Today's climate and energy headlines:
- South Korea follows Japan and China in carbon neutral pledge
- Australia defies international pressure to set net-zero targets by 2050
- 'Sleeping giant' Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find
- Global emissions peaked in 2019 as pandemic hastens energy transition – report
- As election nears, Trump makes a final push against climate science
- BP warns of volatile future for oil market as it returns to profit
- The absurd controversy over Joe Biden’s "transition away from the oil industry"
- Why ExxonMobil is sticking with oil as rivals look to a greener future
- The end of the eternal snows: Integrative mapping of 100 years of glacier retreat in the Venezuelan Andes
In another significant announcement from a major Asian economy, South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, the Financial Times reports. He has told the country’s national assembly the nation will “replace coal power with renewable energy and create a new market, industry and jobs”, committing to spending 8tn won (£5bn) on green stimulus following coronavirus, the newspaper states. (For more information on South Korea’s plans for a “green recovery”, see Carbon Brief’s tracker of commitments from major economies.) The Guardian states the commitment is part of the government’s “green new deal”, a “multibillion-dollar plan to invest in green infrastructure, clean energy and electric vehicles” and end its reliance on coal. It adds that Moon’s announcement is in line with a proposal made by his party before April’s elections. Nikkei Asia also has the story. Carbon Brief published a country profile of South Korea earlier this year, which outlines how it is responding to climate change.
Japan, which announced its own net-zero goal just two days ago, is not considering new nuclear power plants to help it achieve its targets by 2050, according to comments made by the government’s top spokesman and reported by Reuters. Instead, he said the nation will focus on renewable energy sources and existing nuclear plants, the newswire adds.
Another Reuters article reports that in China – the third Asian economy to have recently pledged to aim for net-zero emissions – climate minister Li Gao has announced plans for a nationwide emissions trading scheme during the period from 2021 to 2025. The article notes that the first phase of the “long-awaited” scheme had been expected this year. In a separate piece, Reuters quotes Gao accusing the US of breaking its word on climate change, continuing a “simmering diplomatic row between the world’s two biggest economies”.
Meanwhile, in the UK, the i newspaper reports on a “flurry of letters” to prime minister Boris Johnson this week from doctors, academics, religious leaders, young activists and politicians urging the UK to produce a fresh 2030 emissions strategy “as soon as possible”, ahead of hosting next year’s COP26 climate summit.
Following a string of climate pledges by the nation’s top trading partners, Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has stated he will not let other governments’ climate goals influence him, the Sydney Morning Herald reports. Morrison said he is not worried about Australian exports, 25% of which are fossil fuels, as four of the country’s top trading partners – China, Japan, South Korea and the UK – adopt net-zero targets, the newspaper notes. The comments came after a phone call with Morrison’s UK counterpart Boris Johnson, which has been represented in quite different ways in the two nations, according to the Guardian. While the official UK account of the phone call emphasises “ambitious targets to cut emissions and reach net zero”, there is no mention of “net-zero” in the Australian records, the newspaper says. Another piece in the Sydney Morning Herald quotes energy analysts warning that, for Australia’s coal and liquefied natural gas (LNG) industries, Japan’s net-zero goal could mean “diminishing demand in their most valuable market”.
Separately, the Guardian reports on work by energy and climate change analyst firm RepuTex suggesting emissions from Australia’s industrial sector are projected to increase by 77% between 2005 and 2030, despite pledges by the coalition government to tackle them. They warn that the nation will likely miss its current Paris Agreement target unless it addresses these non-power sector emissions from industries, such as mining and fossil-fuel production. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports on a “clash” between Australia’s pensions minister Jane Hume and pension fund managers who are keen to include climate considerations in their investments. Hume said the “mission of a super fund is not to change the earth’s temperature” and added the government would “refocus trustees’ attention to acting in the best financial interests of members”.
There is also coverage of the annual “Climate of the Nation” survey, commissioned by the Australia Institute thinktank, with the Sydney Morning Herald noting that Australians “massively overestimate” the contribution of fossil fuels to the economy. It notes that respondents, on average, think that gas mining and exploration makes up 8.2% of the workforce, whereas in reality it is 0.2%. The Guardian reports that based on this survey of nearly 2,000 voters, an “overwhelming majority” (80%) think that climate change’s impacts are already being felt. The Guardian also reports on a call from New South Wales environment minister Matt Kean, a member of Morrison’s Liberal party, for climate action, stating this should not be a partisan issue. Finally, another Guardian article reports that Australian broadcaster ABC has failed to adequately cover climate change in its reporting on fires, droughts and energy policy, according to a “confidential report” for the Australian Conservation Foundation.
A frontpage “exclusive” story in the Guardian reports that scientists claim to have found evidence that frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean are being released over a large area off the East Siberian coast. While the researchers stressed their findings were preliminary, the discovery of activity in these deposits, known as the “sleeping giants” of the carbon cycle, “raises concerns that a new tipping point has been reached that could increase the speed of global heating”, the newspaper reports. One scientist is quoted as saying: “At this moment, there is unlikely to be any major impact on global warming, but the point is that this process has now been triggered”. (For more on “tipping points”, see Carbon Brief’s series on the topic, published earlier this year.) The Times, which also has the story, notes the Russian and Swedish researchers cautioned that the results from their expedition would need to be “checked and confirmed before being submitted to a peer-reviewed journal”. Some prominent climate scientists have taken to Twitter to downplay the findings.
