Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Siberian Arctic 'up to 10 degrees warmer' in June
- Dakota Access Pipeline: Judge suspends use of key oil link
- Britain’s nuclear future uncertain as relations with China fray
- Lagarde puts green policy top of agenda in ECB bond buying
- US offshore wind power spending has oil in its sights
- The Guardian view on a post-Covid recovery: not much building back greener
- Pandemic to spark biggest retreat from meat eating in decades
- Delayed emergence of a global temperature response after emission mitigation
There is continuing coverage of news that the Siberian Arctic reached record temperatures in June. BBC News says some areas were as much as 10C above average, adding that the heat “has helped fan wildfires in the region, resulting in the unprecedented estimated release of 59m tonnes of CO2”. According to Reuters, average temperatures in the region were more than 1C higher than in June 2018 or 2019, which previously held the record as the two warmest Junes ever. It adds that as of 6 July, there were 246 forest fires covering more than 140,000 hectares in the region, according to the Russian forestry agency. The New York Times reports that the intense Arctic fires “released more polluting gases into the Earth’s atmosphere than in any other month in 18 years of data collection”. The Independent reports that the fires in the Arctic Circle has surpassed the number recorded last year, adding that the estimated 59MtCO2 released was also higher than the 53MtCO2 figure for June 2019. Bloomberg, the i newspaper and EurActiv also have the story. Climate Home News adds that the unusual warmth is thawing frozen ground “harming indigenous people’s hunting livelihoods and destabilising buildings and roads”. Separately, a feature in National Geographic describes how a “climate-change driven heat wave has caused a rash of fires on land normally too frozen to burn”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that four people have been killed and 110 homes destroyed by forest fires in eastern Ukraine.
In other polar news, BBC News reports that scientists have received authorisation to shift the orbit of the Cryosat-2 satellite, so that it can work more closely with the Icesat-2 mission. The broadcaster explains: “One outcome from this new strategy will be the first-ever reliable maps of Antarctic sea-ice thickness.” InsideClimate News reports on research into the safety of polar bears faced by “life-threatening dangers like oil exploration”.
A judge in the US has ordered that the Dakota Access Pipeline be emptied pending another environmental review, BBC News reports, saying the order is a “major win for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe”. It adds that the Supreme Court separately blocked ongoing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline until “an arduous review” has taken place. Analysis within the article from environment correspondent Matt McGrath says it has been a “bad week for fossil fuel pipelines in the US”, coming shortly after the cancellation of an Atlantic coast gas pipeline project. Reuters reports that the judge in the Dakota Access case denied an emergency motion from the scheme’s owners to reconsider the order to shut and drain the pipeline within a month. It says the link is “the largest out of the Bakken shale region in North Dakota, one of the biggest oil producing patches in the US” and adds: “Without the pipeline, the region’s production capacity will be constrained.” The Hill also has the story. According to reporting from Associated Press, the Dakota Access case findings requiring more stringent environmental review “may challenge the legal footing for the Trump administration’s most momentous environmental rollbacks”. Analysis from the Washington Post says the recent pipeline rulings “dismay oil and gas industry, buoy tribal and environmental activists”. It says a number of recent legal defeats “have stymied three multibillion-dollar pipeline projects around the country, setting back President Trump’s three-and-a-half-year effort to expand oil and gas development in the US”. The Post adds: “The reversals demonstrate both the enduring power of environmental laws that the Trump administration has been trying to weaken and the tenacity of environmental, tribal and community activists who have battled the projects on forested land and in federal courtrooms.” The Hill also has a piece reflecting on the three pipeline cases this week while InsideClimate News reports that after the rulings, activists “sense a turning point in their war against the Trump administration’s effort to cement a fossil-fuelled future for the US”. Axios reports that the 2020 presidential election “could decide the fate” of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines.
