Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK lags European neighbours in green recovery promises
- Chances of global warming to 1.5C within five years doubles under new modelling
- Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035
- EU targets 40GW of hydrogen capacity in sweeping new strategy
- International aviation and shipping likely to be added to UK's net zero carbon target
- A sprinkle of rock dust could help avoid catastrophic climate change
- Is £3bn a lot?
- Global warming. Inequality. Covid-19. And Al Gore is…optimistic?
- Potential for large-scale CO2 removal via enhanced rock weathering with croplands
- Climate change impacts on potential future ranges of non-human primate species
After the announcement of a package of green stimulus measures by the UK government in response to the coronavirus pandemic, an article in Bloomberg notes that these pledges have “fallen far short” of those proposed by a number of European countries. According to BloombergNEF calculations, the UK has announced “a total green stimulus of £5.4bn, which is just two-thirds of the money that will help polluting industries like airlines”. The piece compares this figure to €26bn (£23.4bn) of green spending in Germany and 30bn krone (£3.6bn) in Denmark on green housing renovations alone. The Press Association reports that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak said the UK’s £3bn energy efficiency drive for homes and public buildings will “support 140,000 jobs, save households money and cut carbon emissions”. While the article says this commitment has been broadly “welcomed” by campaigners, they also have said the “jury is still very much out” on how green the UK’s recovery will be. This “mixed response” is also reported by the Guardian, which notes that while there was “no lack of advice for the chancellor on measures to green the economic recovery” from the coronavirus crisis, he “seems to have focused on just one – home insulation”. The piece quotes Chris Stark, the chief executive of government advisers the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), who praised the housing spending and called it “a genuine stimulus, as it is big money that has to be spent quickly”. The Sun welcomed the prospect of vouchers “worth up to £5,000 each for home-owners to spend on making 650,000 homes more energy efficient”. BusinessGreen reports that “further support measures for hydrogen, carbon capture, renewables, tree-planting, electric vehicles and other green sectors – all of which have reportedly been under consideration by the government – were notable by their absence”. And in another piece BusinessGreen notes that government “could soon face legal action” if its package fails to put the UK on track to meet its net-zero target. The Daily Telegraph notes that Sunak confirmed that “households to get grants of up to £10,000 to make homes greener”.
Several publications report on the new analysis from the WMO, which looks at the chance of the world reaching 1.5C above pre-industrial levels – the stretch target for limiting global warming set by the Paris Agreement – within the next five years. According to the Daily Telegraph, the new analysis “doubles the likelihood from an earlier assessment”. It also states that the agreement, which international governments signed up to in 2015, aims to limit warming to 1.5C, but this is based on averages over a 30-year period. Reuters reiterates this point, noting that while the WMO says temperatures may “temporarily” rise about 1.5C, “that does not mean the world would be crossing the long-term warming threshold…which scientists have set as the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change”. It states the world will likely not hit the long-term 1.5C warming threshold for “at least another decade”. However, the newswire does quote WMO secretary-general Petteri Taalas, who says the findings underline the “enormous challenge” the world faces in meeting the Paris target. BBC News notes that some parts of the world will feel the temperature change more than others, with the Arctic probably warming by twice the global average this year and scientists predicting that over the coming five years there will be more storms over western Europe. Carbon Brief has a guest post by the Met Office’s Prof Richard Betts explaining why a momentary reaching of 1.5C warming does not meant the Paris limit has been breached.
Separately, the Independent reports that Siberia’s “record-breaking heatwave” is forecast to continue during July, raising the likelihood of more wildfires and permafrost thawing. The Washington Post has a feature on Phoenix, Arizona – “America’s hottest city” – and how it will “survive climate change” with “heat ready” initiatives. MailOnline reports that Texas, home to 29 million Americans, is likely to be”hit with a ‘double whammy’ of decreased rainfall and increased temperatures that result in a megadrought” as climate models suggest the state “could face its driest conditions of the past 1,000 years by the end of the century”. The New York Times has a feature on the “megadroughts” facing the US Southwest, which has already been “mired in drought for most of the past two decades”.
