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Daily Briefing

20.04.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING UK prepares to set out steeper climate targets
UK prepares to set out steeper climate targets

News.

UK prepares to set out steeper climate targets
Financial Times Read Article

The Financial Times carries a story on its frontpage that Boris Johnson is set to announce more ambitious climate targets “in coming days”. The outlet reports that, according to “people briefed on the plan”, the new UK pledge will be to reduce emissions by 78% compared to 1990 levels by 2035 . The new climate target will cover the UK’s sixth carbon budget, from 2033-2037, it adds, and is “in line with the recommendations made by the Climate Change Committee”. (See Carbon Brief’s summary of the CCC’s advice published last December.) The Times notes that the UK set its current target of 68% emissions reduction by 2030 late last year and adds that the goal will be announced before the US Earth Day summit on 22 April. BBC News reports that, for the first time, the climate law could cover international aviation and shipping, while the Guardian notes that the move is “intended to help spur further action by other governments”ahead of COP26. Bloomberg and the Daily Telegraph also cover the news.

Carbon emissions to soar in 2021 by second highest rate in history
The Guardian Read Article

CO2 emissions are expected to increase this year by “the second biggest annual rise in history”, the Guardian reports. The is according to the latest report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), which warns that the rebound will “put climate hopes out of reach unless governments act quickly”, the newspaper adds. The IEA’s executive director, Fatih Birol, tells the Guardian: “This is shocking and very disturbing. On the one hand, governments today are saying climate change is their priority. But, on the other hand, we are seeing the second biggest emissions rise in history. It is really disappointing.” The rebound in emissions “would reverse 80% of the decline seen in 2020, when the pandemic depressed demand”, the Financial Times reports. It notes that much of this years increase is expected from a rebound in coal used to generate electricity in China, adding that a 4.6% increase in energy demand is expected in 2021, compared to the 4% fall seen in 2020. BBC News notes that coal use in Asia will increase the global demand by 4.5%, but adds that “green sources” are also set to supple 30% of global electricity this year. Global CO2 emissions in 2021 are predicted to increase by up to 33b tonnes this year, Reuters adds – a rise of 1.6bn compared to 2020 levels and the largest annual increase in over a decade. This is the steepest climb since 2010, when the world was recovering from an economic crisis, according to the Wall Street Journal. The Independent also covers the news.

Joe Biden to reveal US emissions pledge in key climate crisis moment
The Guardian Read Article

During or shortly after the 22 April Earth Day summit, the US is expected to release its national plan for emissions reductions for the coming decade, the Guardian reports. President Joe Biden will “call on all of the world’s major economies to join him in bold action” at the virtual summit, the paper notes. It adds that if Biden’s emissions reduction plan is “bold enough” and other countries follow suit, “the world has a chance of meeting the Paris goals and avoiding dangerous levels of heating”. Associated Press reports that the emission target is “eagerly awaited by all sides of the climate debate” and will “signal how aggressively Biden wants to move on climate change”. It notes that scientists, environmental groups and business leaders are calling for a target of at least a 50% cut in emissions by 2030 compared to 2005 levels, adding: “Anything short of that goal could undermine Biden’s promise to prevent temperatures from rising more than 1.5C, experts say.” Climate Home News reports that the US is “widely tipped” to announce emissions cuts in line with the recommended 50% cut. However, according to Bloomberg, the US has a “wide credibility gap” to cross after former president Trump’s inaction on climate. And the Washington Post reports that it is “far from certain” that other countries would follow any US announcement of emissions cuts. The Press Association, via the Independent, and the Washington Post, reports that the summit this week will be held on Zoom. It notes that Biden is “a most hands-on politician”, but that this format allows no “hands to shake or backs to slap”, adding that Biden has admitted to missing in-person meetings.

The Wall Street Journal runs an editorial saying that John Kerry’s trip to Shanghai last week “gave China’s leaders a new opportunity to go on the public-relations offensive”, adding that Kerry “flattered Beijing by all but begging president Xi Jinping to join another global climate confab later this week”. The editorial says that Kerry has shown that he will “leave no concession unmade in his pursuit of a bad deal” and concludes: “No wonder Beijing thinks America is in decline.” A comment piece in the New York Times by climate reporter Lisa Friedman asks: “Is America’s word still any good?” Friedman notes that after four years of Trump’s “America First isolationism” there is “scepticism about US credibility”, adding that China likened the US rejoining the Paris Agreement to “a naughty child trying to sneak back into school after cutting class”. The problem for the world, she says, is that the US “holds all the diplomatic cards” on global issues like climate change”. Meanwhile, Energy Monitor runs an opinion piece by senior correspondent Justin Gerdes entitled: “ US can rejoin climate leadership pack at Biden’s Earth Day summit.”

