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Daily Briefing

15.09.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Trump and Biden clash over US wildfires as campaign turns to climate change
Trump and Biden clash over US wildfires as campaign turns to climate change

News.

Trump and Biden clash over US wildfires as campaign turns to climate change

There is extensive continuing coverage in the US media of the wildfires devastating large parts of the west coast, with much of the attention focusing on sparring comments made yesterday by the two presidential candidates on the day Donald Trump visited the region. Reuters reports: “Joe Biden branded president Donald Trump a ‘climate arsonist’ on Monday for refusing to acknowledge global warming’s role in deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, while Trump blamed lax forestry and declared, ‘I don’t think science knows.’” The New York Times says that “climate change took centre stage in the race for the White House on Monday” following a “day of duelling appearances [which] laid out the stark differences between the two candidates, an incumbent president who has long scorned climate change as a hoax and rolled back environmental regulations and a challenger who has called for an aggressive campaign to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for increasingly extreme weather”. The Los Angeles Times focuses on Trump’s comments made during a presentation by California natural resources secretary Wade Crowfoot, in which the president said: “It will start getting cooler, you just watch.“ When Crowfoot said that science disagreed, Trump replied: “I don’t think science knows.” The LA Times adds: “The exchange came as Crowfoot emphasised the effect of warming by noting Death Valley has broken a world record with temperatures reaching 130 degrees. Trump raised his eyebrows and smiled, signalling he was impressed but not alarmed.” InsideClimate News focuses on Biden’s comments saying that he “assailed Trump for science denial…in an unprecedented move by a candidate to shift a US presidential campaign’s focus to climate change”. The outlet reports Biden saying: “He fails the most basic duty to a nation – he fails to protect us…From a pandemic, from an economic freefall, from racial unrest, from the ravages of climate change – it’s clear we’re not safe in Donald Trump’s America.” InsideClimate News also has a full transcript of Biden’s speech made in Delaware. The Financial Times notes “Mr Biden said that while the president might not be directly to blame for the wildfires, his disdain for climate change science had left the country poorly prepared to deal with them”. BBC News has the reaction of its North America correspondent Anthony Zurcher: “Despite Monday’s attention, the environment still ranks behind issues like healthcare and the economy for most Americans. It is, however, an important topic for younger voters – a group that Mr Biden, in particular, is eager to get to the polls in November.” The Guardian carries a liveblog of the two candidates’ climate comments, plus reaction. And Reuters has published an explainer about “how this year’s destructive US west wildfire season came to be”. [See below for editorials and opinion pieces reacting to the wildfires, plus Trump and Biden’s comments.]

Reuters Read Article
Facebook and Google announce plans to become carbon neutral

There is extensive coverage of the news that the Silicon Valley technology giants Google and Facebook have both pledged to become carbon neutral. The Guardian says they are “joining competitors Apple and Microsoft in committing to put no excess carbon into the atmosphere, both companies have independently announced”, adding: “But the details of the two companies’ ambitions differs greatly. At Google, which first committed to going carbon neutral in 2007, the announcement sees the company declaring success in retroactively offsetting all carbon it has ever emitted, since its foundation in 1998. It has also committed to being powered exclusively by renewable energy by 2030. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is: in 2017, Google became a ‘net-zero’ company, buying renewable energy to match its energy usage, but was unable to fully commit to eliminating carbon-emitting generation entirely. It’s that latter target that Facebook says it will now meet this year, when the company will become 100% supported by renewable energy. Facebook has also announced a further goal for itself, committing to net-zero emissions for its entire ‘value chain’ by 2030, including its suppliers and users.” The Financial Times says that Google is making “plans to ditch fossil fuels and acquiesce to a key demand from employees concerned about climate change…Google also announced on Monday that it had offset all historical CO2 emissions since its founding in 1998.” Reuters says: “The company’s new goals include bringing 5 gigawatts of renewable energy near some suppliers, funding tree planting beyond its offset needs and sharing data or forging partnerships with 500 governments around the world to try to cut 1bn tonnes of CO2 emissions annually by 2030.” BBC News’s environment analyst Roger Harrabin says: “The claim to have ‘offset’ all of Google’s historical carbon ‘debt’ needs scrutiny. The company tells me its offsets so far have focused mainly on capturing natural gas where it’s escaping from pig farms and landfill sites. But arguably governments should be ensuring this happens anyway.”

Meanwhile, MailOnline reports that Facebook has launched the “Climate Science Information Centre – a dedicated webpage on the site that collects resources from climate experts”. It adds: “The new feature collects resources from reputable climate experts, including the UK’s Met Office and the UN Environment Programme. The feature is like a climate version of the platform’s Covid-19 Information Centre, which was introduced earlier in the year to combat coronavirus-related misinformation.” [However, when Carbon Brief tried the link it was not working.]

