Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Spending review 'undermines UK green vision'
- UK aid budget cuts undermine trust ahead of COP26 summit, experts warn
- Joe Biden will go green in first hundred days president
- EU drafts deal to upgrade 2030 climate change target next month
- More than 60 Australian coal-carrying ships kept waiting to unload off ports in China
- Abandoning aid target sends the wrong signal before COP26
- Achievements and needs for the climate change scenario framework
- Antarctic ice dynamics amplified by Northern Hemisphere sea-level forcing
There is widespread coverage of the spending review announced yesterday by UK chancellor Rishi Sunak, with BBC News reporting that it has been “accused of undermining the prime minister’s ‘green’ vision”. BBC News says Sunak’s speech “barely mentioned the climate and “push[ed] ahead with a £27bn roads programme”. The news broadcaster adds: “Several environmentalists, meanwhile, applauded the chancellor for setting up an infrastructure bank to fund new projects such as offshore wind farms.” Coverage in the Guardian runs under the headline: “Rishi Sunak’s spending review ‘will fail to kickstart green recovery’”. It points to measures including the new infrastructure bank and a UK emissions trading scheme to replace the EU’s system after the end of the Brexit transition period, but adds: “[F]or the most part, experts said the chancellor’s spending review and infrastructure strategy failed to give the kickstart to the green recovery that economists have been advising and green campaigners have urged.” A second Guardian article looks at the national infrastructure strategy, launched alongside Sunak’s spending review, reporting: “[It] offered little new spending for green measures…The exception was a windfall for green transport, including £120m for an extra 500 zero-emissions buses next year and £950m to future-proof the electricity grid along motorways so that private investors can install high-powered charging hubs at every motorway service area by 2023.”
BusinessGreen looks at the details of the planned infrastructure bank, which “is to be accompanied by a new £4bn ‘levelling up fund’”. It adds: “Sunak again indicated how a mix of high- and low-carbon projects could be supported by the funding, including new bypasses, railway station upgrades, and traffic reduction measures.” BusinessGreen notes changes to the Treasury’s “green book” guidance on policy appraisal, which now says all government policies should be checked to see if they are a “relevant constraint” to the UK’s net-zero target. BusinessGreen also reports on the spending review “green announcements at a glance”. A third BusinessGreen piece reports the reactions from the “green economy”. It says the national infrastructure bank was “welcomed but failure to build on government’s new 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution is roundly condemned by green groups”. In other UK news, the Guardian reports that critics have branded prime minister Boris Johnson’s “jet zero” goal, for “a commercial transatlantic flight producing no carbon emissions by 2025”, as a “gimmick”, citing experts “who say technology alone cannot solve the impact of global aviation on the climate crisis”.
Alongside wider coverage of the UK chancellor’s spending review, there is also broad reporting of his decision to cut overseas aid spending from 0.7% to 0.5% of GDP. Climate Home News reports that the move “risks alienating allies in the developing world ahead of hosting COP26 climate talks”. It adds: “A commitment to spend £11.6bn on climate finance for developing countries over 2021-25 will be protected, according to an accompanying document. Nonetheless, the move went down badly with poorer nations, many of which are struggling to fund basic services as their debts mount during the coronavirus crisis.” In a comment for the i newspaper, environment reporter Madeleine Cuff writes that the move “threatens [the] UK’s glossy reputation as a climate leader”. The Times is among those reporting that foreign and development office minister Baroness Sugg has resigned over the decision to cut overseas aid. The Times says the chancellor announced plans for legislation to cut foreign aid, in a move “that could mean years of…cuts”, adding: “He said that it was the government’s ‘intention’ to restore the target ‘when the fiscal situation allows’.” The Daily Telegraph reports Sugg’s resignation and quotes former prime minister David Cameron saying the decision is “a political mistake because the UK is about to chair the G7 and important climate change negotiations”. It also quotes the chief executive of the Overseas Development Institute saying: “It is hard to reconcile these cuts with Global Britain and the UK’s imminent presidencies of the G7 and UN climate summits. They risk undermining the government’s international standing when the UK will be rightly calling on other countries to raise ambition.” The Guardian also reports Sugg’s resignation over the aid cut decision. It says: “A number of senior MPs warned Sunak he was endangering the government’s leadership role at a critical time for the world, including the British hosting of the UN climate change conference next year.”
US president-elect Joe Biden will use his first 100 days to “go green”, reports the Times, based on an interview with NBC News. Early measures promised by Biden include undoing Trump administration executive orders on climate change and the environment, the Times says. In his interview with NBC News, Biden says: “I will also be moving to do away with some of the, I think, very damaging executive orders that have significantly impacted on making the climate worse and making us less healthy, from methane to a whole range of things the president has done.” Australia’s ABC News also covers Biden’s plans for his first 100 days, featuring climate change as the first topic in its article. It says: “Biden has been very clear that one of his first acts as president will be to rejoin the Paris Agreement…He won’t achieve it in his first 100 days, but hitting a net-zero emissions target by 2050 has been another key cornerstone of the Biden campaign – and he says he’ll start that on day one of the job, by signing new executive orders to kickstart the plan.” Separately, Deutsche Welle has a feature on John Kerry’s appointment as Biden’s climate envoy, asking what it means for the environment. The piece says: “Kerry’s appointment was hailed by climate activists and scientists alike.” For Nature, a feature asks if Biden can “make good on his revolutionary climate agenda”. It says: “Although he faces a split congress, the US president-elect has levers he can pull in the government to advance clean energy and curb global warming.” In a comment for the New York Times, Lydia Millet argues that Biden is a “moderate” and that “in the realm of climate change, as the young know…moderation will be the kiss of death”.