Separately, the Hill reports that US miners will support the transition away from fossil fuels “if the Biden administration can guarantee the preservation of jobs”. The Washington Post runs an opinion piece from columnists Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent saying that this “surprise news” from the coal miners union “gives Democrats an opening against Trumpism”.

US treasury creates climate hub to coordinate policy
The Wall Street Journal Read Article

The Wall Street Journal reports that the US Treasury Department has appointed John E Morton – a former Obama official – to head the department’s new climate hub. Morton will coordinate efforts efforts to fight climate change through economic and tax policies, according to the paper, and will report directly to the Treasury Secretary. The move is “disappointing” for activists, who wanted “a stronger regulator to push financial institutions toward green investments”, according to ReutersAxios and Bloomberg also cover the appointment.

In other US news, the Financial Times reports that US secretary of state Antony Blinken has warned that America is “falling behind” in the green economy and has framed renewable energy investment as “imperative to America’s rivalry with China days ahead of a White House climate summit”. Blinken remarked on Monday that China holds nearly one third of the world’s renewable energy patents and is the largest producer and exporter of solar panels, wind turbines and electric vehicles. The Hill reports that, according to Blinken: “If we don’t catch up, America will miss the chance to shape the world’s climate future in a way that reflects our interests and values, and we’ll lose out on countless jobs for the American people.”

‘Relentless’ climate crisis intensified in 2020, says UN report
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian covers the 2020 State of the Climate report, which was released by the World Meteorological Organization yesterday. The report finds that the pandemic “has no effect on emission but made impacts of global heating even worse for millions of people”, according to the newspaper. It adds that last year was the hottest on record – tied with 2016 and 2019. This is despite the cooling La Niña seen last year, without which 2020 “would most likely have been the hottest year yet”, the paper adds. MailOnline notes that global average temperatures in 2020 were 1.2C above preindustrial temperatures. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that climate change “will deliver the greatest suffering to people who had the least to do with causing”, adding that according to the WMO report, “more than 50 million people were ‘doubly hit’ by climate-related disasters and Covid 19 restrictions”.

Boris Johnson and world leaders plan to fly into COP26 on "green fuel" planes
Politics Home Read Article

Boris Johnson and other world leaders will be flown to the COP26 conference in November on “green” flights, according to an “exclusive” in Politics Home. The travel proposal seen by the news outlet “could form the centre-piece of the prime minister’s personal call for greater action on climate change”, the outlet reports, and has been “worked on by Whitehall staff and aviation experts for months”. However, the outlet notes that the flights are dependant on whether or not COP26 will take place in person.

Scott Morrison inches Australia towards 2050 net-zero emissions, but distances himself from 'inner city' types
ABC News Read Article

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison has “inched closer” to committing the country to net-zero emissions by 2050, having “conceded” that Australia’s energy mix “needs to change over the next 30 years” according to ABC News. In a speech to business leaders in Sydney, Morrison “declared the nation would chart its ‘own course’ and achieve its aims through ‘the best technology and the animal spirits of capitalism’”, rather than using measures like carbon prices, the outlet notes. Financial Review reports that Morrison has “all but locked in” to commitment to reach net zero by 2050. The Guardian reports that Morrison said net-zero emissions would not be reached by “taxing our industries that provide livelihoods for millions of Australians off the planet”. It adds that, just hours later, US secretary of state Antony Blinken called for stronger action to address climate change, saying “countries investing in new coal ‘will hear from US’”. A separate Guardian piece by former public servant Greg Jericho, entitled “Australia has coped fairly well with the pandemic. With climate change? It’s a different story”, notes that that Australian economy is “one of the most highly dependent upon greenhouse gases”. And a further Guardian piece notes that Australian leader of the opposition, Anthony Albanese, has said that the country “must stop wasting time and shift to renewable energy to spark job creation”.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald runs an editorial entitled “Sino-US deal further alienates Australia on climate policy”. The piece notes that China’s and America’s expected emission reduction targets are “well ahead” of Australia, which currently aims to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. It adds that the Morrison government hopes to use Biden’s Earth Day summit to “start repairing the damage to Australia’s global reputation from a decade of infighting and intransigence on climate policy”, after Kerry singled out Australia as a “roadblock to action” in past climate summits. The piece concludes that the country is “ paying a very heavy price for politicising climate change policy” and that the cooperation between China and America on climate makes it “more critical” for Australia to increase its ambitions on climate policy. Similarly, the Guardian reports that Australia is “increasingly isolated” as other countries prepare to make new climate pledges, adding that it will not be able to “fly under the radar”.

