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Daily Briefing

16.06.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING UK failing to protect against climate dangers, advisers warn
UK failing to protect against climate dangers, advisers warn

News.

UK failing to protect against climate dangers, advisers warn
The Guardian Read Article

Various UK publications have covered the new climate risk assessment released by the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The Guardian reports that the UK government is “failing to protect people from the fast-rising risks of the climate crisis”, including deadly heatwaves and blackouts. Its coverage emphasises what CCC experts referred to as the “absolutely illogical” lack of sufficient action on adaptation, particularly given that acting early can be as much as 10 times more cost-effective than not doing so, in some instances. It also notes that the committee said the government “had not heeded their warnings for more than a decade that homes must be made easier to cool, such as by using shutters”. According to the Independent, the CCC warned that the UK is less prepared now than it was five years ago – when the last risk assessment was released – for the “escalating effects of the climate crisis on people and wildlife”. Independent climate correspondent Daisy Dunne’s assessment of the report is also trailed on the frontpage of the digital newspaper. The i newspaper states that the report “paints a stark picture of a country in which wildfires, floods, storms, landslides and droughts became increasingly common – killing hundreds of people a year through heat exhaustion, disrupting food supplies and devastating wildlife”. According to the Daily Mail, the “damning” report warned that, without better preparations, risks with annual costs totalling billions of pounds are set to triple by 2080. BusinessGreen’s coverage highlights the warning from the committee that failure to prioritise these climate resilience could also undermine the UK’s ability to meet its net-zero and biodiversity goals. The CCC, which is the government’s independent adviser on climate change, highlighted eight areas where urgent action is needed, including addressing risks to soil health from flooding and drought and risks to human health from heat exposure, Bloomberg reports. BBC News highlights some of the key areas in need of improvement and also details what householders can do to “climate-proof” their homes. The Financial Times says that, overall, the committee catalogued 61 risks and opportunities, nearly 60% of which were rated as urgently in need of attention, compared with a third in the 2016 assessment. The newspaper also notes that the “damning assessment” comes days after climate commitments made at the G7 summit, hosted by UK prime minister Boris Johnson in Cornwall, were criticised for neglecting to detail plans to help the poorest nations cope with global warming. It says that the CCC’s findings will inform the government’s own five-yearly climate risk assessment due next year. Meanwhile, the Daily Express (not yet online), notes that the newspaper was “praised by climate experts” after CCC chief executive Chris Stark said “it is good that the Daily Express is highlighting inconsistencies” in government climate action. More details of the committee’s conclusions and what they mean for UK climate action can be found in Carbon Brief’s analysis.

Separately, the Scotsman reports that the Scottish government has failed to hit its climate change goals for the third year in a row. It says that the latest figures show emissions in 2019 were 51.5% lower than 1990 baseline levels, “far short” of the national target to cut emissions by 55% over the same period.

Federal judge says Biden cannot pause new leases for drilling on public lands
The New York Times Read Article

The Biden administration’s suspension of new oil and gas leases on public lands and waters has been blocked, in what the New York Times describes as “the first major legal roadblock for President Biden’s quest to cut fossil fuel pollution and conserve public lands”. A federal judge in Louisiana concluded that power to pause offshore oil and gas leases “lies solely with Congress” as it was the legislative branch that originally made those lands available for leasing, the newspaper reports. It notes that 13 attorney generals – all from Republican – states, sued the administration in March to lift the White House executive order that brought a temporary halt to new drilling leases on federal lands and waters. The piece also adds that the judge, who was appointed by president Donald Trump, concluded that the 13 states had shown that their economies could be irreparably harmed by the suspension of drilling. The Financial Times reports that the “ruling is unlikely to be the final word on the matter”, with the preliminary injunction remaining in place until the final resolution of the case or an appeal to a higher court. According to the Hill, the US Interior Department intends to comply with the ruling but will also continue its review of current leasing and permitting practices. Bloomberg notes that president Biden ordered this review alongside the temporary ban on oil and gas leases, asking the agency to consider its “broad stewardship responsibilities,” including the impact of global warming.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that two Senate Democrats have said they would not vote for an infrastructure bill that omits key climate measures, putting pressure on the Biden administration to abandon attempts to secure a bipartisan package. The New York Times says that, with some progressives opposed to the bipartisan efforts, Democrats said they hoped to move forward in July with a “budget manoeuvre that would allow them to push through their own plan”, including measures to combat climate change.

In more US news, Reuters reports that the nation has agreed to hold talks with the EU concerning the bloc’s planned carbon border tariff after Biden met European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel.

Finally, another New York Times piece reports that after the strain placed on the Texas power grid last winter that led to blackouts – see Carbon Brief‘s coverage at the time – now it is under threat from a heatwave. The article states: “As climate change contributes to weather extremes in both summer and winter, the vulnerability of the state’s power system is becoming increasingly apparent”. The San Francisco Chronicle reports on similar strains on the grid due to high temperatures in California.

