Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK already undergoing disruptive climate change
- US: Democrats call infrastructure bill a down payment on climate
- UK must commit to ‘wide-scale deployment’ of technology to suck CO2 from air by 2030
- China floods: Smart city system capabilities called into question after rainstorms wreak havoc in Zhengzhou
- Cabinet split grows over China’s role in UK’s electric car industry
- UN biodiversity summit to be delayed for third time – sources
- Climate activists challenge Britain's support of North Sea oil and gas producers
- Queen secretly lobbied Scottish ministers for climate law exemption
- Join the Green Party to save planet, says Boris Johnson’s climate spokesperson
- Climate change is a global threat demanding national solutions
- China’s commitment on HFCs sends key signal
- Historical warming has increased US crop insurance losses
- US residential heat pumps: the private economic potential and its emissions, health, and grid impacts
- Changes in extreme ocean wave heights under 1.5C, 2C and 3C global warming
The UK is already seeing increased rainfall, sunshine and temperatures as a result of climate change, reports BBC News, based on the latest Met Office “UK State of the Climate” report. It adds that last year was the third warmest, fifth wettest and eight sunniest on record in the UK, with the country now 0.9C warmer and 6% wetter than it was 30 years ago. The broadcaster quotes the report’s lead author saying: ““A lot of people think climate change is in the future – but this proves the climate is already changing here in the UK. As it continues to warm we are going to see more and more extreme weather such as heatwaves and floods.” The country’s 10 hottest years in records going back to 1884 have all occurred since 2002, according to the report, says Reuters. The Independent and the Daily Telegraph also have the story. The Guardian covers the report and says: “Extremes of weather will strike the UK more frequently owing to the climate crisis, scientists said.” Sky News is among the outlets focusing its coverage on a warning that UK summer temperatures “may regularly hit 40C even if global temperatures are limited to a 1.5C”, according to the Royal Meteorological Society. The Times runs under the headline: “UK to suffer regular 40C heatwaves and more extreme rainfall.” The paper says the chief executive of the Royal Meteorological Society made the comments about 40C heatwaves at the launch of the Met Office report. The i newspaper, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror also lead their coverage with the 40C warning. The Financial Times coverage says two of the UK’s three wettest days on record were in 2020, according to the Met Office.
Meanwhile, the Press Association via Belfast Telegraph reports that more than £860m is to be spent on flood defences in England over the next year. It explains: “The plan, which will benefit over 1,000 local schemes and help protect homes and businesses, is part of the coastal erosion investment plan, published on Thursday.” In a story on its frontpage, the Daily Telegraph reports: “Developers are to be blocked from building on land at risk of flooding, with the environment secretary warning that climate change is heightening the threat of deluges destroying homes.” The paper also carries a comment from environment secretary George Eustice [online under the news article] in which he sets out the government’s plans to reduce flood risk and writes: “Climate change means more extreme weather, a higher risk of flooding events and coastal erosion.” The Guardian says the government is planning to spend a “record” £5.2bn on flood defences in England over the next six years. It adds: “Ministers also announced tighter guidance to deter the building of new homes in flood-prone areas.” The Daily Express carries a comment by Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, that says: “With the climate emergency making storms worse there is a greater threat to people’s lives and the economy. We have no choice but to deal with it…This means building flood defences and planting trees to restore the environment where once nature absorbed the rain.”
A bipartisan group of senators in the US yesterday reached a deal on a $1tn infrastructure deal, the New York Times reports, including “the largest-ever federal spending for electric vehicle charging stations, public transit and clean water”. The paper continues: “[T]he money for provisions to cut the pollution fuelling climate change is a fraction of the $2tn that [President] Biden once vowed to spend. The White House sees the bipartisan measure, which includes $550bn in new spending, as a first step toward passing a separate $3.5tn bill that Democrats hope to push through this fall on a party-line basis, over the objection of Republicans.” Reuters says the deal reached in the Senate yesterday “moves the emerging legislation toward formal debate and possible passage”. The Hill says the deal is “largely in line with a previously announced version of the framework on energy and environment spending”. Bloomberg says Senate leader Chuck Shumer “doubled down on his vow to enact sweeping climate provisions through infrastructure and spending legislation, as he seeks to reassure progressive Democrats”. The Hill says Shumer and House leader Nancy Pelosi saying they “spoke Wednesday at a League of Conservation Voters press conference to vow action on climate change, calling such action ‘imperative’”.
