Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK calls on countries to 'consign coal to history' at COP26
- US: Biden administration to repeal Trump rule aimed at curbing EPA's power
- UK: Ignore hype over hydrogen heating, government told
- China's NEV sales surge in first four months
- Pipeline hack points to growing cybersecurity risk for energy system
- The hidden costs of fighting climate change
- The IEA’s roadmap to net-zero by 2050 shows the energy future we all need to focus on
- Global carbon budget of reservoirs is overturned by the quantification of drawdown areas
- Increasing coral calcification in Orbicella faveolata and Pseudodiploria strigosa at Flower Garden Banks, Gulf of Mexico
- Open ocean and coastal new particle formation from sulphuric acid and amines around the Antarctic Peninsula
UK COP26 president Alok Sharma will today call on all nations to abandon coal power and make this year’s UN climate talks the moment the world “consigns coal to history”, reports Climate Home News. In a speech this morning in Glasgow – where the COP26 climate summit is due to take place in November – Sharma will “cite the strongest target in the Paris Agreement, a 1.5C global warming limit, in a plea to accelerate the shift to clean energy”, the outlet says. He is expected to say: “If we are serious about 1.5C, Glasgow must be the COP that consigns coal to history. We are working directly with governments, and through international organisations to end international coal financing…and to urge countries to abandon coal power, with the G7 leading the way.” The speech is “the clearest yet on the UK hosts’ criteria for a successful conference, beyond the technical task of finalising the Paris Agreement rulebook”, the outlet notes. Sharma’s speech indicates that “Britain wants to broker a global agreement to stop the cross-border financing of coal projects”, says Reuters. The Independent notes that Sharma will say that the UK is “working directly with governments, and through international organisations, to end international coal financing” and that this is “a personal priority”. BBC News says that Sharma’s “apparent passion explains why he was reportedly ‘apoplectic’ when communities secretary Robert Jenrick allowed plans for a new coal mine in Cumbria – a decision that’s now gone to a planning review”. Sharma will also spell out the need to create “good green jobs” that can support a just transition for workers and communities in the coal sector, says BusinessGreen. He will say: “The coal business is, as the UN secretary general [António Guterres] has said, going up in smoke…It’s old technology. So let’s make COP26 the moment we leave it in the past where it belongs, while supporting workers and communities to make the transition.” The Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Sun, Daily Mirror all cover the speech. At the same time, the head of the World Coal Association tells Reuters that the coal industry is betting it can survive the decarbonisation of electricity and industry and keep fossil fuels in the mix by leaning on carbon-capture and storage (CCS) technology. Policies that exclude coal are not helpful, Michelle Manook says, adding: “CCS is a proven technology. We know it can be applied.”
In other COP26 news, the Financial Times reports that the UK and the UN are exploring the possibility of a special vaccination programme to ensure that COP26 can proceed face-to-face. Sharma is expected to reaffirm his commitment for a physical meeting in his speech this morning, the paper continues. It notes that “a formal proposal about a special vaccination drive for delegates has not been made yet”, but “the issue has been raised in planning discussions and is a particular concern for countries that lack vaccine access”. Speaking to the paper, one source cautions that the UK might not be able to pull off a special vaccine programme because “it’s simply too politically explosive and sensitive”. The paper reports that “organisers are closely watching the Tokyo Olympics in July as a test for large international events”, noting that a deal has been struck between the International Olympic Committee and BioNTech/Pfizer to supply doses to all delegations. The Herald reports that “environmental charity Keep Scotland Beautiful has struck an agreement to provide climate emergency training to smaller businesses in Glasgow ahead of the COP26 summit”.
Finally, the Guardian reports that a leading UK climate official says Australia is alone among major countries in that neither its national government nor opposition have a significant climate plan. The paper continues: “Nigel Topping, the UN’s ‘high-level champion’ whose role involves global outreach to drive global ambition ahead of the COP26 climate conference…said he had not seen another country in which no major political party had a plan to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Biden administration in the US yesterday moved to repeal a Trump-era regulation that it said weakened the government’s ability to curb air pollution that threatens public health and is driving climate change, reports the New York Times. The paper explains: “Finalised at the end of the Trump administration, the so-called cost-benefit rule was designed to change how the [Environmental Protection Agency] calculated the economic costs and benefits of new clean-air and climate-change rules.” The change would see co-benefits from limiting emissions calculated and presented “separately” from direct benefits, the paper says: “Experts said that requirement appeared designed to give industries a way to legally block the EPA. over future air pollution rules. It would have also allowed the EPA. to avoid putting a price tag on certain health benefits if the scientific evidence was deemed limited.” Reuters reports the comments of EPA administrator Michael Regan, who said: “Revoking this unnecessary and misguided rule is proof positive of this administration’s commitment to science.“ He added that the Trump rule had hamstrung the agency’s ability to use the best available science to develop Clean Air Act regulations and was “inconsistent with economic best practices”, the newswire reports. The new rule will take effect in 30 days. The Hill also has the story.