Separately, the Guardian reports that “[o]ver 5,600 fossil fuel companies have taken at least $3bn in US Covid-19 aid”, citing analysis by the paper of “newly released data” from the US Small Business Administration. Meanwhile, another Guardian article reports that Australian banks have given loans worth $7bn to fossil fuel projects between 2016 and 2019.
The UK’s plans for new nuclear power plants could be left in “disarray” by “strained” relations with China, Bloomberg reports. It cites a row over Chinese firm Huawei’s involvement in the rollout of 5G technology and recent British government support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests, adding: “Without CGN [China General Nuclear], its money and its technology, the UK will be left with a huge funding gap that other investors don’t seem willing to fill.” The Daily Telegraph, in a story trailed on its frontpage, reports that UK business secretary Alok Sharma has “suggested that Chinese investment in Britain’s nuclear energy sector could be reviewed amid growing calls from senior Tories for a major reset in relations with Beijing”. The paper notes that CGN is “investing heavily in the Hinkley Point C plant under construction in Somerset”, with plans for another plant at Bradwell in Essex. The Times also has the story. Another Daily Telegraph article reports that backbench Conservatives are calling on the government to limit Chinese involvement in the UK’s infrastructure, under a headline saying: “Chinese involvement in nuclear power is a ‘ticking time bomb,’ expert warns.” Press Association reports that Boris Johnson has been “urged not to put relations with China on ice” by former chancellor Philip Hammond. The Times reports: “Rebel Tories have raised concerns over Britain’s exposure to China in nuclear power after the culture secretary hinted that the government is poised to change its mind on Huawei.”
A Daily Telegraph editorial is headlined: “Pull the plug on Chinese nuclear power.” It says a new network of nuclear plants “is needed”, but argues that this requirement should not have been “delegated to two other states”, with French firm EDF building Hinkley C with Chinese backing. It continues: “In any case, it is debatable whether a few huge nuclear plants rather than a larger number of small modular reactors are what we need. If the plug is to be pulled on the China deal, that is the way to go.” Writing in the Guardian, Nils Pratley argues there is “no business need at all now for a Chinese nuclear plant in the UK”. He says that UK plans for new nuclear have been overshadowed by falling renewable costs and adds: “If replacement nuclear capacity is still deemed essential for baseload purposes, the aim should be to build as few mega-plants as possible…[S]mall modular reactors look a nimbler nuclear alternative.” For Reuters Breakingviews, columnist George Hay writes of the risk to UK-China nuclear cooperation: “UK power planners, CGN and EDF will prefer to maintain the status quo. But given the rising tensions between Britain and China, the risk of a meltdown is rising.”
European Central Bank (ECB) president Christine Lagarde has, reports the Financial Times, “opened the door to using [the bank’s] €2.8tn asset purchase scheme to pursue green objectives, promising to examine changes to all of its operations in the fight against climate change”. Lagarde made the comments in a video interview with the Financial Times, the paper reports, quoting her saying: “I want to explore every avenue available in order to combat climate change…This is something that I hold very strongly.” This is the first time the ECB has committed to looking at such changes to the bank’s operations, the paper says, adding that using the “flagship” asset purchase scheme for green objectives would be a first for any central bank.
Investment in US offshore wind projects is set to rival that in offshore oil and gas drilling this decade, the Financial Times reports, citing analysis from consultancy Wood Mackenzie. The paper says some $78bn is to be spent on offshore wind against $82bn for oil and gas in the decade from 2020, adding: “In the decade that began with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster, US offshore oil development received $154bn of investment. The figure for commercial-scale offshore wind was zero.”
In other oil news, Reuters reports that OPEC member Algeria is to launch an economic recovery plan “to reduce reliance on oil and gas”, following the fall in revenue during the coronavirus crisis. Another Reuters piece reports that Jordan says its new 10-year plan “to expand renewable and oil shale resources will reduce its reliance on costly foreign fuel imports”. Separately, analysis from Reuters looks at the debt burden of major oil firms, which “locked in cheap borrowing rates to raise a record amount of debt in the second quarter of 2020 and boost cash reserves as a buffer against a collapse in revenues because of Covid-19”. It adds: “The dash for debt piles pressure on company balance sheets and the issue is particularly acute for BP and Royal Dutch Shell. Already burdened by high levels of borrowing, they also face the disruption of a major shift towards renewables and low-carbon.”
