Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK public 'supports green recovery from coronavirus crisis'
- Planting new forests 'can do more harm than good'
- India's top court rejects power companies' bid to extend emissions deadline
- Arctic Circle sees 'highest-ever' recorded temperatures
- We can grow our way out of this economic crisis
- We need to get back on buses for a green post-Covid future
- Global reduction of solar power generation efficiency due to aerosols and panel soiling
- Impacts of Chilean forest subsidies on forest cover, carbon and biodiversity
- Attitudes of urban residents towards environmental migration in Kenya and Vietnam
Several publications report that the UK’s first citizens’ assembly on climate change has backed plans for a “green recovery” from coronavirus. The Guardian reports that the group, made up of 108 members of the public, said they “would be prepared to continue many of the lifestyle changes enforced by the coronavirus lockdown to help tackle the climate emergency”. The newspaper adds: “Working from home is a popular option, along with changes to how people travel, and the government should take the opportunity to rethink investment in infrastructure and support low-carbon industries.” New Scientist reports that four-fifths of the group said they wanted the UK government’s coronavirus recovery to also tackle climate change by reducing the country’s emissions. New Scientist adds: “The assembly only consists of 108 people. However, Jim Watson at the University of Sussex, UK, says its views are significant because the members are well-informed on net-zero issues after months of discussions, and were selected to be representative of UK demographics, including different levels of concern on climate change.” The Financial Times says that the public assembly members join “a growing chorus of voices calling for green stimulus programs”. (Carbon Brief has produced an interactive grid tracking different countries’ plans for a green recovery from coronavirus.) Today’s story also appears on PoliticsHome, Reuters and ITV News. The Times carries a story about how Scottish Power has said that “ministers seeking a green recovery from the pandemic should not become ‘distracted’ by technologies such as carbon capture and hydrogen that are years from general use”. The power firm adds that the government should instead “electrify the hell out of everything right now”, with an accelerated push for electric vehicles and wind farms.
A second Guardian story reports that the UK’s leading environmental groups have called for a “national nature service” to restore habitats and wildlife in England. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Denmark has struck a climate agreement to help the country achieve the goal of cutting carbon emissions by 70% from 1990 levels by 2030.
BBC News reports on two recent studies suggesting large-scale tree-planting could do “more harm than good”. BBC News says: “One paper says that financial incentives to plant trees can backfire and reduce biodiversity with little impact on carbon emissions. A separate project found that the amount of carbon that new forests can absorb may be overestimated. The key message from both papers is that planting trees is not a simple climate solution.” The first study looked closely at the financial incentives given to private landowners to plant trees in Chile. In Chile,“ a decree subsidising tree planting ran from 1974 to 2012, and was widely seen as a globally influential afforestation policy”. The study finds the subsidy scheme expanded the area covered by trees, but decreased the area of native forest, which is more carbon dense and supportive of biodiversity, BBC News reports. Bloomberg and the i newspaper also report on the Chile tree-planting study. The Week reports further on the second paper highlighted by BBC News, which explores why offsetting carbon emissions with tree-planting might backfire. In related news, Reuters reports Peru’s indigenous leaders have been lobbying lawmakers to pass a bill to declare swathes of primary Amazon rainforest off limits in spite of pressure from the oil industry. (Earlier this year, Carbon Brief published an in-depth Q&A about how tree-planting might help the UK meet its climate goals.)
India’s Supreme Court has rejected a request by power producers to extend a deadline to cut emissions by two years to 2024, Reuters reports. The companies had asked for an extension to give them more time to install equipment needed to cut sulphur dioxide emissions. Reuters says: “India has a phased plan for plants to comply with emissions standards, which involve installing Flue Gas Desulphurization units that cut emissions of sulphur dioxide – known to cause lung diseases.” According to the newswire, in the order the Supreme Court said: “We are not inclined to allow the prayer made in the application.“
A second Reuters story reports that China is aiming to produce 1% more crude oil this year than in 2019 and to boost natural gas output by 4.3% as the country “seeks to safeguard energy security” amid the coronavirus crisis. A third Reuters story says China is considering temporarily easing quotas designed to boost the production of electric cars “in an attempt to help automakers in the world’s biggest market revive sales badly bruised by the coronavirus pandemic”. Reuters says: “China has some of the world’s strictest rules regarding the production of fossil-fuel vehicles, as it battles unhealthy levels of air pollution in its crowded cities.”
