Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Solar could provide 40% of US power generation by 2035, Biden administration says
- Wildfires burn in France and Spain after heatwaves
- China state planner vows crackdown on projects with high energy use
- Controversy surrounds Glencore’s stake in UK battery maker Britishvolt
- US lab stands on threshold of key nuclear fusion goal
- The Government must be frank about the cost of green initiatives
- Let’s heed the UN’s dire warning and stop the east African oil pipeline now
- Climate change a ‘code red’ for the Great Lakes
- Balance as bias, resolute on the retreat? Updates & analyses of newspaper coverage in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and Canada over the past 15 years
- The impact of US re‐engagement in climate on the Paris targets
- What is the surface mass balance of Antarctica? An intercomparison of regional climate model estimates
The US Department of Energy projects that solar power could make up 40% of US power generation across the country by 2035, an increase of more than 10-fold from today, according to the Hill. The piece says that this information comes from a memo released by the Biden administration citing a pre-publication study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. It identifies various strategies including clean energy tax credits, investment in the grid and transmission lines and increased deployment to low-income communities, the news website notes. CNBC states that, while the cost of solar has dropped by 70% over the last decade, “costs will need to continue to decline to meet these growth goals”. It also notes that Biden has called for a carbon-free power sector by 2035, “for which solar growth will be instrumental”. The $1tn infrastructure plan approved by the Senate last week will likely support solar power through investments in modernising the electricity grid, Reuters notes. However, it adds that the White House is aiming for tax credits and a clean electricity payment program for utilities, which may be included in another proposed $3.5tn spending package that the administration wants to push through. Separately, Bloomberg reports that the “first big test of Joe Biden’s lofty clean-power ambitions” may not be domestic climate legislation but how he manages a solar supply chain that is “being shaken by the seizure of imported Chinese panels”.
Across the Atlantic, Reuters reports on new findings by the thinktank Ember that show solar power supply in the EU during June and July rose to a record high in 2021, making up 10% of total electricity production. It adds that there were new records in eight EU countries, including Spain and Germany, as the production and use of solar panels increased. Bloomberg has a piece looking at the current situation in Spain, which has launched an auction for 3.3 gigawatts (GW) of new wind and solar farms after power prices over the summer increased due to rising costs for natural gas and permits to burn carbon.
Elsewhere, New Scientist covers a report commissioned by the UK government’s space agency which suggests that solar power beamed from satellites could provide the nation with “a continuous supply of green energy as soon as 2039”. The Times reports that China has begun work on Bishan space solar energy station in the southwestern city of Chongqing, part of the nation’s “quest” to develop orbital power stations that can beam energy from the sun to Earth. The South China Morning Post notes that the “revolutionary technology” will allow China to “send, and receive, a powerful energy beam from space in about a decade”. It notes that China “will put a 1 megawatt [of] solar energy station in space by 2030” and the capacity would increase to 1 gigawatt by 2049.
Fires in France’s Gulf of Saint Tropez and in the Spanish province of Avila are “another manifestation of dangerous global warming that’s already caused a long list of extreme weather events this summer”, Bloomberg reports. The French wildfire has already burned through 5,000 hectares and in Spain it has covered at least 15,000 hectares, the news website adds. It notes that the blazes come in the wake of a heatwave that saw one town in Spain reach a record-breaking temperature of 47.4C. The piece quotes Spanish ecological transition minister Teresa Ribera, who said fires are “something we are bound to live with as these are one of the most dramatic effects of climate change in the Mediterranean climate”. In the UK, the Times reports on a link between a rise in deaths in England and Wales and the heatwave that struck the nation in July.
In California, Reuters reports that the wildfire crisis escalated on Tuesday as resurgent strong winds fanned the Dixie fire, which has been raging since mid-July and is already the state’s second-largest fire on record. So far, 1,200 homes and other structures have been lost and up to 28,000 residents evacuated, with another 16,000 buildings listed as threatened. The newswire notes that the Dixie fire is one of many fires currently afflicting the western US, during “a highly incendiary summer that experts see as symptomatic of climate change”. Firefighters are working to save Susanville, a Californian city with around 18,000 residents, from the fire, according to the Hill. The Guardian has a piece on the Caldor fire, which “exploded in size on Tuesday” and ran through the town of Grizzly Flats in northern California.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that, according to a new report from the World Meteorological Organisation, wildfires in the southern Amazon and nearby Pantanal region last year were the worst on record. It says this was mainly due to a combination of drought and extensive deforestation.
In the Caribbean, Axios reports that tropical storm Grace, which has been causing heavy rain over earthquake-struck Haiti in recent days, is expected to intensify into a hurricane during the next two days as it moves west-northwest toward Mexico. The piece notes that it could intensify earlier but “forecasting such bursts of intensity – which are becoming more common with climate change – is quite challenging”.