Separately, Reuters reports that US firms may have to disclose emissions from suppliers and partners as part of an upcoming climate risk disclosure rule being developed by the Securities and Exchange Commission. In other US news, the Guardian reports that a county in Washington state has become the “first in [the] US to ban new fossil fuel infrastructure”. Another Guardian feature looks at why a “big oil company [is] investing huge amounts of money in Wyoming wind”. Bloomberg reports that Biden’s plans to scale up offshore wind in the US are set to fall short by some 30%, according to consultancy IHS Markit. Forbes looks at the “45Q” tax credit for carbon capture and asks if congress will “supercharge…or scrap it”. In his Atlantic column, Robinson Meyer writes: “If America wants to fight climate change – or enjoy the benefits of a modern economy – it must get much better at building electricity transmission. Yikes.” E&E News via Scientific American says ten Republican state attorneys general are seeking to block the Biden administration from raising the “social cost of carbon”. [See Carbon Brief’s explainer for more on why this matters for US climate policy.]
The UK should commit to the deployment of negative emissions technologies on a large scale by the end of this decade, according to the government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), reports the Independent. It continues: “Removing and storing carbon dioxide [CO2] linked to emissions from industries that currently do not have a decarbonisation solution, such as aviation and agriculture, is the best way for the government to meet its environmental obligations, the report argued.” The paper says the NIC is calling for carbon removals to reach 5-10m tonnes of CO2 per year by 2030, rising to 40-100MtCO2 by 2050. It adds that the technology could cost “up to £400m per megatonne”, meaning a total cost of £2-4bn in 2030. The paper also quotes NIC’s Sir John Armitt saying: “This is not a magic wand. Such technologies can never be an excuse to take the foot off the pedal when it comes to reducing emissions wherever possible, not least because engineered solutions are typically a more expensive way of doing so.” The story is featured prominently on the frontpage of the Times under the headline: “Bills set to rise by £400 a year to cover cost of net-zero target.” The article explains that this figure only applies to the richest 10% of households and that average incomes are expected to have risen significantly more than the extra cost of funding carbon removal: “Analysis for the commission suggests the poorest tenth of households will pay an extra £80 a year by 2050, rising to £400 for the richest tenth. However, it says that by this time the average household will have an income £15,000 higher than today.” The Daily Telegraph also leads its coverage on the potential impact on household bills. Separately, Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath writes in the Daily Telegraph: “There may be a way to greenify an economy without hurting consumers, by inventing materials to replace plastics and promoting electric cars properly. But this government appears intent on botching it. It’s not just likely to inflict massive costs on its electorate, it all too often appears to relish doing so. It is now hinting at a delay on the ban on gas boilers, but the latest wheeze – rumours of a tax on heating gas – is reminiscent of Kenneth Clarke’s calamitous VAT hike on domestic fuel in 1994 which helped annihilate John Major.”
The floods that recently ravaged Henan province – particularly its provincial capital, Zhengzhou – continue to generate headlines. The South China Morning Post reports that two of Zhengzhou’s high-profile “smart city” projects – one for flood management and another for tunnel safety – have been singled out for criticism. The publication writes that analysts have urged other factors, such as local government coordination and the design capacity of systems, to be examined as part of the post-disaster investigation. The Los Angeles Times reports that the Chinese government “is controlling the narrative” in the wake of the extreme weather event. The outlet says: “Rather than sparking a public conversation about climate change and whether China’s cities are prepared for extreme weather, the ruling Communist Party has restricted information and encouraged nationalistic celebration amid an ongoing crisis.”
In Chinese-language media, China News Service, a state-run newswire, reports that China’s renewable energy “continued to maintain high-quality develop” in the first half of 2021. The outlet cites Wang Dapeng, a deputy director at China’s National Energy Administration (NEA). According to Wang, the installed generating capacity of renewable energy nationwide had surpassed 971 gigawatts (GW) as of the end of June, the report says. The official added that the energy generated by renewable sources across China amounted to 1,060 terawatt hours (TWh) between January and June. Xinhua, another state-run newswire, reports that China’s energy consumption had increased “rapidly” in the first half of 2021. It cites another NEA official, Li Fulong, who noted that electricity consumption had risen by 16.2% year on year and coal consumption had grown by 10.7% year on year in China during the period.
Elsewhere, Zhang Yangmin, who also works for NEA, said that the authority would ensure the resumption of electricity “as soon as possible” for those affected by flooding and other natural disasters, according to People’s Daily. The state-run newspaper says that the NEA would enhance its typhoon warning system for the electricity sector and improve risk management during the flood season.
