Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Three Americans create enough carbon emissions to kill one person, study finds
- Gas crunch sends prices hurtling higher
- ‘Gathering storm’: How ‘rogue’ companies are buying up North Sea oil and gas
- China to further improve time-variant electricity pricing mechanism
- UK: Fossil fuel use falls to record low in 2020 as renewable generation surges
- US: White House wants US automakers to back at least 40% electric vehicle target by 2030 – sources
- A lot of politics lie ahead — but Congress negotiated a pretty good infrastructure deal
- Action is needed now to tackle climate threat
- Pathways to sustaining tuna-dependent Pacific Island economies during climate change
- Past abrupt changes, tipping points and cascading impacts in the Earth system
The average annual emissions from a single coal-fired power plant result in 900 human deaths, the Guardian reports. This is according to a new study published in Nature Communications on the “social cost of carbon” which calculates that cost of each tonne of CO2 emissions by “assigning an expected death toll from the emissions that cause the climate crisis”, the newspaper adds. It notes that, according to the study, one person will die prematurely for every 4,434 metric tonnes of CO2 released into the atmosphere beyond the 2020 rate of emissions. It continues: “[The research] illustrates the vast disparities in the emissions generated by people’s consumption in different countries around the world. While it takes just 3.5 Americans to create enough emissions in a lifetime to kill one person, it would take 25 Brazilians or 146 Nigerians to do the same, the paper found.” The New York Times also notes the inequality, adding: “Most of the deaths will occur in regions that tend to be hotter and poorer than the US. These areas are typically less responsible for global emissions but more heavily affected by the resulting climate disasters.” And Scientific American adds that curtailing emissions today “could prevent tens of millions of premature deaths over the course of the 21st century”. Axios carries a plot showing the CO2 emissions per capita in selected countries in its coverage. The Independent and Bloomberg also cover the study.
Meanwhile, the Independent covers a new study which finds that “heatwaves, droughts and other extreme events can boost lethal clashes between people and wildlife”. Sky unpacks a new report from the Climate Crisis Advisory Group (CCAG), which is calling for “urgent research on refreezing the Arctic”. The report says that the Arctic has experienced several “never before” events, the outlet reports, noting that the region has warmed three times faster than the global average. And the Hill reports that “enough ice melted in Greenland in single day to cover Florida in two inches of water”.
The Financial Times reports that “natural gas prices in Europe and the UK have soared to some of the highest levels on record”. Reuters reports that Europe’s “top energy companies” have “signalled confidence in a lasting recovery from the pandemic impact by drawing on higher oil prices to boost shareholder returns and reassure investors as they roll out risky climate strategies”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg carries a piece with the headline: “Big oil shows confidence the era of large profits is back.” And both the Times and the Financial Times note that Royal Dutch Shell has raised its dividend. Similarly, Reuters reports that British power generator Drax has increased dividends “as profits rise” and the Times reports that Anglo American has reported net profits for the first half of 2021 that are 11 times higher than those reported at the same time last year. Reuters adds that rising gas pricing are “encouraging US electricity generators to raise output from coal-fired units slightly this summer, providing a temporary reprieve for the beleaguered coal mining sector” – and a separate Reuters piece notes that oil supplies in the US shrunk to their lowest levels since January 2020. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that Origin energy has cut the value of its power stations by more than $1.5bn as “cheap power from renewables floods the national grid”.
Elsewhere, the Economist notes that demand for coal and natural gas is recovering after the pandemic, despite “grand talk” from European governments about a green recovery. Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the boss of Royal Dutch Shell has said that the company will not implement a new carbon reduction strategy – despite the Netherlands court ruling that the company must cut its emissions by 45% by the end of the decade. And the Times notes that Shell has defended its decision to produce oil and gas in the North Sea for use in the UK, arguing that it is better to find oil “in our own backyard”. The Daily Telegraph carries a piece entitled “Shell raises dividend again and hits out at court carbon ruling”. And the Times‘ Alistair Osborne has penned a comment piece entitled: “No need for strategy if you’ve got oil.”