The Guardian Read Article
Northern hemisphere breaks record for hottest ever summer

Scientists at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have announced that this summer was the hottest ever recorded in the northern hemisphere, reports the Guardian. NOAA says the quarter of June, July and August was 1.17C above the 20th-century average. The Guardian adds: “The new record surpassed the summers of 2016 and 2019. Last month was also the second-hottest August ever recorded for the globe. The numbers put 2020 on track to be one of the five warmest years, according to NOAA.

A separate Guardian article reports that “for only the second time in recorded history, five tropical cyclones are churning in the Atlantic Ocean at the same time”. It adds: “Louisiana and Mississippi residents were under evacuation orders on Monday as Hurricane Sally churned across the Gulf of Mexico, strengthening to a hurricane ahead of expected landfall on Tuesday, the US National Hurricane Center said.”

The Guardian Read Article
Europe's electricity could be 80% fossil fuel-free by 2030: industry group

Eurelectric, which represents European national electricity associations and leading national electricity companies, says that as much as 80% of the European Union’s electricity could be fossil fuel-free by 2030, regardless of whether the bloc faces a prolonged economic crisis after the coronavirus pandemic, reports Reuters. The trade association says in a new report that, to meet the EU’s 2030 climate targets, wind and solar capacity must double and “we must urgently remove the specific barriers holding back the progress on the ground”. Reuters adds: “Recently, restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic have delayed many projects and permitting procedures are slowing down progress. Electric car infrastructure also needs to be rolled out and the growth in coal imports needs to be stopped, the report said.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the “EU executive has been accused of ‘cheating’ on its 2030 climate plans by proposing to include carbon sinks provided by trees, soils and oceans in its emissions reduction goal”. It adds: “The European Commission will this week call for an EU emissions reduction target of “at least 55%” by 2030 compared to 1990 levels, according to a leaked draft seen by the Guardian. The proposal sets the stage for an intense political battle over the autumn to agree the target, intended to set the EU on track to meet a landmark pledge of net-zero emissions by the middle of the century. But critics say Brussels is guilty of an ‘accounting trick’ that makes the proposed 2030 target look higher than it really is. The row turns on the concept of ‘removals’, a reference to sinks that absorb more carbon than they emit, such as forests, soils and oceans.” The newspaper quotes Sebastian Mang, climate and energy policy adviser at Greenpeace: “This accounting trick by the commission would make any new target sound higher than it actually is.”

Separately, EurActiv has a feature headlined: “EU carbon border tax: How a French idea ended up in the limelight.” And EurActiv also carries a comment piece by Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for climate, energy and utilities, under the headline: “An EU 2030 climate target of at least 55% is not only necessary – it is also possible.”

Reuters Read Article
Australian government to use $52.9m funding to unlock more gas for domestic market

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has championed a “gas-led recovery” from the economic shock caused by the coronavirus, reports the Guardian. It adds: “Morrison will hold open the option of taxpayer underwriting for priority gas projects, streamlining approvals, or creating special purpose vehicles for new investment…Environmentalists are increasingly concerned that the coalition [government] is preparing to lock in fossil fuels for several decades at a time when it could be championing a green recovery after the pandemic.” The Sydney Morning Herald says the “Morrison government will open up new gas supplies and back the construction of a gas-fired power station in a mammoth new plan that aims to prevent an energy price spike for employers and households”. It adds: “In a sweeping intervention, the government will back the construction of a new gas-fired power station in the NSW Hunter Valley if energy giant AGL does not replace its Liddell coal-fired power station. The policy statement canvasses Commonwealth support for five new gas fields and more pipelines to transport gas to Sydney, Melbourne and other major markets that risk running low on gas in coming winters.” Separately, the Guardian reports that “some of the biggest players in Australia’s gas sector have made more than $6.4m in political donations over the past decade”. Commenting in the Guardian, Guardian Australia’s political editor Katharine Murphy says the move is “nothing but a gas-fuelled calamity”.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Trump refuses to do anything about climate change, even as California and the West burn

