Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK failing to match climate rhetoric with action, adviser warns
- US: 'Historic' heatwave takes aim at Pacific Northwest
- Britain committed to holding COP26 climate conference in person, says minister
- Most new wind and solar projects will be cheaper than coal, report finds
- China launches first facility exploring Earth system interactions, improving the country’s right to speak in climate negotiations
- What makes a good net-zero target?
- Australia: The National Party’s allergy to net-zero – by a worried Liberal
- Limited potential for bird migration to disperse plants to cooler latitudes
- Energy budget constraints on the time history of aerosol forcing and climate sensitivity
There is widespread coverage of the official progress report on UK efforts to meet its climate goals, which found, says the Financial Times, that “[m]inisters have failed to develop coherent strategies for cutting emissions from the most polluting sectors of the economy, and are not matching their climate rhetoric with action”. The paper adds: “In a highly critical report on the government’s progress on delivering economy-wide emissions cuts, the Climate Change Committee [CCC] said decarbonisation plans for key sectors, such as housing, had been repeatedly delayed, and that it was ‘hard to discern any comprehensive strategy in the climate plans we have seen in the past 12 months’.” It quotes CCC chair Lord Deben saying: “Almost all things that should have happened have either been delayed or…haven’t hit the mark…the delivery has just not been there.” BBC News says there is a “gulf between [prime minister] Boris Johnson’s words and deeds on climate change”, according to the CCC report. It continues: “The government says its net-zero strategy, due in Autumn, will show where carbon cuts will be applied. But the CCC says that, at current progress, only 20% of the UK’s ambitions up to 2035 will be achieved.” New Scientist reports the CCC line that the UK risks missing its targets by a “huge margin”. Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph reports that the committee has set out 200 recommendations for the government to close the gap “including priorities for cutting emissions from homes, transport and diets”. The Times runs under the headline: “Boris Johnson attacked over green failures before COP26 climate summit.” It quotes CCC chief executive Chris Stark saying: “It’s been a year when the government has been willing to make some genuinely historic commitments on climate but the targets they have set are not going to be achieved by magic. There’s now a vacuum, which I’m afraid is being filled by the naysayers, who say that the government hasn’t got a plan or that it’s unwilling to show it.” Climate Home News quotes Stark saying the government has done “surprisingly little” to meet its climate targets so far. A story for the Independent, trailed on its digital frontpage, runs under the headline: “UK’s plan to tackle climate crisis is ‘woeful’, government advisers warn.” A second Independent article looks at “what we must do to take action on the climate crisis”. Reuters reports: “Failure to publish a clear strategy soon will also undermine Britain’s ability to encourage other countries to set tougher climate goals at the Glasgow talks, the CCC said.” Bloomberg has the story under the headline: “Boris Johnson told lack of climate action puts COP26 in jeopardy.” The New York Times, the Guardian and BusinessGreen also have the story, with a second BusinessGreen reporting the reactions from “green figures”. The i newspaper picks up the CCC saying UK emissions are set to rebound this year, bouncing back from the temporary effect of Covid-19 lockdowns. BBC Radio 4’s Today programme interviewed several guests this morning following the CCC report, including Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary. Carbon Brief has an in-depth summary of the CCC findings.
In other news from the UK, the Times reports that climate activist Greta Thunberg “has attacked ministers preparing to approve a North Sea oil and gas project months before Britain hosts a global climate change conference”. The Herald Scotland says the government has been “told to reject ‘indefensible’ Shetland oil field”. Another Times article reports the comments of transport minister Rachel Maclean saying that the cost of owning and using an electric car would match petrol or diesel “during the 2020s”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the Crown Estate is “set for a windfall” after its marine holdings “which include the seabed around England, Wales and Northern Ireland, more than doubled in value”. It reports: “The Crown Estate has added £1bn to the value of its portfolio in the last year thanks to a boom in offshore wind, the clearest indication yet that the monarch’s property company is set to benefit substantially from the UK’s green energy transition.”