There is a “growing cabinet split” over China’s role in the UK electric car industry, the Independent reports on its digital frontpage. It reports: “Senior Conservatives fear the UK is ‘falling into a trap’ by handing over sensitive aspects of its ‘green industrial revolution’ to a regime that threatens British security.” The piece cites the recent purchase by Chinese interests of a Welsh semiconductor company and the involvement of China General Nuclear in building new nuclear plants as examples of the issue. It adds: “MPs who have sought to raise these concerns have found they are increasingly isolated, with the prime minister suggesting such fears are overblown, according to those familiar with the discussions.”
An accompanying Independent editorial asks: “Should Britain be wary of its reliance on Chinese suppliers for the growth of its electric vehicles industry? The question is vexing the cabinet, wherein a split is developing between the prime minister and his colleagues.” It says: “Security concerns will always be butting up against the need for trade and investment.” The piece adds: “Factories in Sunderland or Merseyside could thus find themselves subject to industrial pressure as a result of differences over, say, Hong Kong or the persecution of the Uyghur. It is not a position any proud sovereign nation would wish to be in, but it may be inevitable, given China’s technological prowess and economic clout.”
The COP15 summit of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, which had been due to take place in Kunming, China last year, before being postponed to this October due to Covid, is to be delayed again until spring 2022, Reuters reports, citing “sources familiar with the matter”. It explains: “Diplomats, scientists, and conservationists from over 200 countries had planned to meet in Kunming, China, in October to agree on measures to protect plants, animals and natural systems, which experts say are being destroyed at an alarming rate. The conference will now be split into two phases, with an event in mid-October that could be held at least partly online, followed by a second, in-person session next year, two officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue.” It adds: “With growing calls for the world to protect nature in tandem with tackling tackle climate change, countries are being urged at the conference to commit to put 30% of their land and sea territories under conservation by 2030.”
The High Court has agreed to hear a case by campaigners challenging government tax breaks for decommissioning North Sea oil and gas infrastructure, Reuters reports. It explains: “The claimants argue that the decommissioning tax breaks are not consistent with the government’s net-zero emissions targets. Many countries offer producers decommissioning tax relief.” The Times reports: “Environmental campaigners hope that the courts will declare unlawful the strategy being followed by Oil and Gas Authority [OGA], the industry regulator. They will argue that the policy, under which tax breaks are available to oil companies for things such as decommissioning equipment, encourages oil and gas production that is not economic and conflicts with ambitions to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.” The Guardian says the challenge is being brought by Greenpeace UK, Friends of the Earth Scotland and 350.org, among others, adding that some £3.2bn in tax relief has been paid since the Paris Agreement was sealed in 2015. It quotes the OGA saying: “We remain firmly of the view that the OGA strategy, which includes net-zero requirements on industry, is the primary tool the OGA has to hold industry to account on emission reductions, as well as ensuring pace on essential energy transition projects including carbon capture and storage.” City AM and the Independent also have the story.
A frontpage story for the Guardian reports that the Queen “used secretive procedure to become only person in [Scotland] not bound by a green energy rule”. It continues: “The exemption means the Queen, one of the largest landowners in Scotland, is the only person in the country not required to facilitate the construction of pipelines to heat buildings using renewable energy. Her lawyers secured the dispensation from Scotland’s government five months ago by exploiting an obscure parliamentary procedure known as Queen’s consent, which gives the monarch advance sight of legislation.” Press Association via Belfast Telegraph also has the story, reporting: “A draft law in the Scottish Parliament was amended after the Queen’s lawyers raised ‘concerns’, with the changes exempting her land from measures to encourage greener energy. The exemption to the Heat Networks Bill meant land owned by the royal household could not be subject to compulsory purchase orders without the Queen’s approval.” The Times also carries the news.
There is continued coverage of comments by Allegra Stratton, the UK prime minister’s spokesperson for COP26, who told the Independent in response to a question about action people can take to tackle warming: “When people say to me, ‘What can they do?’, they can do many things, they can join Greenpeace, they can join the Green Party, they can join the Tory party.” Stratton’s comments are reported by the Times and the Guardian. Meanwhile, Politico reflects on Stratton’s recent article for the Daily Telegraph, in which she advised people not to rinse dishes before putting them in the dishwasher as one way to tackle climate change. Its piece quotes “experts” saying her message has “merit” and runs under the headline: “Don’t rinse the dishes: Green gaffe or smart politics?” For CapX, Sam Dumitriu responds to Stratton’s article and argues: “ Many of the things we think we know about waste and emissions are myths… Prices, not the choices of individuals and businesses, will determine how we get to net-zero.”
