Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK aims to cut emissions by 68% by end of 2030
- Biden names top economic adviser Deese to fight climate change, jobs crisis
- Denmark to end oil and gas hunt in North Sea in 2050
- Trump admin to hold Arctic refuge oil drilling auction before Biden takes office
- Time to make coal history
- Hysteresis of the Earth system under positive and negative CO2 emissions
- Examining the climate effects of a regional nuclear weapons exchange using a multiscale atmospheric modeling approach
The UK will aim to cut its carbon emissions by at least 68% from what they were in 1990 by the end of 2030, reports the BBC News. It continues: “The prime minister’s 68% target represents the UK’s NDC – its nationally determined contribution towards meeting the Paris Agreement…More policies will be revealed if the long-delayed energy white paper is published, as expected, before Christmas.” Prime minister Boris Johnson says the “ambitious” target would see the UK cutting emissions faster than any major economy so far, the outlet reports. He added: “Today, we are taking the lead with an ambitious new target to reduce our emissions by 2030 faster than any major economy…We have proven we can reduce our emissions and create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process – uniting businesses, academics, NGOs and local communities in a common goal to go further and faster to tackle climate change.“ The Press Association notes that “the UK was formerly covered by a European Union-wide climate plan, but is now submitting its own post-Brexit NDC”. The announcement of a 68% cut – trailed in various outlets in recent days – is “a significant increase on the current target of about 57% reductions”, says the Guardian. It adds: “The raising of ambition on tackling climate breakdown is intended to galvanise other countries to follow suit, as Boris Johnson prepares to co-host a virtual summit of world leaders on the climate next week.” The UN “Climate Ambition Summit” marks the fifth anniversary of the international Paris climate agreement, Reuters notes. The 68% target is “an ambitious pledge”, Sky News says, “given current figures show the UK has only reduced its emissions by 45% since 1990”. The Daily Mail describes the new target as part of “Boris’s green dream”. Climate Home News says the government “accepted the recommendation” from its independent advisor the Climate Change Committee (CCC). Yesterday, CCC chair Lord Deben wrote to the UK’s business and energy minister Alok Sharma to say a target of 68% or higher “would constitute a decisive commitment to a net-zero emissions trajectory, consistent with the Paris Agreement”, CHN explains. Deben added: “It would place the UK among the leading countries in climate ambition.“ CCC chief executive Chris Stark has a Twitter thread unpacking the CCC’s advice. The advice suggests that “electric cars will need to make up 46% of the UK fleet by 2030” to meet the target, says the Daily Telegraph. The Financial Times reports that comments of shadow business secretary Ed Miliband, who says the new target was only “the minimum we should aim for” and calls for more spending on a green economic recovery. He says: “As we move to this higher target, it is clear there is now a yawning gap between the government’s aspirations and its policies to deliver them.”
Campaigners have “broadly welcomed the move”, says the i newspaper. WWF-UK chief executive Tanya Steele tells the paper: “Of course we know we could go even further, but this is a huge step in the right direction.“ However, a Guardian piece published just before the announcement says environmental and development groups would be “disappointed” by the target as they were pushing for a 75% cut. The Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne also notes that “campaigners have urged the prime minister to go even further” with the target. Daily Express climate sceptic columnist Frederick Forsyth is also not impressed, though for very different reasons. He writes: “One cannot know with what narcotic Boris Johnson is stuffing his hookah, but it my be very exotic because it is producing one pipe dream after another.” BusinessGreen carries more reaction from green business groups and campaigners, as well as a comment piece from Gareth Redmond-King, head of climate change at WWF-UK. Both the Guardian and the Press Association have Q&As on the NDC and why it is important.
Meanwhile, the Guardian also reports that Whitehall’s spending watchdog has warned that the UK’s commitment to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is a “colossal challenge”, which can only be achieved with a radical reassessment of priorities. The paper continues: “The National Audit Office (NAO) has found that the UK is projected to fail to meet the government’s targets for the years 2023 to 2027 and 2028 to 2032, which were set to establish a trajectory for reducing emissions by 80% over the next 30 years.” The report says the net-zero target is significantly more challenging than the previous 80% pledge, which the UK is not on track the meet, the Guardian explains. The NAO warns that neither the Treasury nor Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) had collated information on the overall costs and benefits of the net-zero target, says the Times on page four of the paper. The NAO also says the government needs to spearhead a “concerted national effort” to achieve net-zero, reports the Daily Telegraph, which would be likely to involve widespread changes to people’s lives such as driving electric cars or eating less meat. The government will need to “engage actively and constructively with all those who will need to play a part – across the public sector, with industry and with citizens – to inject the necessary momentum”, the NAO says.
