Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US and Germany reach truce over Nord Stream 2 pipeline
- Tens of thousands evacuated as China storms spread northwards
- G-20 ministers set for tepid climate pledges: draft
- Catastrophic floods could hit Europe far more often, study finds
- UK: Smart meters will be useless in hydrogen-powered homes
- New York air quality among worst in world as haze from western wildfires shrouds city
- The environmental impact of electric cars
- America in 2090: The impact of extreme heat, in maps
- Do leaked climate reports help or hurt public understanding of global warming?
- Ignitions explain more than temperature or precipitation in driving Santa Ana wind fires
The US and Germany have reached a deal to resolve their longstanding dispute over the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, including a promise from Berlin to impose sanctions on Russia if Moscow threatens its neighbours’ energy security, reports the Financial Times. The announcement, which comes after last week’s White House meeting between US president Joe Biden and German chancellor Angela Merkel, will “ease a diplomatic row” between the two countries about the pipeline that will pump gas from Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea, the paper says. It adds: “US officials consider it Russian president Vladimir Putin’s geopolitical project to keep Europe dependent on his country’s energy while jeopardising the security of central and eastern European countries such as Poland and Ukraine.” In addition to the potential for sanctions, the deal will see Germany “set up a billion-dollar fund to promote Ukraine’s transition to clean energy”, the FT explains, and also “appoint a special envoy to help Kyiv negotiate an extension of its gas transit agreements with Russia beyond 2024 in order to earn gas transit fees ‘for as long as possible’”. Politico notes that the pipeline will “significantly increase the amount of natural gas able to be sent directly to the EU without paying the billions in annual transit fees to use Ukrainian pipelines”. In a joint statement, the two countries said the agreement “is designed to ensure that Russia will not misuse any pipeline, including Nord Stream 2, to achieve aggressive political ends by using energy as a weapon”, Reuters reports. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Twitter that “we will help Ukraine build up a green energy sector and push to secure gas transit through Ukraine in the coming decade”, reports another Reuters article. Responding to the deal, Ukraine said it would start official consultations with the European Union and Germany about the pipeline, reports a third Reuters piece. Foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted that Nord Stream 2 “threatens Ukraine’s security” and “violates the diversification principle of the EU Energy Union”. The head of Ukraine’s state energy firm Naftogaz, Yuriy Vitrenko, tells Reuters that Ukraine should be given NATO membership to guarantee its security as Russia is using the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a “geopolitical weapon”. The US has “announced the date of a meeting, long sought by Ukraine, between President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and US President Joe Biden”, says another Reuters article, which adds: “Zelenskiy said he planned a ‘frank and vibrant’ discussion with Biden about Nord Stream 2 when the two meet next month.” Biden is also “facing bipartisan backlash” in the US to the agreement, reports Politico. None of the measures it includes “will satisfy Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill”, the outlet says, “who spent the last few days expressing outrage as details of the US-Germany deal leaked”.
Commenting on the deal, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard – international business editor of the Daily Telegraph – writes that it is a “mystery…why Germany is willing to sacrifice so much diplomatic capital on a venture of scant commercial value, to the point of poisoning relations with Poland and offering Ukraine on a platter to Vladimir Putin”. He adds that the pipeline “goes against the thrust of the EU’s green deal” and “has led to chronic friction with Washington”.
