Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Theresa May confirms UK will adopt tough new climate targets
- Extreme weather sends energy demand growth to nine-year high
- New Sizewell power station could add £6 to energy bills
- Japan adopts long-term emissions strategy under Paris Agreement
- US, Canada and Australia join forces to tackle metal shortage risk
- Revealed: Mobil sought to fight environmental regulation, documents show
- Britain has 30 years to cut emissions – after Brexit we must lead the world on climate change
- Connect the dots to see where Trump’s taking us
- Past and future climate change over the Himalaya–Tibetan Highland: inferences from APHRODITE and NEX-GDDP data
The UK’s prime minister Theresa May has confirmed that the country will adopt a “net-zero” emissions target for 2050, reports the Financial Times in a story trailed on its front page. In a letter to businesses, faith leaders and climate change campaigners, May says that “ending our contribution to global warming by 2050 can be the defining decision of this generation in fulfilling our responsibility to the next”. The commitment makes the UK the first major global economy to set a net-zero emissions target in law, BusinessGreen says. May will also launch a youth steering group on the transition to net zero, says Climate Home News, and will meet science and engineering students today. The government will lay a “statutory instrument” in the Commons today, says BBC News, which is “a tactic that allows it to be fast-tracked through both houses of Parliament if other parties agree”, adding: “Like any government decision, it could be overturned by future governments.” Environmental groups welcomed the goal, but expressed disappointment that the plan allows international carbon “offsets” to be purchased from developing countries if the UK fails to meet its target, notes the Guardian. Doug Parr, the chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, says such “loopholes” would need to be unpicked and the target date moved forward. Climate Homes News, Reuters, the Times, Sky News, CNN, HuffPost and the Evening Standard all have similar coverage, and the Daily Telegraph trails the story on its front page. BusinessGreen summarises the reaction from politicians and business leaders, including business secretary Greg Clark and CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn. And it also reports that the Welsh government has said it will bring regulations to the assembly next year to rewrite its current targets to align with a net-zero goal.
Meanwhile, the Press Association, BBC News and the Scotsman report that Scotland has missed its latest climate change target. “Although total emissions fell by 3.3% [in 2017], Scotland’s participation in the EU-wide emissions trading system (ETS) means adjusted emissions, used for setting targets, increased by 3.7%,” explains BBC News. And BusinessGreen reports that all candidates for the Conservative leadership race – bar Esther McVey – “have publicly confirmed they would introduce a net-zero emission target for 2050 if they are selected as Conservative Party Leader”.
Extreme weather drove growth in energy demand last year to its highest level since 2010, says the Financial Times, reporting on energy group BP’s “closely watched annual market review”. Energy consumption grew 2.9% in 2018, led by China and the US, despite modest economic growth and strengthening oil and gas prices. The rise resulted in carbon emissions climbing by 2% in 2018, faster than any year since 2011, says the Guardian, in the lead story on its frontpage, which also focuses on the links to extreme weather. Spencer Dale, BP’s chief economist, says the increase in the number of extreme weather events and increasing demand for energy could be a vicious cycle. “If there is a link between the growing levels of carbon in the atmosphere and the types of weather patterns observed in 2018 this would raise the possibility of a worrying vicious cycle: increasing levels of carbon leading to more extreme weather patterns, which in turn trigger stronger growth in energy (and carbon emissions) as households and businesses seek to offset their effects.” Dale adds that while 2018 saw another sharp pick up in renewable power such as wind and solar, continued growth in oil, gas and coal consumption meant that, overall, the world’s energy mix remained “depressingly” flat, reports Reuters. Bloombergand the Hill also cover the story, while Guardian environment correspondent Fiona Harvey has an analysis piece that points out that “we cannot afford many more years like this”. She adds: “Every year of high emissions adds to the stock of carbon in the air, bringing us closer to the 450ppm of carbon dioxide that scientists warn could tip us into catastrophe.”
In related news, Climate Home News reports that International Energy Agency (IEA) is developing a scenario for holding global warming below 1.5C that could be included in its influential annual outlook this year.
UK energy bills could go up by a few pounds a year to pay for a new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk, reports BBC News. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury will shortly issue a consultation document on the new financing scheme for the plant that has been agreed with EDF Energy. The plan would see consumers pay upfront before the plant is built to reduce overall costs, says the Financial Times. “The figure, while not finalised, is the clearest sign yet of what EDF plans to pitch to ministers as it tries to win backing for the project in Suffolk, after plans for a number of new UK nuclear projects collapsed or faced sharp criticism for their costs,” notes the FT.
