Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UN climate finance rules 'dragging' amid fight over who reports what
- The 'great dying': rapid warming caused largest extinction event ever, report says
- EPA announces plan to ease carbon emissions rule for new coal plants
- France considers lower electricity tax to stabilise household power prices - sources
- It’s time to face the inescapable truth: We’re running out of time on climate change
- We shouldn’t forget that climate change matters
- The role of aerosols and greenhouse gases in Sahel drought and recovery
- Global drought trends under 1.5C and 2C warming
As the COP24 climate talks in Poland approach the end of their first week, Climate Home News reports that “financial aid for poor countries – and how it is counted, publicly reported and locked in for the future – is one of the biggest sticking points in global climate change negotiations. Again.” With a steady drip-feed of draft negotiating texts having emerged over Wednesday and Thursday, analysis by Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans of the latest draft on reporting past financial aid shows that it includes 41 “options” and 185 square brackets (which denote unresolved issues). The focus now is on a new complete draft text expected from the co-chairs of the negotiations today. “Among the issues still to be decided: whether the accounting of past aid from developed countries should be tied to the reports they make every two years on future ‘indicative’ support,” adds Climate Home News. Other continuing coverage of the talks includes DeSmog UK’s feature on how a “Polish trade union and climate science denial group [Heartland Institute] [have issued a] statement rejecting the scientific consensus on climate change”. DeSmog UK also has a feature on the “coal, oil and greenwash” on display among the exhibitor stands. BuzzFeed Newslooks ahead to next week’s sure-to-be-controversial “trolling” side-event by the Trump administration: “Its climate officials at the conference are planning a pro–fossil fuel event next week on the sidelines of the formal negotiations.” Meanwhile, the Independent covers a new NGO report launched at the talks, which shows that “the top countries are pumping out several tonnes more CO2 per capita than could be considered their ‘fair share’ under existing climate targets”. Carbon Brief has published a series of interactive charts showing how climate finance “flows” around the world.
Many outlets cover a new study published in Science which shows that, according to the Guardian, “rapid global warming caused the largest extinction event in the Earth’s history, which wiped out the vast majority of marine and terrestrial animals on the planet”. The newspaper adds: “The mass extinction, known as the ‘great dying’, occurred around 252m years ago and marked the end of the Permian geologic period. The study of sediments and fossilised creatures show the event was the single greatest calamity ever to befall life on Earth, eclipsing even the extinction of the dinosaurs 65m years ago. Up to 96% of all marine species perished while more than two-thirds of terrestrial species disappeared. The cataclysm was so severe it wiped out most of the planet’s trees, insects, plants, lizards and even microbes.” The scientists says the world is currently “about a 10th of the way to the Permian”. One of the authors, Stanford University’s Jonathan Payne, is reported as saying: “It does terrify me to think we are on a trajectory similar to the Permian because we really don’t want to be on that trajectory…It doesn’t look like we will warm by around 10C and we haven’t lost that amount of biodiversity yet. But even getting halfway there would be something to be very concerned about. The magnitude of change we are currently experiencing is fairly large.” The Atlantic, MailOnline, Associated Press and the Sun are among the many other publications covering the study.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed yesterday an earlier New York Times report that it plans to reverse a rule that would have forced new US coal plants to install technology to capture their CO2 emissions. The Washington Post says it marks the “latest effort by the Trump administration to repeal Obama-era climate regulations”. The acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler told journalists that the Obama rule was “disingenuous” because the costs of the technology made new coal plants infeasible. He added: “You will see a decrease in emissions…By allowing the genius of the private sector to work, we can keep American energy reliable and abundant.” However, the Guardian says: “The change is mostly symbolic – but nevertheless sends a strong signal. Companies in the US are not building plants that burn coal because burning natural gas is cheaper and creates less pollution. Renewable power has also eaten into coal’s market share. But the Obama-era rule for new coal plants has long been a target of the industry.” Vox agrees, saying: “Trump can’t save coal, but he’s trying to slow its demise.” Reuters says: “The move to revive the ailing coal industry, whose share in the US energy mix has been in decline, caused an uproar among environmental groups, who said it ignored dire warnings from the world’s scientists about climate change.” No new coal plants will be built in the years to 2035 even if the rule reversal goes ahead, the EPA’s own analysis shows.
