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Daily Briefing

17.07.2019
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Ursula von der Leyen elected first female European commission president
Ursula von der Leyen elected first female European commission president

News.

Ursula von der Leyen elected first female European commission president

MEPs in the European Parliament have narrowly voted to confirm Ursula von der Leyen as European Commission president, the Guardian and others report, after a speech in which the German politician placed climate change as her “number one priority” for the EU, according to Bloomberg. Climate change played a “decisive role” in the vote, says Climate Home News, after the liberal and socialist blocs of MEPs backed von der Leyen’s candidacy, having asked for greater climate ambition as a condition of their endorsement. This support, along with backing from her fellow conservatives, gives von der Leyen “a stronger mandate to tackle issues such as climate change”, says Reuters. The Financial Times explains: “She promised to propose an EU carbon border tax, carbon neutrality by 2050 and a green deal on investment within her first 100 days in office.” The Green group of MEPs announced before the secret ballot that it would not back von der Leyen “and the result suggested they had generally followed through on that pledge”, says Politico. The bloc said her climate policies were too weak, according to BBC News. Von der Leyen had used her final speech before the vote to call for a “green deal” for the EU, reports Deutsche Welle, as well as making the bloc the “first climate neutral continent”. She pledged to raise the EU’s 2030 climate goal to a reduction of 50% – and as much as 55% – in emissions compared to 1990 levels, Clean Energy Wire says, up from the current target of “at least” 40%. It adds that she also pledged to enshrine a climate neutrality target for 2050 in law, proposed establishing a “just transition fund” and promised to turn parts of the European Investment Bank into “climate bank” to unlock €1tn of investment over the next decade. Clean Energy Wire points to von der Leyen’s “agenda for Europe”, published shortly after her speech and containing details of her proposals.

The Guardian Read Article
Carbon credit costs soar as EU toughens stance on environment

Carbon prices on the EU’s Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) have “soared to a record high as polluters and speculative investors scramble for credits amid an environmental crackdown from the EU”, reports the Financial Times. Prices have risen by a fifth this year and hit €29 per tonne of emissions this week, the paper says, which is double their level in January last year. Prices have been pushed up by structural reforms agreed in late 2017, the FT says, quoting BNP Paribas analyst Mark Lewis. It also quotes Lewis pointing to a “continuing bullish political backdrop” on environmental policy in the bloc, including yesterday’s pre-confirmation vote speech by new European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. Separately, El País reports that Spanish electricity generation from coal in May and June fell to its lowest level on record, in part as a result of high carbon prices. Meanwhile Greek publication ekathimerini reports that an auction for the sale of four brown coal (lignite) plants in the country once again failed to attract any bidders for two of the sites.

Financial Times Read Article
Gove urges next PM to back ambitious environment bill

The UK’s environment secretary Michael Gove has called for a proposed watchdog to be given greater powers, including the ability to sue the government if it fails to meet legally-binding climate goals, reports the Financial Times. It quotes Gove saying: “If we want a watchdog with teeth on every environmental issue, it should be able to bite on climate change.” His comments came in what “may be his final speech in his current role”, the paper adds, ahead of the announcement of a new prime minister next Tuesday morning. Press Association also reports on Gove’s speech – widely previewed in the media yesterday – reporting his comments that Brexit must not distract from efforts to tackle climate change and “environmental decline”.

Financial Times Read Article

Comment.

BHP and the long goodbye from coal

“Power coal has generated big profits for miners over the years, but these days it mostly generates trouble,” says Nathaniel Taplin in a Wall Street Journal feature on mining giant BHP’s moves to explore an exit from the fuel. Rival miner Rio Tinto divested from thermal coal in 2018, the feature notes. Taplin explains: “Coal producers face not only the risk that investors eyeing so-called environmental, social and governance benchmarks will desert them today, but also the possibility that a tougher global carbon regime could crush profits in the not-too-distant future.” Similarly, Reuters columnist Clyde Russell also writes on the decisions ahead for mining firms: “The dilemma facing thermal coal miners is neatly encapsulated by the current dynamics of Japan, where robust short-term demand contrasts with a diminishing long-term outlook.” Meanwhile Mongabay suggests Indonesian president Joko Widodo is changing tack on energy policy, saying he has reportedly said he wants to “start reducing the use of coal”. The outlet explains: “The president made the announcement at a July 8 cabinet meeting, according to Siti Nurbaya Bakar, the minister of environment and forestry.” (Carbon Brief has previously published climate and energy country profiles for both Japan and Indonesia.)

Nathaniel Taplin, The Wall Street Journal Read Article
Can planting trees save our climate?

In a post for RealClimate, climate scientist Stefan Rahmstorf reflects on a recent, widely reported study, about how much carbon could be stored by mass reforestation around the globe. “The media impact of the new study was mainly based on the statement in the ETH press release that planting trees could offset two thirds of the man-made CO2 increase in the atmosphere to date,” Rahmstorf explains. He continues: “To be able to largely compensate for the consequences of more than two centuries of industrial development with such a simple and hardly controversial measure – that sounds like a dream! And it was immediately welcomed by those who still dream of climate mitigation that doesn’t hurt anyone. Unfortunately, it’s also too good to be true. Because apples are compared to oranges and important feedbacks in the Earth system are forgotten.” Rahmstorf concludes: “[W]e must not fall for illusions about how many billions of tonnes of CO2 this will take out of the atmosphere. And certainly not for the illusion that this will buy us time before abandoning fossil fuel use.”

Stefan Rahmstorf, RealClimate Read Article

Science.

Enhanced flood risk with 1.5C global warming in the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna basin

Global warming of 1.5C is sufficient to increase extreme rainfall and corresponding flood hazard in the Ganges–Brahmaputra–Meghna (GMB) basin, a new study warns. Combining climate model output and a high-resolution flood hazard model, the researchers simulated the impacts of 1.5C and 2C of warming on flood risk in the GMB region. The results show that even 1.5C of warming would be enough to increase the likelihood of an event such as the 2017 monsoon floods, which saw “record river levels” and “resulted in ~1200 deaths, and dramatic loss of crops and infrastructure”. The study “highlights the changed flood risk even with low levels of warming”, the authors conclude.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article
Observed impacts of anthropogenic climate change on wildfire in California

Human-caused warming has “very likely increased summer forest fire by drying fuels” in California, a new study finds, and “this trend is likely to continue”. Analysing observed data, the researchers find that over 1972–2018, “California experienced a five‐fold increase in annual burned area, mainly due to more than an eight‐fold increase in summer forest‐fire extent”. The increase in summer forest‐fire area is “very likely occurred due to increased atmospheric aridity caused by warming”, the researchers note. (Last year, Carbon Brief published a factcheck on how climate change was increasing wildfires in the US.)

Earth's Future Read Article
Planned relocation and everyday agency in low‐lying coastal villages in Fiji

A new paper examines the relocation proceedings underway in three low‐lying coastal villages in Fiji, each affected by coastal erosion and flooding. For residents of these three villages, “climate change adaptation is not only a matter of adapting to environmental changes, but a process of actively steering a way through unfolding dimensions of planned relocation”, the authors say. “The findings respond to increasingly audible calls to recognise the agency of people living in climate‐vulnerable places,” the study concludes. (Carbon Brief has previously published a guest article about 27 case studies of people and assets being relocated because of natural hazards.)

The Geographical Journal Read Article

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