And the Sydney Morning Herald runs a comment piece by Michele O’Neil – the president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions – entitled, “The world running out of patience with our excuses on climate change.” O’Neil says that Australia can expect “unprecedented pressure” ahead of this week’s climate summit, but that so far “the prime minister looks to be turning up to the summit empty-handed”. She concludes: “It’s time for the Morrison government to accept that change is inevitable, and it’s in Australia’s best interests to finally join the pack.”

ExxonMobil proposes carbon storage plan for Texas port
Financial Times Read Article

American oil and gas company ExxonMobil has proposed a plan for carbon capture and storage from its industrial facilities around Houston, the Financial Times reports. It adds that the company says the move could attract $100bn in investment if the Biden administration puts a price on CO2 emissions. Politico reports that by 2030, the proposed project’s “initial phase” would capture 50m tonnes of CO2 every year – the equivalent of taking nearly 11m cars off the road. The plan would be to capture carbon emissions from the industrial plants and bury them beneath the Gulf of Mexico, according to the New York Times. However, the outlet notes that the plan would require “significant government support and intervention”, including the introduction of a carbon price or tax – an idea that has “failed to attract enough support in Congress in the past”. The Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece by Darren W Woods, ExxonMobil’s chairman and chief executive, and Joe Blommaert, president of ExxonMobil Low Carbon Solutions. The piece says that carbon capture and storage is a “proven technology” that could “play a major role” in emissions reductions, and that the company is “eager to play our part to advance this promising concept”.

Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that Shell has teamed up with project developer C-Quest Capital to supply more than 60m carbon offset credits to the voluntary carbon market. This deal will see over 3m cookstoves fuelled by “entirely sustainable sources” delivered to more than 1.5m rural households across eastern Africa over the next decade, the outlet adds. And the Wall Street Journal runs a piece entitled “Shell, Exxon look to profit from capturing customers’ carbon emissions”, noting that oil companies have historically made money by taking carbon out of the ground and are now “trying to make money putting it back”.

Amazon orders up wave of record-breaking renewables projects
BusinessGreen Read Article

Amazon has announced plans for nine new “utility-scale” wind and solar energy projects in the US, UK, Canada, Spain and Sweden, Bloomberg reports. With the addition of these nine projects, the company will have 206 renewable energy projects globally, the outlet adds, with an electricity production capacity of 8.5 gigawatts (GW). This makes Amazon “the largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy” globally, the website notes. Bloomberg adds that, according the company’s chief executive Jeff Bezos, Amazon is on track to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 – five years ahead of an original 2030 target. The Scotsman highlights that Amazon will be investing in a “huge Scottish offshore wind farm”, with generation capacity of 350 megawatts (MW). It adds that this is “said to be the largest corporate renewable energy deal announced by any business in the UK to date”.

Su Wei: This round of China-US climate change talks achieved positive progress

Su Wei, one of the Chinese negotiators in the China-US climate meeting last week, says that this round of talks achieved “positive progress”, reports state broadcaster CCTV. Su, the deputy secretary-general of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, tells the station that the two sides had “candid, deep and constructive communication”, adding that the conference “reopened the dialogue and cooperation channel for China and the US over climate change”. Wang Wenbing, spokesperson of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the press on Monday that the two nations would “further increase communication and cooperation” in relevant areas, including strengthening policy measures, promoting decarbonisation and supporting the low-carbon development of developing countries. Wang’s remarks appear on CCTV.

State-run newspaper Global Times published an article discussing if climate change would be the new Ping-Pong diplomacy between Beijing and Washington. The report says that many experts remain “cautious” and warn that “the US may lack sincerity in actual cooperation”. It adds that the US could “use the move as part of its strategy to return to power in the international community and push other countries to share more responsibility on the issue”, citing observers. Meanwhile, Zhou Hongchun, researcher at the Development Research Centre of China’s State Council, says the US-China joint statement reflects the two nations’ continuous efforts to turn away from low-carbon fossil energy and develop low-carbon renewable energy. Zhou gives the comments to state-run China News Service.

Elsewhere, China’s National Energy Administration (NEA) has published a draft plan for developing and constructing wind and solar power facilities in 2021, reports International Energy Net, citing an official notice. According to the draft, China’s wind and solar power should account for 11% of the electricity consumption of the whole society by the end of this year and would increase year-on-year after that to reach 16.5% by 2025. Reuters also reports on the draft rule. Separately, the NEA has released draft opinions for developing thermal energy, reports Shanghai Securities News. The document stipulates that China would “largely” establish a “complete” managing flow and monitoring system for thermal energy and build “a batch of exemplary projects” by 2025. The NEA is collecting public feedback on both proposals.