The Hill says that US residents in places like Miami, Utah and Alaska are reporting that the “bleak predictions laid out in a new United Nations climate change report are more a reflection of the present and not just what’s to come”. It notes that many communities are already living with the consequences of rising sea levels, wildfires and higher temperatures. The Guardian has a piece on the “dire impact of extreme heat on outdoor US jobs”.
China’s state planner has said that China will curb the development of projects that use large amounts of energy and have high carbon emissions, reports Reuters. It says that the pledge came as the country “struggles to meet its climate pledges with many regions falling short of their targets for the year”. A spokesperson from the authority said at a press conference on Tuesday that nine provinces and regions in China had “increased their energy consumption on an annual basis in the first half of the year”, the newswire adds. Xinhua, a state news agency, says that, according to the spokesperson, China will “rectify deviations” in its effort to cut carbon emissions – a phenomenon which has been billed as “campaign-style carbon reduction” by top officials. China News Service, another state-run newswire, and My Steel, an industry news site, also have the story.
Separately, the Global Times, a state-run newspaper, reports that Chinese scientists have compiled “China’s first global carbon flux dataset based on high-quality data collected by the country’s first carbon dioxide (CO2) monitoring satellite”. Carbon Brief has covered the study in the China Briefing.
Elsewhere, People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, has an opinion piece written by Zhang Jianhua, director of the National Energy Administration. Zhang lists three key strategies to ensure that China will reach peak emissions and achieve carbon neutrality “on time”. The three points are to “firmly maintain strategic determination”, “vigorously strengthen scientific planning” and “seize the critical window period”. Finally, Jiemian News has an “exclusive interview” with Lai Xiaoming, director of Shanghai Environment Energy Exchange (SEEE), which supervises the trading of the national emissions trading scheme (ETS). Among other things, Lai says that the national carbon market is “actively promoting” the inclusion of institutional investors.
The Guardian reports on concerns around multiple corruption investigations into mining company Glencore’s operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which is home to the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, a crucial metal for electric car batteries. This comes as the company buys a stake in Britishvolt – a startup which is building the UK’s first large-scale battery factory in Northumberland – and agrees to supply the facility with cobalt, the newspaper adds. The piece states that campaigners have questioned how “ethical” this cobalt is, considering that Glencore’s business dealings in the DRC “remain under the shadow of a corruption prosecution in its home country of Switzerland and separate bribery investigations by the US Department of Justice and UK Serious Fraud Office”. The Times reports that Glencore becoming the world’s largest cobalt producer has come with “collateral reputational damage over how trading is conducted” in the DRC. The newspaper adds that Britishvolt says it is comfortable that Glencore’s cobalt will be produced from the company’s transition to using hydropower in its mining operations, “which is low-carbon and environmentally and socially acceptable”. Separately, the Financial Times has a piece on how “tech billionaires” are backing the northeast of England as a “green electric hub”.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that Zambia’s new president-elect, Hakainde Hichilema, has pledged to reignite the nation’s economy by taking advantage of soaring global demand for electric cars. Zambia borders the DRC and has large reserves of cobalt, and unlike its neighbour it has the capacity to refine the mineral on a large scale for battery manufacturing, the newspaper notes.
BBC News reports that the National Ignition Facility in the US “is on the verge of achieving a longstanding goal in nuclear fusion research”. Harnessing nuclear fusion, which is the process that powers the sun, could provide a “limitless, clean energy source”, the news website states, but scientists have never managed to achieve this goal. It says that a recent experiment suggested that the goal of “ignition”, where the energy released by fusion exceeds that delivered by the laser, is “within touching distance”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that investors are “getting serious” about nuclear fusion, which its headline refers to as “energy’s eternal grail”. “Long the domain of government research and international collaborations, private-sector fusion companies in North America and Europe attracted $300m in investment in 2020, about 20% of their historical total, according to the research group BloombergNEF. This year’s total may beat last year and 2019,” it reports. The piece also makes the link between this proposed technology and the world’s need for a supply of clean energy to tackle climate change.
An editorial in the Daily Telegraph reflects on the UK government’s new hydrogen strategy and uses the opportunity to question the wider costs of “green initiatives”. It notes that hydrogen is expensive compared to fossil fuels, “though that will change as new taxes are loaded onto coal and gas to meet CO2 targets and the cost of renewable energy continues to fall”. As the UK gears up for hosting the COP26 climate summit later this year, the editorial says that various measures are being “launched with a fanfare extolling their potential but without a price tag attached”. It concludes that “pursuing a strategy aimed at reducing carbon emissions and pollution is worthwhile if it is effective and does not disadvantage this country to no purpose”, adding that the government “needs to be open and honest about how much people will have to pay”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph also has continued coverage of the hydrogen strategy, with a story based on the news that the government is consulting on plans to make sure that all new boilers can run on hydrogen by 2026. For more on the strategy, see Carbon Brief‘s Q&A.