In other US news, Reuters reports that Joe Biden told a group of Republican senators at a meeting yesterday that he wants to see progress towards a possible deal on his $2tn infrastructure bill by the end of May. A second Reuters piece explains that Biden “expressed optimism” that a bipartisan deal could be done after the meeting. Biden told reporters at the White House that “we had a very, very good meeting…I am very optimistic that we can reach a…reasonable agreement”. He added that “even if we don’t”, a “good-faith” effort had been started. However, E&E News reports that a Republican counterproposal “mostly eliminates climate spending”.
Finally, Reuters reports that South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group announced yesterday that it planned to invest $7.4bn in the US by 2025 to produce electric vehicles, upgrade production facilities and further its investment in smart mobility solutions.
Environmental groups have warned the government to ignore what they call “hype” over the use of hydrogen to provide heat, reports BBC News. In a letter to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng today, groups including WWF-UK, Greenpeace and climate thinktank E3G have urged the government to drop funding for “blue” hydrogen, the outlet says. Blue hydrogen, which is produced by splitting natural gas at high temperatures, is “much better for the climate than natural gas”, says the outlet, but the green groups “say it’s incompatible with a zero-carbon Britain”. The letter also argues that “green” hydrogen – which uses “surplus electricity produced on stormy nights by wind farms to liberate hydrogen from water using electrolysis” – should be used to fuel industrial processes needing huge amounts of heat, not to heat homes, the article explains. Kwarteng, whose portfolio also includes energy, will shortly publish a hydrogen strategy, the outlet notes, adding that the government says it want to support both blue and green hydrogen, and is working on a standard to define “low-carbon hydrogen”. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor covers a new report by Aurora Energy Research, which reveals that “hydrogen is the key to decarbonising hard-to-abate industrial sectors”. (For more on hydrogen, see Carbon Brief‘s in-depth explainer.)
In other UK news, the Times reports that sales of “green” cars in the UK officially overtook diesels for the first time in 2020. It continues: “New figures published by the Department for Transport show that 338,000 new ‘alternatively fuelled’ cars were registered in Britain in 2020 compared with only 295,000 diesels. It was revealed that alternatively fuelled cars – mainly pure electric models and hybrids that run on both a combustion engine and battery power – saw an 87% year-on-year rise in sales.” The drop in diesel sales “has been accelerated by the introduction of the ultra-low emission zone in central London, which charges fees for owners of the most polluting cars”, notes the i newspaper.
The Times also reports on new research from the University of Cambridge, which says that radical changes to the food system will be needed to create “risk-resilient diets” in the face of climate change. It explains: “Kelp, maggots and algae must replace wheat, maize and rice on menus if the world is to feed itself in an era of escalating environmental threats.” The Daily Telegraph says that alternatives are needed because “plant agriculture is at risk from disease and changes in soil fertility, while farmed animals are reliant on successful crops for feed and can also be vulnerable to sickness”.
Finally, a Guardian “exclusive” reports that prime minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for taking a short helicopter flight last week from London to the West Midlands to promote a local bike hire scheme, despite the train from London taking just more than two hours.
State-run newswire Xinhua reports that the sales of “new energy” vehicles (NEVs) in China increased by nearly 250% year on year – amounting to 732,000 units – in the first four months of 2021. State-run China Energy News warns that the country’s current electricity system would not be able to support a high volume of renewable energy to be connected to it.
Meanwhile, China’s International Energy Net focuses on the formal arrest of the National Energy Administration’s (NEA) former deputy director on suspicion of bribery. The website notes that the NEA has faced “very serious” corruption issues. Li Gao, director-general of the Department of Climate Change in China’s Environment Ministry (MEE), explains the four main challenges for China to cut its carbon emissions to China Environmental News.