Meanwhile, “in spite of the economic crisis posed by the coronavirus pandemic”, EurActiv reports that the EU, China and Canada have sent “a clear political signal” that they are still committed to the Paris Agreement targets at the so-called “fourth ministerial on climate action (MoCA)”.
The Hill reports that a “unity task force” made up of supporters of former US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden has “come up with a series of broad environmental recommendations” for Biden to aid his presidential bid. Key proposals are cutting all emissions from power plants by 2035, achieving net-zero emissions for new buildings by 2030 and making energy efficiency improvements to up to 4m buildings and 2m households. According to the Independent, the group is spearheaded by “green new deal” advocate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and former secretary of state John Kerry. The news website notes that the proposal “sidesteps the contentious issue of fracking and does not call for a ban long hoped for by progressives, but that could kill jobs in key election battleground states like Pennsylvania”. The New York Times notes the task force has also called for the “creation of an environmental justice fund to address the disproportionate burden of pollution and environmental hazards that communities of colour bear”.
A Reuters piece describes a potential “end of an era” for new oil-and-gas pipelines in the US. It notes that a “rapid-fire succession of setbacks” for such projects this week has revealed “an uncomfortable truth” for the industry: “environmental activists and landowners opposed to projects have become good at blocking them in court”.
The European Commission has released its “long-awaited hydrogen strategy”, including an ambition to ramp up the EU’s hydrogen capacity 40-fold over the next 10 years, BusinessGreen reports. As it stands, the EU’s renewable hydrogen capacity is 1 gigawatt (GW) today. The goal laid out in the plan is to hit 6GW by 2024 and 40GW by 2030. There has been controversy among green groups about the decision to include “blue hydrogen” using fossil fuels at plants that could be linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS) systems, as well as “green hydrogen” produced by electrolysers powered by renewable energy, BusinessGreen notes. While green hydrogen will be the main focus, climate commissioner Frans Timmerman “acknowledged the need for a transitional phase, requiring blue hydrogen”, according to Reuters.
International aviation and shipping emissions are likely to be included in the UK government’s net-zero target, but not until after 2023, according to the Guardian. This decision emerged from the the first meeting of the Department for Transport’s net-zero board, which included campaigners as well as “representatives from business, technology, motor manufacturers and the transport industry” in preparation for a transport decarbonisation plan, set to be published later this year, the newspaper reports. The plan is expected to call for a change in policy, in line with repeated calls from the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) to include these emissions in government climate targets. As Carbon Brief has explained previously, the CCC has consistently left space for these high-polluting sectors within the UK’s overall emissions pathway.
New Scientist reports that spreading rock dust on global farmland in a technique known as enhanced rock weathering could save around a tenth of humanity’s carbon budget. Rocks naturally absorb CO2, but turning them into dust accelerates this process by increasing their surface area, the piece notes. The new figure is based on a paper which the authors say is the “most realistic yet” to model this technique because it “limits how much rock is available and the energy countries would be willing to use for grinding”, finding that the planet’s biggest emitters – China, the US and India – “have the most to gain from the strategy”. The Guardian also has the story, noting that “some scientists say this approach may be the best near-term way of removing CO2 from the atmosphere”. The Daily Express reports that this “unwanted rock dust” could also improve soil quality.
