Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Trump, Biden spar over climate change at debate
- Two-fifths of plants at risk of extinction, says report
- Shell to cut up to 9,000 jobs as oil demand slumps
- Has the world started to take climate change fight seriously?
- Boris Johnson must show global leadership on climate change
- Climate effects of China's efforts to improve its air quality
The first US presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden saw the pair “sparr[ing] over climate change and their respective records on the issue”, reports the Hill. It says that the debate moderator asked Trump if he believed that humans contribute to warming and, says the Hill, the president replied: “I think a lot of things do but I think to an extent yes.” Yahoo News also reports the comment, saying it is “the first time in his presidency [that] Donald Trump acknowledged that human-generated greenhouse gases contribute to climate change”. [Scientists think humans are responsible for 100% of recent warming.] Yahoo News reports Trump saying, in response to a question about climate action: “I want crystal-clean water and air. I want beautiful clean air. We have now the lowest carbon, if you look at our numbers right now, we are doing phenomenally, but I haven’t destroyed our businesses.” The Hill notes that Trump also defended his efforts to roll back car fuel economy standards, claiming it would make cars cheaper, even though “the cost-benefit analysis for the administration’s fuel economy standards found that consumers would ultimately pay $13bn more in the next decade”. The New York Times has a video of their exchanges on climate change. Reuters has key quotes from the debate, including on climate change, noting that Biden said: “The first thing I will do, I will rejoin the Paris Climate Accord.” The New York Times has a piece fact-checking the statements made by Trump and Biden in the debate, saying that Trump “demonstrated a willingness to lie, exaggerate and mislead” while Biden was “more truthful”. It says Biden’s claim to have brought down the cost of renewables “to cheaper than or cheap as coal and gas and oil” is “mostly true” and describes as “false” Trump’s claim that the Clean Power Plan – most of which was never implemented – was “driving energy prices through the sky”. The New York Times also says it is “false” to claim, as Trump did, that poor forest management is to blame for California’s wildfires. Bloomberg reports that “rejoining Paris would be easy for Biden”. But it adds that Biden’s climate plan would have to prevail over “Senate Republicans and federal courts reshaped by Trump appointees”. Grist says it had been 12 years since a debate moderator asked a question about climate change. ABC News has an overview of the presidential candidates’ positions on climate change and the environment, published before the debate took place. The Financial Times has a breakdown of “what you need to know” about energy and the US election, with “policy gurus” giving their takes on the implications of a Trump or Biden win. Carbon Brief has an interactive breaking down the candidates’ statements and party positions on the topic. In the Financial Times, former Conservative MP John Redwood writes that a Biden win could see the US “follow the EU’s environmental lead”, meaning a further “shake up” for investing.
In other US news, the Independent reports that “three-quarters of Americans want to know more about presidential candidates’ plans to tackle global warming”, according to a recent poll. The Guardian reports that Americans are more divided along political lines over science and the environment than those in any other part of the world, citing new research. Separately, Reuters reports that a court ruling has “cast doubt over a slew” of recent efforts to boost oil and gas production on federal land, by Trump’s Bureau of Land Management. InsideClimate News reports that the legal views of Trump’s pick for the supreme court, Amy Coney Barrett, “could undermine Massachusetts vs. EPA, the case ruling that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act”. The New York Times has a piece on the supreme court battle, saying Joe Biden is “wading cautiously into the fight”. Meanwhile the Hill and Axios report that the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency has written to California’s governor, arguing that the state’s move to ban the sale of fossil-fuelled cars by 2035 would require federal approval. A feature for the Guardian runs under the headline: “America’s year of fire and tempests means climate crisis just got very real.”
There is widespread coverage of a new report from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, which, says BBC News, finds 40% of the world’s plants are at risk of extinction. The broadcaster says: “The assessment of the State of the World’s Plants and Fungi is based on research from more than 200 scientists in 42 countries.” It adds that the report “shows opportunities are being lost to use plants and fungi to address global issues such as food security and climate change” and comes on the eve of a major UN summit, which “will press for action from world leaders to address biodiversity loss”. The Guardian reports that the main threat to plants is “the destruction of wild habitat to create farmland”, but it adds that climate change is “increasingly” also an important cause of losses. The Times and MailOnline also have the story. The Guardian has a map showing a “blueprint of areas that need additional conservation to stem biodiversity and climate crises”, according to researchers.
