Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK government puts temporary block on coal mine plan
- Clean energy group NextEra surpasses ExxonMobil in market cap
- McDonald's among food firms urging tougher deforestation rules
- Supreme Court to decide whether climate suit can be moved to federal court
- Will we go for Sizewell C nuclear option to meet zero-carbon goals?
- The Guardian's climate promise: we will keep raising the alarm
- Extreme hurricane rainfall affecting the Caribbean mitigated by the paris agreement goals
- Climate extremes may be more important than climate means when predicting species range shifts
The Financial Times reports that “the construction of the UK’s first coal mine in more than 30 years has been suspended by the government after ministers came under pressure over their commitments to tackling climate change”. The move follows Cumbria county council decision to approve the building of the pit last Friday. The newspaper adds: “Housing secretary Robert Jenrick said he reserved the right to review planning permission for the site…The UK has promised to be carbon neutral by 2050 and burning coal at the proposed plant would emit 8m tonnes of the greenhouse gas annually, environmental groups say. Mr Jenrick’s intervention, at the council’s request, means that approval is suspended until he decides if it should go ahead.” Bloomberg says: “A meeting of Cumbria County Council in the northwest of England voted by 12 votes to three in favour of the Woodhouse Colliery, which will extract as much as 3.1m tonnes of metallurgical coal each year to use in steelmaking.” BBC News quotes Extinction Rebellion which described the council’s decision as “reckless beyond belief”. The Times quotes Estelle Worthington, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, who said: “It’s terrible that this new coalmine has been given the go-ahead in the middle of a climate crisis. The secretary of state must intervene and call in this unnecessary and destructive application or else it contradicts everything the government likes to say about taking climate change seriously.” The Lex column in the Financial Times comments: “[Mining group] WCM claims it can compete with imported coal. Perhaps so. Documents filed in the planning process pointed to a five-year full cost recovery, but frankly that looks optimistic unless coking coal prices rise significantly. Some want to stop this project for environmental reasons, economics might do the trick instead.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “Octopus Energy plans to create 1,000 new technology jobs across sites in London, Brighton, Warwick and Leicester, and a new tech hub in Manchester, as part of its vision to make the UK the ‘Silicon Valley of energy’”. Commenting on the news, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said the new jobs will “provide exciting opportunities across the country for those who want to be at the cutting edge of the global green revolution”. Separately, Reuters reports that “British new car registrations fell by around 4% year-on-year in September, usually one of the top two months of the year for sales, as the coronavirus pandemic continued to affect the sector”. The Sunday Telegraph carries a news feature about Orral Nadjari , who heads up Britishvolt, which the newspaper says is close to submitting formal applications to build a so-called “gigafactory” at two potential sites in South Wales and southwest England. According to the paper, Nagjari warns that the £1.2bn project to build the UK’s first ‘gigafactory’ to supply electric batteries for the UK car industry could unravel without changes to UK state aid rules. The Guardian reports new analysis which shows that the “UK and European governments give companies subsidies worth €32bn (£29bn) a year towards buying cars, the vast majority of which are polluting diesel and petrol models”. The Times reports that electric cars are “cheaper to own and run than petrol and diesel equivalents, according to a study”.
Finally, the i newspaper says that “environmental campaigners are claiming victory after the UK government agreed to review its national energy policy in light of the UK’s more ambitious climate targets”. It adds: “In response to a legal challenge brought by campaigners, including Guardian columnist George Monbiot, business secretary Alok Sharma [last] week confirmed the policy will be reviewed.”
The Financial Times notes that “the world’s largest solar and wind power generator has surpassed ExxonMobil in stock market value, reflecting investors’ bets on a changing energy system and an uncertain outlook for oil demand”. The newspaper adds: “NextEra Energy, a Florida-based utility and power producer, had a market capitalisation of $138.6bn in intraday trading [last] Friday, having gained more than two-thirds in the past two years, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. ExxonMobil, a byword for Big Oil that was once the world’s biggest public company, has lost more than half its value since the start of the year. The supermajor’s market capitalisation was $137.9bn, down from a peak of more than $500bn in 2007.” Meanwhile, Axios covers a “federal report on US carbon emissions [which] helps to show the fast rise of wind and solar in recent years and why the potential retirement of nuclear plants makes it harder to deeply decarbonise the overall mix”. And a comment piece in the Financial Times by innovation editor John Thornhill looks at how “venture capital investors are increasingly seeking opportunities in climate tech”.