In a comment for the Financial Times, columnist Philip Stephens argues that there is a “disjunction between soaring rhetoric on the international stage and policy inaction at home”, when it comes to climate change. He says this “could scarcely be more visible than in the UK”, adding: “[T]he prime minister has assembled platoons of promises, from banning polluting vehicles to heating the nation’s homes with wind and hydrogen. What unites the pledges are the time lag before they must be redeemed and the absence of accompanying route maps.” He concludes: “We will not get anywhere without the targets for eliminating fossil fuels that will be under discussion at COP26. But we will not get beyond discussion unless governments set the strategies and mobilise the resources to make the targets viable. There is not much time. Look at the weather.” [COP26 will not discuss targets for eliminating fossil fuels.]
For the Daily Star in Bangladesh, Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development at the country’s Independent University, writes that the delivery of international climate finance “will be the key to COP26”. He adds: “[E]ven though the COP26 president designate Alok Sharma has admitted this is a make-or-break issue for the success of COP26, he needs the chancellor of the exchequer of the UK, Rishi Sunak, to deliver the money, which he has not done. In fact, the chancellor has actually cut the development assistance budget of the UK instead.” For the Times Red Box, the chair and vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on small island developing states, Kerry McCarthy and Matthew Offord, have a comment under the headline: “Small island states are canary in the coalmine of climate change.” They write: “The small islands are also natural allies of the UK and other prosperous nations that want to see global action on climate change accelerate.” The pair add: “On one issue, though, a huge gap remains between the developed world and the small islands. That is the issue of loss and damage.”
An editorial in the New Statesman says: “No country can escape the consequences of an overheating planet – as recent extreme weather events around the globe have shown.” It concludes: “In the modern era, there has never been a greater threat to humanity’s collective prosperity and survival than the climate crisis. Though the cost of global warming will fall most heavily on the world’s poorest, no country can escape the consequences of an overheating plant. Solidarity against this shared thread is no longer a matter of altruism but of self-preservation.” A piece by New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush runs under the headline: This will be a century of extreme weather. Our politicians are failing to rise to the challenge.”
In the Daily Telegraph, George Brandis, Australian high commissioner to the UK, writes under the headline: “Technology is key to a free and prosperous net-zero world.” He says that his government is signing a joint “letter of intent” with its UK counterpart “on low emissions technology between Australia and the United Kingdom”. He writes: “Concluding a wide-ranging deal on low emissions technology is important not only for research, development and investment, but for the confidence it affords us as we work toward a new way of powering our world in a way which preserves our character as free-market, liberal democratic nations. ” Brandis concludes: “Net-zero will be difficult. It will require an unprecedented mobilisation of capital, talent and grit to get there. Just as we have met challenges before I am confident that Australia and the United Kingdom will not only thrive in a net zero world but through deals like this truly define it for generations to come.”
In a comment for China Dialogue, former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd says that China’s ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol – which will entail phasing out hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants due to their climate impact – is “hugely important not only for reducing HFC gases but also as a signal on climate action”. Rudd says the amendment is “the second biggest climate deal after the Paris Agreement” and calls China’s ratification: “a welcome sign, including of Beijing’s desire to continue to keep an open mind when it comes to the possibility of future US–China climate cooperation”.
Global warming “has already contributed substantially to rising crop insurance losses in the US”, a new study says. The researchers analyse multiple decades of county-level data from the US crop insurance programme in combination with observed and simulated changes in county-level temperature. They estimate that “temperature trends have contributed $27bn – or 19% – of the national-level crop insurance losses over the 1991–2017 period”. And in the most costly single year of 2012, “observed warming contributed almost half of total losses”.
Around a third of US houses “would benefit economically” from installing a heat pump, a new study finds, while more than two-thirds would see their CO2 emissions fall. The authors simulate the energy consumption of 400 representative single-family houses in each of 55 US cities both before and after heat pump adoption, and quantify the costs and benefits for each house. The findings show that “the potential for heat pump adoption varies depending on electric grid, climate, baseline heating fuel and housing characteristics”.
New research projects global changes in seasonal extreme ocean wave heights under 1.5 C, 2 C and 3C of global warming. Using statistical wave projections derived from CMIP5 multi-model simulations, the researchers find “robust increases in wave extremes up to 15% (∼one metre) over southern hemisphere high latitudes and tropical Pacific, particularly at 3 C warming”. The authors note that “an important implication is the potential impact of increased wave extremes on West Antarctic ice shelves with respect to calving and associated loss of buttressing, which would facilitate sea level rise in a warmer world”.
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