Meanwhile, the Independent says that 64 countries have “signed a global pledge aimed at halting the catastrophic decline of biodiversity” by pledging to protect 30% of their land and seas by 2030. It says the initiative “aims to build global support for a broader agreement on how to tackle the biodiversity crisis ahead of a UN summit”. But the paper adds that major countries, including the US, China, Australia and Brazil, have refused to sign the pledge, which includes a line saying “we are in a state of planetary emergency”. Separately, BBC News reports that Brazil’s government has sparked “anger” by “revok[ing] regulations that protect tropical mangroves and other fragile coastal ecosystems”. It adds: “Mangroves are an important protection against climate change.”
The oil company Shell is to cut between 7,000 and 9,000 jobs worldwide by 2022, BBC News reports. It says the move is “following the collapse in global oil demand due to the coronavirus pandemic” and comes “five months after [Shell] cut its dividend for the first time since World War Two”. The Financial Times also reports on Shell’s job cuts, which it describes as “part of a restructuring spurred by the pandemic and as the oil and gas major reshapes for a transition towards cleaner fuels”. The Daily Telegraph also has the story. For the Guardian, a worker in the North Sea oil and gas industry writes under a pseudonym that many fossil fuel workers “want to transition to renewables – but we need support”. Separately, Bloomberg reports that French oil firm Total sees oil demand peaking around 2030, adding that this is a more optimistic outlook than the one recently published by BP. [Carbon Brief analysis of BP’s recent outlook suggests oil demand has already peaked.] According to the Financial Times, several oil trading firms are “rush[ing] to invest billions into renewables” as they “speed up preparations for a dramatic shift in the world’s energy mix”.
Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports on a joint statement after a meeting of the G20 energy ministers, under Saudi leadership, at which they “rubber-stamped fossil fuel bailouts, while neglecting to mention climate change or the group’s long-standing pledge to end fossil fuel subsidies”.
In analysis for BBC News, chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt looks at China’s “surprise announcement at the UN General Assembly” to reach carbon neutrality before 2060. Rowlatt writes: “The commitment is a huge deal on its own, but I believe his promise marks something even more significant: China may have fired the starting gun on what will become a global race to eliminate fossil fuels.” An article for the Washington Post also looks at the implications of China’s pledge, citing several pieces of Carbon Brief analysis. And Science has an article asking if China can reach its 2060 goal.
For Bloomberg, Akshat Rathi has a piece saying “it’s time to stop confusing key climate terms”, in which he argues that the phrases “carbon neutral” and “climate neutral” are unclear and confusing. The piece says China’s recent pledge on “carbon neutrality” does indeed apply only to CO2 and not other greenhouse gases, according to Jiang Kejun, a researcher at the National Development and Reform Commission.
In a piece for the Times Red Box, veteran Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Soames argues that, despite recent rhetoric from prime minister Boris Johnson, the UK is “lagging – yes, on home insulation targets, but more importantly on carbon-cutting generally and on the high-level diplomacy that can unite our international partners on an ambitious course”. He continues: “If the government is serious about Global Britain, a climate summit is the moment to prove it…If the UK is to host a successful summit, the government must wake up to the challenge in front of it and realise that the diplomatic landscape is the toughest it has been.” In another article for the Times Red Box, Conservative MP Alexander Stafford writes that “hydrogen should be the foundation of a green economy”. He says: “A clear signal of the government’s commitment to hydrogen would encourage private investment…The UK is well positioned to become a pioneer in this technology and attract a significant proportion of the market.” In the Guardian, meanwhile, columnist George Monbiot writes about the upcoming UN biodiversity summit under the headline: “Johnson’s pledges on the environment are worthless. Worse is how cynical they are.”
China’s efforts to clean up air pollution from 2006-17 resulted in the northern hemisphere warming by 0.12C – and also affected rainfall patterns in East Asia, a study finds. During this period, China’s sulphur dioxide emissions declined by around 70% and black carbon emissions declined by around 30%. These air pollutants negatively affect human health but can also lower warming by blocking off incoming sunlight. “The success of Chinese policies to further reduce aerosol emissions may bring additional net warming, and this “unmasked” warming would in turn compound the challenge and urgency of international climate mitigation efforts,“ the authors say.
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