Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK planning last-ditch China climate talks to break impasse before COP26
- UK to offer £265m in subsidies for renewable energy developers
- Spain fire: Thousands flee blaze near Costa del Sol town
- China’s carbon neutral goal: Beijing sets ambitious hydropower storage goal to bolster wind, solar energy growth
- Indonesia ends deforestation pact with Norway, citing non-payment
- News Corp Australia won’t muzzle commentators as it ramps up climate coverage
- The Cumbria coal mine debacle shows the incoherence of UK climate policy
- Climate change and deforestation increase the vulnerability of Amazonian forests to post‐fire grass invasion
In an “exclusive”, the Guardian reports that “[UK prime minister] Boris Johnson is planning to convene last-ditch climate talks with the president of China, Xi Jinping, at a crunch meeting of world leaders later this month, in hopes of breaking the global impasse on climate action before the COP26 climate summit being hosted in Glasgow this November”. The newspaper adds: “Xi will be invited, along with the leaders of about 30 other countries, to a high-level meeting on the sidelines of the UN general assembly in New York on 20 September, the Guardian has learned…Global experts on the talks told the Guardian the UK’s own actions – in slashing overseas aid and failing to persuade rich countries to provide more climate finance to help poorer countries – had stripped it of much of its power to influence China, imperilling the prospects of success at COP26.” The Guardian says that the “informal meeting” on 20 September will be a hybrid of virtual and in-person conversations. It will be co-hosted by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and “represents one of the last opportunities for top-level diplomacy with China” before COP26.
In other COP26 news, the Hindustan Times reports that US special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry has arrived in India for a two-day visit. It adds: “Kerry is expected to meet Union environment minister Bhupender Yadav on Monday and other government officials regarding New Delhi’s climate ambitions. The special envoy’s visit…will involve discussions ‘to raise global climate ambition and speed India’s clean energy transition’, the US state department said on Friday, announcing Kerry’s visit.”
Meanwhile, BBC News says that “the world’s poorest countries say they are worried about getting to the COP26 climate summit”. It continues: “The warning comes from the group made up of the world’s 46 poorest countries, which are on the United Nations’ list of Least Developed Countries (LDC). The 20 countries that are also on the UK’s foreign travel red list include Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Nepal.” The broadcaster quotes Bhutan’s Sonam Phuntsho Wangdi, the LDC chairman: “It’s our people who are hardest hit by this ever worsening crisis. They must be well represented in the climate talks. The world cannot risk unambitious and unfair decisions being taken at COP26, there is far too much at stake.” Reuters also covers the story.
The Daily Telegraph “reveals” that COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma “is facing embarrassment on the world stage…because the government is unlikely to have passed its flagship Environment Bill in time for the summit”. And, finally, Reuters says that “António Guterres urged the US and China on Friday to prevent any problems between the superpowers from harming cooperation to combat climate change ahead of COP26”.
Renewable energy developers will compete for a share in a £265m subsidy pot as the UK government “aims to support a record number of projects in the sector through a milestone subsidy scheme later this year”, reports the Guardian. It adds: “Under the scheme, offshore wind developers will compete for contracts worth up to £200m a year, and onshore wind and solar farms will be in line for their first subsidies in more than five years. Alongside the £200m funding pot for offshore windfarms, there will be a further £55m available to emerging renewable technologies such as tidal power, of which £24m will be earmarked for floating offshore wind farms. The government will also make £10m available to developers of onshore wind and solar farms for the first time since it slashed subsidies in 2015, or enough to deliver up to 5GW [gigawatts] of renewable energy capacity.” [The auction will not cap offshore wind capacity, as the last one did, but it will place a 5GW cap on onshore wind and solar combined.] reNews says that auction is expected to take place in December. Reuters says it will be the “biggest round of [the UK’s] renewable energy scheme” and could “build up enough extra offshore wind capacity to power [the equivalent of] about eight million homes”. It adds: “The latest round, [the UK’s] fourth, aims to double renewable electricity capacity secured compared to the third round, when Britain allocated 5.8GW, and to secure more new capacity than the previous three rounds combined, the government said.”
Meanwhile, in other UK news, BBC News reports the views of the Green Alliance thinktank which says that “Britain is lagging way behind its schedule for cutting carbon emissions” and says that current plans will deliver “less than a quarter of the cuts needed” to meet the UK’s 2030 climate goal: “Little progress has been made in areas such as farming (a 7% improvement), power (12%), and waste (15%), it warns…Ministers promise that the coming Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) and net-zero strategy – an over-arching plan to de-carbonise the whole economy – will deliver carbon-cutting policies in time for [COP26].” A separate BBC News article covers a warning by the Trade Union Congress (TUC) that “up to 660,000 jobs could be at risk if the UK fails to reach its net-zero target as quickly as other nations”. It adds: “the TUC fears many jobs could be moved offshore to countries offering superior green infrastructure and support for decarbonisation. The union body is calling for an £85bn green recovery package to create 1.2m green jobs. TUC research from June shows the UK is currently ranked second last among G7 economies for its investment in green infrastructure and jobs. However, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) says the TUC’s claims are untrue and that it does not recognise their methodology.” The Observer also covers the story: “While the UK Treasury is expected to invest only about £180 per person on green recovery and jobs over the next decade, President Joe Biden plans to allocate more than £2,960 per person on a green recovery in the US: jobs and programmes involving public transport, electric vehicles and energy efficiency retrofits. Relative to population, the UK’s green recovery investment is just 24% that of France, 21% that of Canada, and 6% that of the US.” Relatedly, the Independent reports that “the UK ranks bottom in Europe for sales of home heat pumps – low-carbon alternatives to gas boilers, according to campaigners”. The Daily Telegraph also covers the story.