Forecasters say a coming heatwave the US Pacific northwest “could shatter long-standing temperature records, strain power grids and endanger vulnerable residents”, Reuters reports. The newswire adds: “Experts say extreme weather events such as the late-spring heat waves that have descended on parts of the US this year can’t be linked directly to climate change. But more unusual weather patterns could become more common amid rising global temperatures, National Weather Service meteorologist Eric Schoening told Reuters in an interview last week.” The Hill reports that a “series of wildfires” have broken out “unseasonably early, sparking fears that this will be one of the worst fire seasons ever”. The website adds: “A number of environmental factors are exacerbating the wildfire season in the West, [Brian Harvey, an assistant professor with the University of Washington’s School of Environmental and Forest Sciences] said, but climate change is the common cause, with warming increasing the danger for fires in the American West and Southwest.”
Meanwhile, in other US news, the New York Times has a report entitled: “Some Republicans find failure to grapple with climate change a ‘political liability’.” It adds: “A small but growing number of Republicans say the GOP needs a coherent climate strategy and formed a ‘Conservative Climate Caucus’ on Capitol Hill.” Elsewhere, the Guardian reports: “Activists fear Biden’s climate pledges are falling apart.” It points to developments including “news that congressional bargaining over Biden’s climate and infrastructure bill is hitting a wall with Republicans”. Reuters reports that President Biden is “to meet with bipartisan senators to discuss infrastructure plan”, after Republicans “chafed at his definition of infrastructure, which included fighting climate change”. The Hill reports: “Energy secretary Jennifer Granholm defended US carbon-neutrality targets in testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, saying the US has no choice but to take action regardless of Chinese efforts to reduce their own emissions.”
The UK is planning to hold the COP26 climate summit in person, according to Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a government minister, reports Reuters. The newswire quotes her saying: “We’re absolutely committed to making it happen in person…We’ve seen over the last year that it’s been really difficult, particularly for developing countries, working on a virtual basis through negotiations so we’re absolutely determined to make sure that everyone can be in the same room.” Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph reports Trevelyan saying she hopes the summit will result in a “Glasgow agreement”, but adds: “However, a member of the Cabinet Office’s COP26 unit, Dr John Murton, cautioned that the upcoming meeting will not result in a new over-arching climate agreement.”
“Almost two-thirds of wind and solar projects built globally last year will be able to generate cheaper electricity than even the world’s cheapest new coal plants,” the Guardian reports, citing a new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The paper adds: “Solar power costs fell by 16% last year, according to the report, while the cost of onshore wind dropped 13% and offshore wind by 9%.” It quotes IRENA director general Francesco La Camera saying: “Today renewables are the cheapest source of power. Renewables present countries tied to coal with an economically attractive phase-out agenda that ensures they meet growing energy demand, while saving costs, adding jobs, boosting growth and meeting climate ambition.” BusinessGreen says the findings suggest billions could be saved by replacing some 800 gigawatts (GW) of existing coal plants with new-build renewables. Bloomberg reports similar findings from BloombergNEF which show, it says: “It’s now cheaper to build and operate new large-scale wind or solar plants in nearly half the world than it would be to run an existing coal or gas-fired power plant.”
Elsewhere, a comment from the Financial Times Lex column says: “Coal consumption refuses to disappear as quickly as climate change activists would like.” It notes that coal prices “up by half this year, have further to rise”. The piece concludes: “Do not bury thermal coal just yet. With little forecast expansion of supply, even slowing demand will support its price.”
Meanwhile, Bangladeshi newspaper the Daily Sun reports that the country’s prime minister has approved the scrapping of 10 coal-fired power plants with a combined capacity of more than 9 gigawatts (GW), reports the Daily Sun newspaper. It says another 1.3GW scheme might be added to list following a decision by the country’s cabinet. It adds: “The power division proposed to scrap the plants due to environmental concerns and difficulties in mobilising funds.” Finally, the Hill reports that a utility firm in the US state of Michigan is “to stop using coal as fuel source by 2025”.
The Global Times reports that China launched its first “virtual Earth laboratory” on Wednesday. The state-run publication says the device can predict climate and environmental variability and prevent and mitigate natural disasters more effectively. It can also “improve China’s right to speak in international climate negotiations,” the outlet adds. The Science and Technology Daily reports that the device is the first of its kind to be built in China with Chinese intellectual property. It adds that Dr Cao Junji from the Chinese Academy of Science says that it will assist the nation to tackle climate change, improve its ecology and environment and achieve the “dual-carbon” goals.
