Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Thousands of activists block London roads to demand action on climate change
- Climate change could wipe out $20tn of assets, Bank of England warns
- Europe car groups face huge profit hit to cut CO2
- Ineos warns it is likely to abandon plans to frack in England
- The Times view on climate protesters: Green growth
- Striking a balance between fear and hope on climate change
- Strategies to reduce the global carbon footprint of plastics
- Contributions of GRACE to understanding climate change
There is extensive media coverage of the Extinction Rebellion protests that began yesterday in central London and other sites around the UK and beyond. The main media focus is on the protest in London particularly at Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Waterloo Bridge where more than a hundred protestors were arrested by police. Reuters says: “Under sunny skies, activists sang songs or held signs that read ‘There is no Planet B’ and ‘Extinction is Forever’ at some of the capital’s most iconic locations. Roadblocks were due to continue night and day at each site and the demonstrators said the protests could last at least a week. The protests are being led by the British climate group Extinction Rebellion and are to involve demonstrations in 33 countries around the world over the coming days.” BBC News says activists “blocked roads and vandalised Shell’s headquarters”, adding: “Extinction Rebellion campaigners parked a pink boat at Oxford Circus and blocked Marble Arch, Piccadilly Circus and roads around Parliament Square. Protester Yen Chit Chong said: ‘This is our last best shot at survival.’” MailOnline says “London is braced for another day of climate change protests today from demonstrators, including some who spent the night in tents in the city’s parks”. The Times says the protestors are “intent on causing two weeks of traffic chaos in London by continuously blocking main roads and junctions”. It adds: “The protest group Extinction Rebellion claimed it was committed to ‘non-violent civil disobedience’ but announced that five of its members had vandalised Shell’s headquarters and caused more than £5,000 of damage — the figure that ensures a jury trial.” The Financial Times says the protests have “attracted high-profile supporters including Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, but also been criticised for its disruptive and often illegal tactics”.
The Daily Telegraph reports on a warning by Sarah Breeden, the Bank of England’s head of international banks supervision, that the “global financial system could be left reeling as $20tn of assets are wiped out by climate change, if institutions and companies fail to prepare now”. The newspaper adds: “The shock could be so severe that it could trigger a “climate Minsky moment”, where asset prices suddenly become worthless, derailing global growth, according to Breeden. Sudden and severe losses would be incurred by anyone holding so-called ‘stranded assets’. These assets could come in the form of ‘unburnable carbon’ in a climate crisis.” In the Guardian, Larry Elliot, the paper’s economics editor, also picks up on Breeden’s comments: “As one of the world’s leading financial centres, it is unsurprising that the Bank’s Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) has taken the lead in setting out what it expects from the banks and insurance companies it supervises. There will be those who will wonder – quite reasonably – why the Bank is merely saying it expects firms to act in ways that show they are taking climate change more seriously rather than forcing them to do so. But when the PRA says that firms are expected to act, what it really means is that they have no choice but to do so – and they have until October to do so. That’s entirely appropriate and not before time.”
The FT reports that “strict new CO2 emissions targets” being phased in across the EU next year will be the “sternest challenge facing Europe’s car industry”, adding “forget the global trade war, declining sales or even Brexit”. Under the rules, it says, carmakers must cut their average fleet emissions to less than 95 grammes per kilometre of CO2 by 2021 with a €95 fine for every gramme of CO2 that exceeds the target, multiplied by the number of cars sold that year. “Yet emissions are heading the wrong way,” notes the paper. “We are talking about a potential €30bn penalty for the industry,” says Volkswagen chief executive Herbert Diess. In an accompanying panel of analysis, the FT’s Patrick McGee says: “One unintended consequence of the EU’s 2030 emissions targets could be the death of the small car. Max Warburton, analyst at Bernstein, said the cost to equip small, low-margin cars with batteries and electric engines to meet ambitious EU CO2 targets ‘looks totally unaffordable’.”
Meanwhile, BusinessGreen continues coverage of the news first broken by Sky News over the weekend that “British Steel is in talks to secure a £100m loan from the UK government to pay its upcoming EU carbon emissions bill, having been barred from securing CO2 allowances under the EU-wide emissions trading system (ETS) due to Brexit uncertainty”. The firm had been using each year’s allocation of free allowances to cover compliance for the previous year, rather than saving them for use in the same year.
Ineos, the energy and petrochemicals company, has once again signalled its dissatisfaction with fracking regulations in the UK. The FT reports that the company – which is controlled by Britain’s richest man, Jim Ratcliffe – has warned it “could abandon its plans to frack in England unless rules governing the fledgling shale gas industry are relaxed” and replaced with a new “sensible” limit on the tolerable size of earth tremors: “Both Ineos and Cuadrilla, the only company so far to frack for shale gas in the UK, have been lobbying the government for a review of fracking rules that state a company must stop work if it triggers earth tremors of 0.5 or above on the Richter scale. The government has so far repeatedly rejected calls for any review…Ineos’s comments were made at a meeting on November 23 and were disclosed in a Freedom of Information request made by the Financial Times.” The Daily Telegraph also covers the story.