Comment.

The COP26 agenda: High ambition and sweet talk needed to win the race to zero
Ben Webster and Catherine Philip, The Times Read Article

A feature in the Times by the newspaper’s environment editor, Ben Webster, and diplomatic correspondent, Catherine Philp, says that the “success or failure [of COP26] will be determined less by what is agreed in Glasgow in November than by how ambitious the big countries are willing to be in the emissions targets they are expected to announce before then”. It continues: “The key question is whether the targets announced collectively by world leaders put the planet on track to avoid dangerous climate change. COP26 serves as an informal deadline for those commitments to be made.” The article also explains that “Britain is hoping that COP26 will deliver significant new commitments on ending the use of the most polluting fossil fuel [coal].” Finally, it says that the UK will need the “support of more than 130 developing countries” to make COP26 a success: “Credible commitments on [climate] funding will be key to winning it.”

In a separate analysis piece in the Times, Ben Webster and policy editor Oliver Wright argue that “the UK may be a relatively small carbon polluter compared with the biggest economies, but what it says and does over the next seven months will be vital to the outcome of the conference”. Their article continues: “There are perhaps three main reasons for this. First is that, even after Brexit, the UK holds an important global leadership role and has strong historical links to key players in both the developed and developing worlds…The second reason Britain matters is that it has been something of a world leader on climate change over the past decade…But the final reason why the UK matters and could lay the foundations for an ambitious global agreement is because of the political capital it is spending on it. Despite Covid-19, a successful summit is high on the list of priorities for Johnson, who is determined to show Britain is a diplomatic player outside the EU.”

Finally, writing in the Independent ahead of upcoming mayoral elections, Labour’s incumbent London mayor Sadiq Khan seeks to explain why he is the “only mayoral candidate who can make London a greener, healthier city – and this is how I’ll do it”.

Sino-American climate cooperation is essential but the devil will be in the detail
Editorial, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

The joint communiqué between the US and China on efforts to tackle climate change is “something of a breakthrough”, a Daily Telegraph editorial says, adding that the COP26 process “would be pointless” without them on board. The paper says the success of the conference “relies entirely upon the participants sticking to any commitments they make” and “requires the biggest polluters to take the process seriously”. Focusing on the US and China, the article says that “the good news” is that, despite being responsible between them for more than 40% of the world’s carbon emissions, the pair “are at least working towards some sort of common position”. However, while the joint statement “promises a high-level commitment”, there is “little in the way of detail, nor is it yet clear whether the Chinese leader proposes to attend the conference”, the paper notes.

Science.

'What’s up with the weather?' – Public engagement with extreme event attribution in the United Kingdom
Weather, Climate and Society Read Article

The science of extreme event attribution (EEA) “shows significant promise for climate change communication”, a new paper says. The researchers “conducted focus groups with members of the UK public to explore benefits and challenges of utilising EEA results in climate change advocacy messages”. The findings suggest that EEA has the “ability to connect novel, attention-grabbing, and event-specific scientific information to personal experiences and observations of extreme events”. Using their findings, the authors provide recommendations to help address challenges when communicating EEA results beyond the climate science community. For more on attribution, see Carbon Brief’s interactive map.

On the attribution of industrial-era glacier mass loss to anthropogenic climate change
The Cryosphere Read Article

New research aims to attribute the contribution of human-caused climate change to global glacier melt during the industrial era. Using synthetic scenarios, palaeoclimate reconstructions, numerical climate simulations and instrumental observations to drive a glacier model, the researchers “evaluate the magnitude of the anthropogenic mass loss relative to the observed mass loss”. They find that “the slow cooling over the preceding millennium followed by the rapid anthropogenic warming of the industrial era means that, over the full range of response times for small ice caps and glaciers, the central estimate of the magnitude of the anthropogenic mass loss is essentially 100 % of the observed mass loss”.

Climate scientists set the bar of proof too high
Climatic Change Read Article

Standards of proof for attributing real world events and damage to global warming “should be the same as in clinical or environmental lawsuits”, a new paper argues. Looking at the “mismatch” between what courts require and what climate scientists are setting as a bar of proof, the authors say that climate scientists “typically demand too much of themselves in terms of evidence”. The authors suggest that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recommends “more prominently the use of the category ‘more likely than not’ as a level of proof in their reports, as this corresponds to the standard of proof most frequently required in civil court rooms”.

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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.