes that legal setbacks have thrown doubt on the Trump administration’s efforts to fast-track the approvals process of major projects such as the Dakota Access pipeline. The Hill and Reuters report that a court order for the pipeline to be shut and emptied by early August has been temporarily halted by an appeals court “stay”. The Hill quotes the new court order saying: “The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion.” Reuters says that Native American tribes will file an opposing motion by next week.
Oil companies including Saudi Aramco and Exxon Mobil have for the first time set targets to cut their own operations under the banner of the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative (OGCI), Reuters reports. It says the joint target set by the 12-member group is “eclipsed by more ambitious plans set individually by the consortium’s European members, including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total”. The newswire explains the new target would cut the carbon intensity of the firms’ aggregated upstream operations, per barrel of oil produced in 2025, to around 10% below a 2017 baseline of 23kg of CO2 equivalent per barrel of oil equivalent (kgCO2e/boe). It notes that “intensity targets mean absolute emissions can rise with increasing production” and adds that some OGCI members already far exceed the 2025 goal, with Aramco’s operations at 10kgCO2e/boe according to the firm’s 2019 annual report. Bloomberg also has the story, stressing that the new target applies to the firms’ own emissions, not including those of their customers. The website quotes former BP head Bob Dudley saying the OGCI target is “a start”, with its significance being that the goal brings together privately owned firms, such as Shell, with state-owned producers. The 12-member OGCI account for a third of the global oil industry, according to Bloomberg, and includes China’s CNPC and Brazil’s Petrobras.
In other oil market news, Reuters reports that US firm California Resources has become the latest oil company to file for bankruptcy protection following the slump in oil prices.
There is continuing coverage of news that the UK government may recreate a taxpayer-backed “green investment bank” (GIB), with the Financial Times reporting it could “help fund technologies and infrastructure needed to reach its legally binding 2050 net zero emissions target, according to the energy minister [Kwasi Kwarteng]”. The paper says Kwarteng “has told climate change campaigners of a ‘broad discussion’ in government” of the idea of recreating the bank, adding that this would come “only three years after the original GIB was privatised”. The Financial Times quotes Kwarteng speaking at an online event on Monday saying: “ I think that’s an ongoing debate within the government and I fully expect there may well be announcements in that regard in the not-too-distant future.” The Daily Telegraph also has the story.
In other UK news, Bloomberg reports that a group of “China-sceptic” Conservative MPs has formed within the party and “have another target in their sights – China’s involvement in British nuclear power”.
China’s economy returned to growth in the second quarter of the year, Reuters reports, but domestic consumption and investment remain weak. It quotes an analyst saying the recovery so far has been “very much a story of government stimulus-led recovery, which is very much focused on the industrial side”. [In June, Carbon Brief published analysis showing that China’s CO2 emissions had surged past pre-coronavirus levels thanks to growth in heavy industry, which was bouncing back faster than other sectors of the economy.] Further coverage by Reuters reports that the Chinese property market is heating up, with construction starts measured by floor area having risen 8.9% in June. Another Reuters story reports that Chinese oil refinery output hit a record in June. In other China news, Reuters reports the ongoing floods in the country caused by record-breaking rains: “Since the flood season began in June, 33 rivers in China have reached their highest levels in history.”
The Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reflects on presidential candidate Joe Biden’s speech on climate change earlier this week. She writes: “Biden sees the climate crisis as an opportunity for the country – and a way to show that he knows something about a 21st-century economy…In contrast to President Trump’s dystopia and fear-mongering, this was an optimistic speech.” Rubin notes Biden’s mocking of Trump’s comments about LED lightbulbs and adds: “By stressing optimism, technology and job creation, Biden puts himself in the can-do camp of presidents (eg, John F Kennedy, Ronald Reagan). By comparison, Trump looks small, selfish and out to lunch.”
Elsewhere, there is continued coverage of the election rivals’ climate plans, with the New York Times reporting on their “duelling environmental events”. While President Trump used an event to “blast away at one of the nation’s cornerstone conservation laws” [see news coverage above], Biden, says the paper, “took a different tack, releasing a $2tn plan to confront climate change and overhaul the nation’s infrastructure”. The paper says: “Biden is trying to win over young voters and supporters of his vanquished rival, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, by showing an aggressive awareness of climate change and promising to move urgently to combat it…The president, in contrast, is pretty much where he has been for more than a decade: intermittently acknowledging global warming and calling it a hoax; making spurious accusations that windmills cause cancer, energy efficient appliances are ‘worthless’ and zero-emissions buildings ‘basically have no windows’.” The Hill reports that Trump used his event to “attack” the Biden clean energy plan “while announcing environmental rollback”. And Climate Home News reports comments that Biden’s climate plan would “raise the bar” internationally with its support for cleantech innovation. Another piece for the Hill reports that Republicans see Biden’s plan “giv[ing] them an edge in the rust belt states heading into November”. Axios reports that Biden has been “offering hints” on how he would try to push his climate plans through Congress.
Writing in the Nation, Andrew McKormick, deputy director of the climate journalism initiative Covering Climate Now writes about how journalists should cover the issue during the election campaign: “[T]he climate crisis must be a priority for newsrooms this campaign season. This responsibility puts journalists in a potentially tricky spot, however. If the public deserves a fair-minded accounting of candidates’ positions, what’s to be done when one party, broadly speaking, denies the reality of climate change or favours only weak policies to address it? Here, journalists must make a vital but nuanced point: What a society does about climate change is inherently political, but clarifying that something must be done – and that it must square with the science – is not partisan.”
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, the paper’s international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues that the “stars are aligned for the economic take-off of clean hydrogen”. He continues: “Vast increases in scale will slash the cost of production over the next decade, mimicking the gains already seen at varying stages in wind, solar, electric vehicles and energy storage.” Evans-Pritchard adds: “The British public may not be aware, but this country is a world leader in what is about to become the dominant energy force of the 21st Century, so long as the Government does not throw away the bonanza.” He concludes: “The hydrogen revolution dovetails with Britain’s colossal gamble on offshore wind…Britain could achieve hydrogen independence and become a net exporter.”
A new modelling study assesses how solar geoengineering could be used in a “peak-shaving scenario” if the world follows an emissions pathway where global temperatures overshoot the warming limits of 1.5C or 2C and come back down. Using the Community Earth System Model version 2 (CESM2), the researchers find that limiting maximum warming with stratospheric aerosols “reduces the needed duration and amount” when “compared to steadily increasing injections needed for a high forcing scenario”. The modelling also indicates that injecting aerosols at four different latitudes could help reduce side-effects, such as “overcooling in the tropics, warming of high latitudes, and large shifts in precipitation patterns”. For more on solar geoengineering, see Carbon Brief’s detailed explainer.
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