A fourth Reuters story says that “environmental shareholder activism has come to Japan”. It adds: “More investors are publicly backing a resolution to curb coal project lending that shareholders of Mizuho Financial Group are expected to consider this week, the first time such a step is to figure at the annual meeting of a Japanese listed company.”
There is continuing coverage of the extreme high temperatures being experienced in the Arctic. BBC News reports that temperatures in the Arctic Circle are likely to have hit an all-time record on Saturday, reaching 38C in Verkhoyansk, a Siberian town. BBC News says: “The record still needs to be verified, but it appears to have been 18C higher than the average maximum daily temperature in June. Hot summer weather is not uncommon in the Arctic Circle, but recent months have seen abnormally high temperatures.” The Independent reports that the new record was logged on Saturday. “If verified, it will overtake an Arctic record set more than a century at Fort Yukon, Alaska, where a temperature of 37.7C was documented in 1915,” it says. Carbon Brief has recently published an explainer looking into how Siberia’s heatwave is linked to “blocking weather”.
The former UK chancellor Sajid Javid writes in the Daily Telegraph that the government must boost economic growth as it emerges from the coronavirus crisis. He says: “The crisis is also an opportunity to build back greener, and major programmes on electric vehicles and replacing household boilers could create jobs at the same time as helping us towards net-zero emissions.” Javid has led a team at the Centre for Policy Studies, a right-leaning thinkthank, to produce a “blueprint” for how the government can boost growth in the wake of the crisis.
For the Times Red Box, David Brown, chief executive of the Go-Ahead bus company, challenges the UK government’s public instruction to “avoid public transport” amid the pandemic. He writes: “The environmental benefits of taking the bus were already staring us in the face before the world changed – taking cars off the road, reducing congestion, and improving the air quality in our towns and cities…Every Whitehall department should consider public transport in their policy-making, not only in the green agenda, but also when building new housing developments or considering the fight against obesity, loneliness or inequality – issues that we know buses can have a significant positive impact on.” Elsewhere in the Conversation, sustainability lecturer Ranald Boydell argues “zero-carbon homes must lead the green recovery from Covid-19”.
A new study highlights the importance of cleaning solar panels in parts of the world with substantial air pollution and low rainfall. The researchers combine solar photovoltaic (PV) performance modelling with long-term data on surface irradiance, aerosol deposition and rainfall rates to provide a global picture of how air pollution and dust affect PV generation. The results reveal that “with no cleaning and precipitation-only removal, PV generation in heavily polluted and desert regions is reduced by more than 50% by particulate matter”.
Subsidies to encourage reforestation in Chile have likely “decreased biodiversity without increasing total carbon stored in aboveground biomass”, new research suggests. The authors use an econometric land-use change model to simulate the carbon and biodiversity impacts of subsidy-driven plantation expansion in Chile between 1986 and 2011. Comparing simulations with and without subsidies the authors find that “payments for afforestation increased tree cover through expansion of plantations of exotic species but decreased the area of native forests”.
New research examines public opinion around “environmental migrants” – people who may choose or be forced to migrate in response to adverse climate conditions or sudden-onset extreme climate events. Using surveys in Vietnam and Kenya, the study examines the perceived deservingness of environmental migrants in the context of internal rural-to-urban migration. The findings suggest that “although residents in receiving areas view short-term climate events and long-term climate conditions as legitimate reasons to migrate, they do not see environmental migrants as more deserving than economic migrants”. The results also show that the ethnic group a migrant belongs to is of minor importance, notes an accompanying News & Views article: “This is a welcome finding, especially in the case of Kenya where existing research on environmental migration has often focused on conflicts between ethnic groups in rural areas over land or water resources during times of scarcity.”
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