There is widespread commentary in the media reacting to the Extinction Rebellion climate protests. An editorial in the Times says: “Whatever commuters may think of the protests, they reflect the views of increasing numbers of young and not-so-young people. The 21st century is an age of unparalleled technological achievement and scientific knowledge. Despite this it does not follow that the fortunes of the young and succeeding generations are wholly bright. These are constrained by population growth and climate change.” However, it highlights a “weakness of the message of the protesters”: “The country mostly responsible for carbon emissions is not Britain, indeed it is a leader in cutting them. It is dominated by the world’s two biggest economies, the United States and China, with India rapidly following. If anything the protesters should be demonstrating outside the Chinese and US embassies, not blocking London’s streets…For their part, idealistic protesters should acknowledge that enterprise and a market economy are friends of the environment.” An editorial in the Independent supports the protests: “The attempt to ‘shut down London’, part of an ‘international rebellion’ planned in 80 cities in more than 30 countries, is a reminder of how other important issues have been eclipsed by Brexit…Our politicians should resist the temptation to follow the caricature in Tory-leaning newspapers and dismiss the protesters as ’middle-class climate zealots’. Nor should they assume that they are talking about an issue which has slipped off the public’s radar because it grabs few headlines…Non-violent civil disobedience can be justified when such important messages are being drowned out, as they are today; there is an honourable tradition of such action in the UK. Sometimes, it takes radical action to force all of us to sit up and take notice.” An editorial in London’s Evening Standard disagrees and says the school children striking over climate change have got the balance of protest right: “The truth is that they don’t really have an aim other than to cause chaos. If they want to make a difference, and win the support of Londoners for action on climate, rather than drive them to fury, they should learn from the intelligent call for change coming from our children.” The Times has published a “For and Against” article based on the views of Jem Bendell, professor of sustainability leadership at the University of Cumbria, and Matt Ridley, the climate sceptic Conservative hereditary peer who owns land where coal is mined. Ridley says the protests are “a temper tantrum by mostly middle-class protesters to bring London to a halt [that] will do nothing to help the climate and a lot to ruin ordinary people’s lives”. In the Guardian, Ben Smoke, one of the “Stansted 15” aviation protesters, says the aim of getting lots of people arrested is mistaken: “It should be about as many people as possible being brought on board. About making noise from all parts of society that’s so deafening, there is no option for those in power but to listen to our demands. It remains a mystery how wrapping up a whole new generation of activists in lengthy and costly court battles will achieve the changes we so urgently need.” In the Independent, Oliver Barnes writes that the “strategy is optimistic bordering on naïve, but its use of direct action, intent on disrupting the humdrum of daily life, has injected a refreshing realism into the discourse around climate change”. Elsewhere, the Financial Times, Quartz, DeSmog UK, and BBC News all have features where reporters describe the scenes and views from the streets where the protests in London are taking place.
The celebrated non-fiction writer and anthropologist Jared Diamond has reviewed the new book, “Falter: Has the human game begun to play itself out”, by veteran environmental campaigner Bill McKibben, in the New York Times: “I share McKibben’s views about these environmental problems. The practical question we face has to do with tactics: How do we strike a balance between fear and hope, and adjust our tactics to best reach a diverse target audience?…McKibben’s book is much more about grounds for fear, which take up some 18 chapters, than about grounds for hope, which take up five. Fear will motivate some people who are currently undecided, and increase the motivation of others already convinced. But in my experience most people need a strong dose of hope to be spurred to action. Why waste effort on a hopeless cause? One group that has learned this lesson is the cancer lobby, which succeeds at raising funds for research by stressing cures that may be just around the corner more than the grim statistics of the disease’s ongoing toll…My hope is that his new book will strengthen the motivation of those already sympathetic to his views. My fear is that it won’t convince many who remain hostile to them.”
Meanwhile, in the Boston Globe, the Democrat senator Edward J Markey has an op-ed headlined: “The Green New Deal is more than a resolution – it’s a revolution”.
On current growth trends, global life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of conventional plastics will more than treble by 2050, a new study says. The researchers compile a dataset covering 10 conventional and five bio-based plastics and their life-cycle emissions under various mitigation strategies. Their results show that global life-cycle emissions were 1.7Gt of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) in 2015, which would grow to 6.5GtCO2e by 2050 under its current trajectory. “However, aggressive application of renewable energy, recycling and demand-management strategies, in concert, has the potential to keep 2050 emissions comparable to 2015 levels,” the researchers find.
A new review article summarises the scientific advances made through the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellite programme. Since its inception in 2002, GRACE “has enabled monitoring of the terrestrial water cycle, ice sheet and glacier mass balance, sea level change and ocean bottom pressure variations, as well as understanding responses to changes in the global climate system”, the authors write. This data has allowed “assessment and forecast of a number of important climate trends, and improvements in service applications such as the United States Drought Monitor”, they note. The programme will be continued in the form of the GRACE Follow-On mission, which was successfully launched in May 2018.
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