There is continuing coverage of the deadly floods that have hit central China, with Reuters reporting that “tens of thousands of people were being evacuated…as officials raised the death toll from heavy rains that have deluged Henan province for almost a week to 33 people”. The newswire continues: “More cities were inundated and crops destroyed as the severe weather spread northwards, with the official Xinhua news agency reporting direct economic losses of 1.22bn yuan ($189m) so far. The provincial weather bureau on Thursday raised the storm alert for four cities in the north of Henan – Xinxiang, Anyang, Hebi and Jiaozuo – to red, the highest tier of a four-step colour-coded weather warning system.” Xinhua also reported that more than 73,000 people were being evacuated from the city of Anyang, on Henan’s border with Hebei province, after being swamped by more than 600 mm of rainfall since Monday, Reuters says. It adds: “Xinxiang, a small city north of Zhengzhou, recorded 812mm of rainfall between Tuesday and Thursday, shattering local meteorological records, Xinhua reported. Seven medium-sized reservoirs in the city had overflowed, affecting scores of nearby villages and towns.” The death toll from workers trapped in a flooded highway tunnel in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai has been increased to 13, another Reuters piece says. In a briefing yesterday, scientists at the China Meteorological Administration attributed the extreme rainfall to strong and sustained subtropical high-pressure systems that, along with Typhoon In-fa approaching South China, pushed water vapour from the sea to Henan, reports Bloomberg, adding: “When that dense air hit the mountains surrounding the region, it converged and shot upwards, causing concentrated rainfall.” President Xi Jinping yesterday described the situation as “very severe”, calling for “authorities at all levels” to put people’s safety first while urging improved early-warning systems for disasters, says a second Bloomberg piece. Reuters reports that “more rain is forecast across Henan for the next three days, and the People’s Liberation Army has sent more than 5,700 soldiers and personnel to help with search and rescue. Climate Home News also reports on the events, while Buzzfeed News carries photos of the “catastrophic” flooding.
Bloomberg is reporting that “G20 ministers are likely to end talks this week without an ambitious deal on climate change, another setback in the fight against rising temperatures ahead of key negotiations this year”. It adds: “Energy and environment ministers at a G-20 meeting in Naples, Italy, are stuck on a number of issues, according to several officials and diplomats familiar with the discussions. They will kick a final decision to a meeting of their leaders in October. The parties haven’t been able to agree on specific actions and firm timetables needed to reach net-zero global emissions by 2050 and keep global warming at 1.5C, according to a draft communique and the officials.”
Meanwhile, officials have told the Financial Times that the US and Italy plan to increase their financial contributions to help developing countries fight climate change. The paper continues: “Rome, which is hosting the G20, and Washington are seeking to heal a growing rift between rich and poor countries over climate finance, an issue that threatens to derail the UN COP26 summit in Glasgow in November. US climate envoy John Kerry and Italian energy transition minister Roberto Cingolani told the FT in separate interviews that they wanted to boost their climate donations ahead of the COP summit.” Kerry said that “it’s imperative that we do something [on climate finance]…I’ve told that to President [Joe] Biden, he’s completely on board”. Cingolani said: “We need far more effort…We need to reopen the discussion, as not everyone agrees on increasing support”. Cingolani said he hoped countries could patch over their differences to reach agreement on climate measures in a final communiqué: “We will work until the very last minute to reach a unanimous communiqué,” the paper says.
Meanwhile, in a “exclusive”, the Independent speaks to London mayor Sadiq Khan, who warns that the UK must “act now” and lead the way if the world is to “avert a catastrophic climate crisis”. In advance of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow later this year, Khan said that the “time for excuses and inaction is over” and that the UK must show “urgency and leadership”, the paper reports. He said: “COP26 is a huge moment for the UK to exercise real influence on the world stage and to use its soft power and diplomatic clout to secure a landmark global agreement…The reality is, we have no option but to put ourselves at the forefront of the global movement for climate action and climate justice.” At the same time, the Times of India carries an interview with COP26 president Alok Sharma, who says he wants “world leaders to apply the same sense of urgency to the challenge of climate change as they have indeed done to dealing with the global pandemic”.
