Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Speed at which world’s glaciers are melting has doubled in 20 years
- US: Climate features as never before in President Biden’s first address to Congress
- Electric vehicles on world’s roads expected to increase to 145m by 2030
- Half of financial institutions fail to conduct climate analysis, CDP says
- EU industry calls for urgent carbon border tax as prices soar
- China: Low-carbon diets, is turning vegetarian a must?
- Poland clinches ′historic′ deal to phase out coal by 2049
- Levelling up must be global if we are to save the planet
- Could the German Greens win — and change European politics for good?
- Blairite climate targets will kill off support for the Tories' green agenda
- Quantifying forest change in the European Union
There is widespread coverage of a new study showing, reports the Guardian, that the melting of the world’s glaciers has “nearly doubled in speed over the past 20 years and contributes more to sea-level rise than either the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets”. In an article carried on its frontpage, the paper says that the finding comes from the most comprehensive study of glaciers published to date. It adds: “The study uses historical Nasa satellite data and new statistical methods to construct three-dimensional topographies going back 20 years and covering 99.9% of the world’s glaciers. The result is the most accurate and comprehensive assessment of the world’s 217,175 glaciers to date.” BBC News says glaciers have lost 267bn tonnes (Gt) of ice per year for the past 20 years, according to the study, with this total rising by 48Gt per decade. The broadcaster says the study is based on images from Nasa’s Terra satellite, launched in 1999, validated with independent data. Sky News says the study found “almost all the world’s glaciers are losing mass”. The Independent says 4-5% of all the ice held by the world’s glaciers was lost through melting over the past 20 years, citing the study’s lead author. This average masks much higher figures of around 30% for some glaciers in the European Alps, the paper adds. Bloomberg says the accelerating ice loss means “densely-populated parts of Asia [are] at risk of flood and water shortages if the trend continues”. The Times, MailOnline, Associated Press, Reuters, USA Today and Daily Telegraph also cover the new research. The Guardian carries a second article by Gaia Vince under the headline: “What we lose when we lose our glaciers.” Separately, the Press Association, via Yahoo News, reports: “Warm mountain winds ‘putting Antarctic ice shelf at risk of collapse’.” Carbon Brief also has an in-depth summary of the study’s findings.
US president Joe Biden has used his first address to Congress to “address the climate crisis as no president before him”, reports the Independent. The paper says a “significant chunk” of Biden’s speech was devoted to climate change, adding that he mentioned the topic seven times, including three mentions a climate “crisis”. It quotes Biden saying: “For too long, we have failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis. Jobs. Jobs. For me, when I think about climate change, I think jobs.” CBS News has a video of the remarks on climate jobs, which are also reported by the Hill. According to BBC News, Biden called his spending plans a “once-in-a-generation investment in America itself” and “stressed that [his American Jobs Plan] would be guided by the fight against climate change”. A New York Times factcheck of the speech and Republican response says Biden’s comment that the US is responsible for 15% of current global emissions is “mostly true”, but points out that “the US has put the most carbon dioxide pollution in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution began than any other country and still produces more emissions per capita than most other countries”. BBC News North America reporter Anthony Zurcher lays out “what [Biden has] achieved in 100 days”, including rejoining the Paris Agreement, cancelling construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and beginning the process of reinstating regulations rolled back under Trump. Quartz previewed Biden’s speech and said it would “focus on climate action”.
An editorial in the Washington Post discusses the “pro – and cons – of President Biden’s historic expansion of government” and says: “Climate change, future recessions and other issues may require emergency spending on a scale policymakers cannot anticipate. Though many in Washington have set aside concerns about the debt, the nation is still entering uncharted fiscal territory.” A Financial Times article looking at Biden’s first 100 days says: “Biden’s global warming targets…could prove to be a genuine paradigm shift.” But it adds: “climate experts say Biden will find it hard to meet his targets without putting a price on carbon”. It says: “Most of his green proposals involve putting more money into solar and wind, and boosting electric cars.” After incorrectly adding: “Expanding nuclear energy, which is declining in the US, features nowhere in his plan,” the piece quotes Michael Shellenberger saying: “Biden’s green ambitions are welcome, but lacking in detail.” The Daily Telegraph carries a comment on Biden’s first 100 days by defence editor Con Coughlin, which says: “The sense that Mr Biden is having the wool pulled over his eyes was also evident in recent climate change talks in Beijing between John Kerry, the US climate envoy, and his Chinese opposite number, which ended with Beijing promising to match Washington’s ambitious programme for reducing greenhouse gases by 50% by 2030.” [China did not promise to do this.]
In other US news, the New York Times is among those reporting that the Senate has voted to reinstate Obama-era controls on methane emissions. It adds that three Republicans joined Democrats in the 52-42 vote reversing the Trump rollback. Politico says the measure is now expected to move to the House for a vote, after which it would reach Biden’s desk for approval. The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Reuters, the Hill, Inside Climate News and NPR also have the news. The Hill profiles the three Republicans that voted to undo the Trump methane rule. The Los Angeles Times asks what the methane vote means.