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reacts to Donald Trump’s visit yesterday to California, saying: “Trump’s myopic focus on forest management misses the big picture. Climate change is undeniably behind the worsening fires…And all of this is happening now. Imagine how much worse it could get as the world continues to burn fossil fuels and warm the planet…We have a president who is not just pooh-poohing the threat, he’s exacerbating the problem by aggressively promoting the use of fossil fuels…No, we really cannot sit and watch and hope for a cooler tomorrow or next year. California and Western states could rake the forests all day long, but it will be little help if the US and the world don’t do more to slash greenhouse gases and slow climate change.” In the Washington Post, columnist Philip Bump writes: “One reason Trump feels comfortable in rejecting climate change as an issue is that it has become increasingly obvious only after the issue became deeply embedded in partisan politics. The polarised fight over the need for face masks to respond to the coronavirus pales in comparison with the breadth and scale of the rhetoric on global warming. Trump’s approach to the pandemic was something of his own creation; his dismissiveness about climate change was inherited from his party and conservative media.” Also writing in the Washington Post, columnist Eugene Robinson says: “Despite this reality [of the fires], one of Trump’s most consequential acts as president was to withdraw from the landmark Paris Agreement committing all the nations of the world to limit global warming to a manageable level. It was a horrendous decision, given how little time we have to act, and how much damage we have to contend with.”

Writing in Newsweek, the prominent US climate scientist Prof Michael Mann says: “Nothing offers greater potential to raise climate awareness than the sight of biblical fires engulfing our communities and countryside, people’s homes, our forested environs. So the climate disinformation machine – the cogs of which include fossil fuel companies, dark money organisations, plutocrats like the Kochs and Mercers, and of course the Murdoch media empire and other right-wing media organisations – kicks into overdrive…Narratives…being spun by the Murdoch media, and spread on the internet by professional armies of online trolls and bots.” And commenting on MSNBC, Mann says that “we can’t afford another four years of denial of climate change”. In the Independent, Ahmed Baba says the reason why Trump is saying the things he says about climate change is simple – the electoral college: “Fires don’t first check voter registration rolls to see if these are Republican or Democratic homes before they burn them down. In fact, isolated, Republican-voting towns are also getting hit very hard right now. Why would the President of the United States take such an adversarial stance against his own citizens in the middle of a climate crisis? Because states like California, Oregon, and Washington don’t give him electoral votes – simple as that.” In a feature for the Financial Times, James Politi says that “the apocalyptic scenes of burning land stretching from California to Oregon and Washington state have provided an opening for Mr Biden and fellow Democrats to attack the incumbent’s record of rejecting the basic science behind climate change and pulling the US out of the Paris climate accords…But Mr Trump’s conservative base is showing no signs of a change of heart on climate change.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Wall Street Journal says: “Mr Biden’s speech shows that on climate, as on so much else, Mr Biden is no moderate. He’s adopted a climate policy that is far more extreme than prevailed in the Obama years. As he repeated Monday, he is proposing a vast spending and regulatory agenda to remake the US energy economy…All of this is more evidence that Mr Biden lacks either the desire, or the will, to say no to the political left. If we can borrow a popular phrase these days, it’s a matter not only of policy but of character.” Another editorial in the Wall Street Journal focuses on how “fires are adding to blackout risks as they strike solar plants”, adding: “The problem is that, in thinking about the climate 25 years from now, California’s politicians aren’t thinking at all about how to keep the lights on today.”

Editorial, Los Angeles Times Read Article

Science.

A meta-analysis of country-level studies on environmental change and migration

New research conducts a meta-analysis of 30 country-level studies on the impact of environmental change on migration. Most studies find that “environmental hazards affect migration, although with contextual variation”, the authors say, and that “migration is primarily internal or to low- and middle-income countries”. The strongest link between environmental change and migration is found in studies “outside the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, particularly from Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa”, the authors note, and “in studies of middle-income and agriculturally dependent countries”.

Nature Climate Change Read Article
Climate change increases predation risk for a keystone species of the boreal forest

Declining snow levels in North American boreal forests “disrupt cyclic dynamics” between predators and prey, a new study warns. Using detailed monitoring of snowshoe hare mortality, behaviour and prevailing weather, the researchers show that predation risk from coyotes increased during times of shallow snow. Maximum snow depth in the study area has decreased by a third over the past two decades, the study notes, and continued climate change-associated shifts in snow conditions “could lower hare survival and alter cyclic dynamics”. (Carbon Brief has previously covered another study on how mammals that rely on snow for camouflage – including the snowshoe hare – could struggle to adapt to climate change.)

Nature Climate Change Read Article
Extremes become routine in an emerging new Arctic

Rapid changes in the Arctic are seeing the region emerge into a statistically different “new Arctic” climate, a study suggests. Using five climate models, the researchers show “how the Arctic is transitioning from a dominantly frozen state” and then “quantify the nature and timing of an emerging new Arctic climate in sea ice, air temperatures and precipitation phase”. The results show that “Arctic climate has already emerged in sea ice”, while air temperatures will emerge under the RCP8.5 high emissions scenario in the “early- to mid-twenty-first century, followed by precipitation-phase changes”.

Nature Climate Change Read Article

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