Separately, an editorial in the Evening Standard calls for a “charging point revolution” to help Londoners switch to electric cars.
A piece by veteran climate activist and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, Diana Nabiruma from the Africa Institute for Energy Governance and Omar Elmawi of the #StopEACOP campaign calls for an end to the east African crude oil pipeline that is set to run from oilfields of Uganda to the ocean ports of Tanzania. It cites the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report and UN secretary general António Guterres, who called for an end to “all new fossil fuel exploration and production” and told countries to move their fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy instead. “One of the first tests of whether anyone is paying attention will be if somebody rips up the plans for what would be the world’s longest heated crude oil pipeline,” the campaigners write. However, they state that – so far – the Chinese national oil company, French oil firm Total and the governments of Uganda and Tanzania are “pressing ahead, apparently putting the money that can be made ahead of the interests of the climate”. The piece cites the climate risks facing the African continent and says little has been done to compare the revenue generated from fossil fuels to the cost of these impacts. They conclude: “The IPCC report was full of deeply detailed computer models and high-level physics, but its bottom line was easy to understand: when you find yourself in a hole, the first rule is to stop digging. If ground is broken as planned next April on this pipeline, the failure will be all of ours.”
An editorial in the Chicago Tribune suggests that most of its readers may think of climate change as primarily an issue for Americans on the west coast who are wary of wildfires. “Midwesterners, think again,” it says. Following the warning last week that the new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report was a “code red” for humanity, the editorial says that “in many ways, it’s also a code red for the Prairie State” of Illinois. Among climate risks listed by the editorial are drought impacting the state’s crops and flooding and waterborne pathogens in other areas: “In Chicago, flooding has forced sludge into basements and unleashed swarms of sewer flies, a vision out of a horror film, except it’s real.” The editorial ends with a call for “US and international action on a massive scale, rather than feel-good public relations gestures”.
Chip Fletcher, a climate scientist at University of Hawaii at Mānoa, writes in the Hill that, after years of climate scepticism, “unable to deny the severe weather of the past two months, Republicans have capitulated on the subject of climate change”. He writes: “Willing to admit that Earth is heating because of fossil fuel emissions, in a twist that maintains the interests of their donors, Republicans are now claiming that quickly switching to clean energy will damage the economy.” He says that a majority of Republican lawmakers are instead arguing for planting trees, carbon capture and storage and expanding nuclear energy. Fletcher says that these methods alone will not be enough: “Republicans will continue to block meaningful progress on climate change with sincere sounding – but ultimately false – arguments.”
Finally in US-related comment, the New York Times runs a guest essay by Dr Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy, and Dr Friederike Otto, associate director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, on “what cutting-edge science can tell us about extreme weather”.
New research assesses the climate change coverage of 17 newspapers from five countries – the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada – over 15 years (2005-19). The study finds that “90% of the sample accurately represented climate change” and that “scientifically accurate coverage of climate change is improving over time”. The newspapers with “significantly less accurate coverage” of climate change are all “historically conservative outlets”, the authors note, and include Canada’s National Post, Australia’s Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, and the UK’s Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday.
The US rejoining the Paris Agreement “could potentially be the trigger for the world to fulfil” its long-term temperature goal, a new commentary paper says. The authors explore “what such US re-engagement, through both national and international channels, would have on the global picture by projecting future emissions and end-of-century temperatures in five scenarios combining different policy ambition levels in both the US and the rest of the world”. The re-entry of the US, plus its net-zero goal for 2050, could “serve as a stimulus to enhance ambitions in other countries”, the authors say. For more on US climate goals, see Carbon Brief’s country profile.
A new paper compares the performance of five regional climate models (RCMs) in simulating the near-surface climate and surface mass balance (SMB) of the Antarctic ice sheet. The SMB is difference between gains on the ice sheet from snowfall and losses through melt, runoff and evaporation at the surface. A positive SMB is the way the ice sheet can gain ice and offsets the losses from “calving” icebergs at its edges. The researchers find an average SMB of 2,329bn tonnes of ice per year across the models for 1987-2015, noting that “there is a large interannual variability”, but “no significant trend”. Mass loss from the ice sheet is “currently equivalent to around 0.5 mm per year of global mean sea level rise”, the authors note, “but our results indicate some uncertainty in the SMB contribution”.
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