Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UN Security Council to meet on global warming impact on world peace
- Keep funding green homes to meet emissions target, say businesses
- ‘Absolutely ridiculous’: top scientist slams UK government over coalmine
- Wind power is not to blame for Texas blackout
- Negative-emissions technology portfolios to meet the 1.5C target
- Future drought in CMIP6 projections and the socioeconomic impacts in China
Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that the UN Security Council will hold a summit of world leaders tomorrow to debate climate change’s implications for world peace, “an issue on which its 15 members have divergent opinions”. The newswire adds: “The session, called by British prime minister Boris Johnson and conducted by video-conference, comes just days after the US under president Joe Biden formally rejoined the Paris climate change accord. Johnson, whose country now holds the Security Council’s rotating presidency, will address the forum, as will US climate czar John Kerry, French president Emmanuel Macron, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi and the prime ministers of Ireland, Vietnam, Norway and other countries, diplomats say. The meeting will serve as a test for US-China relations, one UN ambassador said on condition of anonymity, alluding to one of the few issues where the two big powers might agree. But this is not a given.” Ahead of the council meeting, Reuters notes that senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi has said today that the US and China “could work together” on climate change.
The meeting tomorrow comes after the formal re-entry of the US to the Paris Agreement last Friday, which BBC News says was “not mere symbolism [but] an act cloaked in powerful, political significance”. It continues: “While re-joining the pact was actually quite simple – the signing of a letter on Biden’s first day in office and then a 30-day wait which ends on Friday – there could be no more profound signal of intention from this incoming administration. Coming back to Paris means the US will once again have to follow the rules. Those rules mean that sometime this year the US will need to improve on their previous commitment to cut carbon made in the French capital in 2015.” Politico says that “after the (virtual) confetti falls, the real work begins – and the world has few clear answers for tackling runaway climate change, much as when nations banded together to sign Paris in 2015”. It continues: “China, the world’s top producer of carbon pollution, looms large in any climate discussion because of its vague pledges to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060…That uncertainty creates domestic difficulties for Biden, offering his critics an opening to accuse the administration of failing to force China to do its fair share on climate change.” An editorial in the Wall Street Journal seeks to exploit this point, saying: “Our guess is that China is the most pleased [about the US’s re-entry] because it knows the accord will restrict American energy while Beijing gets a decade-long free ride.” Climate Home News speaks to various experts who say that eyes now “turn to [the US’s] 2030 emissions goal”. The Financial Times and Guardian both focus on the words of John Kerry, Joe Biden’s special envoy on climate change, who said in a speech on Friday that COP26 in Glasgow is “our last, best hope” to get the world on track to limit global warming to 1.5C. CNBC quotes the prominent US climate scientist Prof Michael Mann who says that the US must now go “well beyond those Paris commitments”. ITV News features an interview with Carbon Brief editor Leo Hickman, recorded last November, about what the US rejoining the Paris Agreement could mean for action on climate change.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg notes that the White House also chose Friday to “reactivate Obama-era approaches for building climate change into federal policy”. It adds: “Biden was widely expected to release an interim social cost [of carbon] estimate on Friday, but the White House instead published a Federal Register notice that governs how the federal government will conduct climate analysis in reviewing the environmental impact of government projects. It signals a wider return to climate policy that will eventually reinstate a higher social cost of greenhouse gases.”
Business groups are urging the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, to keep funding home insulation and other low-carbon measures under the so-called green homes grant, which is under threat from cuts, reports the Guardian. It says: “They warned that moves to reduce the amount of money paid out under the scheme, or abandon it altogether, would make it harder to reach the government’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050, and damage the UK’s credibility as host nation of this year’s COP26 UN climate summit and president of the G7 group of rich nations…More than 25 organisations, including the CBI employers’ association, Energy UK which represents energy suppliers, and the Royal Institute of British Architects, signed the letter organised by the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group.” The Sunday Times says that “landlords will face fines of up to £5,000 if they fail to make properties energy efficient under government plans”. The newspaper continues: “Houses could face fines if they are below EPC-C, the third-highest energy-efficiency rating, under plans being considered from 2028. ‘If we’re serious about the net-zero 2050 target it’s the kind of thing we need to do,’ a Whitehall source said. The approach is hinted at in the government’s fuel-poverty strategy, which looks to ‘drive’ £13bn in private investment by landlords into improving energy efficiency.” The Daily Telegraph says that “homeowners in the north west could face 30 years of higher energy bills” as they lag behind other parts of the country on domestic energy efficiency. It adds: “Houses in London and the South East of the country are likely to meet targets by 2031, according to property data company Kamma, while it might take homes in Manchester and Liverpool until 2061.” And the Sunday Telegraph says that “half a million to miss out on £10,000 green home grants”.
