Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK releases plan to 'lead the world' on growth with carbon cuts
- Cap on prices could last for years (but may not start until 2019)
- World's first 'negative emissions' power plant in Iceland
- Paris plans to banish all but electric cars by 2030
- Climate meetings pose serious test in the Trump era
- UK climate change masterplan – the grownups have finally won
- The Guardian view on an energy price cap: a stopgap, not a strategy
- Electric cars: China’s highly charged power play
- Influence of El Niño on atmospheric CO2 over the tropical Pacific Ocean: Findings from NASA’s OCO-2 mission
- Spaceborne detection of localized carbon dioxide sources
The UK government has finally unveiled its long-awaited “Clean Growth Strategy” and it receives widespread coverage in today’s UK media. “Promising billions of pounds worth of investment in offshore wind power, electric vehicles and technology innovation funds, it set a bullish tone for low carbon industries,” says Climate Home. The government predicts the low carbon economy, which employs an estimated 430,000 Brits, will grow 11% a year from 2015 to 2030. It adds that the strategy shows the UK is “leading the world in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change while driving economic growth”. According to its own report, however, the raft of policies does not go far enough to meet legally binding emissions caps from the mid-2020s onwards. Furthermore, many of the actual policy details will not be revealed for months, sometimes years. Most papers focus on what the strategy might mean for households. The Guardian says “millions of draughty homes in England and Wales will be insulated and overhauled by 2035 to save families as much as £300 a year on their energy bills”. The Times says that “millions of people living in rented homes will also benefit, with landlords being forced to invest in measures to cut tenants’ energy bills”. The Daily Telegraph leads with the news that “stamp duty could be cut for home owners who make their properties more energy efficient”. BBC News takes a similar line, saying the householders will face “carrots and sticks” in an attempt by ministers to get about a million homes a year renovated during the next two decades. The Daily Mail decides the plan is a “war on gas” and will mean a “ban on gas cookers and boilers by 2050 to hit green targets”. It also focuses on the “£1bn to help motorists go electric”. The Financial Times says that “critics noted that many of the measures were a repackaging of previously announced initiatives and that the £2.5bn committed to the strategy came from existing budgets rather than new money”. The Daily Telegraph, however, focuses more on what the strategy means for offshore wind. It says: “The government has left the door open for a bigger than expected boom in offshore wind power in the next decade to power low-carbon economic growth.” In another piece for her paper, Jillian Ambrose, the Telegraph’s business writer covering the energy sector, says the “largest criticism levelled against the plans are that they lack the clearly defined details investors crave”. BusinessGreen’s Madeleine Cuff notes that some campaigners are nervous that the plan does not expect the UK to meet its fourth and fifth carbon budgets, meaning the UK “could resort to accounting ‘flexibilities’ to ‘carry forward’ net emissions savings from earlier carbon budgets and purchase international credits to help meet the deficit”. She adds that “the lack of policy action on aviation emissions is emerging as a cause for concern”. Elsewhere, both BusinessGreen and EnergyLiveNews carry summaries of all the reaction to the strategy. BusinessGreen has also published a full transcript of the speech by climate minister Claire Perry. For all the details, see Carbon Brief‘s detailed report on the strategy.
It what turned out to be a busy day of energy-related government announcements, as well as revealing the Clean Growth Strategy, it also published its plans for an energy price cap. The Times says energy prices could be capped until 2023, with the draft legislation aiming to limit bills for up to 12 million households. It adds: “Some of the major energy suppliers and several Conservative backbenchers have criticised the proposed cap, with one Tory MP branding it ‘Marxist’, while consumer groups and several small suppliers welcomed it.” The absolute cap on all standard gas and electricity tariffs would be a temporary measure set by Ofgem, the energy regulator, and designed initially to last until the end of 2020. The Times adds that the precise level of the cap will be left to Ofgem, which will be required to “consult and impose the cap as soon as practicable after the legislation is passed”. The Daily Telegraph says the cap “could run until 2023”. The Guardian says the draft legislation does not spell out at what price the average dual fuel bill will be capped. Ofgem will need to consult energy companies on how the cap is calculated. The Financial Times is among the other publications covering the story.
A “radical” new negative emissions power plant has begun operations in Iceland, reports MailOnline. The EU-backed project at one of the world’s largest geothermal power plants in Hellisheidi, Iceland, will capture CO2 from ambient air for permanent storage underground. Although still at pilot scale, researchers hope the scheme could be scaled up across the globe. The Mail explains: “The CO2 reacts with the basaltic bedrock and forms solid minerals, creating a permanent storage solution. The team behind it this week confirmed a testing phase has started during which the CO2 is captured from ambient air, bound to water, and sent to more than 700 meters underground. Currently the pilot system captures only 50 metric tons CO2, each year, about the same emitted by a single US household.” To read more, Carbon Brief has covered negative emissions technologies extensively over the past 18 months.