The Sunday Times reports the views of Edinburgh-based global energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie which says the current “oil price windfall” gives North Sea oil and gas producers a “golden opportunity” to invest more in renewables. A new Wood Mckenzie report estimates that the “world’s oil majors will allocate around 15% of their 2021 investment budget to renewables but said they needed to spend more”. The Guardian reports that the “Scottish National party members backed a call for a state-run energy company to be set up on the second day of their autumn conference, four years after leader Nicola Sturgeon first pledged one”. And DeSmog reveals that BEIS ministers “have been meeting with fossil fuel and biomass producers nine times as often as with their renewable energy counterparts”. DeSmog’s scoop is picked up by the Guardian.
Some other outlets focus on “challenges” presented by the UK’s energy transition. The Sunday Telegraph says that Chris Stark, the head of the Climate Change Committee (CCC)‘ has said that the chancellor Rishi Sunak “will make sweeping changes to transport levies to raise revenue from battery-powered vehicles”. It continues: “He made the comments as the Treasury mulls a road pricing, or ‘pay per mile’, system.” The Daily Telegraph carries a news feature about how “Britain’s power grid has repeatedly fallen below its targeted frequency level this year, raising fears that it is struggling to cope with intermittent energy supplies”. Likewise, the Sunday Times also has a news feature headlined: “When the wind stops blowing, an energy storm brews.” A separate Sunday Times article says that incoming smart-grid regulations will mean that “electric car charging points in people’s homes will be preset to switch off for nine hours each weekday at times of peak demand because ministers fear blackouts on the National Grid”. The Mail on Sunday also carries the same story, saying: “Motoring experts said the measure would be a ‘nudge’ for drivers to consider charging vehicles during off-peak hours.”
Finally, the Sunday Telegraph reports that “climate activists such as Extinction Rebellion have ushered in an era of permanently expensive petrol by forcing oil companies to slash their growth plans, according to Morgan Stanley”.
BBC News reports that around 2,000 people have left their homes after wildfires broke out in the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. It adds: “The blaze has burned 7,400 hectares, according to Spanish media. ‘This is inhuman, nothing like this has ever been seen,’ one evacuee, Adriana Iacob told Reuters. ‘The flames of the fire as they ran through the mountains, it was amazing.’ Europe has seen a number of wildfires this summer. Climate change increases the risk of the hot, dry weather that is likely to fuel wildfires.” Meanwhile, the Independent‘s Bel Trew reports from Greece on how its own “summer firestorms” were “utterly foreseeable”.
In other Europe news, Bloomberg reports that “Italians may soon reckon with higher pasta prices amid a fall in durum wheat production”. The price hike is due to that fact that “drought and heat continued to hurt the wheat harvest in July in Canada, the world’s biggest supplier of durum wheat, months after a harsh winter hit the Russian crop”.
The Financial Times says that, ahead of Ursula von der Leyen’s state of the union address on Wednesday, “soaring carbon prices spell trouble ahead for [European Union]’s climate policies”. It adds: “The fear among EU policymakers is a rerun of the gilets jaunes phenomenon seen in France, where citizens rebel against the cost of going green.” And Bloomberg says “the energy crunch in Europe [shows] little signs of easing, with German and French power prices rising to record levels amid signs winter may be coming early this year”. It adds: “The cost of electricity is continuing to rise even as Russia said it finished building a controversial natural gas pipeline that could bring some relief to the crunch in [gas] supply.”
Finally, the Financial Times has a “big read” on how Germany’s Greens have “embraced business”. The newspaper says: “If, as expected, the party forms part of any coalition government, it will demand companies set net-zero targets.”
The South China Morning Post reports that “Beijing aims to double China’s pumped storage hydropower generating capacity in five years and double it again by 2030, in a bid to provide most of the energy storage needed to make its ambitious renewable energy expansion programme viable”. It adds that China’s National Energy Administration has said that the installed capacity will rise from 31.5 gigawatts (GW) at the end of last year to more than 62GW by 2025 and 120GW by 2030. The article also quotes Dennis Ip, head of utilities and renewables research at Daiwa Capital Markets, who says that “China’s installed pumped storage generating capacity of 23GW at the end of 2015 fell short of its 30GW target and last year’s capacity was also 21% lower than a target of 40GW”.