Climate activists launch fresh legal challenge to Norway’s Arctic drilling
Financial Times Read Article

Activists are pushing a European court to rule that Norway’s drilling for oil in the Arctic constitutes a breach of human rights, the Financial Times reports. The newspaper notes that Norwegian courts have already found – on three occasions – that opening up large parts of the Barents Sea, north of the Arctic Circle, to drilling had not broken the country’s constitution. Now, it says that six young activists and two environmental groups have filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights, “arguing the exploration breaches their rights to life and privacy”. Reuters notes that the lawsuit is “part of an emerging branch of law worldwide where plaintiffs go to court to make the case for curbing emissions that cause climate change”. DeSmog also covers the story, adding that the move comes days after the Norwegian government pledged to continue issuing new oil exploration licences.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the majority state-owned Norwegian company Equinor has said it would dedicate more than 50% of investments to renewables and CO2 capture by 2030, even as its oil and gas output continues to rise.

China says radiation levels are normal around Taishan nuclear power plant following reported leak

China said on Tuesday that “there is no abnormality in the radiation environment” around the Taishan nuclear power plant after the US government reviewed claims of a leak in the facility, reports CNN. Beijing’s foreign spokesperson, Zhao Lijian, said the plant’s safety “is guaranteed”, the news outlet adds. On Monday, CNN broke the story that a French company – which helps to operate the Chinese nuclear plant near Hong Kong – had warned the US government of an “imminent radiological threat.” According to AP, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, said that her administration was closely watching the facility. Reuters has a piece explaining what has happened at the plant so far.

Separately, four Chinese authorities have instructed regional governments and state-owned companies to “actively promote” the application of 5G in the energy sector, reports state-run People’s Daily. The directive orders local officials and entrepreneurs to establish a series of “typical application scenarios” for 5G – such as “smart” electricity factories, electrical grids and coal mines – in the next three to five years, the publication explains. Meanwhile, Luo Junjie, the director of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, has praised China’s “global” advantage in “smart” electric cars, reports state broadcaster CCTV. According to Luo, China has sold the most “new energy” vehicles anywhere in the world over the past six years, the channel reports.

Elsewhere, Xu Zizhi, a Chinese electricity official, has been put under “discipline review and supervisory investigation” on suspicion of “seriously violating discipline and law”, reports People’s Daily. Xu was the Communist Party secretary of several state-owned provincial-level electricity companies and is currently the secretary-general of the Enterprise Management Association of the State Grid, the newspaper writes. Finally, Caixin reports that Shenzhen – one of China’s eight carbon trading pilot markets – plans to set up a “carbon emission trading fund” to manage the income from the government carbon quota system and “gradually realise the control of the total emission volume”.

Finally, Bloomberg reports on analysis by Beijing-based think tank International Institute of Green Finance, which finds that over half of Chinese-backed overseas coal-fired power plant projects have been shelved or cancelled over the past six years. There is also Reuters coverage of Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air (CREA) analysis which finds that more China-invested overseas coal-fired power capacity was cancelled than commissioned since 2017.

Nato considers net-zero by 2050 target in move to green military operations
Climate Home News Read Article

Nato will consider a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050 after country leaders asked secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg to “assess the feasibility” of such a target, Climate Home News reports. The military alliance, which includes 30 European and North American countries, issued a communique at a Brussels summit recognising climate change as a “threat multiplier” and “one of the defining challenges of our times”, the news website notes. It adds that the document stressed that emissions cuts must not impair “personnel safety, operational effectiveness and our deterrence and defence posture”. The piece also states that, while the target would not apply to member countries’ militaries, it “could provide a blueprint for similar action”. BBC News reports that, in its statement, Nato said it would develop a “mapping methodology to help allies measure greenhouse gas emissions from military activities and installations”, which could help set “voluntary goals” to try and reduce these emissions. The article notes that getting accurate data on the environmental impact of military activities is “notoriously difficult”, although it is “no secret that militaries use arsenals of gas-guzzling equipment”.

'Destructive': UK-Australia free trade deal sparks outrage from environmental groups
BusinessGreen Read Article

A new trade agreement between the UK and Australia paves the way to tariff-free trade, which farmers and green groups warn will undermine UK standards, BusinessGreen reports. The news website quotes representatives from various NGOs and thinktanks who infer that closer ties with Australia on trade are not desirable if the UK is seeking to improve its climate ambitions. The piece notes that the Australian government are “widely seen on the world stage as laggards when it comes to climate action” and notes that the “country’s farming and environmental standards are less stringent than the UK’s”. It also adds that green groups have been “deeply critical” of the lack of environmental safeguards being incorporated into UK trade policies, as well as the government’s failure to “use its pursuit of trade deals to push other nations to enhance their domestic climate commitment”. Carbon Brief’s piece on the Brexit deal and climate change has more information on this topic. An opinion piece in the Guardian by Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, is headlined “The UK’s obsession with trade deals means disaster for the environment”.