Paris authorities plan to banish all petrol- and diesel-fuelled cars from the world’s most visited city by 2030, officials at Paris City Hall said yesterday. They said France had already set a target date of 2040 for an end to cars dependent on fossil fuels and that this required speedier phase-outs in large cities.
Nature, the peer-reviewed journal, has published an editorial looking ahead to next month’s annual UN climate meeting, this year to be held in Bonn, Germany. In particular, it cites a new study showing that German media coverage of the Paris Agreement meeting in 2015 had a “soothing rather than mobilising effect” on the German public. Nature says: “There is an argument that climate action does not have to depend on media-stirred engagement from agitated citizens. People often choose to leave responsible decision-makers to deal with complex global problems that only concerted international effort can hope to solve, and this has brought progress on issues such as nuclear non-proliferation and the phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals. But climate change is a more complex issue, and one that cuts across many overlapping and sometimes contradictory concerns, from cultural and political issues to ethical and psychological ones. As such, organizations, businesses, scientists, policymakers and others who advocate action on global warming must continue to strive to take the public with them. As many experts have pointed out, that will take creativity and more than repeated references to the serious nature of the problem — in Bonn and elsewhere.”
The Guardian’s head of environment praises the government’s publication of its Clean Growth Strategy: “The grownups have finally won and everyone in the UK, from those in cold homes to those on polluted streets and in flooded towns, will benefit.” But it’s more about the tone rather than the substance, says Carrington: “The most important aspect of the UK government’s new clean growth strategy is its unequivocal statement that tackling climate change and a prosperous economy are one and the same thing.” He continues: “The new strategy published on Thursday signals a new, if belated, beginning. It is the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel age: it is highly notable that the government plan omits any mention of fracking, having previously been its cheerleader. The government had to produce this plan under its own climate laws to explain how it will get on track to meet the nation’s legally binding carbon targets in 2030 and beyond. But ministers have rightly made a virtue of the plan’s necessity…While the proposals themselves are ambitious but lack concrete suggestions in many areas.”
There is much to be said for a limited cap on energy prices, begins the Guardian editorial. “But the details of the government plan that was published on Thursday, promising lower bills for 11 million households, are so vague and its political purpose so brazen that it needs to be treated with great caution. Buyer, beware…Although it might buy time, this cap doesn’t tackle any of these structural defects and it is hard to escape the impression that the suppliers will still have the upper hand.”
Charles Clover, Financial Times.
The FT’s “Big Read” is a feature by Charles Clover on how China’s “central planners are staking a bet on the success of electric vehicles as part of its state-backed plan to transform the country into a high-tech industrial power”. He adds: “Many economists and industry heads are counselling China to wait until the market and battery technology catch up with their ambitions, but Beijing’s policymakers insist that a generous helping of state intervention in the market is what is needed as a catalyst to make the industry sustainable in the first place.”
Spaceborne observations of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) were used to characterize the response of tropical atmospheric CO2 concentrations to the strong El Niño event of 2015–2016. Although correlations between the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation are well known, the responses of oceanic and terrestrial carbon cycle remain poorly constrained in space and time. Researchers used space-based CO2 observations to confirm that the tropical Pacific Ocean does play an early and important role in modulating the changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations during El Niño events—a phenomenon inferred but not previously observed because of insufficient high-density, broad-scale CO2 observations over the tropics. Disentangling the timing of the ocean and terrestrial responses is the first step toward interpreting their relative contribution to the global atmospheric CO2 growth rate, and thereby understanding the sensitivity of the carbon cycle to climate forcing on interannual to decadal time scales.
Spaceborne measurements by NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) at the kilometer scale reveal distinct structures of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) caused by known anthropogenic and natural point sources. OCO-2 transects across Los Angeles show that anthropogenic CO2 emissions peak over the urban core and decrease through suburban areas to rural background values more than ~100 kilometers away, varying seasonally from ~4.4 to 6.1 parts per million. A transect passing directly downwind of the persistent isolated natural CO2 plume from Yasur volcano (Vanuatu) shows a narrow filament of enhanced CO2 values (~3.4 parts per million), consistent with a CO2 point source emitting 41.6 kilotons per day. These examples highlight the potential of the OCO-2 sensor, with its unprecedented resolution and sensitivity, to detect localized natural and anthropogenic CO2 sources.
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