In other UK news, the Sunday Times reports that “every new electric car bought in the UK is costing the chancellor about £1,000 in lost fuel duty and vehicle tax in its first year, according to [RAC Foundation] new research, prompting warnings that road tolls will become inevitable to make up the shortfall”. The Daily Telegraph says “car companies’ rush to go all-electric is likely to drive an arms race between manufacturers as they fight to source the exotic materials needed to produce batteries for the eco-friendly vehicles”. The Times says it has “learnt” that “motorists will be paid up to £3,000 to give up their cars under new plans designed to improve air quality in built-up areas”. It continues: “For the first time, drivers of the most polluting cars will receive public money to surrender their vehicle in favour of ‘credits’ that can be spent on public transport, bicycles, electric scooters, car clubs and taxis.” And, separately, the Times has a news feature about “Blyth, the home of Britain’s new giga-economy”. It continues: “This time next week a planning application for Britain’s first gigafactory will have been submitted to Northumberland county council. The stakes, however, are much higher than the nuts and bolts of logistics, access, local jobs and the fate of the local deer that roam the site at the moment. For many onlookers, this is a test of how serious Britain really is about creating a zero-emission automotive industry.”
The Sunday Telegraph reports that “Legal & General has ruled out helping to fund the new Sizewell C nuclear power plant, dealing a blow to EDF as it seeks backers for the £20bn project”. Both the Independent and Financial Times have critical pieces examining the climate credentials of burning biomass for power in the UK. The Sunday Times has a news feature on how “conservationists have drawn up plans to create a ‘Great North Bog’ stretching from the Midlands to the Scottish border”. It adds: “The peatland restoration project, which will cost more than £200m over 20 years, is a key part of Britain’s climate ambitions. Covering five national parks – the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Lake District and Northumberland – the plan involves protecting and repairing 2,700 square miles of upland peat. With Britain hosting the COP26 UN climate summit in November, ministers are keen to back projects with tangible environmental benefits. Described by officials as ‘England’s national rainforests’, peatlands absorb and hold millions of tonnes of carbon.” The Times reports that Boris Johnson’s father has called on him to “practise what he preaches” on conservation by funding his environmental pledges. It adds: “His father Stanley, an environmental campaigner and international ambassador for the Conservative Environment Network, is calling for more, including legally binding targets for protecting and restoring habitats.” The Scottish Herald says that “Glasgow’s appeal for 1,000 volunteers to help out at November’s COP26 climate change conference has already met with a ‘fantastic response’, with six times the target received in the first four weeks.” India’s Economic Times carries as interview with Alok Sharma, the UK minister responsible for COP26, following his recent visit to India. He lays out the “four things” the UK is seeking to achieve at the summit.
Finally, BusinessGreen carries a comment piece by Onward’s Ted Christie-Miller and Alex Luke who look at public opinion surrounding the UK net-zero ambitions. They say: “There are questions about how soft this support will be when the trade-offs arrive. Many people do not fully appreciate the practicalities of bringing emissions into balance…The realities of decarbonisation mean that sacrifices will need to be made and politicians need to be upfront with voters about this. It is very easy to say you support ‘doing more’ but less easy to say you are willing to pay for a new heat pump and new insulation in your home, or fork out for an electric car, or even worse that you are willing to give up your job to support the mission to decarbonise…The biggest challenge to delivering on that support may well be keeping it.” And both the i newspaper and Bloomberg carry features looking at why “in the face of global warming, the climate scepticism of the UK press is finally starting to melt”.
In continuing fallout from the plans to build a new coking coal mine in Cumbria, the Guardian carries the reaction of Prof Sir Robert Watson, “one of the UK’s most eminent environmental scientists”, who has described the failure by the UK government to block the proposal as “absolutely ridiculous”. He is quoted as saying: “The British government says, ‘We’re going to lead COP26 in Glasgow, we really care about climate change. But, by the way, we won’t override the council in Cumbria, and we’ll have a new coal mine.’ Absolutely ridiculous!” Struan Stevenson writing in the Scottish Herald says: “The prime minister will be greatly relieved that the county council has decided to revisit the decision themselves. He had clearly found himself between a rock and a hard place on the issue.” Nick Maughan writing in the Independent says “planning to build a new coal mine is like investing in a new fax machine – it takes us all backwards”.
