Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK 'can cut emissions to nearly zero' by 2050
- MPs make history by passing Commons motion to declare ‘environment and climate change emergency’
- Heathrow ruling: High Court approves third runway despite escalating climate change crisis
- New French energy law puts off difficult climate decisions
- Voice of the Mirror: Play your part
- Notes from a remarkable political moment for climate change
- The hounding of Greta Thunberg is proof that the right have run out of ideas
There is extensive media coverage of the Committee on Climate Change’s new report, which sets out its advice on how the UK can reach “net-zero” emissions in order for the country to meet its Paris Agreement commitments. BBC News says that the CCC recommends that the “UK should lead the global fight against climate change by cutting greenhouse gases to nearly zero by 2050” and that “this can be done at no added cost from previous estimates”. The news broadcaster adds: “[The CCC’s] report says that if other countries follow the UK, there’s a 50-50 chance of staying below the recommended 1.5C temperature rise by 2100…Some say the proposed 2050 target for near-zero emissions is too soft and still risks harming the climate. But others will fear that the goal could damage the UK’s economy.” As with Carbon Brief’s in-depth summary of the report, BBC News environment analyst Roger Harrabin runs through all the key recommendations, from aviation and farming through to housing and cars: “The committee expects consumer bills to rise at first, then fall as newer, cheaper electricity generators are introduced. The report also has one controversial recommendation: to turn down the home thermostat to 19C in winter.” The Daily Mail joins most other newspapers in zooming in to inspect what the report says about the implications for personal lifestyles. It incorrectly says that “MPs tell” – the CCC is not made up of MPs – “Brits to set their heating no higher than 19°C, ditch gas boilers, eat less red meat and take trains instead of flights to help save the planet”. It adds: “Last night the government gave its backing to the radical plan – and said it would legislate to make Britain the first major world economy to reduce its carbon footprint to zero.” In an accompanying piece, the Daily Mail says the “number of wind turbines in the UK needs to quadruple to 7,500 and the nation should plant ‘enough trees to cover Yorkshire’ in order to meet strict government climate targets”. [This figure refers to offshore wind turbines.] The Times also notes across nearly three news pages of coverage (including the frontpage) that “almost three billion trees must be planted by 2050 to end Britain’s contribution to global warming”, adding that “among the most eye-catching proposals is the recommendation that 30,000 hectares of trees should be planted each year, treble current rates”. In a separate piece in the Times, the headline highlights a “ban for gas boilers as electric cars lead way to green future”. The Daily Telegraph focuses its headline on the heating recommendation that thermostats should “be set no higher than 19C”. It quotes Age UK, the charity, saying that older people need to keep their living room temperature at 21C “to stay fit and well through the winter”. The Financial Times stresses that the net-zero 2050 target is “something no other big economy has yet signed up to”. It adds: “The biggest shift will come from energy conservation and the extensive electrification of everyday items ranging from cars to cookers to heating systems, which will be powered by renewables and other low-carbon sources rather than fossil fuels. A healthier diet will also be required, through slightly less beef, lamb and dairy consumption because livestock are a major source of emissions.” On the “cost” of such action, the FT says: “The committee forecasts a pricetag of 1 to 2% of gross domestic product a year by 2050 or tens of billions of pounds. This is consistent with what was agreed under the 2008 Act…The report does not include savings that may be produced, leading environmental activists to protest it exaggerates the total cost.” The Guardian headlines its coverage, simply: “This report will change your life.” It quotes Prof David Reay at the University of Edinburgh. “If the meticulous and robust expert advice here is heeded it will deliver a revolution in every facet of our lives, from how we power our homes and travel to work to the food we buy.” In a separate piece, the Guardian highlights that “the UK is forecast to miss existing carbon targets in 2025 and 2030. Hitting zero emissions in 2050 will require a leap in the ambition of government policy, particularly on heating and transport.” The i newspaper focuses on Scotland, saying that the CCC recommends that it has an earlier net-zero deadline of 2045. The Sun says “Brits were…ordered to turn down the central heating, ditch the car and fly less in an £80 billion plan to save the planet”. It publishes a list of “Deben’s demands” (Lord Deben is the CCC’s chair), which include “share items like power tools” and “use peat-free compost”. [The CCC