Several outlets, including BBC News, report that “food firms in the UK including McDonald’s are urging the government to toughen up rules designed to protect rainforests”. BBC News adds: “Ministers are planning a new law forbidding big firms to use produce from illegally deforested land. But the firms say the law should apply to all deforestation, whether it’s legal or illegal. That’s because the effect on the climate, and on nature, is the same if trees are felled legally or not. The firms have written a letter to the government on the closing day of its consultation on forest protection.” Reuters says: “Supermarkets, food manufacturers and restaurant chains under pressure from campaigners over their environmental impact urged Britain on Monday to strengthen a plan to stop tropical forests from being cut down to grow cocoa, palm oil and soy.” The i newspaper quotes the letter: “We applaud the effort of the government to bring forward legislation that will create a level playing field…but it’s not currently envisioned to be enough to halt deforestation. We encourage the government to go further to embrace requirements that will address this issue.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times has published a comment piece by Bruno Carvalho and noted Brazilian climate scientist Carlos Nobre in which they warn the Amazon is being turned into savannah: “Rainforests are unique ecosystems of immense complexity that nurture an incredible diversity of plants, animals and micro-organisms. Bulldozers and chain saws don’t care about that.” The New York Times also has an in-depth, three-part feature about the fate of the Amazon based on interviews with a dozen experts.
Several US publications report on the news that the US Supreme Court has said it will hear arguments over whether the city of Baltimore’s lawsuit against several oil companies can be moved to federal court. The Hill says: “The high court on Friday granted oil companies’ request to review the issue. The companies are currently being sued by the Baltimore city government, which alleges that their production and misleading marketing of fossil fuels has exacerbated climate change. The city has pushed for the case to remain in state court, while the oil companies want it in federal court.” The Hill also quotes Ann Carlson, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles’s law school, who says: “It probably improves the odds for oil companies prevailing, but it by no means guarantees it.” Axios quotes Bloomberg Law: “The high court’s interest in the issue is good news for oil and gas companies, which have tried for years to push climate liability cases to federal courts, and ultimately defeat them.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times carries a comment piece by Derek Brower, who leads the FT’s energy coverage in the US. He says the “oil market has not priced in prospect of a Biden victory”, adding: “A Democratic win would be big moment for the oil market and its industry. Two potential impacts stand out. The first is plain: Mr Biden pledges to rejoin the Paris climate deal, spend $2tn on clean energy, decarbonise American electricity and electrify swaths of the country’s transport sector. In effect, a Biden election could mark the moment when the world’s biggest oil and gas producer officially rejoined the global energy transition…Renewable energy, already progressing in the US despite President Trump, would accelerate. One plausible geopolitical impact of a Biden administration would have an almost immediate impact on oil: the possible end of the Opec-plus deal that restored crude prices this year.” The Week has a feature about how “the presidential election could decide the fate of global climate politics”.
Emily Gosden, the Times’s energy editor, writes that “if ministers are to provide clean, reliable energy they must make a decision on [the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power plant] soon”. She adds: “To its supporters, it’s a crucial step to meeting Britain’s net-zero emissions goals, providing reliable low-carbon power and creating thousands of jobs. To its critics, it’s an outdated, risky technology that will push up energy bills and blight the landscape. The proposed Sizewell C nuclear plant has long provoked debate in the energy industry – but what does the government think? That’s the £20bn question.” Gosden speaks to several interested parties and notes that one “option is for the government to take a direct stake, as it had offered to do in the now-abandoned Anglesey project [Wylfa], or even to bankroll the majority of the construction and then sell it to private investors once complete. [Developer] EDF appears amenable to either option: it just wants a decision. It is lobbying the government for a ‘roadmap that will enable an early investment decision on Sizewell C’.” In the Sunday Telegraph, pro-nuclear campaigner Zion Lights argues that “this is a critical time for nuclear power in Britain, a vital clean energy source that is not only going to be central to meeting our net-zero targets but could form a central plank of rebuilding the economy after the effects of Covid-19”. She continues: “Britain is at a crossroads. If we do not develop new nuclear power capacity now, our emissions will go up. Even if we commit to building more renewables, their intermittency severely limits how deeply we can decarbonise without sacrificing reliability.”
