Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Trump administration to begin official withdrawal from Paris climate accord
- Four in five EU coal plants are unprofitable - research
- Cross-party MPs hatch plot to ban fracking, with Queen's Speech vote facing chaotic amendments
- 'A year of action': COP president Claire Perry O'Neill talks up plans for 2020
- Exxon sowed doubt about climate crisis, House Democrats hear in testimony
- Climate change will cost even more than we think
- Humbled Justin Trudeau must redefine his political brand
- Marine ice-cliff instability mitigated by slow removal of ice shelves
- Local warming and violent armed conflict in Africa
In a long-expected move, the Trump administration is preparing the formal withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change, the New York Times reports, citing “three people briefed on the matter”. The paper continues: “Under the rules of the Paris Agreement, 4 November is the earliest date on which the Trump administration can submit a written notice to the United Nations that it is withdrawing. It would go into effect exactly one year later.” Reuters reports on a speech given by Trump yesterday, in which he “touted…his administration’s intention to pull the US from the 2015 international climate agreement”. It notes: “Withdrawing takes one year, which would mean the US would leave the agreement one day after the 3 November 2020 presidential election.” The Hill also has the story. A blog from the World Resources Institute says that since Trump announced his intention to leave the Paris deal two years ago “states, cities, businesses, universities, and others have joined coalitions” in support of the accord.
Meanwhile, the Washington Examiner carries an interview with Kelvin Droegemeier, “Trump’s most senior science adviser”, who it quotes saying: “Climate change is happening. There’s no question about it. The question is what are we doing about it…A strong economy is critical. We can’t upend the economy and expect to arrest climate change.” The Washington Post carries a comment from Robert Gebelhoff who writes that the president’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, chaired by Droegemeier, is “to no-one’s shock at all…overwhelmingly dominated by industry interests”. He continues: “[T]o have a council tilted so far toward industry voices only furthers the expectation that Trump’s decisions will fall in their favour or that their reports might ignore pressing scientific issues, such as the effects of climate change.”
In another widely reported move, the Trump administration has started legal proceedings against the state of California over its emissions trading scheme. The New York Times reports: “[T]he Justice Department said that the regional system created by California’s air resources board…was unlawful because it included Quebec, Canada. The Justice Department cited the constitutional prohibition on states making their own treaties or agreements with foreign governments.” The paper adds: “The suit is the Trump administration’s latest salvo in its battle with California over whether the state can set its own environmental policies.” It quotes Prof Robert Stavins of Harvard University saying that if the lawsuit were successful, the policy would remain in place, but its compliance costs would rise, due to the more limited geography and coverage. The Wall Street Journal reports allegations that the Trump administration is using the Justice Department for attacking political enemies. It adds: “Jeffrey Clark, the assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division, said the case isn’t political and that the department didn’t consult with the White House about filing it.” The Hill, Reuters, Los Angeles Times and Axios all have the story. In a comment for the Los Angeles Times, deputy editorial page editor Jon Healey writes that “the public clearly gains nothing from this lawsuit” and adds that “it serves one person’s interest”. Healey explores the legal issues and says “Trump…[is] trolling, but he may have a case”.
In other US climate politics news, NBC News reports on an “unlikely duo” of senators launching a bipartisan climate initiative in the US upper house. It says: “The senators are planning on filling the caucus with an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, who have not yet been announced.” The Hill and Axios also report the news. Separately, HuffPost reports on legislation introduced by House Democrats, on protecting “climate refugees”. It notes that the legislation is “unlikely to pass under President Trump”.
Some 80% of coal-fired power stations in the EU are unprofitable, Reuters reports, citing new research from thinktank the Carbon Tracker Initiative. According to the research, the utility firms that own the plants face losses of €6.6bn this year alone, Reuters adds, with RWE facing that largest hit due to its large coal fleet. The Financial Times also covers the research, saying: “Carbon Tracker said its findings are a warning to investors and policymakers to prepare for the closure of coal-fired power across the continent by 2030.” The FT notes that there are parts of Europe where coal plants remain profitable, according to the research. Plants in Poland could make profits of €631m this year, it says, thanks to subsidies and higher electricity prices “because the Polish government has not encouraged competition from lower cost renewables and is reluctant to import more gas from Russia”. A second Financial Times piece reports on efforts by Eon and RWE to respond to “climate demands”. It says that RWE has seen its share price rise more than 50% in 18 months “reflecting investor enthusiasm with the group’s new-found focus on renewables”.
A cross-party group of MPs will attempt to ban fracking in the UK via an amendment to the Queen’s speech vote later today, the Daily Telegraph reports. An editorial in the Sun says it is “a scandal that the fracking revolution was strangled at birth”. It says that “shale gas could power Britain cheaply for a generation, lower bills and create thousands of jobs”. [A National Audit Office report yesterday said that the government did not expect UK shale gas to affect market prices for gas, which are set internationally.]
The Telegraph adds that the Labour opposition is to table an amendment calling for a “green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth”. The Guardian reports that Labour will today “unveil plans to create a carbon-neutral energy system by the 2030s”, including insulation upgrades for every home in the country, the installation of 8m electric heat pumps and an expansion of wind and solar. Separately, the Times covers a report by consultancy Capital Economics, for Scottish Power, on the costs of installing the 18m heat pumps and 25m electric car chargers it says are needed to reach net-zero emissions. [These figures imply two heat pumps for every three homes and a car charger for almost every household, including flats.]