suggests growth in demand for flights be curtailed; it does not demand a reduction.] The Independent stresses in its coverage that business groups show “broad support” for the CCC’s advice: “Despite necessarily calling for major changes within our society, the report’s aims have been well received in many sectors including energy and business bodies as well as environmental and farming groups. The widespread enthusiasm for the target comes amid a huge swell in interest in climate change spurred-on by school strikers inspired by Greta Thunberg, the Extinction Rebellion protests, Sir David Attenborough’s BBC documentary on climate change, and cross party parliamentary support for measures to tackle some of the problems.” BusinessGreen rounds up the reaction of the “green economy”. New Scientist has published “seven charts that explain what net zero emissions means for the UK” one of which shows how “phasing out petrol and diesel cars earlier would save money”. The Guardian has “four charts that show how the UK stacks up on climate change”. HuffPost notes the CCC’s advice comes at a time when public appetite for action on climate change in the UK shows “broad support”: “A majority of British adults, 54%, now believe that ‘climate change threatens our extinction as a species’, while just one in four (25%) disagree, a survey of 2,037 people by ComRes found.” The report also receives international coverage, including CNN and Bloomberg, which says these are “the toughest measures anywhere in the industrial world to rein in pollution”.
MPs yesterday passed a motion making the UK parliament the first in the world to declare an “environment and climate emergency”, reports the Independent. It adds: “The symbolic move – recognising the urgency needed to combat the climate crisis – follows a wave of protests launched by the Extinction Rebellion strikers in recent weeks. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the motion to ‘set off a wave of action from parliaments and governments around the globe’…According to Labour, the respected House of Commons library could not find any examples of a national or parliamentary declaration of a ‘climate emergency’. The result came in after Theresa May decided not to whip her MPs against Labour’s motion, and instead encouraged them to be out campaigning ahead of the local elections tomorrow.” BBC News says the “proposal, which demonstrates the will of the Commons on the issue but does not legally compel the government to act, was approved without a vote…Environment Secretary Michael Gove acknowledged there was a climate ’emergency’ but did not back Labour’s demands to declare one.” The declaration of an emergency was one of the key demands put to the government by environmental activist group Extinction Rebellion over recent weeks. BBC News adds: “Dozens of towns and cities across the UK have already declared ‘a climate emergency’. There is no single definition of what that means but many local areas say they want to be carbon-neutral by 2030.” Meanwhile, the Guardian has a live blog today reporting the next target of climate protests in the UK – the Bank of England.
The High Court has “rejected a legal challenge against a controversial third runway at Heathrow Airport, despite growing alarm at the climate crisis”, reports the Independent. It adds: “Judges delivered their ruling on Wednesday following separate judicial reviews of the government’s decision to approve the plans, brought by a group of councils, residents, environmental charities and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.” In a separate article in the Independent, the paper’s travel editor Simon Calder says “opponents of expansion at Heathrow have vowed to appeal after all five legal challenges against a third runway were thrown out at the High Court…A third runway, due to open in 2026, would increase takeoffs and landings at the airport from the current limit of 480,000 movements each year to around 740,000. The claimants argument that the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, had ignored the Paris accord on climate change. But the judges said he did not act unlawfully – and that the issue would be considered again at the development consent order (planning permission) stage.” Calder also has an analysis piece in the Independent where he notes that “the national benefits of aviation must be balanced against local and global concerns – and the political dimension could also be about to muscle its way in”. The Sun reports that Boris Johnson, the former foreign minister who has long campaigned against the expansion of Heathrow, says he will “carry on fighting” and the “judgement is not the end of the story”. The Daily Mail says: “The campaigners had argued that the expansion was unlawful because it did not take into account the Paris Agreement – which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But the judges held the Paris Agreement was not part of UK law and thus did not apply.” The Daily Telegraph carries a piece by John Holland-Kaye, Heathrow’s chief executive, who tries to claim that the airport is “flying the flag for zero-carbon aviation”.