Meanwhile, Chinese premier Li Keqiang has instructed the nation to “play the advantage of” its wind, light, hydropower and mineral resources in its vast western region, reports Securities Times. At a meeting on Monday, Li directed his government to build “large-scale clean energy bases” there to boost the nation’s abilities to ensure the steady supply of energy and key resources, the report says. State broadcaster CCTV has a video of Li addressing dozens of officials. The meeting was attended by vice premier Han Zheng, who is in charge of China’s newly formed climate “leaders group”. (Read Carbon Brief’s explainer on the group.)
Elsewhere, China Daily reports that the Shanghai Environment and Energy Exchange has released details of the trading of carbon emission rights for the nation – ahead of the planned launch of the national emissions trading scheme (ETS) this month. A bulletin stated how and when carbon emission quotas would be traded and set the daily price limits, the website says. State newswire China News Service also reports on the announcement, noting that it means the launch of the ETS is in “countdown”. In related news, Caixin writes that “a growing number” of Chinese regions are trialling carbon-trading programmes “underpinned by green energy certificates”.
Finally, Reuters reports that the Biden administration has “ordered a ban on US imports of a key solar panel material from Chinese-based Hoshine Silicon Industry Co over forced labour allegations, said two sources briefed on the matter”. The Financial Times reports: “[The US] also added a further five companies that make polysilicon – a raw material used by the solar industry – to the commerce department’s ‘entity list’, which requires US companies to secure a licence from the government before doing business with them, the people added.” Bloomberg also has the story.
Some 131 countries have adopted, announced or are considering net-zero targets, covering 73% of global emissions, write Silke Mooldijk, Frederic Hans and Claire Fyson, in a comment for Climate Home News. This development, say the authors, who collaborate on the Climate Action Tracker project, “has triggered an important discussion on how useful [the net-zero targets] are, how scientifically robust they are – and their real-world impact”. They describe a new Climate Action Tracker method for evaluating net-zero goals, based on its target year, emissions coverage, legal status and other attributes. The authors write: “Well designed and ambitious net-zero targets can play a key role in reducing global carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero around 2050 and 2070, respectively, to keep to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C warming limit. However, net-zero targets can distract from the urgent need for deep emissions reductions.”
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Warren Entsch, Liberal Party member for the Queensland seat of Leichardt and the Morrison government’s special envoy for the Great Barrier Reef , writes to counter concerns from the National Party over a net-zero target, arguing: “We need to move on climate and energy policy. We need to move with the times, and we need to move now.” He continues: “The challenges of climate change, trade and diplomacy are all coming at us rapidly, and our economy is ill-prepared without a coherent climate and energy policy. The science illustrates very clearly why we ought to undertake accelerated changes to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest. The economics tells us that it is not only viable to do so but advantageous. And the technology – that is commercially available today – shows us we can decarbonise large portions of our economy with relative ease.” Entsch adds: “There’s no doubt in my mind the fossil fuel industry has had a free ride on emissions…It also needs to get its head out of the sand and start planning for the energy transition and what that means for its workforce. Entsch also disputes the idea, put forward by the junior partner in Australia’s governing coalition, that agriculture should be exempted from a net-zero goal, noting: “The very industry the Nationals want to protect is also now largely on board with the idea of a net-zero 2050 emissions target.” The Sydney Morning Herald has a separate news article reporting Entsch’s comment piece for the paper, headlined: “Fossil fuels’ free ride: Liberal MPs escalate calls for net-zero target.”
There is only limited potential for migratory birds to help “fleshy-fruited” plants adapt to a warming climate by spreading seeds to cooler latitudes, a new study suggests. Using data on 949 seed-dispersal interactions between 46 bird and 81 plant species from 13 woodland communities across Europe, the researchers find that “most of the plant species (86%)…are dispersed by birds migrating south, whereas only 35% are dispersed by birds migrating north”. In addition, the majority of this “critical dispersal service northwards” is provided by only a few bird species, the paper says. An accompanying News & Views article notes that many aspects of the dispersal process “have been a mystery until now”.
A new paper presents an “observationally-constrained” timeseries of historical aerosol effective radiative forcing (ERF) between 1750 and 2019. The researchers combine “the relationships between aerosol emissions and their cooling effects on temperature from 11 climate models with simpler representations of the underlying physics”. The findings suggest “that the effect of aerosol cooling has only unwound slowly since 1980, and that it is difficult to determine how sensitive the climate is from this method”.
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