UK could be left behind in the electric car race, warns report
BBC News Read Article

Green group Transport and Environment (T&E) says that a lack of investment by UK manufacturers means that, by the end of the decade, the UK will produce just 4% of all electric cars built in Europe – down from half in 2018, according to BBC News. This could mean that, despite being one of the first countries to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, the UK “will be almost wholly reliant on electric vehicles imported from abroad”, it adds. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that six companies are in talks with the UK about building “gigafactories” for the production of electric car batteries.

Separately, an “exclusive” story in the Daily Mirror states that “greening” the UK’s steel industry could cost 25,000 jobs and £6bn. The piece quotes chief executive of research centre the Materials Processing Institute Chris McDonald, who spoke at a briefing for MPs and peers on Westminster’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Steel.

Finally, the Guardian reports that Swedish carmaker Volvo plans to build cars using steel made without fossil fuels by 2026, “as part of a deal that could significantly reduce the carbon emissions from manufacturing its vehicles”.

Comment.

We are told electric cars are the future. But why aren't we backing the real green machines?
Ross Clark, Daily Mail Read Article

The lead op-ed in the Daily Mail, written by columnist Ross Clark, considers the future of electric cars and addresses what he sees as the “real green machines”: hydrogen vehicles. The piece notes that Land Rover announced yesterday that it plans to develop a hydrogen-powered prototype of its Defender model, stating that hydrogen is abundant and “cleaner and greener than electricity”. (It is worth noting that, as this Carbon Brief explainer makes clear, hydrogen is only as clean as the methods used to make it.) Pointing out what he sees as various issues with electric cars, including the lack of charging infrastructure in the UK, Clark says that “some car makers have come to the conclusion that hydrogen may be the answer”. He continues: “It would be unwise to bet against hydrogen-powered cars becoming a large part of the answer for cleaning up road transport…The point is that few people think battery power will be sufficient for large vehicles such as lorries and diggers. Generally speaking, the larger the vehicle and the farther you need to travel, the better the hydrogen option looks”. He asks why the government is “so intent on getting us behind the wheel of electric cars”, and states that it is likely because “not for the first time, it has committed itself to a policy without thinking through the full consequences”. (Carbon Brief’s hydrogen feature  looks in-depth at the pros and cons of hydrogen vehicles. Many experts think it is unlikely there will be a mass market for hydrogen cars, which are currently significantly outnumbered by electric vehicles.)

Science.

Brief communication: Do 1.0, 1.5, or 2.0C matter for the future evolution of Alpine glaciers?
The Cryosphere Read Article

Half-degree differences in future warming could have “important implications” for the evolution of glaciers in the European Alps, according to a new “brief communication” paper. The authors simulate every glacier in the region independently using a combined mass balance ice flow model. They find that under 1C, 1.5C and 2C warming scenarios, Alpine glaciers are projected to lose 44%, 68% and 81% of their ice volume between 2020 and 2100, respectively. They add that, in the most optimistic warming scenarios – in which temperatures decrease after the end of the 21st century – some glaciers might start to “partially recover”.

Satellite and ocean data reveal marked increase in Earth's heating rate
Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

New research finds that the Earth’s energy imbalance – the difference between solar radiation absorbed by the planet and thermal radiation emitted to space – increased by 0.5 Watts per square metre per decade between 2005 and 2009. The authors compare satellite measurements of total energy absorbed by the Earth with in-situ measurements to determine heating of the ocean, land and atmosphere, and melting of snow and ice. They find that these two independent approaches yield very similar results. The study finds that the change in energy imbalance is due to a decrease in energy reflected into space by clouds and sea ice, as well as an increase in greenhouse gases and water vapour.

The energy and carbon inequality corridor for a 1.5C compatible and just Europe
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

A new study finds that, if annual energy use across Europe is capped at 55 gigajoules (GJ) per adult and no carbon capture and storage (CCS) measures are employed, “near full equality” is needed across the continent to limit warming to 1.5C while providing everyone with enough energy for a “decent life”. The authors estimate the household energy use and carbon footprints for 28 European countries from 2015 and examine the possibility for “just” distributions that would also limit warming to 1.5C. They find that adapting to the “best technology” across Europe would save 11 exajoules of energy annually, but would increase the environmental footprint inequality. With this level of inequality, the authors find that large improvements in efficiency, implementation of CCS and an “extremely low” energy use per person of 28GJ per adult are required throughout Europe.

THE BRIEF

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THE BRIEF

Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.