The Guardian reports on recent research that warns extreme floods such as those that struck Europe recently could become much more frequent as a result of global warming. The paper continues: “High-resolution computer models suggest that slow-moving storms could become 14 times more common over land by the end of the century in a worst-case scenario. The slower a storm moves, the more rain it dumps on a small area and the greater the risk of serious flooding.” The analysis is “the first to assess the role of slow-moving storms in causing extreme downpours in Europe”, the article says. Prof Lizzie Kendon at the UK Met Office tells the paper: “This study shows that in addition to the intensification of rainfall with global warming, we can also expect a big increase in slow-moving storms. This is very relevant to the recent flooding seen in Germany and Belgium, which highlights the devastating impacts of slow-moving storms.” Another piece in the Guardian says that the extreme rainfall, caused by a “slow-moving low pressure system”, broke several records, “including Mannheim in south-west Germany, which usually receives 70mm (2.7in) in an average July, but recorded more than 150mm of rain in 24 hours, most of which fell in about 12 hours”.
Meanwhile, reaction to the floods in Europe continues. Reuters reports that “a relief official dampened hopes on Wednesday of finding more survivors in the rubble of villages devastated by floods in western Germany, as a poll showed many Germans felt policymakers had not done enough to protect them”. The newswire adds that “more than 170 people died in last week’s flooding, Germany’s worst natural disaster in more than half a century, and thousands went missing”. The flash floods “have left thousands of people in western Germany without access to drinking water, electricity and gas”, says the Guardian, which adds that the “full extent of damage to the area’s infrastructure has only emerged since the waters fully subsided over the last few days”. The insurance industry association GDV says the insured losses from the floods may total 4-5bn euros ($4.7-5.9bn), Reuters reports. Prof Hannah Cloke, professor of Hydrology at the University of Reading, has a piece in the Conversation looking at “what went so wrong” considering the floods were forecast “well in advance”.
In a frontpage story, the Daily Telegraph reports that “smart meters will be rendered useless if Britain moves to hydrogen-powered homes in the future”. Speaking to MPs on the science and technology committee, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said that all homes with gas boilers could potentially be switched to hydrogen, depending on the outcome of trials to assess its safety and viability, the paper continues. However, this “would require the replacement of smart meters, which work by measuring the gas flow, because of the chemical differences between hydrogen and methane”, the paper says. Kwarteng said: “We are developing prototype smart meters that can be installed to be adapted to hydrogen.” For more on hydrogen, see Carbon Brief‘s in-depth Q&A.
BusinessGreen also reports on Kwarteng’s appearance before MPs, noting that he “said he was hopeful the long-awaited heat and buildings strategy – now rumoured to have been further delayed until the autumn – would ‘come out soon’, setting out government plans to build the market for retrofitting homes and replace fossil fuel gas boilers towards meeting net-zero goals”. Asked about the causes of the delay, Kwarteng said it was a matter of carefully weaving together work across Whitehall: “I think, if you look at the heat and buildings strategy, you’ve got to see it as part of a wider set of strategies – a wider push towards a coherent net zero plan…My own view which I expressed when I was energy minister was that the hydrogen strategy probably made sense to come out before the heat and buildings strategy. Other people took a different view, but I’m pretty sure that’s what’s going to happen.” Kwarteng also “said the hydrogen strategy would likely emerge first, but that he ‘can’t guarantee’ it will be published this week ahead of Parliament’s summer recess, as has been rumoured. However, he promised the strategy would arrive ‘very, very soon’,” the outlet reports.
New York City air quality was among the worst in the world as smoke from wildfires on the US west coast was swept towards cities across the east, reports the Guardian. It continues: “State officials in New York advised vulnerable people, such as those with asthma and heart disease, to avoid strenuous outdoor activity as air pollution soared to eclipse Lima in Peru and Kolkata in India to be ranked as the worst in the world on Tuesday. Smoke from more than 80 major wildfires burning in the US west has caused hazy skies and plunging air quality in eastern American and Canadian cities including Philadelphia, Washington DC, Pittsburgh and Toronto, as well as New York, causing fiery sunrises and even bathing the moon in an unusual red tinge on Tuesday night.” The smoke is moving across the country along the jet stream, notes the Hill. In the west, the fires have “caused power outages, destroyed structures and prompted the deployment of the Oregon National Guard”, reports CNN. The Hill reports that the fires have “prompted thousands of evacuations” and that a wildfire in Oregon has “burned 394,000 acres as of Wednesday morning”. Reuters reports that California power company Pacific Gas and Electric said yesterday it would bury 10,000 miles of power lines in high-risk fire zones as a safety measure after its equipment caused multiple wildfires over several years. The Times also has the story, while BuzzFeed News carries photos of the fires.