Separately, the Hill reports that three Republican lawmakers have “asked the acting State Department inspector general to open an investigation into John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate change, over allegations he discussed Israeli military operations with Iran’s foreign minister when he served as then-President Obama’s secretary of state”. Another article from the Hill reports the comments of the head of the Environmental Protection Agency saying Biden’s climate goals are “an opportunity to lead”. Finally, the Guardian reports that Republicans’ “climate credibility [has been] hit by make-believe ‘war on burgers’ claim”. It recounts how a number of prominent Republican politicians have made “unfounded claims” about Biden’s climate plans and meat eating. The paper adds: “The unfounded claims, which appear to have somehow sprouted from a University of Michigan study on the impact of meat eating, do not reflect Biden’s actual proposals to tackle global heating, which make no mention of personal meat consumption. But they have dealt a hefty blow to Republicans’ latest efforts to present themselves as committed to taking on the climate crisis.” The Washington Post carries a comment by columnist Henry Olsen which begins: “President Biden isn’t a ‘Hamburglar,’ no matter what you might have heard. That doesn’t mean that red meat isn’t on climate activists’ menu.”
Several publications cover the latest electric vehicles outlook from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which finds that numbers on the road could rise from 11m to 145m by 2030, according to the Guardian – or 230m “[i]f governments increase their ambition for electric road transport to align with global climate targets”. The paper adds that the rise of EVs could wipe out 2-4m barrels of oil demand per day by 2030. Reuters reports that global EV sales rose 41% in 2020 , despite a 16% fall in car sales overall, according to the IEA. It adds that EV sales in the first quarter of 2021 were up 140% year on year. Australian Financial Review reports the figures under the headline: “Strong decade ahead for pandemic-defying EVs.” The Independent also has the story.
Half of financial institutions are failing to disclose climate risk information, according to figures released by CDP and covered by the Financial Times. It adds: “Only about half of insurance companies disclosed a low-carbon transition plan and only half of those companies were taking action with their underwriting portfolios, CDP said.” In other financial news, BusinessGreen reports a new briefing paper from ratings agency Moody’s, which it says “predicts [the] proliferation of net zero targets will increase credit risks and costs for carbon-intensive activities”. Elsewhere, Energy Monitor looks at the EU “sustainable finance taxonomy” for green investment and says: “[It] has attracted little attention beyond lobby group meeting rooms and sections of the financial community, but its real economy implications will, over time, be profound.”
European industrial groups have “stepped up calls” for an EU carbon border tax in the face of record prices on the bloc’s carbon market, the Financial Times reports. It says prices are now “within touching distance of €50 a tonne” of carbon dioxide, more than double their pre-pandemic level, and adds: “While the rally has been welcomed by environmental groups and some companies as a potential boost for the clean-up of European power and manufacturing, it has left some industries wincing.” The FT notes: “The EU is due to unveil proposals for a carbon adjustment border tax in June but its implementation is not expected before 2023 at the earliest.” It adds: “The proposed carbon border mechanism is initially set to target limited goods including steel, cement, power generation and some chemicals, officials told the Financial Times, imported from non-EU countries that do not have equivalent carbon pricing or emissions targets.”
Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly has a story debating the necessity of people turning vegetarian for “low-carbon diets” to help the country achieve its climate goals. The piece explains that it is “so difficult” for Chinese people to not eat meat before writing “a more acceptable way is to reduce food waste at the source”. Meanwhile, state-affiliated China Urban Energy Weekly focuses on the decarbonisation efforts of Wuhai, a far-flung former “coal city” in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region. Originally established to produce coal, Wuhai has stuck to “green development” since 2017 and is now striving to become a “zero-carbon city”, the article says. China Dialogue has an article looking back on the past two weeks of climate diplomacy in which, it says, China’s president Xi has “pledged to ‘control the growth in coal consumption’ from 2021–25 and to reduce coal consumption from 2026–30”.
Separately, the latest cycle of China’s central ecological and environmental inspection – which started earlier this month – has “exposed” 24 “typical cases” of “key problems”, reports state-run chinanews.com. Inspectors have “sunken to the grassroots” of eight provinces to carry out onsite survey, investigation and evidence-collecting, it adds. In one of the “cases”, the authority criticised the Xiegou coal mine in Shanxi Province for its “prominent problems of ecological damage”, according to state-affiliated Jiemian News. The report says the mine had failed to fulfil the environmental requirements caught by the last round of the central inspection and had resumed operation without permission.
Elsewhere, the installed capacity of China’s solar farms increased by 5.3 gigawatts (GW) in the first quarter of 2021, reports China Energy News. The state-run outlet cites figures from China Energy Administration. The authority noted that the total installed capacity had reached 258.5GW in China, the report adds. Finally, Reuters reports that Chinese officials are “conducting a check on data centres involved in cryptocurrency mining to better understand their impact on energy consumption, according to sources and a document seen by Reuters”.