Separately, New Scientist reports on a new study finding that Arctic sea ice vanishing in summers by the middle of the century “as expected” under current warming trends could trigger “feedbacks” that bring warming on relatively short time scales.
A new report from research organisation BloombergNEF concludes that global CO2 emissions from power, transportation, industry and buildings peaked in 2019 at 31.9bn tonnes of CO2 equivalent, reports S&P Global Market Intelligence. This is the result of the “worldwide slowdown” brought about by Covid-19, it says. The analysis finds that “after dropping 8.6% in 2020, emissions will again tick upward through 2027, but will remain below 2019’s level and then decline roughly 0.7% per year through 2050”. Bloomberg’s own coverage of the New Energy Outlook report focuses on the prediction that green power is set to draw around $11tn of investment in the coming decades as the cost of renewables drops considerably.
The Trump administration in the US has recently removed the chief scientist at scientific agency the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and installed new political staff who have questioned climate change and clamped down on the agency’s communications, the New York Times reports. The move “threaten to stifle a major source of objective US government information about climate change” and gives an indication of how things will play out if Donald Trump wins the upcoming election, the newspaper states. Separately, the Wall Street Journal reports that, according to senior officials, Trump is considering issuing an executive order for an economic analysis of fracking in a bid to highlight “his support for the energy industry” in battleground states, such as Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, the worst fire season ever recorded in California continues and the New York Times reports that two wildfires in the south of the state nearly doubled in size overnight and forced hundreds more people to flee.
BP has returned to a “modest” profit of $86m (£66m) in the third quarter, but warns that Covid-19 has created a “challenging” environment for the company and the oil market as a whole, the Guardian reports. The newspaper notes that a combination of “investor jitters” over the industry and BP’s “bold climate targets” have caused the oil giant’s share price to drop to 26-year lows of 200p a share in recent weeks. The Financial Times states that following BP’s announcement of its net-zero strategy, investors “ have yet to be convinced by the company’s plan to shrink its exploration and production business and rapidly expand into renewables”. Murray Auchincloss, the company’s chief financial officer, tells the Times that it would take four to eight quarters of “constant delivery to start to prove our case” for the transition to renewables. Nevertheless, Bloomberg states the company’s slow recovery and small return to profit had “defied analyst expectations”.
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that BP intends to bid in the next round of offshore wind auctions in the UK next year.
Following Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s comments last week in a debate that he intends to “transition away from the oil industry”, Vox’s David Roberts writes about why the “controversy” around this statement is “absurd”. He writes that Republicans are trying to cause confusion about Biden’s plans for climate change and fossil fuels. “Republicans will lie about Biden’s plan and the mainstream media will search for something they can ding Biden for, to ‘balance’ all the negative coverage Trump attracts — but Democrats would be goofy to play along,” he writes.
A Guardian editorial calls for US readers to vote for Joe Biden and “dump Trump”, noting: “On climate change, Mr Biden would return the United States to the Paris agreement and give the world a fighting chance to keep global temperatures in check”.
The i newspaper has a piece considering what Amy Coney Barrett’s appointment to the Supreme Court will mean for climate change, noting that her “vagueness” when asked for her views on the issue “could have real world consequences”. It notes that future court battles over the legal rights of state and federal governments to take climate action are likely.
A “big read” in the Financial Times explores why, as other major oil companies shift away from fossil fuels, the US-based ExxonMobil is boosting production. The piece notes that analysts have said a target of fast oil-production growth and high-cost projects has “hobbled the company in recent years”, but Exxon’s response has been to “double down on oil and gas, plotting another huge surge in output”.
Separately, the Lombard column in the Financial Times looks at BP’s current progress as it seeks to recover from Covid-19-induced shocks and switch to green energy. “In reality, it is far too early to tell whether BP is performing in the way that matters, just as it is too early to tell whether it is transforming,” writes Cat Rutter Pooley. “It is cutting costs as it said it would, selling non-core assets as it said it would, and with last month’s $1.1bn acquisition of a stake in two offshore wind projects, investing in renewables as it said it would.” In the end, she says the company’s “new strategy is sensible. Whether it can pull it off is debatable”.
Glacier cover in Venezuela decreased by 98% between 1952 and 2019, new research finds. It will soon become the first Andean country to lose its glaciers entirely, the research adds. By recreating maps of Venezuela’s glacier cover stretching back to 1910, the research also finds that glacier retreat rates increased after 1998, reaching a maximum retreat rate between 2016 and 2019. The authors say: “These new maps should provide an essential tool for biophysical, ecological, and historical studies and a key reference for promoting awareness on climate change in the tropical Andes, where glaciers are intimately linked with cultural identity.”
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