Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK to launch global climate adaptation effort with partner countries
- Biden administration to unveil more climate policies, urges China to toughen emissions target
- Climate change tsar Alok Sharma seethes at Robert Jenrick over Cumbria coalmine
- EU countries mull call for global coal power phaseout, end to fossil fuel subsidies: draft
- 'Moral hazard': MPs urge Bank of England to clean up dirty investments ahead of COP26
- Biden will have a hard task getting the US to commit to Paris targets
- The cynical politics of emissions targets and COP26. How government is poised to declare success while delivering failure
- Making climate projections conditional on historical observations
- Climate of hope or doom and gloom? Testing the climate change hope vs. fear communications debate through online videos
Reuters reports that UK prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce today via the Climate Adaptation Summit – hosted online by the Netherlands – that the UK will “team up with Egypt, Bangladesh, Malawi, Saint Lucia and the Netherlands to help communities around the world that are threatened by climate change to adapt and build resilience”. According to Downing Street, early warning systems for storms and investments in flood drainage and in drought-resistant crops could form part of the measures promoted by the new Adaptation Action Coalition. The newswire adds: “Johnson’s office said the new coalition on adaptation would tap scientists, businesses and civil society groups to share knowledge and best practice on local, regional and global solutions to dealing with climate change.” Sky News says the new body will “act as a forum for developed and developing countries to share suggestions on solutions to deal with climate change”. The Guardian reports that Australia’s environment minister Sussan Ley will tell the summit that Australia will “join the Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment and the Call for Action: Raising Ambition for Climate Adaptation and Resilience”. The newspaper says “the move could inflame tensions in Australia’s ruling Liberal-National Coalition, due to the National party’s frequent criticism of banks refusing to lend to coalminers and requiring carbon transition plans as a condition of lending”. Another Reuters story says that the summit will mark the first high-level meeting signalling the return of the US to the “global fight against climate change” with Joe Biden’s climate special envoy John Kerry joining the talks. The newswire adds: “Ahead of the summit, more than 3,000 scientists from across the globe pressed leaders to better protect people from the fall out of global warming.”
There is continuing coverage of the Biden administration’s focus on climate change in the first days since taking control of the White House and Congress. Reuters says Biden’s advisers announced over the weekend that he will release more policies it believes are needed to tackle climate change and is urging China to toughen one of its targets on greenhouse gas emissions: “Gina McCarthy, the White House’s national climate adviser, did not say what policies would be released. A memo seen by Reuters on Thursday showed Biden will unveil a second round of executive orders as soon as 27 January that include an omnibus order to combat climate change domestically and elevate the issue as a national security priority.” The Financial Times details how “climate-action advocates are taking prominent roles in departments that will reset US energy policy under President Joe Biden, marking a sharp break from a Trump administration peppered with former industry lobbyists”. Axios notes how “Janet Yellen, Biden’s nominee to run the Treasury Department, has made clear to senators that her boss supports carbon pricing”. The Guardian says that Biden and Canada’s Justin Trudeau have agreed to cooperate on Covid and climate change: “Trudeau…hailed Biden’s arrival as a ‘new era’ for bilateral ties, but the relationship began with an early disagreement after the American president scrapped the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the US on his first day in office”. Politico and the Guardian note how climate change was a talking point during Boris Johnson’s first call to Biden over the weekend.
A separate Politico article looks at how “now that America is back [in the Paris Agreement], Europe is worried about being outcompeted and outspent” on climate change. It adds: “After years of standing up to Donald Trump’s onslaught on the Paris Agreement, Europe has no intention of being sidelined in diplomacy or losing the lead in clean tech. Europe’s priority is to avoid a return to the days when climate geopolitics were driven by deals between Washington and Beijing; after years of careful relationship building with China, the EU wants to stay at climate’s top table. Pushing China to do more to cut its emissions at home is a key goal for the COP26 UN climate talks this November.” The Sydney Morning Herald looks to this week’s annual World Economic Forum which is normally held in Davos but will be online this year. The newspaper says that the summit will try to “refocus” on climate change: “Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has not attended the forum since 2017, will deliver a keynote address that is expected to include hints about Beijing’s approach to the new geopolitical landscape ushered in by the election of US president Joe Biden.” Finally, the Independent notes that “Republican Congresswoman Lauren Boebert is attempting to block President Biden from rejoining the Paris Agreement”, with a bill being co-sponsored by 11 Republican House members.