In other fossil-fuel sector news, Reuters carries a special report entitled: “The recycling myth: Big oil’s solution for plastic waste littered with failure”. Meanwhile, the Times reports that the London science museum signed an exhibition sponsorship contract with Shell agreeing not to criticise the company and the Press Association, via the Belfast Telegraph, reports that Greta Thunberg has criticised the museum over the decision.
A new investigation by DeSmog examines the issue of private companies buying permits for oil and gas production in the North Sea. The publication finds that large oil companies, including BP and Shell, are selling offshore oil and gas licences – nearly one-third of which are being bought by private companies. It notes that oil and gas production accounted for by private companies has more than trebled over the past decade. However, it adds that, unlike large oil companies, many private companies “do not face public scrutiny, are not accountable to shareholder pressure, and have a lesser stake in the UK’s efforts to transition to a low carbon economy”. It continues: “DeSmog found owners that promote climate science denial, organisations accused of serious labour violations, companies with links to controversial projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, and state-owned fossil fuel companies with little incentive to help the UK reach its net zero goals, including China, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates.” The Guardian covers the finding under the headline: “Foreign control of North Sea oil licences threatens UK’s net zero goal.”
Meanwhile, Channel 4 News focuses on the revelation that the chief executive of Orcadian Energy – which owns licenses over “vast oil reserves in the North Sea” – said in now-deleted tweets that climate change is “fake”. The outlet adds that the tweets came from his personal account, but notes that the company claims to be working towards net-zero emissions.
China is set to “further improve” its time-variant electricity pricing to help ensure a reliable power supply, reports Xinhua. The state news agency cites an instruction from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state economic planner. The document says that the move can also help the country build a new energy system focusing on “new energy” and boost the system’s overall “utilisation efficiency”, Xinhua writes. Separately, Xu Zhengbin, an NDRC official, has said that the authority would strive to guarantee a sufficient coal supply – as well as stable pricing for the fuel – in “key regions” and during major events, reports My Steel, an industry news site. Xu called on the “further improvement” of “clean and reliable” systems to transport and store coal. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China will encourage coal mines to expand their production capacity in an effort to increase coal supply and reduce prices. And a separate Reuters piece notes that China’s coal-fire generators “have seen profits evaporate amid surging domestic prices, with imports unable to provide much relief amid an ongoing unofficial ban on buying cargoes from major exporter Australia.”
Moreover, People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper, reports that China’s national coal consumption increased by 10.7% year-on-year in the first half of 2021, reaching approximately 2.1bn tonnes. Enterprises “above the designated size” – a Chinese set phrase referring to the companies earning more than 20m yuan (£2.2m) through their main business – produced 1.95bn tonnes of raw coal during the six months, a 6.4% year-on-year growth, the outlet says. Meanwhile, China imported 140m tonnes of coal during the period, a 19.7% drop compared to the first half of last year. And the South China Morning Post carries an opinion piece by Zhao Bi – a researcher at the Centre for British Studies – entitled: “All foam, no beer? Why China’s carbon trading scheme critics have it all wrong.”
Elsewhere, a column from the Economist says that China “avoids mention of climate change” amid extreme weather, referring to the floods that have killed at least 99 people in Henan. The article notes that China’s “propaganda machine is on the defensive” and “has cast this terrible human tragedy as a ‘sudden act of nature’: an exceptional event that could not be planned for.” The Financial Times adds that the flash floods “have spurred a revamp of the Communist party’s emergency response plans as it prepares for the intensifying threat of extreme weather”. It notes that China “prides itself on leading swift and competent rescue operations following natural disasters”, but adds that the response was delayed because president Jinping was in Tibet during the floods. This week’s China Briefing by Carbon Brief features the disaster. Finally, the South China Morning Post reports that Chinese telecoms giants Huawei and ZTE “are leveraging technologies to help customers and suppliers cut their carbon footprint and embrace renewable energy”.