Separately, in the Daily Telegraph, Michael Cogley argues that the “UK must step on the gas to join race for an electric future”. He says: “China and Elon Musk’s Tesla has stolen a sizeable march – but Europe is investing heavily in closing the gap in electric cars.”
Meanwhile, Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s energy and environment analyst, says that “you could be forgiven for thinking this was the week Boris Johnson really grasped the perilous state of the planet” following his announcements at the UN General Assembly and UN biodiversity summit in New York. He adds: “At first sight, his promises looked ambitious: take the headline on a Downing Street press release which read ‘PM commits to protect 30% of UK land in boost for biodiversity’. Nearly a third of UK land protected for nature…that’s impressive, right? Well, not according to some. Environmentalists called the press release a masterpiece of spin: it gave the impression that 30% of land would be protected for biological diversity. But, as campaigners pointed out, the UK’s proposed protected area would mainly refer to land protected for beauty, not wildlife…He declared himself an ‘evangelist’ for the extremely expensive technology of CCS – carbon capture and storage, which buries CO2 in underground rocks. He heralded a revolution for hydrogen fuel and said the UK would get more nuclear power. He also said Britain would phase out sales of new petrol cars earlier than planned. But he didn’t say when, and didn’t give any details of other policies in his in-tray, or how they would be funded.” Politico has a feature on how “Boris Johnson’s plan to emerge from Brexit as a player on the global stage is getting a boost from an unexpected place – China”. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph’s Rachel Millard looks at “how Alok Sharma can put Britain on course to reach net-zero emissions in a post-Covid world”. But she adds: “The business secretary’s energy white paper faces an uphill battle to convert Britain into a net-zero nation.” In the Independent, John Rentoul notes that “research by a Conservative thinktank sheds new light on the credibility of the mid-century target for climate action”. He adds: “A majority of the British people say they support the target, set by Theresa May before she left office last year, of achieving net-zero carbon emissions for the UK by 2050. However, research by Opinium for Bright Blue, a Conservative think tank, finds that 58% of the public believe that it is unlikely that the target will be achieved.”
Kath Viner, the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, promises to “keep reporting on [climate change], raising the alarm and investigating the crisis and possible solutions, until we begin to see genuine systemic change”. She adds: “A year ago, the Guardian made a pledge to our readers. We promised to keep speaking out about the climate emergency, despite the formidable and well-funded forces who would much rather the subject remained buried. We adopted new language to emphasise the existential nature of the situation. We pledged to deepen our environmental reporting. Our commercial teams decided to reject all advertising from fossil fuel extractors – a first among major media companies. We committed to reaching carbon neutrality by 2030. And that was just the start.” In an accompanying article, Julie Richards, who is the Guardian’s delivery portfolio director, explains how the newspaper group aims to reach net-zero emissions by 2030.
Limiting global warming to 1.5C rather than 2C could halve the risk of hurricanes on the scale of Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean, a new study finds. Hurricane Maria was a Category 5 hurricane that hit Dominica, St Croix, and Puerto Rico in September 2017. It is considered to be the worst natural disaster to affect the Caribbean region. The authors say: “Our results highlight the need for more research into hurricanes in the Caribbean, an area which has traditionally received far less attention than mainland USA and requires more comprehensive infrastructure planning.”
Extreme weather events – rather than average temperatures – give a clearer indication of how warming is likely to impact a species’ survival, a study says. The research compares six models of survival and abundance of a subcanopy tree species, Taxus brevifolia, over 40 years. The authors show that the trees’ survival rate was more closely related to drought events than to increases in average temperatures. “Our results highlight that conclusions drawn from forecasts of average warming alone likely underpredict climate change impacts,” the authors say.
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