The Sunday Times reports that Alok Sharma, who was recently appointed as COP26 president full-time by Boris Johnson, is “apopletic” with Robert Jenrick, the communities secretary, for approving the UK’s first new deep coalmine in decades. The newspaper adds: “A government source said Jenrick did not consult Sharma or other ministers on the plan, in line with planning guidance. Work is likely to begin on the first deep coalmine for 30 years as the government tells other nations to slash carbon emissions. The Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, 18, said the approval of the mine showed that Britain’s commitment to go carbon neutral by 2050 ‘basically means nothing’. The decision could complicate efforts to forge an alliance with Joe Biden’s White House, which has described international action on climate change as a key foreign policy goal. Sharma, 53, who was appointed to the COP26 role two days after Jenrick’s decision, was, according to two sources, upset about not being consulted and with the verdict itself.” The newspaper also quotes two other unnamed Whitehall sources: “A civil servant said: ‘Alok was apoplectic. So were civil servants. There was just disbelief that a decision like this could have been made.’ One Whitehall source said: ‘It f***s us at the very moment the world is watching us and expecting us to step up on the issue.’” Roger Harrabin, BBC News‘s environment and energy analyst, answers six questions three Cumbria coal controversy, concluding: “The government could avoid future pain on the issue by introducing a clear policy on coking coal. One thing’s for sure – as the UN climate summit looms closer, the government’s ambitions across the board will be increasingly scrutinised to see if it’s walking the climate walk.”
In other UK news, Reuters reports that “Britain’s energy market regulator Ofgem recommended on Monday that an independent body be set up to help lead the way to the government’s goal of net zero emissions by 2050”. The newswire adds: “Ofgem said the the body should be fully separated from National Grid and run the electricity system, helping to charge millions of electric vehicles and enabling a huge increase in renewable power while maintaining secure energy supplies.” The Guardian carries on its frontpage today an investigation by Unearthed revealing that “thousands of England’s vital flood defences were in such a state of ruin last year they would fail to protect communities from extreme weather”. It continues: “More than 3,400 of England’s ‘high consequence’ flood assets, defined as those where there is a high risk to life and property if they fail, were judged by the Environment Agency to be in such a bad condition they were almost useless. This means that more than one in 20 of the country’s crucial flood defences were in disrepair in 2019-20, the highest proportion in years. This rose to nearly one in 10 in the regions battered by Storm Christoph last week. The findings comes from Environment Agency data obtained by Unearthed, the investigative arm of Greenpeace UK, and shared with the Guardian. Doug Parr, the chief scientist and policy director at Greenpeace UK, said: ‘The poor state of so many critical flood defences in England is putting thousands of people and homes at risk. This is unacceptable.’” The Independent speaks to Emma Howard Boyd, chair of the Environment Agency, who says that the flooding caused by Storm Christoph last week is a harbinger of worsening “climate shocks” in the UK. The Observer speaks to climate adaptation expert Julia King who warns: “The impact on mental health of having your home flooded is directly related to the extent of the damage caused, and the time it takes to repair it. So this needs to be addressed directly.”
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that “householders buying brand new homes in the next four years are likely to find an unpleasant surprise awaiting them in the future: homes built today will have to be retrofitted with energy efficiency measures and low-carbon technology, at an average cost of more than £20,000”. A separate Guardian story says that a new high-voltage subsea cable linking the UK to France has begun importing enough electricity to power 1m British homes: “The interconnector, known as IFA2, is expected to meet about 1.2% of Britain’s electricity demand and help to reduce the use of fossil fuels by importing electricity generated by France’s nuclear power plants.” Finally, a news feature in the Sunday Times argues that “giant gigafactories for batteries are key to the future of the car industry”. It adds: “We have until 2026 to build a supply chain or face crippling tariffs.” The Guardian carries news that “electric vehicles are close to the ‘tipping point’ of rapid mass adoption thanks to the plummeting cost of batteries”.
Reuters says it has seen a “draft document” showing that European Union countries could call today “for a global phasing out of polluting coal power and an end to fossil fuel subsidies as the bloc makes climate change a central part of its foreign policy”. The newswire continues: “The statement…would commit to an aggressive line on climate diplomacy – by discouraging other countries from investing in fossil fuels and forging ‘high-ambition’ alliances with large economies to spur faster emissions cuts.” EurActiv carries a story quoting “senior EU officials” which says: “Revenues from the European Union’s upcoming carbon border charge will be ‘recycled’ to replenish the EU budget and finance the bloc’s green transition”. It adds: “However, this won’t be the main goal, they cautioned, saying the new levy must pursue environmental objectives to comply with WTO rules.”
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports on new analysis by Ember and Agora Energiewende showing that “renewables are for the first time the dominant power source in Europe’s electric grid”. It adds: “Renewables produced 38% of the EU’s electricity in 2020, up from 34% in 2019. That was just enough to surpass fossil-powered generation for the first time, which dropped to 37%…Wind and solar generation increased about 10% compared to 2019. Coal production fell 20%, to about half the level it was five years ago. Gas generation fell as well, about 4%, but was still 12% higher than the median gas generation of the last 10 years.” Reuters quotes Dave Jones, Ember’s senior electricity analyst: “Renewables will keep rising, because we keep installing more and more. The jury’s out as to whether fossil fuels will rebound but if they do rebound it’s not expected to be by a lot.”
