Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK can be 'Saudi Arabia of wind power' – PM
- Global climate goals 'virtually impossible' without carbon capture: IEA
- Trump administration advances plan to cut protections for largest national forest
- Chad halts lake's world heritage status request over oil exploration
- World’s operating nuclear fleet at 30 year low as new plants stall: report
- China’s emissions target is a leap forward
- Decadal variability in the North Pacific and North Atlantic under global warming: the weakening response and its mechanism
Boris Johnson, the UK’s prime minister, says he wants to make a “big bet” on renewables, reports BBC News, turning the UK into the “Saudi Arabia” of wind power. In a speech via video link to a climate roundtable discussion at the UN in New York – excerpts of which were reported in advance – Johnson outlined plans for the UK’s “green economic recovery” from the impacts of the coronavirus, focusing on new technology, the outlet reports. Johnson said the UK holds “extraordinary potential for wind”, noting: “We’ve got huge, huge gusts of wind going around the north of our country – Scotland. Quite extraordinary potential we have for wind.” Johnson also said he wanted the UK to take the lead in carbon capture and storage technology (CCS), BBC News explains. Johnson said CCS was something he “barely believed was possible, but I am now a complete evangelist for”. A mass rollout of energy efficiency retrofitting of British homes, as well as bringing forward the current 2040 date to phase out petrol, diesel and hybrid electric vehicles would also be part of the path to decarbonisation, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Johnson also revealed that the UK would co-host an online event in December to mark the five-year anniversary of the landmark Paris climate accords, reports City AM. It adds: “The conference, which will replace the postponed COP26 summit – due to be held in Glasgow next November – will be an opportunity for countries to announce new climate targets.” UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said the summit on 12 December would be “an important moment to continue raising climate ambition”, reports Reuters. It adds: “Guterres also urged big emitters like China and the European Union – both of which announced tougher climate targets this month – to follow up on those commitments with concrete plans and policies.” Climate Home News also has the story. Politico explains how the “re-emergence of a coalition” between the EU and China – happening in the absence of the US – is a revival that Guterres “has gambled on”. Also speaking at the event, Ursula von der Leyen – president of the European Commission – warned that “the year ahead of us will determine the fate of the Paris climate agreement”, reports the Financial Times. She also “outlined the ways in which the EU was tackling climate change as part of its €750bn recovery resilience fund, including raising €200bn through green bonds, a first for the EU”, the paper notes.
In other UK news, the Times reports the “world’s first full-scale hydrogen plane took to the skies over Britain yesterday in a key step towards the commercial launch of zero-emission flights”. And the Guardian reports on how cycling schemes and low-traffic neighbourhoods are accelerating across the UK.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that a sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) technology is needed globally if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets, reports Reuters. In a new report, the agency says the amount of CO2 captured must surge to 800m tonnes in 2030 from around 40m tonnes today, the newswire explains, and that up to $160bn needs to be invested by 2030, a 10-fold increase from the previous decade. (Plans for more than 30 commercial facilities have emerged over the past three years, notes Axios, and projects nearing final investment decisions represent an estimated $27bn worth of investment.) Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, said the process is “critical” in the transition from fossil fuels to cleaner energy alternatives, reports the Guardian. He said: “Without it, our energy and climate goals will become virtually impossible to reach.“ The report says that more must be done by governments and high-pollution industries to accelerate the uptake of carbon capture, the paper adds. “Action from governments will be essential for establishing a sustainable and viable market for CCUS,” Birol said, adding: “But industry must also embrace the opportunity. No sector will be unaffected by clean energy transitions – and for some, including heavy industry, the value of CCUS is inescapable.” Bloomberg says “there is already some progress being made”, pointing out that “this week, the Norwegian government proposed spending 16.8bn Norwegian krone ($1.8bn) to back a pioneering project that will capture and store emissions from a cement factory in southern Norway…and to partially fund emissions capture for a Fortum Oyj incineration plant in Oslo”. The captured CO2 will then be liquefied and stored underneath the North Sea. The outlet says that Norway’s parliament is expected to approve the spending plan later this year, allowing construction to start. BusinessGreen also has the story, while the Guardian carries a Q&A on CCUS.
The Trump administration has announced it will move forward with a plan to roll back regulations protecting millions of acres in the US’s largest national forest from logging, reports the Guardian, “sparking an outcry from environmental advocacy organisations, Alaskan tribal nations, and fishermen”. The paper explains: “More than half of the Tongass national forest – a 16.7m-acre old-growth temperate rainforest in south-east Alaska – has been protected for the last two decades by the so-called ‘Roadless Area Conservation Rule’, which prohibits development in designated wild areas. The US Forest Service is expected to release a final environmental impact statement on Friday which would allow for the Tongass to be exempt from the rule, moving one step closer to ending the protections entirely.” The move comes after “years of prodding by successive Alaska governors and congressional delegations”, says the New York Times, which has pushed the federal government to exempt the Tongass from the Clinton-era policy. The impact statement “clear[s] the way for the Trump administration to propose timber sales and road construction projects in the forest as soon as the end of this year”, it notes. Tongass is “one of the world’s largest carbon sinks”, the paper says, absorbing around 8% of US annual CO2 emissions. The Hill also has the story.