Government figures released yesterday show that renewable energy provided more power than coal and gas in the UK “for the first time ever” last year, the i newspaper reports. According to the outlet, sun, wind, biomass and water delivered 43.1% of the UK’s electricity last year, compared to 37.7% from coal and gas. The paper adds that wind power produced almost one quarter of the UK’s electricity last year, following the development of new offshore wind farms. Furthermore, lockdowns reduced national energy demand, allowing the power grid to run for long stretches without using coal-fired power at all, according to the paper. Meanwhile, BBC News reports that a tidal-powered turbine has started generating electricity off Orkney. It notes the makers of the turbine have called the turbine the most powerful in the world, adding that it has the capacity to meet the annual electricity demand of 2,000 homes for the next 15 years. BusinessGreen reports that the UK government has set out plans for building the UK’s first advanced modular reactor (AMR) demonstrator. It notes that AMRs are “typically smaller than conventional nuclear power stations, offering greater flexibility and which can also be built at a fraction of the cost”. And BusinessGreen reports that the Drax power plant in North Yorkshire says it has cut its emissions by 90% in under a decade by shifting from coal to biomass – and now produces 12% of the UK’s renewable energy.
Meanwhile, in the wake of the recent floods, the Daily Telegraph reports that the head of the Environment Agency is advising homeowners to move flood sockets higher up on the walls, lay tiles instead of carpets and fit “non-return valves” to stop water from entering properties. The Times also carries a piece on how to “climate-proof” your home – including suggestions from raising your house on stilts to changing your shower head. Elsewhere, the Economist reports that flooding in London is “sure to worsen” and the Evening Standard reports that glass barriers could be installed along Thames to shield the city from future flooding. In other news, BBC News reports that “access to funding, skilled workers and space on power lines are all slowing a shift towards renewable energy” in Wales. And BBC News has unveiled an interactive tool developed in collaboration with the Met Office, which uses UK postcodes and shows local projected changes in rainfall and temperature.
The White House has asked US automakers to agree to the voluntary target of 40% of new vehicle sales being electric by 2030, Reuters reports. “Sources said a voluntary target could be as high as 50% but emphasised that no agreement with the automakers has been reached and many details remain under discussion”, the newswire notes, adding that the Biden administration is set to roll out its proposed revisions to vehicle emission standards “as early as next week”. The Washington Post adds that the transportation sector is still the US’s biggest source of carbon emissions, noting Biden’s goal that half of all cars and SUVs sold in 2030 need to be electric. The Boston Globe, the Hill and Bloomberg also cover the story.
In other news, the Hill reports that the US Interior Department will review a proposed wind energy project planned off the coast of North Carolina. Elsewhere, the New York Times reports that wildfires, heat and flooding are making it difficult for power companies to operate as usual. And the Guardian reports on disruption caused by record-low water levels at Lake Powell – “one of the most popular motorised boating destinations in the US”.
Meanwhile, Scientific American and Vox have unpacked the new bipartisan infrastructure bill. In other news, the Wall Street Journal covers new methods used by the US military to cut its emissions. The New York Times carries a piece on the best and worst US cities to live in without a car – and a separate New York Times piece reports that winemakers in California are “trying to adapt to climate change”. A final piece by the newspaper explains the “complicated challenges” facing Chicago, involving Lake Michigan, related to climate change.
The Washington post carries an editorial on the new bipartisan infrastructure deal that has been agreed by the US Senate. According to the editorial, the deal shows that “maybe Congress can get big things done on behalf of the American people after all”. It adds that the content of the proposal is “equally encouraging”, highlighting the $15bn earmarked for “zero- and low-carbon transportation and the accompanying charging or fuelling stations”, as well as the $3.5bn for carbon capture technology. The piece concludes: “Amid all the wrangling, and despite the bill’s shortcomings, the point remains: The best should not be the enemy of the good. A partially paid-for measure that upgrades the US infrastructure – and, probably, enhances the economy’s long-term capacity to grow – would be pretty good.”