Poland’s government and unions have signed a “historic” agreement with the coal mining industry on phasing out production of the fuel by 2049, Deutsche Welle reports. It says: “The agreement marks the first time that the powerful coal mining sector has agreed to reduce its presence.” The publication says the deal includes subsidies for coal workers and that it will need approval by the European Commission. It adds: “Environmentalists have said that the 2049 deadline is still not early enough.” Elsewhere, S&P Global reports that Chile is to close half its coal-fired power stations by 2025, citing comments from the country’s energy minister. It says the date is “15 years ahead of a deadline to eliminate the fossil fuel from [Chile’s] power mix”.
Tanya Steel, chief executive of WWF-UK, writes for the Times Red Box: “Our survival – along with the survival of the wildlife and nature that WWF has fought so hard to protect – rests on the decisions we make now. The next ten years will shape the future of life on our planet.” Steel adds: “The increased climate ambition we’ve seen in the past week from world leaders, sparked by the impetus of campaigning organisations like WWF around the world, has brought us closer than ever to that future. But while we welcome those commitments, we must be wary of promises without plans, and recognise that we cannot stabilise the climate without halting the destruction of the natural world.”
In the Washington Post, political scientist Tarik Abou-Chadi reflects on the German Green party nominating its first candidate for chancellor, Annalena Baerbock. He says: “Current polls consistently put it at more than 20% of the national vote, which in Germany’s increasingly fragmented parliament could be enough to lead a coalition.” Abou-Chadi adds: “If we want to understand the current success of the German Greens, we need to move beyond some of the narratives that exist around Europe’s Green parties. Commentators often portray them as one-issue parties, and any success they have is largely interpreted as a direct result of climate change rising on the political agenda. Green parties, however, are campaigning on more than environmental protection and climate change.” The Wall Street Journal chief economics commentator Greg Ip writes: “The rise of [Germany’s] Green party could further push both country and [Europe] toward the US model of aggressive government stimulus”. He adds: “The Greens have evolved from an antinuclear pacifist party to a pragmatic left-of-center group that regularly participates in coalitions federally and in Germany’s states, called länder. The party still has its hard-line environmentalist wing, but leadership is in the hands of its moderate wing, which includes Annalena Baerbock, the 40-year-old parliamentarian nominated last week to run as chancellor this fall.”
In the Daily Telegraph, climate sceptic columnist Ross Clark criticises the current UK government’s approach to cutting emissions, writing: “The public is generally in favour of efforts to reduce carbon emissions – but not at any price.” Clark writes: “Besides being sceptical of climate change, the prime minister [Boris Johnson] was once a strong critic of target culture. I should know, because as leader-writer on Johnson’s Spectator it was a regular part of my job to attack Tony Blair’s obsession with targets.” He continues: “Yet on climate change Johnson has eagerly adopted the Blair way of doing things. He reckons that by setting a legally binding target like he did last week – for a 78% cut in emissions on 1990 levels by 2035 – it will provide an incentive for private enterprise and public bodies to make it happen.” [It is a legal requirement for the UK government to set carbon budgets, drawing on advice from the Climate Change Committee, which recommended the 78% cut.] Clark concludes: “If the government wants to avoid falling victim to a huge public backlash once the cost of its zero carbon promises become apparent, it should be setting realistic targets. That would not include a legally binding commitment to achieve net-zero emissions by any particular date – only an aspiration to do so if investment in the required technology pays off.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in the once-climate sceptic Daily Express says: “Britain…has the chance to lead the world in efforts to prevent catastrophic climate change.”
In a “matters arising” article, a group of researchers respond to a 2020 Nature study that used satellite data to identify a spike in forest harvests in the European Union between 2010-15 and 2016-18. The authors of the new article point out several limitations in the original study. For example, the “selection of the two periods for comparison seems to be problematic”, the write, because 2016-18 “marks a time of global economic expansion and therefore higher market demand for forest products”. In addition, although the satellite data used in the study can pick up “sharp changes in the landscape from year to year, such as clear-cuts and large natural disturbances”, it “fails to capture the annual incremental growth in forest biomass”, the authors say. In conclusion, they argue that there are “inconsistencies in the proposal” that “sustained increases in the harvested area of EU forests lead to net atmospheric carbon emissions from these forests”. In a reply, the authors of the original study “provide a point-by-point response” and use the opportunity to “clarify several misunderstandings that led to interpretations of our study that were beyond our original intentions”. They argue that these clarifications “strengthen the main messages from our study – that is, that Earth observation and big-data analytics are very promising tools for a detailed and spatially explicit monitoring of forest resources…and that an increase in clear-cut harvest has been observed in recent years in the EU”.
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