In other Chinese media, Xinhua says that a senior Chinese legislator has called on China to enhance climate cooperation with Germany and the EU. Another state news agency China News Service features comments from Pierre Gramegna, minister of finance of Luxembourg. Gramegna is cited saying that China’s goal to achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060 is a “powerful pledge”. Separately, state-run haiwai.net states that China’s net-zero target has provided “new opportunities” for multinational companies in China.
Elsewhere, an analysis published by the PV Magazine calls 2021 “a key period” for the development of China’s solar power market to meet its climate goals. The report predicts that China’s solar industry would “reach another milestone with more than 60 GW (gigawatts) of installations this year”. A podcast by S&P Global explores the implications of China’s 2060 “carbon neutrality” target for fossil fuels.
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The “audacious ransomware attack” that shut down a major fuel pipeline in the US this week “was not the first time hackers have disrupted America’s ageing, vulnerable energy infrastructure”, writes New York Times climate reporter Brad Plumer, “and it’s unlikely to be the last”. In a news feature, Plumer writes: “Despite years of warnings, America’s vast network of pipelines, electric grids and power plants remains acutely vulnerable to cyberattacks with the potential to disrupt energy supplies for millions of people. Dealing with those risks, analysts said, will pose a major challenge for the Biden administration as it seeks hundreds of billions of dollars to modernise the nation’s energy infrastructure and transition to cleaner sources of energy to address climate change.” Plumer notes that “it’s not just pipelines” that are vulnerable: “As electric grid operators harness a growing array of digital technologies to help manage the flow of power and cut planet-warming emissions – such as smart thermostats, or far-flung yet interconnected networks of solar arrays – hackers may find new entry points to exploit.” A piece in Bloomberg notes that the crisis had triggered calls to “boost, and forsake, fossil fuels”. It says: “The oil industry says the answer is to invest in more fossil-fuel infrastructure, including refineries. Environmental groups think the key is more electric vehicles on the road and solar panels on the grid.”
Meanwhile, the Hill reports that Colonial Pipeline, the target of the ransomware attack, said it had resumed full operations as of yesterday afternoon. The company said it anticipates “several days” before supply chains return to normal. However, Reuters reports that shortages of gasoline at retail stations in the southeastern US have become more widespread, while the Hill reports that President Biden urged the public not to panic about shortages and warned people against hoarding gasoline. The Financial Times “Energy Source” column notes that panic-buying has “gone from bad to worse”, with two-thirds of filling stations in North Carolina “out of fuel”. The Hill reports that the Biden administration waived a century-old US shipping law to allow foreign tankers to transport fuel between the Gulf Coast and East Coast. Bloomberg says the waiver has been issued to two companies. Finally, Biden also said that the US government “do[es] not believe the Russian government was involved” in the cyber attack, but had “strong reason” to believe the hackers were based in Russia, reports the Financial Times. Bloomberg reports that Colonial paid nearly $5m to the hackers, contradicting reports earlier this week that the company had no intention of paying an extortion fee. And Politico reports that “Biden declined to comment on whether reports that Colonial paid its ransom demand”.
A Times comment piece by Paul Johnson – director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank and a member of the UK’s Climate Change Committee – warns that progress on climate targets “has been pretty painless” so far, but “one way or another, we’ll certainly notice the next phase”. For the future, “three things at least should give us pause”, Johnson writes: “We have so far reduced emissions largely by finding greener ways to generate our electricity. That hasn’t required you or me to do anything, other than pay a bit more for it. Even that has been offset by more efficient household appliances. That’s why our lifestyles have barely been affected. To get to zero emissions, however, we’re all going to have to get used to driving electric cars. Our gas boilers will need replacing, but nobody is yet sure with what. We will probably have to eat less meat and fly less.” The overall economic cost of this shift “may turn out to be small”, Johnson says, “but only if the government gets a lot of big policy decisions right and implements them properly”. He concludes: “If we are really serious about overcoming climate change the next phase will be much harder than the last. We need to tackle imported emissions. We will have to get used to changing the way we live. The government will have to move from warm words to difficult and specific policy. It will need to bite the bullet on gas prices, fuel duties and much more besides. The first step is to recognise the challenges much more clearly and honestly. Pretending it will be easy risks making it impossible.”