The San Francisco Chronicle also carries an editorial on the deal. “It’s more bad news for American democracy, which has received no shortage thereof lately, if it depends on a display of cooperation so rare and provisional as this week’s bipartisan vote just to consider investing in some of the nation’s dire needs,” it says. It also notes that to pass the deal, the Democrats had to “sacrifice”, many of the proposals to tackle climate change, among other measures, and it concludes: “At a time when few Republican lawmakers can be counted on to object to armed white supremacists taking their workplace by force, it would be dangerous to mistake it for a new dawn of bipartisanship.” Meanwhile, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson has penned an opinion piece entitled: “The infrastructure deal will do a lot of good. But it’s not proof of a healthy democracy.” And the Wall Street Journal has published an editorial entitled: “A not so grand infrastructure deal.” It says: “The GOP gets roads and bridges. Democrats a green bonanza and more.”
London’s Evening Standard has published an editorial discussing the findings of the recent State of the UK 2020 climate report. It notes that climate change “is a danger to our prosperity, health and way of life” and states that “we need to prepare for a warmer, wetter and sunnier climate in this country”. It continues: “Adaptation is a vital challenge for the government, yet a report published last month by the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) noted that the UK is not keeping up with increasing risk and is ‘less prepared for the changing climate now’ than it was five years ago… The government must urgently act to boost our resilience.”
Meanwhile, the Times carries a comment piece by Sir James Bevan – chief executive of the Environment Agency. Bevan highlights the racial, geographic and wealth inequalities inherent in climate change, and notes that “the climate emergency will only serve to widen the inequality gap as it brings more extreme weather, more damage to the environment and people’s health”. He adds that “deprived communities who have smaller carbon footprints and pollute less than wealthier communities often live in areas of higher pollution which are less resilient to the effects of climate change” and continues to discuss the Environment Agency’s plans to “level up” the environment. He says: “We must pay full attention to fixing the problems where poorer communities live – which tend to be worse and more harmful – and not just focus on areas which are better off and better able to lobby the authorities.”
In other UK comment, comedian Andy Parsons has penned an opinion piece in the Independent entitled: “You could power a wind turbine with all Boris Johnson and Allegra Stratton’s hot air on the climate crisis.” He notes that Stratton’s suggestions on how to reduce your personal carbon footprint “viral with almost universal condemnation”. He continues: “The ecological contradictions are everywhere…Johnson has said that no sponsors of COP26 will be allowed who aren’t fully committed to net zero, but the Conservative party itself received in the past year almost half a billion pounds in donations from those associated with the oil and gas industry.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times‘s “undercover economist” Tim Harford has a piece on how to redesign our cities to make them “heatwave-proof”, while a comment piece in the Los Angeles Times notes the link between raised temperatures and high crime rates.
New research investigates the potential impact of climate change on the tuna fishing industry in 10 Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The researchers find an average reduction in “purse-seine catch” from the waters of Pacific SIDS of 3% and 20% by 2050 under the RCP4.5 and RCP8.5 emissions scenarios, respectively. Under high emissions, this could translate to average annual loss in regional tuna-fishing access fees of US$90m and reductions in government revenue of up to 13% for individual Pacific SIDS, the study adds.
A new review paper assesses evidence on “tipping points” from the geological record, which “provides the only long-term information we have on the conditions and processes that can drive physical, ecological and social systems into new states or organisational structures that may be irreversible within human time frames”. The authors use “well-documented abrupt changes” of the past 30,000 years to “to illustrate how their impacts cascade through the Earth system”. For more on tipping points and palaeoclimate records, see Carbon Brief’s explainers.
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