Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK seeks to drill more oil and gas from North Sea
- Global banks’ $750bn in fossil fuels finance conflicts with green pledges
- World's largest coal miner Coal India bets on solar, eyes further mine closures
- Huang Runqiu: Support qualified places and key industries, enterprises to be the first to peak carbon emissions
- Japan to set bolder 2030 emissions target with eye on US alliance
- We need not live on the edge, where fire and flood will overrun us
- Climate control on terrestrial biospheric carbon turnover
BBC News reports that more oil and gas wells are to be drilled in the North Sea in a move by the UK government that has “angered environmental campaigners” who say the decision undermines the UK’s position as a “climate leader” ahead of the UN COP26 conference in Glasgow. According to the news website, ministers have said the continued exploration will be part of a broader transition away from fossil fuels designed to safeguard jobs and the economy. According to the Guardian, prospective drillers must pass a “climate compatibility” test to check whether each application is “compatible with the UK’s climate change objectives”. This will involve checking the application against domestic demand for oil and gas, the North Sea’s projected production levels, clean energy availability and the sector’s progress towards its emissions reduction targets, it notes. The newspaper adds that the government has offered to help the North Sea industry through a joint investment of up to £16bn to support 40,000 jobs. In return, the industry has pledge to cut emissions by 50% by the end of the decade. The i newspaper includes critical comments of the “North Sea transition deal” from green groups including Ed Matthew from climate thinktank E3G who said “no new licenses for oil and gas are compatible with the Paris Agreement on climate change”. According to the Times, the government faces a “backlash” due to the lack of a fixed end date in its plan for extracting fossil fuels. However, the Daily Telegraph reports that, with the deal, the government had made it “far more difficult for oil companies to obtain drilling licences, effectively signalling the beginning of the end for the North Sea industry”. Energy Voice calls the government support a “huge boost” in the industry’s transition to a low-carbon future, noting that it includes investment in hydrogen production, carbon capture and storage (CCS) and the electrification of oil and gas platforms.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports on a letter sent by UK prime minister Boris Johnson to his Australian contemporary Scott Morrison ahead of a leaders’ climate ambition summit in December telling him explicitly that he was denied a speaking slot because his government had not set ambitious commitments to address climate change.
In more UK news, the Financial Times reports that in a “significant post-Brexit boost” the United Arab Emirates has agreed a multibillion-pound investment partnership with the UK to invest in the country’s health, technology, clean energy and infrastructure. The piece notes that the fund has stakes in the London Array, Hywind and Dudgeon wind farms, and “could invest on its own in certain deals”.
The Daily Telegraph has a piece on “tax day”, as the UK Treasury publishes various consultations and plans for the tax system, including new green levies for long-distance flyers and cheaper domestic flights. Finally, the Sun has an “exclusive” story on “eco-friendly heat pumps”, stating that experts have told the prime minister that they could be “far cheaper than dirty gas boilers”.
Banks provided $750bn in financing to coal, oil and gas companies last year, despite pledges to support the Paris Agreement and cut funding for fossil fuels, the Financial Times reports. The findings are based on research conducted by activists at the Rainforest Action Network, who concluded that while lending and debt-and-equity underwriting for the sector fell by 9% in 2020, this may be down to “a Covid blip until proven otherwise” and adds that the overall trend “is still heading definitively in the wrong direction”. The report finds that French bank BNP Paribas had the largest absolute increase in funding to fossil fuel companies, with a 41%t annual rise to $41bn, despite positioning itself as “a leader in green finance”. The Guardian reports that, while US and Canadian banks made up only 13 of the 60 banks analysed, they accounted for nearly half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years.
Meanwhile, the Guardian has a piece on a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP) which finds more than 30 million people are “one step away from starvation”, with acute hunger being “driven by conflict, climate shocks and the Covid pandemic”.
Coal India Ltd could venture into solar panel manufacturing and wants to “aggressively” participate in the nation’s solar energy auctions, its chairman Pramod Agarwal has told Reuters. In an interview, the head of the world’s largest coal miner says it plans to keep closing small coal mines and stay away from opening those that would involve large-scale hiring, noting “coal as you know, we’re going to lose business in the next two, three decades. Solar will take over”. Meanwhile, Bloomberg has a piece on the findings of a new report conducted by the Energy and Resources Institute, a New Delhi-based thinktank, and Shell which concludes that India must phase out its coal-fired power plants by the middle of this century to achieve net-zero emissions within that timeframe. The piece notes that India is under pressure to commit to a net-zero target before the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow, and has been considering a 2050 goal.
Meanwhile, in Europe, EurActiv reports that half of the continent’s 324 coal-fuelled power plants have either closed or announced a retirement date before 2030. This comes after EDF announced plans to close the West Burton coal plant in the north of England, one of just two remaining in the UK, it adds.
Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, has indicated that the Ministry of Ecology and Environment (MEE) would support “qualified locations” as well as key industries and enterprises to be the first to peak carbon emissions. Huang made the remarks on Sunday during the China Development Forum (CDF) 2021 in Beijing, according to state news agency Xinhua. Huang said that the MEE is promoting the formulation of an action plan for reaching emissions peak and “steadily implementing” the “dual control” system over “carbon intensity” and total emissions, Xinhua reports. Shanghai-based news website The Paper also reports on Huang’s speech, focusing on the challenges China faces to reach emissions peak and carbon neutrality.
Meanwhile, Li Gao, director-general of the department of climate change at the MEE, has called for the “whole of Chinese society” to improve its awareness of climate change. Li made the remarks during an in-depth interview about China’s climate goals with Beijing News, a state-supervised daily newspaper. Among other things, Li said that “some regions” needed “fundamental changes” to steer them away from a developmental pattern led predominantly by GDP growth. He added that society must “stimulate [its] enthusiasm and initiative for promoting bottom-up low-carbon development”. Separately, Shanghai Securities News reports that the government’s National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has held three meetings about peaking carbon emissions in the space of a week since the closing of the “two sessions” earlier this month. The report says that some industries have submitted their plan for reaching the climate goals to the NDRC. According to the article, these plans could “surface” by the end of June at the earliest.
Elsewhere in Chinese-language media, supervisors in charge of ecological and environmental protection in China’s Guizhou province have ordered a renewable power company to demolish its wind farm that had allegedly been built “illegally” in a protected nature reserve, according to China Business Journal. China Datang Corporation Renewable Power, the company in question, told the outlet that it had received a formal notice from the supervisors, ordering it to take down 17 wind turbines and booster stations at its Dafengping wind farm “as soon as possible”. The authority also demanded the company finish restoring the local ecology by July, the report says. An expert told the outlet that the incident called for closer attention of the “coordination of renewable energy development and ecological and environmental protection”.
Finally, the South China Morning Post reports that John Kerry, the US’ top climate official, joined a meeting on climate change co-hosted by China on Tuesday, but had “no plans” to meet with his Chinese counterpart during the event.
The Japanese government will set a new, more ambitious emissions reduction goal for 2030 before the next G7 summit in June, according to Nikkei Asia. The piece notes that this is “a step toward achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”, a target announced by the nation’s leaders last year. It adds that the current goal of reducing emissions by 26% from 2013 levels by 2030 will “likely will not be enough for the country to achieve net-zero emissions”. The piece notes that prime minister Yoshihide Suga hopes to brief US president Joe Biden on his 2030 target during an upcoming trip to the US in early April, adding that “some within the Japanese government see coordination on the climate crisis as key to strengthening the country’s alliance with the US”.
Meanwhile, US media continues to look ahead to Biden’s forthcoming plans for a new emissions target and for a green recovery plan. The Washington Post states that by 22 April, when the president convenes world leaders for an Earth Day summit, “he is expected to unveil a new, aggressive plan to cut US greenhouse gas emissions between now and 2030”. However, it notes he is “facing conflicting political pressures at home and abroad”. The New York Times reports on a separate plan by the Biden administration to invest between $3tn and $4tn in spending and tax credits on efforts meant to bolster the post-Covid economy, which include an “infrastructure bill that is rooted in the effort to halt the emissions of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2)”.
Dr George Morgan, an associate professor in the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University, writes a comment piece for the Sydney Morning Herald in the wake of floods that have struck parts of Australia this week. “The flooding illustrates what Aboriginal people have long known: that the European idea of the river, a body of water flowing steadily and obediently between two banks, does not adequately capture the Australian watercourse that can turn so quickly from trickling stream to vast floodplain,” he writes, noting that extreme weather resulting from climate change has called into question the way cities are built in Australia. “Too often climate change politics focuses on whether we should pull coal out of the ground and burn it in our power stations. But if Australia is to be a good global environmental citizen and protect its citizens from the effects of climate change, we need to do something about the design of our cities”. The Guardian has a comment piece from the prominent US climate scientist Dr Michael Mann, also reflecting on the Australian floods, which notes that “catastrophic fires and devastating floods are part of Australia’s harsh new climate reality”. Another comment piece in the Guardian by Toby Ord, a senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University, looks at how governments should transform their resilience to climate breakdown, AI and engineered pandemics.
Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald has a news story about the “short-sighted” closure of a national research flood hub in northern New South Wales just months before Australia suffered its most extensive flooding in a decade. The Guardian also has a podcast considering the Australian floods and “what the disaster tells us about a climate crisis future”.
The reservoir of carbon stored in soils is more sensitive to destabilisation from climate change than previously thought, according to new research. The authors used the radiocarbon ages of organic compounds from the mouths of 36 rivers – including the Amazon, Ganges, Yangtze, Congo, Danube and Mississippi – to determine the sensitivity of terrestrial carbon to climate change. They find that warmer temperatures and an invigorated hydrological cycle have the most significant impact on soil carbon stores.
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