It is time to “stop talking and start acting” on climate change, says COP26 president and former UK climate minister Claire Perry O’Neil, according to BusinessGreen, reporting her comments at a conference hosted by the publication. Perry O’Neil said the UK government would not state its specific priorities for next year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow until after the COP25 meeting this December, BusinessGreen reports, though she did outline three broad areas for action. These are ensuring that all countries update their climate pledges, unleashing climate finance and developing nature-based solutions to reducing emissions, the publication says.
The Guardian reports on a hearing in the US House of Representatives, in which Democrats “laid out four decades of evidence that oil behemoth Exxon knew since the 1970s that the burning of fossil fuels was heating the planet and intentionally sowed doubt about the climate crisis”. The hearing came a day after the start of a trial in New York City over whether the firm mislead investors on the risks it faced from climate change and the policy that could be introduced to tackle warming, the Guardian notes. InsideClimate News also covers the congressional hearing, reporting that former Exxon scientists “told Congress of [the] oil giant’s climate research before it turned to denial”. Bloomberg and BuzzFeed News have features on the New York court case. And the Guardian has a comment under the headline: “Exxon has misled Americans on climate change for decades. Here’s how to fight back.”
“Economists greatly underestimate the price tag” of climate change, write Dr Naomi Oreskes and Prof Nicholas Stern in a comment for the New York Times. They continue: “The result of this failure by economists is that world leaders understand neither the magnitude of the risks to lives and livelihoods, nor the urgency of action.” The pair describe the findings of a recent report into why the costs of climate change have been underestimated: “A set of assumptions and practices in economics has led economists both to underestimate the economic impact of many climate risks and to miss some of them entirely.” These missing impacts include those from irreversible climate tipping points, they say. They conclude: “The urgency and potential irreversibility of climate effects mean we cannot wait for the results of research to deepen our understanding and reduce the uncertainty about these risks. This is particularly so because the study suggests that if we are missing something in our assessments, it is likely something that makes the problem worse. This is yet another reason it’s urgent to pursue a new, greener economic path for growth and development.” According to the Daily Telegraph, a report published by the Royal Economic Society says that the profession is “failing the world, including their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren”, by ignoring climate change. “The usually genteel newsletter of the 129-year old association, which typically opens with a memo from Nobel prize-winner Sir Angus Deaton and includes updates on research, industry events and campaigns, took a serious swipe at its profession’s own shortcomings in its October edition. In an article it accused economists of ducking the issue in favour of safer topics preferred by prestigious publishers.”
Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Kuper argues that green growth is a “myth”. He says: “Unfortunately, green growth probably doesn’t exist – at least not for the next couple of decades, during which time we’ll have to cut most of our carbon emissions to keep the planet habitable. Our generation has to choose: we can be green or we can have growth, but we can’t have both together.”
The Canadian election result has left the country “divided on energy and climate change”, says an editorial in the Financial Times. Prime minister Justin Trudeau has “won the election, but lost his mandate”, the paper says. “True, the Liberal’s victory is a heartening sign that a politician can win by advocating climate action…But in the next chapter, Mr Trudeau will have to redefine his political brand, which can no longer rely on being the fresh face of clean, idealistic politics.” The editorial continues: “Climate was the number one driver of Canadians’ voting intentions in the election. But in a vast, frigid country – still economically dependent on fossil fuels – the question of how hard to push climate-focused reforms is politically and geographically divisive.” It suggests that Trudeau “must try to accelerate the transition to renewables without abandoning swaths of the country to unemployment and fuelling a backlash against his green agenda”. The Washington Post carries a piece from Associated Press, which reports Trudeau saying that while Canadians want him to fight climate change, building the Trans Mountain oil pipeline remains a priority.
The risk of rapid losses of ice from Antarctic glaciers through “marine ice-cliff instability” (MICI) may be mitigated by a slower loss of the ice shelves that hold the glaciers back, a new study suggests. The MICI hypothesis suggests that the rapid collapse of ice shelves could expose the tall cliff faces of the glaciers behind them, which could themselves “collapse under their own weight”, the researchers note. However, if ice shelf collapse takes “longer than a few days”, which is consistent with observations, “deformation [of the glacier ice] is distributed throughout the cliff, which flows viscously rather than collapsing”, the study says. Factoring in the effects of such ice shelf collapse timescales in future ice sheet models “would mitigate runaway cliff collapse and reduce predicted ice sheet mass loss”, the study concludes.
A new study assesses the impact of climate change on the risk of violent conflict in Africa by isolating long-term change in local climate from day-to-day fluctuations in weather. Focusing on 2003–17, the study finds that “a two-standard deviation increase in average temperature corresponds to a 31% increase in conflict risk”, while rainfall changes “have no discernible effect”. Changes in local climate are more strongly linked to the continuation of existing conflicts, rather than the outbreak of new ones, the researchers say. The study notes that “while the findings of this study are in agreement with earlier results, one remaining shortcoming is that the analysis does not provide much insight into the specific mechanisms linking climate and conflict”.
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