Meanwhile, BBC News reports on new analysis from a group of scientists that finds an “unequivocal and pervasive” role for global warming in boosting the conditions for California’s recent wildfires. The outlet says: “The new review covers more than 100 studies published since 2013, and shows that extreme fires occur when natural variability in the climate is superimposed on increasingly warm and dry background conditions resulting from global warming.” Dr Matthew Jones from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, who led the review, tells the outlet: “In terms of the trends we’re seeing, in terms of the extent of wildfires, and which have increased eight to 10-fold in the past four decades, that trend is driven by climate change.” An interactive article in the New York Times illustrates how 2020 has seen the “worst fire season on record” for the US West Coast. It says: “Combined, over five million acres have burned in California, Oregon and Washington so far. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed by some of the largest fires ever recorded…Data from two NASA satellites that can detect heat shows fire activity in California, Oregon and Washington in 2020 has already eclipsed even the worst previous year.” Earlier this week, Carbon Brief updated its explainer on wildfires and climate change to cover the fires along the US West Coast.
Also in the US, the Hill reports that the House of Representatives yesterday passed a bill that aims to boost energy efficiency and renewable energy sources as part of an attempt to combat climate change. It continues: “The chamber approved the 900-page Clean Energy and Jobs Innovation Act in a 220-185 vote. The legislation would create research and development programmes for solar, wind, advanced geothermal energy and hydroelectric power as well as lessening pollution from fossil fuel production.”
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports that Chad has asked to suspend an application for world heritage site status in order for Lake Chad to explore oil and mining opportunities in the region. In a letter leaked to the paper, Chad’s tourism and culture minister wrote to Unesco, the body which awards the world heritage designation, asking to “postpone the process of registering Lake Chad on the world heritage list”. The letter says the government “has signed production-sharing agreements with certain oil companies whose allocated blocks affect the area of the nominated property”, the paper adds, and asks Unesco to postpone in order to “allow [us] to redefine and redesign the map to avoid any interference in the future”. The governments of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria had jointly nominated the Lake Chad cultural landscape for the world heritage list, the Guardian says, yet the delegations of the other had not been informed of Chad’s oil ambitions. A spokesperson for the Unesco told the paper that if Chad decides to go ahead with oil exploitation, the nomination process would have to be cancelled all together.
In other oil news, Bloomberg reports that just a week after revealing its plan to turn itself into a clean-energy giant, BP’s share price dropped to a 25-year low. Both Politico and Axios report that two-thirds of oil businesses under the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas’ jurisdiction think oil demand has peaked. The Financial Times Energy Source column looks at how oil producers can make the big shift to cleaner energy. And in a Commodities Note column for the Financial Times, Jose Maria Larocca and Rasmus Bach Nielsen from global commodity trader Trafigura put forward their case for a carbon levy on shipping fuel of $250-$300 per tonne of CO2.
A new industry reports says the number of nuclear reactor units operating globally is at a 30-year low, reports Reuters, while new plants are struggling for investment. The annual World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR) shows that 408 nuclear reactors were in operation in 31 countries as of July 2020, a decline of 9 units from mid-2019 and 30 fewer than the 2002 peak of 438. Of the 52 new plants being built globally at least 33 are behind schedule, Reuters reports, while not a single new project came online in the first half of 2020. WNISR also warns that new projects were struggling to secure finance amid competition from renewables – the report puts investment decisions for the construction of new nuclear plants at around $31bn in 2019, around one tenth that of wind and solar. Carbon Brief has previously mapped the world’s nuclear power plants.
In other energy news, Reuters reports that mining trade unions in Poland have told the government that the country should not phase out coal before 2060.
In continued commentary on China’s new “carbon neutral” 2060 target, a Financial Times editorial says it marks “an extremely important shift”. With China’s emissions now accounting for 28% of the world’s total, “there is no global solution to global warming without China”, the paper says. It adds: “Beijing had previously avoided setting a date for carbon neutrality, instead promising only that emissions would begin to decline after around 2030. Some will view Mr Xi’s declaration of a 2060 date, made to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, as canny political posturing – making Donald Trump, who is pulling the US out of the Paris Agreement, look all the more isolated on the international stage.” This may well be the case, the editorial says, “yet it is also true that Beijing’s shift will place pressure on laggards such as the US – the world’s second biggest carbon emitter – to join the dozens of countries that have now set net zero or carbon neutral targets”. However, “far more detail is needed on how China will achieve its target”, the paper cautions, and “in the more immediate future, it is still a particular cause for concern that Beijing continues to invest heavily in coal both domestically and as part of its Belt and Road Initiative”.
Also striking a cautious tone, Wall Street Journal China columnist Nathaniel Taplin describes China as “far more noncommittal” in its policies on coal. Axios energy reporter Ben Geman notes that “there’s quite the disconnect between the long-term goal and China’s existing situation”. (Both Geman and Reuters Asia commodities columnist Clyde Russell quote analysis published by Carbon Brief this week that finds China’s Covid stimulus plans for fossil fuel projects are three times larger than those for low-carbon energy.) And Politico energy reporter Zack Colman says “Xi’s announcement comes on the heels of reports that China has prepared to loosen environmental regulations to continue its expansion of coal-fired power plants”. A piece in the Economist notes that “Mr Xi chose his words carefully”, adding: “He referred to carbon neutrality by 2060, not climate neutrality. In climate-speak, this suggests the target will apply only to emissions of CO2, not other greenhouse gases such as methane, a big contributor to global warming. The EU’s goal for climate neutrality covers all emissions.”
Finally, Carbon Brief has also published a guest analysis piece on how reaching carbon neutrality before 2060 could cut global warming this century by 0.25C and raise the China’s GDP”.
This study examines the effects of global warming in the North Pacific and North Atlantic using four different climate models and three future emissions scenarios (RCP2.6, RCP4.5, and RCP8.5). The researchers find that global warming leads to a decrease in amplitude of both the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO) and Atlantic multidecadal variability (AMV), resulting in reduced long-term variability of sea surface temperature. They find that interannual variability is less impacted by global warming and has a tendency to increase.
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