Elsewhere in UK comment, Jeremy Warner – assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph – writes that “it is entirely plausible that the monumental carbon costs of establishing the new infrastructure needed for a net-zero world, nevermind its physical cost, could itself trigger the very same environmental catastrophe it is supposed to forestall”. Warner seeks to argue that “it is pretty much unarguable that going green will, to begin with, create a huge surge in global emissions”, adding: “The transition will also result in myriad other forms of environmental and biodiversity destruction.” He suggests, for example, that “if you want to do your bit for the planet, forget Tesla and other super expensive electric vehicles; just carry on driving the same old gas-guzzling banger you’ve always had”.
On the topic of Tesla, Gillian Tett – chair of editorial board and editor-at-large, US, of the Financial Times – comments on the news that Elon Musk is “wak[ing] up to bitcoin’s fossil fuel issues”. She writes: “Activists and journalists have, of course, been highlighting this issue for months. Two striking statistics encapsulate the problem. First, it seems that two-thirds of bitcoin to date has been mined – created through computing algorithms – in China, using data centres reliant on electricity generated by coal. Indeed, bitcoin’s link with the black stuff is so tight that Alex Lipton, a crypto expert, notes that bitcoin prices move whenever accidents occur in Chinese coal mines. Second, the $2tn crypto market has expanded so fast that it is gobbling up vast quantities of energy. Mining bitcoin, which accounts for half of all crypto, currently uses the same amount of energy annually as the Netherlands did in 2019. Scientists warn this threatens the Paris climate goals.” Nils Pratley – the Guardian‘s financial editor – agrees that Musk “has now landed on the right spot: bitcoin is an environmental abomination”.
In a post on LinkedIn, Fatih Birol – executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA) – previews the organisation’s forthcoming report, “Net-zero by 2050: A roadmap for the global energy system”. The report will be “one of the most important” the IEA’s nearly 50-year history, Birol writes, as it will “map out a detailed and cost-effective pathway for bringing global energy-related emissions to net-zero in time to give the world a good chance of limiting global warming to 1.5C”. The roadmap will “set out clear milestones for what needs to happen, and when, to transform the global economy from one dominated by fossil fuels into one powered overwhelmingly by renewable energy like solar and wind”, says Birol, adding: “It will show how this can be done successfully – by creating huge new opportunities for workers, businesses and investors – securely – without disrupting the energy supplies on which so many of us rely for our daily lives – and fairly – by ensuring that developing economies have the financing and technologies they need to carry out their transitions while bringing clean and affordable energy to all citizens.” Birol notes that, “naturally, the net-zero by 2050 emissions scenario described in our roadmap – a pathway in line with 1.5C – will be an integral part of the World Energy Outlook 2021, our flagship annual report in the autumn, and in future editions of the WEO in the years ahead”.
Reservoirs, which are often thought to be a sink for carbon emissions, may emit more carbon than they take up, according to a new study. Scientists used satellite imagery to quantify the extent of reservoir “drawdown” areas – places where fluctuating water levels expose sediments to the atmosphere – and then calculated new CO2 and methane emissions estimates based on previously published rates for both reservoir water and drawdown areas. Examining more than 6,000 reservoirs worldwide, they found that 15% of the area was dry between 1985 and 2015. The updated numbers increase global CO2 emissions from reservoirs by 53%, the authors write, “challenging the current understanding that reservoirs are net carbon sinks”.
A new study shows that climate change and warming seas are aiding the growth of cool-water corals – for now. Using cores drilled from two species of abundant corals in the northern Gulf of Mexico, scientists reconstructed records of coral growth and compared these growth rates to external factors such as sea surface temperature (SST) and the discharge rate of a nearby river. For both species of coral studied, growth was positively correlated with SST. However, the researchers warn, coral bleaching events – which are caused by too-warm water temperatures and are expected to increase in both strength and frequency under climate change – “will lead to a breakdown in the positive relationship between coral growth and maximum SST” in the future. (For more on coral bleaching, see Carbon Brief’s explainer on the Great Barrier Reef.)
Sulphur-laden air from the Weddell Sea may be a major source of Antarctic aerosols, according to new research. Scientists used measurements of air composition and particle formation rates to determine the factors that influenced the emergence of aerosols around Antarctica. They found that high concentrations of gaseous sulphuric acid and amines – nitrogen-containing compounds derived from ammonia – strongly correlated with the formation of new aerosol particles. This mechanism is “more efficient” than previous explanations of Antarctic particle formation, the authors write, and it should be included in climate models to better represent radiative forcing around the icy continent.
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