Japan’s cabinet adopted a long-term emissions reduction strategy under the Paris Agreement yesterday, reports Reuters, which includes a goal to be carbon-neutral soon after 2050. “The policy includes plans to innovate in areas such as hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and utilisation, but did not give a specific target for phasing out low efficiency coal-fired power plants, or a roadmap for a carbon tax,” the articles says. The plan will be submitted to the United Nations before June 28-29, when Japan hosts a Group of 20 summit in Osaka, a government official said.
The US, Canada and Australia have launched an international effort to help find key minerals needed for new energy technologies, such as lithium, copper and cobalt, reports the Financial Times. The US state department and its counterparts in Canada and Australia have said they will work to help countries discover and understand their mineral resources that underpin the shift away from fossil fuels towards electric vehicles and battery energy storage. Frank Fannon, the US assistant secretary of state for energy resources, says “clean” energy technologies are being presented by some as a great hope for some poor countries, but that the damage done by development without sound resource governance “could be really damaging”. Carbon Brief published an explainer last year on six metals that are key to a low-carbon future.
The FT also reports that the “UK government has backed a hunt for lithium reserves in the country, as part of an effort to reduce reliance on foreign countries for the critical raw material needed in electric cars”. A £246m government-backed fund said it will sponsor a feasibility study – called “Lithium for the UK” – into the possibility of extracting lithium, a lightweight metal used in all lithium-ion batteries, in the UK.
In related news, BBC News has video piece about a scheme on a Portuguese island where electric cars charged by solar power return spare energy to the grid at night to power people’s homes – and Axios looks at “why Audi’s small electric vehicle recall matters”.
The US oil giant Mobil sought to make tax-exempt donations to leading universities, civic groups and arts programmes to promote the company’s interests and undermine environmental regulation, according to internal documents from the early 1990s obtained by the Guardian. “The documents come to light as ExxonMobil, formed when Mobil merged with Exxon in 1999, is now facing investigations by multiple state attorneys general over claims it failed to communicate known climate crisis-related risks to investors and the public,” says the article. The documents show the Mobil Foundation expected to see benefits to the Mobil company from the grants it gave out – a practice not-for-profit experts said may have violated federal law. These benefits included helping Mobil fight environmental regulation, funding scientists whose work had been “favourably received by the industry” and preparing Mobil to defend itself against lawsuits following oil spills and industrial accidents. Attorney and freelance reporter Sharon Kelly has an accompanying Guardian piece on “how Mobil pushed its oil agenda through ‘charitable giving’”.
Writing in the Independent, climate and energy minister Claire Perry comments on the UK’s target to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. “By 2050 the UK will have ended its contribution to climate change completely,” she says. “Read that back. It’s an almost unbelievable sentence to write and encapsulates one of the most ambitious and significant climate targets set by any major economy in the world.” The government’s decision to legislate for net-zero “shows here in the UK we are unafraid to lead the world in tackling the most important challenge of our times”, Perry says. “No one says this will be easy and of course there will be costs. But what is the cost to our health and environment if we do not avert the breakdown of our climate, and with it the ecosystems that support the way of life of billions around the world?”
“Just when you think you’ve seen and heard it all from Donald Trump, he sinks to a new low,” writes an exasperated Thomas L. Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times. Trump’s decisions leave you “speechless and wondering: Is he crazy, is he evil, is he maniacally committed to unwinding every good thing Barack Obama did, or is he just plain stupid?”. Trump is embarking on a policy to “revive all the dirty industries of the past and to undermine the clean industries of the future”, Friedman argues, which “utterly fails to connect so many dots that are right now harming our national security, economy, weather and competition with China”. These dots include how global warming is causing “weird weather extremes in all directions”, increasing financial costs for farmers, insurers and the military, and rising disaster relief needs in less developed countries, he says.
In related news, BBC News North America journalist Ritu Prasad looks at why so much of the US is “under water” at the moment.
The Himalaya-Tibetan Highland region could experience widespread warming and changes to its monsoons if future climate change is severe, a new assessment finds. Using climate models, the researchers found that the region’s monsoon and post-monsoon rainfall could increase by up to 50% by the end of the century under a high emissions scenario. “The Himalaya–Tibetan Highland is highly vulnerable to climate change,” the authors say.
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