Reuters reports that France has “set more ambitious targets to cut carbon emissions by 2050”. However, it adds that “few measures will take effect on president Emmanuel Macron’s watch as the ‘yellow vest’ protest movement limits his scope for environmental protection”. Reuters says: “A draft new ‘energy transition law’, presented to cabinet on Tuesday and seen by Reuters, pledges to reduce carbon emissions by a factor of more than six by 2050 compared to 1990. That increases the emissions’ reduction target from a factor of four stipulated in a 2015 energy law introduced by Macron’s predecessor Francois Hollande.” The Financial Times says: “France will delay by 10 years the shutdown of part of its nuclear power industry in order to fulfil president Emmanuel Macron’s aim of making the country carbon-neutral by 2050.”
Most UK national newspaper carry reaction to the CCC’s net-zero report. An editorial in the Daily Mirror is short and to the point: “The warning from the Committee on Climate Change could not be starker: if we want to save the planet, we must cut greenhouse gas emissions. Let’s all do our bit by walking more, eating less meat and taking fewer flights.” In contrast, the Sun’s editorial complains of “green hysteria”, adding: “Are you ready to scrap your car, make your home colder, halve your meat intake and stop flying on holiday? We didn’t think so. And that is the problem with the ’climate emergency’ hysteria we are all expected to succumb to…Sure, we could abandon a century of progress, ditch flights and turn carbon-neutral. It will make no difference unless the rest of the planet does too. And ordinary people, both here and elsewhere, aren’t up for it.” An editorial in the Daily Mail (not yet online) is also scornful: “We are proud Britain leads the way in tackling the potential threat of climate change, slashing carbon emissions to their lowest since the Victorian era (although the way our politicians slavishly prostrate themselves before Extinction Rebellion’s teenage eco-zealots, you’d never know). Thanks to punitive green taxes, renewables and dramatically reduced coal-fired power stations, the UK is responsible for just 1% of global CO2 emissions. While there is no room for complacency, are the nannying measures proposed today by hand-wringing MPs – setting home heating to just 19C, ditching gas boilers, eating less red meat and blighting the coastline with thousands more ugly wind turbines – really justified? With China belching out 60% of the rise in carbon emissions over the past decade, it smacks of politically correct meddling.” An editorial in the Daily Telegraph (not yet online) adopts a similar tone: “It’s war, then. We must be ‘on a war footing to deal with this enemy’, Ed Miliband has told the nation. The enemy is climate change…[But] this war looks likely to stay phoney, in the hands of the Virtue Signal Corps.” In the Times, its columnist David Aaronovitch notes that “the more distant the Thatcher era seems, the more the right has been influenced by those who oppose the scientific consensus on global warming”. He adds: “Labour’s position appears to be that there is no such price, but a cursory look through what the CCC recommends by way of action shows this to be problematic. To get to net-zero, we will need at the very least to increase energy efficiency, move to 100% of power being produced from low-carbon sources (it’s currently 50%), change the way we all heat and power our homes, alter our ways of moving around, and significantly modify our diets and our use of land. Although the process will develop new industries and jobs, it is bound to mean some disruption and loss…However, we’ve done it before. When I was a teenager we smoked in cinemas, the idea of homosexuals marrying was never even discussed and most white people said they wouldn’t want their daughter marrying a black man. And then it changed.” In an analysis piece for the Times (not yet online), the paper’s environment editor Ben Webster writes: “The committee worked hard to make it easy for MPs to approve the target. Whether any other large economy chooses to bind itself so tightly is yet to be seen.” In the Red Box section of the Times, Greenpeace’s John Sauven says: “Our grandchildren could look back on us not as the generation who sold their future, but the generation who saved it.” In the Daily Telegraph, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard welcomes the CCC’s report: “There is no macro-economic cost to a climate target with zero emissions. To claim that we cannot afford to wean ourselves off fossil fuels by 2050 is to rely on primitive accounting fallacies. The switch to a post-fossil economy is more likely to be an accelerant to GDP growth, akin to the successive upheavals of steam power, electricity and digital technology, each with a ripening phase of 30 years or so…The logic is that we should launch this green blitz with vigour of emergency rearmament, and play to our relative strengths in North Sea technology and green finance. It is also the sort of country that I want to live in. Throw brickbats if you want, but perhaps there is a silent majority of Telegraph readers that agrees. Aren’t we conservatives after all?” Analysis by Jillian Ambrose in the Daily Telegraphhighlights how the CCC says that carbon capture and storage (CCS) will be “a necessity, not an option”. A feature in the Economist notes: “Working in the target’s favour is the falling cost of technology. In 2008 the CCC estimated that lowering emissions by 80% by 2050 would cost 1-2% of GDP annually by then. Unforeseen drops in the cost of renewable energy and batteries, among other things, mean the committee now says net-zero can be achieved for the same price.” In a blog post for the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU), its director Richard Black sets out “five big questions” for the net-zero target, which include: “What about negative emissions – sucking CO2 out of the air? What scale – and how? One thing we can definitely expect the committee to say is that a net zero target means nothing without the policies to achieve it. This will mean action in all areas of the economy and thus most government departments.” Tom Bawden’s analysis for the Independent concludes by stressing the “plus side” of the UK going net-zero: “The air will become cleaner, your diet will be healthier and you might be more likely to have a job if the UK is able to establish itself as the leader of a green industrial revolution.”