A week after freezing conditions struck Texas and the surround region, there continues to be much media debate about the real reasons behind the resulting power blackouts as well as the political fallout. An editorial in today’s Financial Times says that a “full inquiry into what went wrong will take weeks to complete, but it is clear that wind farms were not the only problem”. It also scolds Republican politicians for leaping to blame wind power: “Politicising something as vital and basic as electricity never made sense. Texas has just given a masterclass in why it should end.” In the New York Times, author and activist Naomi Klein says that the Texas blackouts show why “small government is no match for a crisis born of the state’s twin addictions to market fixes and fossil fuels”. She concludes: “The horrors currently unfolding in Texas expose both the reality of the climate crisis and the extreme vulnerability of fossil fuel infrastructure in the face of that crisis. So of course the green new deal finds itself under fierce attack. Because for the first time in a long time, Republicans face the very thing that they claim to revere but never actually wanted: competition – in the battle of ideas.” In the Observer, Robert Reich – former US secretary of labor and professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley – says: “The loss of power from frozen coal-fired and natural gas plants was six times larger than the dent caused by frozen wind turbines. Texans froze because deregulation and a profit-driven free market created an electric grid utterly unprepared for climate change.” An editorial in the same newspaper argues: “The virtual collapse of many of Texas’s life support systems – water supply pipelines, food distribution networks and natural gas, coal and nuclear power plants were all temporarily knocked out – speaks to a bigger, ongoing national failure to invest in critical infrastructure. This is partly the result of repeated Republican tax and budget-cutting.”
An editorial in the New York Times says: “In the simplest terms, [eliminating the use of fossil fuels] will mean electrifying everything in sight: a huge increase in battery-powered cars and in charging stations to serve them; a big jump in the number of homes and buildings heated by electric heat pumps instead of oil and gas; and, crucially, a grid that delivers all this electricity from clean energy sources like wind and solar. This, in turn, will require from Congress a clear-eyed look at the climate-driven calamities that have beset California, the Caribbean and, most recently, Texas. It will also require an honest accounting of their great cost, in both human and financial terms, and of the need to guard against their recurrence in the years to come.” In the Chicago Tribune, columnist Steve Chapman writes: “The natural impulse of politicians is to spare voters from sacrifice today, even if it means greater pain later on, after those politicians have moved on. That attitude, which has delayed federal action on climate change, is subsiding as Americans become more aware of the reality and the danger of global warming. But it has remained dominant in Texas. Denial can be a comforting pastime. But eventually, it runs into cold, hard reality.” In the Atlantic, staff writer Robinson Meyer says Texas “failed” because it “did not plan”. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says: “If there is a silver lining to the Texas and California power failures, it is that they alerted the public to the inherent problems of their respective electrical grids. They should hold their elected officials’ feet to the fire to fix those problems before the next ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ extreme weather event throws them, powerless, into the dark.” Time magazine senior correspondent Justin Worland argues that: “The cascade of failures in Texas signals what is perhaps the greatest challenge ahead in this climate-changed world: accepting that business as usual isn’t working. Across the planet, humans have built civilisation to withstand the vagaries of a 20th century climate. The extreme weather events of the 21st century will look nothing like those that came before – and hundreds of years of past preparation will not suffice.” In the Daily Telegraph, climate sceptic columnist Ross Clark claims that “we should take it as a warning and make energy resilience at least as much a priority as eliminating carbon emissions”.
Elsewhere, several publications carry in-depth features examining what happened in Texas – and what might happen next. Bloomberg says that “restarting Texas’s frozen energy heartland will be a climate mess”. Another Bloomberg feature says that “weak grids expose risks for the electrification of everything”. A third Bloomberg feature details the “two hours that nearly destroyed Texas’s electric grid”. The New York Times says that “Texas blackouts point to coast-to-coast crises waiting to happen”. Politico notes that “Texas and California built different power grids, but neither stood up to climate change”. Finally, the Guardian says the Texas and California crises show how the US is “deeply unprepared for the climate crisis”. Carbon Brief has a media analysis piece that covers the events in Texas and the media and political reaction.
Direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS) is an “essential technology” to limit warming to 1.5C, according to a new study. The research explores the feasibility, effectiveness, and side effects of different negative emissions technologies (NETs) to find the optimal mix. It concludes that mass deployment of bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) by the end of the century is “unsustainable”, and that afforestation restoration alone “cannot be considered an effective climate change mitigation solution”. The researchers add that “suitable portfolios” of NETs can “effectively complement climate mitigation strategies” to limit warming to 1.5C, but that “their window of opportunity is quickly closing”.
“Economic exposure” to drought in China will increase over the 21st century under all future emission scenarios, new research shows. The researchers simulate drought conditions in China over the 21st century and their socioeconomic impacts using 20 models from the sixth coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP6) under four different scenarios. They project that droughts in China over the 21st century will become more frequent and extreme drying conditions more likely – especially in “humid and temperate semi‐humid regions” under the two higher-warming scenarios. However, wetting trends are observed in other areas.
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