Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UN climate talks sputter on carbon market disputes
- Thousands were paid to use extra renewable electricity on windy weekend
- Water supplies for 1.9 billion at risk due to climate change, study shows
- Scott Morrison and the coalition are fiddling as Australia burns
- Climate treaty at a tipping point
- Importance and vulnerability of the world’s water towers
- Heat exposure and global air conditioning
- Changing risks of simultaneous global breadbasket failure
Many publications continue their coverage of the COP25 climate summit in Madrid, with several looking for signs of progress from the first week. Politico reports that the topics up for discussion are “some of the most politically challenging” elements of the Paris Agreement regime, which remain incomplete from the end of last year’s event. In particular, its coverage focuses on the attempts to solidify rules for carbon markets (Article 6), a deal which has “proven elusive to the legions of largely technical experts” at the conference. The Guardian also has a summary of the first week, noting that there is “still no guarantee of any resolution to the disputes over carbon markets”. Climate Home News also has an in-depth look at the latest news emerging from the COP. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports comments from economist Ross Garnaut, who says Australia’s reliance on “carry-over credits” from older carbon markets to meet its climate pledge “misses the point” of the Paris Agreement and will, ultimately, cost the economy more than taking real action.
As negotiators hash out these issues, other reporting has focused on the various events and meetings taking place around the conference. Reuters reports from a press conference help by the EU, in which the bloc’s new climate commissioner Frans Timmermans told reporters they “will not hesitate” to impose a carbon tax on imports from high-emitting competitors if it is deemed necessary. The Independent and DeSmog UK both have an announcement by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights that fossil fuel companies could be sued for their contributions to global warming. As young people, including Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, took centre stage at the COP, the Guardian quotes the UN high commissioner for human rights emphasising the importance of including children in these processes. After taking the stage at a press conference with youth campaigners from around the world, Reuters reports Thunberg had opted to turn the spotlight on indigenous struggle. The need for such a spotlight is highlighted in reporting by BBC News, which says indigenous leaders have travelled to Madrid to protest against plans to massively expand oil drilling in the upper Amazon. Another BBC News piece asks what African nations want to get out of the climate summit.
Politico has coverage of a group ay COP25 called the Alliances for Climate Action, which is building coalitions around the world that extend beyond national governments in a similar manner to the US groups resisting the administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. (Meanwhile, the Atlantic notes that 24 US states and Puerto Rico have now pledged to uphold the Paris goals.) BusinessGreen reports on an announcement by COP president Carolina Schmidt that Chile is to present a climate law targeting net-zero emissions by 2050. Finally, China Dialogue has a feature about Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate negotiator and a key architect of the Paris Agreement, who recently retired from the role.
Record wind-power generation over the weekend saw thousands of households being paid to use the extra renewable electricity, according to the Guardian. It notes that homes using a new type of smart energy tariff were asked to plug in electric vehicles and set dishwashers on a timer to take advantage of the early-morning power boost. The Press Association reports that windfarms generated more than 16 gigawatts of power in Britain for the first time on Sunday evening, according to National Grid.
In other energy news, the Guardian also reports that the owner of the Drax power plant has set out plans to absorb more carbon emissions from the air than it creates by 2030, a plan that would make it the world’s “first carbon-negative business”.
Elsewhere, coverage of UK election promises relating to climate change continues. BBC News asks what a “climate election” means for Wales, considering – among other things – tidal lagoons such as the stalled Swansea Bay scheme. An opinion piece in the Guardian by Stephen Buranyi questions whether this really has been a “climate election” at all, despite initial speculation by journalists.
Water supplies for around a quarter of the world’s population are at risk due to climate change, according to new research reported by the Press Association. A combination of rising temperatures and growing demand are placing resources extracted from glaciers, snowpacks, lakes and streams in mountainous regions under increasing pressure, the news service notes. The paper examining these “water towers”, which is also reported by the Guardian and BBC News, concludes Asian river basins are most at risk, but other continents are also under threat.
BBC News also reports on a warning from humanitarian groups that refugees and people displaced within countries are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather.
As fires continue to rage across parts of Australia, a piece by Guardian Australia’s political editor Katharine Murphy examines the lacklustre response shown by the country’s leaders, who have shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for tackling climate change. “Fear has accompanied the dry, and the heat and the flames, and that is a difficult and frankly politically unwelcome development for a prime minister who won an election just a few months ago at least in part by telling people to calm down about climate change, because the Coalition had things under control,” Murphy writes. This, she says, was not true, given that the current leadership has “done more than any other political party in Australia to frustrate climate action” and is the “party of wreck, defer and obfuscate”.
Internationally, Australia is not faring a lot better, according to an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald considering the nation’s position in the on-going climate talks in Madrid. “At a time when the United Nations is warning that the world needs to do a lot more to avoid a dramatic rise in global temperatures, it is disappointing that emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor has travelled to crucial talks in Madrid to say Australia would like to do less.” The editorial criticises the government’s emissions target, which it says was weaker than other rich nations “from the outset”. However, it also focuses on Australia’s desire to use the “accounting loophole” of “Kyoto carry-over credits”, which will hamper climate action and “send a very bad signal to other countries that are already trying to twist the rules”.
An opinion piece in India’s Hindu by Mukul Sanwal, a former UN diplomat in the climate secretariat, says the annual COP climate summit “raises questions on global climate policy”. He says net-zero targets by the likes of the EU ignore the embedded carbon in imports, which account for a third of their CO2 emissions and shifts the burden to India and China. “The policy problem is that the climate treaty considers symptoms (emissions of greenhouse gases), rather than the causes (use of natural resources),” he writes. Furthermore, he describes India as being highly sustainable and carbon efficient, and says that in the coming decades, the pattern of resource use by western nations “will more clearly be seen as a short-term anomaly rather than collective transformation or unified evolution of civilisation”. He concludes: “Much before that, alternative strategies led by India and China should replace the ineffective climate treaty.”
Mountains are the “water towers of the world”, a new study says, which supply a “substantial part of both natural and anthropogenic water demands”. The researchers “present a global Water Tower Index, which ranks all water towers in terms of their water-supplying role and the downstream dependence of ecosystems and society”. The study concludes that “the most important water towers are also among the most vulnerable, and that climatic and socio-economic changes will affect them profoundly”. This could “negatively impact 1.9 billion people living in (0.3 billion) or directly downstream of (1.6 billion) mountain areas”, the researchers add
In a brief communication in Nature Sustainability, researchers look at how demand for air conditioning is “increasing dramatically worldwide as incomes rise and average temperatures go up”. Using daily temperature data from 14,500 weather stations, the researchers “rank 219 countries and 1,692 cities based on a widely used measure of cooling demand called total cooling degree day exposure”. It finds: “India, by itself, has an almost unfathomable amount of potential demand for cooling, both because it is so hot and because so many people live there. However, our rankings also feature many middle-income countries, such as China, Indonesia, Brazil and the Philippines, all of which are poised to dramatically increase air conditioner use in the near future.”
A new study assesses the threat of crop failures in multiple “breadbaskets” around the world at the same time. Using “region-specific data on agricultural production with spatial statistics of climatic extremes”, the researchers find “an increasing risk of simultaneous failure of wheat, maize and soybean crops across the breadbaskets analysed”. And in a second study, also in Nature Climate Change, researchers show that enhanced Rossby Waves – an indicator of a meandering jet stream – increases the likelihood of extreme heatwaves in major breadbasket regions such as Central North America, Eastern Europe and Eastern Asia, and Western Central North America, Western Europe and Western Asia.
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