There is continuing comment reacting to the political momentum created by the climate protests led by Extinction Rebellion and Greta Thunberg. Writing in the New Yorker, veteran campaigner Bill McKibben remarks: “Having followed the issue closely since I wrote my first book about climate change, 30 years ago, I think I can say that we’re in a remarkable moment, when, after years of languishing, climate concern is suddenly and explosively rising to the top of the political agenda. Maybe, though not certainly, it is rising fast enough that we’ll get real action.” In the New York Times, the anthropologist and activist David Graeber writes: “Threatened with irrelevance, some politicians have started to respond. In Britain, the opposition Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has now proposed that the first of Extinction Rebellion’s demands, a national state of climate emergency, be put to a vote in parliament as early as Wednesday. Whether the motion is successful or not, it represents a previously difficult-to-imagine acknowledgment of the crisis. It’s just barely possible that Britain, the nation that ushered in the Industrial Revolution and its explosive carbon emissions, might also be the first to make a serious effort to undo the damage. But if the government can’t bring itself to do so, the people will have to. With any luck, they’ll be just in time to save the planet.” In Quartz, Akshat Rathi observes that “Extinction Rebellion has changed the paradigm of climate protests…It has shown how to get British lawmakers to debate climate action. Will groups in other countries do the same?”
Guardian columnist Aditya Chakrabortty writes that “over the past few days, something extraordinary has happened in our politics. A bunch of grown men have begun bullying a schoolgirl. Perhaps you already know who I mean: Greta Thunberg”. He continues: “Amid this virtuoso vulgarity and sheer crass panic lies a political strategy that has rarely been used in Britain. It can be defined as denying your opponent the legitimacy to speak, not because of what they are saying or what they’ve done, but simply on account of who they are.” In the Independent, Katy Balls (the Spectator’s deputy political editor) believes that Conservatives need to speak up about their actions on climate change: “It’s clear that more needs to be done to tackle the global challenge of climate change but that doesn’t mean the Tories have to be shy about the progress they have made along the way. A failure to reinforce their achievements – just as occurred with the failure to reinforce the Tories deficit reduction strategy under May – means that it is now very hard for this message to land…There is a risk to all this. The Tories’ failure to communicate their message won’t just cost them at the ballot box, it could cost the country.” Writing for ConservativeHome, Rory Stewart (who was last night promoted to be the new development secretary of state) sets out his “wide-ranging programme” for tackling climate change: “We must never not fool ourselves into thinking that the way to solve global warming is by an act of unilateral economic disarmament, that shatters our own economy, without changing the world. This is global climate change. We should plant a hundred million more trees at home, but still remember that the Amazon is 25 times bigger than the whole of Britain…And then there’s China…Saving our planet will require a very eclectic bunch of policies – from embracing bewildering new technology, to deepening our love of nature and history – from changing our own individual lives, to influencing China – it needs moral courage and grinding common-sense. It requires a unique philosophy of action that is unashamedly modern and romantic, individualistic and international, idealistic, popular, and practical: in short a philosophy that is Conservative.”
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