Reuters reports that Indonesia has ended a deal with Norway on cooperation to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation, due to lack of payment. The newswire adds: “Last year, Norway announced a $56m contribution to Indonesia, based on its 2016-2017 results on curbing deforestation under a United Nations-backed forest-conservation scheme known as REDD+.” Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry is quoted saying: “The decision to terminate the letter of intent will in no way affect the Indonesian government commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”
Meanwhile, in other Norway news ahead of the country’s election, Bloomberg says that “the dilemma Norwegians face…is how to reconcile their embrace of electric cars and environmental awareness with the need to wean their oil-rich economy off its key source of wealth”. It continues: “Even if the opposition Labour Party ousts a Conservative-led government, as polls indicate they will, the reality is that change to oil and gas policy can only happen if smaller parties gain enough backing to become kingmakers. The Socialist Left, which already has experience governing with Labour, enjoy more support than the Greens. Both would call for a halt to new exploration licenses and make it a condition for joining any ruling coalition.”
An editorial in the Financial Times says: “Outsiders may be forgiven for thinking Norway’s wealth makes it easier for it than any other country to navigate the green transition: it leads the world in electric vehicle adoption, for example, thanks to generous tax advantages. In fact, the political conflicts around climate policy in other countries are as relevant in Norway, if not more so. The country’s outsize wealth does, after all, derive from the sale of hydrocarbons…Norway is well equipped to make a success of decarbonisation. But the lesson of the election campaign now drawing to a close is that this does not make the politics of climate change any less fraught. Whoever is declared the winner after the polls close on Monday night will find that winning the policy peace is harder than winning the electoral war – even when you have public finances other governments can only dream of.”
News Corp Australia has confirmed it will ramp up its company-wide coverage of climate change next month, but says its stable of commentators won’t be “muzzled”, reports the Guardian. The newspaper adds: “The executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, says the mastheads will cover ‘all views’ and ‘not just the popular ones’, indicating the Murdoch empire may continue its pattern of climate science denial and ridicule towards climate action…The Herald Sun’s Andrew Bolt, who describes global warming as a ‘cult of the elites’, and the Daily Telegraph’s Tim Blair, who says the climate emergency is ‘bogus’, will apparently be free to continue to undermine the science.”
Writing in the New Statesman, Philippa Nuttall says that “at a time when the UK is aiming for net-zero, coal from [the proposed coking coal mine in Cumbria] would emit 8.4m tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent a year”. She continues: “The project looks increasingly unlikely to go ahead, but its very existence is proof of a lack of coherence and clear strategy from Westminster on climate action. The inquiry is also a hugely unwelcome distraction for the UK’s COP26 team as it tries to drum up support for an urgent global coal phase-out and ambitious emissions cuts…As with so many of [Boris] Johnson’s plans, the rhetoric of ‘coal, cars cash and trees’ is catchy, but the details and full commitment are missing. The coal mine debacle can be dismissed as ‘slightly embarrassing’, but it is symptomatic of a much wider problem that, if not resolved fast, will have global repercussions.”
In other UK comment, an editorial in the Scotsman looks ahead to the pivotal COP26: “The problem is too many people seem to assume governments will sort the problem out, that this existential threat will not be allowed to become a catastrophic reality, and that their lives need not be disrupted. This complacency has fed through to our political leaders, who talk the talk, but fail to make changes they fear will be unpopular. And so we sleepwalk on.”
Meanwhile, the Telegraph newspapers continue to publish opinion pieces by people with a history of promoting climate scepticism. The Daily Telegraph gives space to Matthew Lynn to warn that the UK is on “the brink of a major energy crisis. Even worse, our increasingly hapless government doesn’t appear to have a clue what to do about it”. He blames wind power and a “chaotic domestic market”, adding: “With labour shortages, Brexit, and the recovery from Covid – the very last thing the British economy needs right now is power cuts.” The Daily Telegraph also allows Tony Lodge to argue that “relying on patchy renewables and importing more electricity from the EU is simply not sustainable”. And the Sunday Telegraph sees climate sceptic Ross Clark repeating his claim that “the Chinese won’t sign up to Britain’s punitive carbon-cutting targets. And who can blame them?”
Under current climatic conditions, 14% of the Amazon rainforest is “vulnerable to post-fire grass invasion”, according to a new study. The authors combined a fire–ecosystem model with remote sensing data and equations, to determine the effects of fires and logging on tree canopy and “exotic grass coverage”. They find that by the end of the century, unmitigated climate change would render 21% of the forest “vulnerable” to post-fire grass invasion. The study notes that the south-eastern Amazon is the most vulnerable to grass invasion. It adds: “increased fire frequency and intensity could push large Amazon forest areas towards a tipping point, causing transitions to states with low tree and high grass cover”.
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