Reuters reports “two sources familiar with the situation” who claim that the embattled French government is considering lowering taxes on electricity in order to stabilise household power bills. Reuters adds: “The government had said this week that it would prevent state-controlled utility EDF’s regulated power prices from rising this winter, but the firm’s competitors immediately said they would challenge that decision in court. Earlier government attempts at freezing prices have been overruled.” President Emmanuel Macron’s government is currently reeling from the so-called “yellow vest” protests and has already scrapped planned road fuel taxes. The New York Times carries a feature about the French protests and on “the perils and political headwinds that governments worldwide may face as they try to wean their citizens from fossil fuels”. It adds: “If nothing else, the maelstrom in France showed that the political challenge of how to create incentives for people to move away from fossil fuels requires much more than raising a tax on gas at the pump or subsidising solar panels.” Meanwhile, Reuters carries another report, saying: “France’s hard-left CGT trade union [has] called on its energy industry workers to walk out for 48 hours from 13 December, saying it wanted to join forces with ‘yellow vest’ protesters. The CGT said President Macron’s long-term energy-transition plan would hurt jobs and increase France’s energy dependency on neighbouring countries.”
An editorial in the Washington Post despairs at the latest bad news about rising global emissions: “The inescapable truth: The transition from fossil fuels is essential, it is going to be hard, and the US must step up…World leaders have missed their chance to avoid the warming already here and built into the system. The Trump administration would have humanity miss its window entirely.” Elsewhere in the same paper, Chuck Schumer, a Democrat senator from New York, writes: “Now that Democrats will soon control one branch of Congress, President Trump is again signalling that infrastructure could be an area of compromise. We agree, but if the president wanted to earn Democratic support in the Senate, any infrastructure bill would have to include policies and funding that help transition our country to a clean-energy economy and mitigate the risks the US already faces from climate change. For too long, Congress has failed to act in a meaningful way to combat the threat posed by climate change…That’s why I’m sending a letter to President Trump that describes the kinds of policies Democrats expect in an infrastructure bill. For example, we should make massive investments in renewable-energy infrastructure, especially in exciting new technologies such as battery storage.”
“What would the news be about if Brexit hadn’t been created?” poses an editorial in London’s Evening Standard. “Where would political energy be going? What would be the big issues shaping our future? What would people be campaigning about? One of them is staring us in the face: climate change…Together, without much pain, we can deal with it — but a fragmented world, busy building borders and looking inward, will fail. Our own political obsessions are stopping us from seeing the things that really matter.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Financial Times says that “Royal Dutch Shell’s decision to set carbon emissions targets from next year is as welcome as it is overdue…Shell’s leadership is welcome, as is the new-found influence of investor alliances. Such groups should continue to hold companies to account.” In the Irish edition of the Times, Joseph Curtin, senior fellow for climate policy at the Institute of International and European Affairs, writes: “For four decades, economists have promoted [carbon pricing] as solution…[But when the] theory has confronted reality, the results have often disappointed…The house is on fire, climate science tells us, but these solutions are little more than tinkering with the heating controls, and there is a risk that it will never be politically acceptable to set carbon prices high enough to make a difference…What is the alternative? Plan B shifts the focus to making clean technologies cheaper. This involves stimulating the market for low-carbon solutions in the buildings, transport, power and agriculture sectors to drive deployment and economies of scale.” The Economist has a feature on the “discount rates” used in the economic modelling of climate change: “A shift in our view of future humans might not be enough to persuade humanity to get its act together on climate change. Moral logic often fails in the face of distance—geographical, cultural and temporal. But it would still be right to give future humans their due, and adjust economic models accordingly.”
Climate models effectively simulate 20th century changes in Sahel rainfall, including the mid-century decline toward the driest years in the early 1980s and the partial recovery since. The paper finds that the late twentieth century Sahel drought was caused by a combination of aerosols and greenhouse gases. The subsequent reduction in aerosol emissions around the North Atlantic that resulted from environmental legislation to curb acid rain helped drive the current partial recovery. The authors suggest that future warming will strengthen the monsoon and likely result in wetter conditions in the region.
Global drought extremes are generally projected to increase under future warming scenarios, but it is unclear how much of a difference limiting warming to 1.5C vs 2C would make. This study uses climate models to determine that the frequency and duration of meteorological drought may increase much faster than surface soil moisture drought, with a probable ~36% (62%) increase in frequency and a ~15% (20%) increase in duration at 1.5C (2C) warming. A 5% (14%) increase of drought frequency is expected at 1.5C (2C) warming in the surface soil moisture. Unprecedented increased drought risk are anticipated with 2C warming, with potential drought hot spots in North America, South America, southern Africa, Australia and Europe.
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