An editorial for the Guardian argues that there is “no sign” yet of the UK government delivering on its net-zero goal as part of the coronavirus recovery. It says: “If Boris Johnson wants to permanently shift the UK on to a trajectory to meet its climate targets, he must deliver a new zero-carbon infrastructure.” While the editorial says chancellor Rishi Sunak’s trailed announcement today to give £2bn for home insulation is “a small step in the right direction”, it says that it is “not as much as required”. The editorial continues: “The scheme is just for a year, and it is unclear whether the government sees this as a down payment on a long-term programme or whether this is a one-off stimulus.”
Separately, an “exclusive” report from the Guardian says that campaign group Plan B is launching a legal challenge against the government’s “clearly unlawful” green recovery plans. The group sent a letter yesterday, the Guardian says, which argues that the government should have assessed the overall impact of its Covid-19 stimulus plans on climate change. BusinessGreen reports that calls are continuing to grow for a wider green recovery that goes beyond the chancellor’s £2bn for home efficiency and £1bn for public buildings. Another BusinessGreen piece reports that four out of five energy professionals want a green recovery, according to the Energy Institute. A third BusinessGreen story reports that a number of trade bodies have called for the chancellor to launch a UK hydrogen strategy. A BBC News video says “NHS staff are calling on ministers to prioritise environmental issues as part of a ‘healthy recovery’ following the pandemic.” And an “exclusive” from the i newspaper says Liberal Democrat leadership contender Ed Davey will use a speech today to call for a £45bn “green recovery investment” to be handed to local authorities.
Meanwhile, a comment piece for the Times Red Box by former Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames argues that hosting the COP26 UN climate talks next year is a “crucial moment” for the country “both to build ambition but also for the UK to show itself as a serious global player” in the wake of Brexit. Soames continues: “In a world where Brexit has raised questions about the UK’s commitment to the global agenda, where international ties have been weakened by politicians such as President Trump and Jair Bolsonaro and now strained anew by Covid-19, Johnson’s government is going to need to strain every diplomatic sinew if it is to make a success of the G7 recovery agenda and the UN climate summit. His hand will be immeasurably strengthened if he can show that Britain is getting it right on both things – rebuilding out of Covid effectively, investing in jobs and rebooting economic growth while also putting the nation demonstrably on track to the government’s own net-zero target.” He adds that there is a “clear consensus” around the need for a green recovery. Soames concludes: “By investing in an economic recovery from Covid that delivers jobs and warm homes in our most needful communities and puts us on track for the national net zero target, Johnson and Sunak will not only be doing what is right for Britons, but also what is right for Britain as it enters this new stage in its history among nations.”
The amount of meat eaten per person is set to fall to the lowest in nine years, a Bloomberg feature reports, with the 3% decline expected to be the largest since at least 2000. The website cites data from the UN for the 3% figure, but adds that “analysts across the globe are predicting declines not just per-capita, but also for overall demand in their regions”. There are a range of factors behind the decline, it says, including stretched household budgets during the coronavirus crisis, less eating out and other country-specific drivers. The piece notes that in the US, 50% of all meat was consumed outside of the home. It adds: “There are hints of a structural change taking place, with millions eating more plant-based proteins because of environmental concerns.”
Taking strong and rapid action to tackle human-caused climate change could take decades until they lead to detectable changes in global surface temperatures, a new study says. The study looks into how long it would take different greenhouse gases, including CO2, methane and black carbon, to respond to stringent cuts in emissions. The authors say: “The inertia and internal variability of the climate system…will delay the emergence of a discernible response even to strong, sustained mitigation.”
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