BusinessGreen editor James Murray considers UK chancellor Rishi Sunak’s new £3bn energy efficiency programme. While he notes it is “a welcome boost to the green economy”, he says “its ability to catalyse the transformation of the UK’s building stock depends on what happens next”. He adds: “One of the many ironies of the Cummings Supremacy is that the prime minister’s top advisor has become notorious for both bemoaning an absence of mathematical rigour in public life and ruthlessly exploiting low levels of numeracy to land his key messages.” That is why a key question facing those tasked with analysing Sunak’s announcement is whether £3bn is actually a lot or not, a question which has divided people, he continues. The “obvious answer is a resounding ‘yes’”, says Murray, adding that “there are both long and short term caveats to the chorus of approval that the government is yet to address”. First, there is the question of how the government will execute the new scheme, but, second, Murray says “£9bn over the course of five to 10 years [for building efficiency improvements], as the government promised in its manifesto, is not enough to put the UK on track for its net zero emissions goal”.
In an opinion piece for the Guardian, MP Alexander Stafford writes that, as a “green” Conservative, he “warmly welcome[s] the environmental steps announced by the chancellor in his summer economic update on Wednesday”. He adds: “I appreciate that many green advocates will feel that these measures could go further. However, that is precisely why this announcement is such good news for our cause. Not so long ago, green matters were peripheral for all the major parties.” He concludes by saying he is “left in no doubt by the chancellor’s statement that a green recovery is not only the right choice for Britain, but our only choice”.
Wired has an interview with former US vice-president Al Gore in which he discusses climate change in the Covid-19 era. “From the Senate to the vice presidency, while most politicians were yelling about oil prices, Gore was talking about connecting information superhighways to public schools and taxing British Thermal Units to fight global warming,” the piece opens, with one of the interviewers noting he is “known for ambitious policy solutions to really hairy problems”. Gore says: “We’re going to have to mitigate the climate crisis and the broader ecological crisis, the collision between the way we’ve organised the global economy and the natural world. I will say that the pandemic has actually accelerated those changes…So that the emergency response, the recovery plans, will drive us toward a better world.”
In a separate interview with the Financial Times, Gore tells the newspaper that the pandemic marks a “turning point” for climate change, especially regarding the potential to support a “green” recovery. “[With Covid-19] the economies in many parts of the world had to be put into the equivalent of an induced coma…But where the climate crisis is concerned, this is a job opportunity,” he says.
Writing in New Scientist, climate scientist Mark Maslin explains how the Covid-19 pandemic can be an opportunity for action. “What I want to show is that by dealing with the impact of this pandemic, we can also deal with climate change. We can have win-win solutions,” he writes.
China, India, the US and Brazil have “great potential” to help remove 0.5-2bn tonnes of CO2 per year from the atmosphere using enhanced weathering, a new study suggests. Terrestrial enhanced rock weathering is a “CO2 removal strategy based on amending soils with crushed calcium- and magnesium-rich silicate rocks to accelerate CO2 sequestration”, the authors say. Using an “integrated performance modelling approach”, the study assesses the potential and costs of enhanced weathering to help limit global warming to 2C. The findings suggest that the rock could be extracted for around US$80–180 per tonne of CO2 removed, and that deployment of the crushed rock “within existing croplands offers opportunities to align agriculture and climate policy”. An accompanying News & Views article notes that “despite the enthusiasm the authors’ findings might generate, it is crucial to stress that, even under optimistic assumptions, enhanced rock weathering will sequester only some of the annual global carbon emissions from fossil-fuel use”. A Nature editorial adds that there are still “a host of pressing questions about the economic costs and environmental impacts. And there are potential questions for regulators, too”. The lead author has previously written a Carbon Brief guest post about enhanced weathering.
A warming climate has the “potential for considerable loss of or compromised habitat for non-human primates on a global scale”, a new study suggests. Using data on the ranges of 426 species and subspecies of non-human primates, combined with spatial climate model data, the researchers estimate the portion of the area of each species’ range where annual average temperatures exceed the pre-industrial seasonal maximum temperatures (PSMT). For a 2C warming scenario, “26.1% of all ranges had temperatures in excess of their PSMTs, and for 8% of species, the entire current range was above their PSMT”, the study finds. The results suggest the future emergence of “climate conditions that are outside of the scope of historical experience for many species”.
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