The EU has drafted a deal on raising the ambition of its 2030 climate target to “at least [a] 55%” cut on 1990 levels, Reuters reports, up from the current goal of “at least 40%”. It cites “draft conclusions seen by Reuters” and due to be agreed by EU leaders at a summit on 10-11 December, adding that if the draft is signed off “it could make the EU the first major economy to submit a new climate pledge” under the Paris Agreement. The piece notes: “Coal dependent Poland has said it needs more analysis of the economic fallout before signing up to a tougher climate target.” A second Reuters article says Poland has been urged to “scrap a plan to merge state-run energy groups after they have shifted coal assets into a separate entity because it won’t deliver on EU climate targets”. The call comes in a report from NGO ClientEarth and thinktank Instrat, Reuters adds. Politico says Ireland “is falling short of its public commitments to combat climate change”, citing a report from the country’s Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, another Politico piece reports that EU climate chief Frans Timmermans “met virtually” with Greta Thunberg and other youth climate activists on Wednesday to discuss the EU’s common agricultural policy. The piece says: “After the call, Timmermans tweeted that they had agreed the agricultural reforms were of ‘crucial importance’ to Europe’s climate goals.”
China continues to delay coal imports from Australia, the Guardian reports, with some ships waiting to unload for several months. It quotes a correspondent for specialist media outlet Argus saying: “While much of the focus has been on stranded coking coal, it is worth noting that almost half of the Capesize vessels waiting outside Chinese ports were loaded in Newcastle, which is mostly a thermal coal port, with limited loadings of semi-soft coking coal.” Bloomberg reports that Australian prime minister Scott Morrison is trying to break the stalemate, with ships waiting to unload “more than $500m worth of Australian coal” outside Chinese ports. A piece in the Australian Financial Review says China is “paying through the nose to snub Aussie coal”. Separately, China Dialogue looks at plans to expand China’s fleet of coal-fired power stations, saying the country’s “coal-related CO2 emissions hinge on consumption, not capacity, so the [proposed] surge in new coal plants likely won’t lead to a dramatic increase in emissions”.
In a comment for the Times Red Box, former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon criticises the UK government’s decision to cut its aid budget from 0.7% – in line with a UN target for rich countries – to 0.5% of GDP. He says: “However bad this [Covid-19] crisis has been, the effects of climate change have the potential to be even more severe. That is why next year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow is so important for the world. It has the potential to be an historic inflection point in world history.” He continues by saying that the potential of COP26 will not be achieved “by default” and that is “why the UK’s leadership role as hosts of the COP, and the example it sets, is so important”. He adds: “The UK’s decision to abandon its commitment to the UN’s 0.7% target is the wrong message for the world…At a time when the world needs to increase the sum of climate finance available to tackle climate change, it would be the wrong precedent and provide a convenient excuse for other countries contemplating a similar decision.” Ban concludes: “All of us want to see the UK succeed in rallying the world in Glasgow next year but, as someone who shares that goal and believes in the UK’s leadership on this issue, I worry that the task will become harder if the decision is not reversed.” Writing in the Financial Times, UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab says that despite cutting its aid budget “[w]e will prioritise helping poor countries tackle climate change”, adding: “As we prepare to host the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow next November we are uniquely well placed to lead on this. Based on our example at home and leveraging our aid spend abroad, we will galvanise global action so leaders bring forward ambitious, game-changing commitments at COP26.” Raab concludes: “In 2021, as the world begins to recover from the pandemic, the UK will step up to the global plate, taking on the presidency of the G7 and hosting COP26. With a sharper strategic focus, the UK will continue to lead as a force for good in the world – even in tough economic times.”
A new “perspective” paper assesses the Socioeconomic Pathway (SSP)–Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) framework that combines alternative futures of climate and society, and assesses “how well this framework is working and what challenges it faces”. Analysing literature, community discussions and recent experience in assessments, the authors conclude that “the framework has been widely adopted across research communities and is largely meeting immediate needs”. However, “some mixed successes and a changing policy and research landscape present key challenges”, the paper says, and the authors recommend “several new directions for the development and use of this framework”. For more on the SSPs, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth explainer.
New research suggests that changes in the Antarctic ice sheet (AIS) through the last ice age were influenced by melting ice sheets in the northern hemisphere. Using an ice sheet model coupled to a global sea level model, the researchers show that AIS dynamics are amplified by northern hemisphere sea level changes. As a result of this “interhemispheric interaction”, the study finds that “a large or rapid northern hemisphere sea level forcing enhances grounding-line advance and associated mass gain of the AIS during glaciation, and grounding-line retreat and mass loss during deglaciation”.
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