There is widespread coverage in the UK media of the call by MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) to the Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey to “clean up its investments” ahead of COP26 in November. BusinessGreen says: “In a letter today to [Bailey], the EAC said the bank should move urgently to align its corporate bond purchasing programme with global climate goals and demand climate disclosures from all companies that it provides with Covid-19 bailouts.” The Financial Times says the MPs urged that “purchases should avoid ‘no-strings financing’ to carbon-intensive sectors, such as oil and gas”. A failure to act risked “undermining UK diplomatic leadership on climate change”, the MPs said, adds the FT. Reuters says: “Britain’s central bank doubled its holdings of corporate bonds to £20bn last year as part of efforts to support the economy through the coronavirus pandemic. [EAC] – which looks at public bodies’ impact on global warming – said buying bonds from firms such as energy companies with high carbon emissions contravened government goals to reduce global warming.” Bloomberg and the Times also cover the story.
An editorial in the Independent notes that “Mr Biden won, which suggests that the tide of opinion in America is moving towards science and away from denialism”. However, it cautions: “Post-Trumpian radicalisation will leave a lasting legacy. The new president faces a battle in laying the foundations for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal complains that, under Biden, “climate activists are now running federal oil and gas permitting”.
Meanwhile, in other editorials, the Guardian welcomes the fact that “technological advances combined with tough emissions targets are bringing the end of petrol and diesel traffic into view”. It concludes: “Electric cars do not obviate the need for other affordable transport options, or for big reductions in overall road traffic, especially in cities. Battery disposal is a problem, as is the use of coal power in some manufacturing. But since cars are part of life, it is good that they are getting greener.” An editorial in the Daily Telegraph bemoans the “war on cars”. An editorial in the Financial Times looks at the rise of veganism and its implications for tackling climate change: “The successful initial public offering of Beyond Meat in the US has boosted investment in the segment, which was one of the fastest-growing sectors in food and agritech in 2019. Singapore last month became the first country in the world to approve lab-grown meat. Capitalism is often criticised for contributing to climate change. These developments offer hope that, through its ability to adapt to changing consumer tastes and societal trends, it could help to save the planet.” Finally, an editorial in the Daily Mirror reacts to the UK’s flooding: “Residents in these areas say they have been abandoned by the government. They want to know why defences have not been built despite the billions of pounds promised by ministers. The climate crisis means these extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. This makes the need for proper flood protection measures all the more urgent.”
Paul Goodman, the editor of ConservativeHome, a website serving the Conservative party grassroots, begins a “mini-series on climate change policy” with an opinion piece which begins: “Slumps, black swans and wars could slow the pace of change. But the direction of travel is unmissable. Fossil fuels are out – at least as traditionally used – and renewables are in. The rejectionists might as well seek to shout down a hurricane…[But] we want to look at these [UK climate] targets, and the pace of change which they suggest, through three lenses: those of people, politics and Parliament…The landscape ahead looks to be one of conflicting policy objectives, punts in new technologies that won’t always come off, pressure on consumers, business and taxpayers, jobs that won’t always be sustainable – and further damage to the standing of politics.” In the Financial Times, City editor Jonathan Ford – who has a history of attacking climate policy – returns to his regular theme of “intermittent renewables”: “Managing variability is a real issue in the medium term. That is because this may get worse before it gets better. Consider one of the features of renewables: unlike fossil fuels, solar and wind have no marginal fuel costs to recover. That, together with the subsidy they receive, permits them to sell electricity profitably at levels which are ruinous for fossil fuel stations.” Interestingly, the veteran US analyst Amory Lovins has left a comment under Ford’s article seeking to rebut the “consistently underinformed Mr Ford”. Finally, the Times Red Box, UK environment minister Lord Goldsmith and Sabrina Dhowre-Elba, a goodwill ambassador for the International Fund for Agricultural Development, look at the environmental pressures facing the global food system.
Using recent observations of the climate can “narrow uncertainty on projected future warming by about 50%”, a new study finds. The research uses “the newest climate model ensemble, improved observations, and a new statistical method” to reduce the uncertainty in future warming projections, concluding that the lower end of 21st century temperature projections can be ruled out. The results suggest that “using an unconstrained multimodel ensemble is no longer the best choice for global mean temperature projections”, the authors say.
Videos about climate change that elicit “hope” or “fear” responses do not significantly change viewers’ perception of risk from climate change, likelihood of behaviour change, or likelihood of climate activism, according to new research. Participants with a range of political affiliations and attitudes on climate change were shown videos about climate change with either a “hope” or a “doom and gloom” framing. Researchers found that emotional responses to the “doom and gloom” video were more varied than responses to the “hope” video, and that ideological views about climate change can affect participant responses to “specific video production elements, including music, editing, pacing, and visuals”.