In other UK news, the Press Association reports that MPs have warned that the British steel industry has been forced to “send pounds to Putin” rather than support the domestic coal market. In a parliamentary debate yesterday, Conservative MPs “pressed the government to use UK coal to support the country’s steel industry instead of relying on imports from Russia and elsewhere”, the outlet explains. The Times reports that the Crown Estate has committed to eliminating its carbon footprint by 2030, including the emissions generated by customers using its properties, to help to tackle climate change. And, finally, the Evening Standard reports that Conservative MP and former Cabinet minister David Davis has warned Boris Johnson that he is “facing a Commons defeat on cuts to aid spending”. In an accompanying comment piece, Davis writes: “As a Foreign Office minister in the mid-Nineties, I saw dramatic changes following the fall of the Berlin Wall that could potentially be dwarfed in historical significance by the combination of Covid-19, climate change and the rise of China.”
US president-elect Joe Biden has selected Brian Deese – a senior advisor on climate change to former President Barack Obama and “key player in helping secure the Paris climate agreement” – to head the National Economic Council (NEC), reports Reuters. The appointment of Deese, who would be the youngest NEC director, “signals the incoming Biden administration’s intention to put climate change at the heart of its plans for reviving the US economy, the outlet explains. In a video posted by his transition team, Biden said Deese will be “the first (NEC director) who is a true expert on climate policy”. The New York Times says the appointment “defies pre-emptive criticism from some environmental groups, which have targeted Mr Deese for his work in recent years as the sustainability director for the asset-management giant BlackRock”. Politico explains that “climate change activists who helped rally progressive voters behind Joe Biden” are “insisting Biden reject anyone for posts in his administration who previously worked with fossil fuel companies or Wall Street firms that invested in coal, oil or natural gas”. (In 2017, Carbon Brief published an in-depth interview with Deese.)
Meanwhile, Reuters also has a “factbox” piece on the “important picks and top contenders for prominent positions” in the Biden administration. And the New York Times looks at the leading candidates for the energy and climate-related positions in the new administration. Writing in the Washington Post, Jared Bernstein explains why he is “going into the Biden administration as a member of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers”. While dealing with Covid-19 is the “first step of the agenda”, he says, the “next step is building an economy on the other side of the crisis that’s far more resilient to shocks from pandemics to climate-change-induced floods and fires”. A Financial Times “Energy Source” column looks at what Biden’s international energy agenda might look like. This includes both “rejoining” and “policing” the Paris Agreement, the column says, as well as “hold[ing] China accountable for coal investments through its Belt and Road programme”. And Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson writes that “Biden has to make climate action his most important legacy. He really has no choice.”
Denmark’s government yesterday agreed to put an end to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in the North Sea by 2050, as well as cancel its latest licensing round, reports Reuters. It continues: “The future of Denmark’s oil and gas operations in the North Sea has been a political issue after the Nordic country agreed last year on one of the world’s most ambitious climate targets of reducing emissions by 70% by 2030 and being climate neutral in 2050. The deal agreed by lawmakers late on Thursday will cancel a planned eighth licensing round and any future tenders, while also making 2050 the last year in which to extract fossil fuels in the North Sea.” Dan Jorgensen, Danish minister for climate, energy and utilities, tells the Financial Times that “we will now follow a different path…It wouldn’t be in line with our ambition to be climate neutral in 2050 to still explore, produce and sell fossil fuels”. He added that he hoped to “lead the way by example”, spurring other countries to also phase-out fossil fuel production.
Meanwhile, the Times reports that “oil prices edged higher yesterday after the Opec cartel of big producers and allies including Russia agreed to raise output by only 500,000 barrels per day from January”. Reuters columnist Clyde Russell says the deal “seems sensible and has reasonable aims, but will actually be difficult to pull off in reality”.
The Trump administration will issue a sale notice for oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) next week, reports Reuters, “putting it on track to hold an auction shortly before president-elect Joe Biden takes office”. The outlet continues: “The notice will be published next week and a sale will be held on 6 January via video livestream, the US Bureau of Land Management said in a statement. Biden, a Democrat who is opposed to drilling in the area, will assume the presidency on 20 January.” The announcement of a sale date comes just 16 days after the bureau released a “call for nominations”, notes the New York Times, which allowed oil companies and others to detail which tracts of land in the refuge were of interest for drilling. The paper adds: “The announcement, which came from the bureau’s Alaska offices, did not mention why the timetable had been accelerated. But the Trump administration has made no secret of its desire to sell drilling rights in the refuge before leaving office.” The Independent notes that this month is the 60th anniversary of the refuge being established by president Dwight Eisenhower. Bloomberg reports the comments of Chad Padgett, Alaska director of the Bureau of Land Management, in a news release. He said: “Congress directed us to hold lease sales in the ANWR coastal plain, and we have taken a significant step in announcing the first sale…Oil and gas from the coastal plain is an important resource for meeting our nation’s long-term energy demands and will help create jobs and economic opportunities.” Axios says: “The procedural step would make it harder for president-elect Joe Biden to thwart drilling in the region, even though any actual development is years away.” And the Hill adds: “On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to ‘permanently’ protect the refuge even though he’s likely to be bound by a 2017 law requiring one lease sale there by the end of December 2021 and another by the end of 2024.” Reuters also reports that the US Bureau of Safety and Environment Enforcement, which overseas offshore oil and gas production, “said it will consider lower royalty payments for producers that invest in projects to enable existing platforms to reach their full capacity”.
In other Trump-related news, the Hill reports that “the White House is appointing David Legates, a top administration official with a history of questioning humans’ influence on global warming, to the committee responsible for selecting the National Medal of Science winners”. And also that the Trump administration “formally approved a decision to allow the continued use of a controversial method known as seismic testing to search for oil and gas deposits in the Gulf of Mexico”.
The Economist has a lengthy briefing and editorial – which take the frontpage of the weekly magazine – on “making coal history”. Coal accounts for “around 27% of the raw energy used to power everything from cars to electric grids”, the editorial says, yet “unlike natural gas and oil, it is concentrated carbon, and thus it accounts for a staggering 39% of annual emissions of CO2 from fossil fuels”. With coal consumption falling in Europe and America, the magazine argues that “if global emissions are to fall far enough, fast enough, the task now is to double down on the West’s success and repeat it in Asia. It will not be easy”. Meeting the temperature limits of the Paris Agreement means “it is no good waiting for Asia’s appetite for coal to fade”, the editorial says: “New plants are still being built. Many completed ones are not yet fully utilised and still have decades of life in them.” Hence “Asia needs new policies to kick its coal habit, and soon”, the Economist concludes: “And the good news is that it is overwhelmingly in Asia’s interest to do so. Its people, infrastructure and agriculture are dangerously exposed to the droughts, flooding, storms and rising sea levels caused by climate change. A growing middle class yearns for their governments to clean up Asia’s choking metropolises. And renewable energy offers a path to cheaper power, generated at home, as well as a source of industrial employment and innovation. Coal’s days are numbered. The sooner it is consigned to museums and history books, the better.”
Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) from the atmosphere is part of all emission scenarios of the IPCC that limit global warming to below 1.5C. This study investigates how reducing global temperatures may differ from increasing them in simplified experiments where atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are quadrupled. Large differences are found for global surface air temperature (SAT), upper ocean heat content, ocean deoxygenation, and acidification, where changes are difficult to reverse through CDR. For example, SATs exhibits strong polar amplification. Due to this, sustained negative emissions are required to return to and keep a CO2 and warming target, particularly for high climate sensitivities and large overshoot scenarios. The results suggest, that not emitting carbon in the first place is preferable over carbon dioxide removal, even if technologies would exist to efficiently remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it away safely.
If the detonation of nuclear weapons causes large fires, the smoke emissions could block sunlight and affect the global climate. This study examines a scenario where climate impact would be caused by the detonation of 100 smaller nuclear weapons in a war between India and Pakistan. The study finds that, when smoke from the fires remains in the lower atmosphere, it is quickly removed and the climate impact is minimal. Conversely, when fires inject smoke into the upper atmosphere, smoke remains in the atmosphere for much longer periods of time, blocks light and causes global surface cooling. The simulations show that the smoke from 100 simultaneous firestorms would block sunlight for about four years.
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