As part of a “Times Earth” pullout on “climate change and the future of transport” – which is trailed on the paper’s frontpage – transport correspondent Graeme Paton and data journalist Anna Lombardi look into the environmental credentials of electric vehicles (EVs). They write: “From a very low base, the UK is starting to accelerate towards a greener future. Industry figures show that electric cars made up almost 11% of those sold in the UK last month, with numbers more than doubling year-on-year. The move is seen as critical in the drive to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by the middle of the century. Transport is the country’s biggest single source of carbon dioxide, eclipsing even the energy sector, and cars and vans contribute the vast majority of these emissions.” The authors look into batteries, how EVs are manufactured, their range and emissions on the road, and where the necessary electricity will come from. The UK’s burgeoning electric car fleet “is only as clean as the power generated to charge the batteries”, the article says, and while “energy production is not yet 100% green…it is certainly on course”. It adds: “Last year, the UK went the equivalent of 208 days without coal-generated power. By October 2024 coal will disappear from UK energy supply, a year earlier than had been planned.” The article also notes that “some charging companies already guarantee to supply power from renewable sources”. For more on EVs, see Carbon Brief‘s piece about how they help tackle climate change. (The rest of the pullout does not appear to be online yet, but the frontpage has been tweeted by Carbon Brief’s Leo Hickman.)
In related news, the Daily Telegraph reports on new research by insurer LV= that suggests “electric cars are now cheaper to own and run than equivalent petrol or diesel vehicles”.
The New York Times carries a “guest essay” – from Susan Joy Hassol, director of the nonprofit organization Climate Communication, Dr Kristie Ebi, professor at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, and Yaryna Serkez, graphics editor at the paper – on what the future holds for extreme heat. The recent deadly heatwave in the Pacific north-west “should be reason enough – along with the recent disastrous floods in Germany and other European countries – to move quickly to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit global warming”, they write. But, they add, “heatwaves and other extreme events will continue even after emissions are significantly reduced. That’s why we also need to adapt by, for example, developing heat action plans, early-warning systems and making the power grid more resilient to heat-related disruptions that can knock out electricity for fans and air-conditioning when they are needed most”. Expectations for the future “is a simple and deadly formula”, they say: “The greater our emissions of heat-trapping gases, the higher the temperature rise and the greater the health risks.” They conclude: “So, yes, it has been hot, and it will get hotter yet. How hot will depend on what we do to tackle climate change.”
There are also a number of other articles on the recent extreme weather. The New York Times “Climate Fwd” newsletter says that the “brutal heat and deadly floods show a world unprepared to cope with extreme weather”. A piece in the Los Angeles Times describes the events as a “summer of disaster”, with the headline: “Extreme weather wreaks havoc worldwide as climate change bears down.” The i newspaper has a piece on how the heatwaves and floods “offer a grim look at a future with climate change”. Reuters says the floods in Germany and China “expose climate vulnerability”, while the Daily Mirror looks at the “trail of destruction across the world”, and the Guardian reports on how “heat shatters vision of Pacific north-west as climate refuge”.
Finally, in related news, Reuters reports that “insured losses from natural disasters hit a 10-year high of $42bn in the first half of 2021, with the biggest loss related to extreme cold in the US in February, insurance broker Aon said”. The Guardian also covers the report.
In a piece for Inside Climate News, freelance reporter Bob Berwyn considers why leaks of major climate change reports occur and what impact they have. He writes that “parts of nearly all major IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] reports have made it into the public realm before the official publication dates”, noting that, last month, “Agence France-Presse obtained a draft section of a report due for release in 2022 that discussed the growing risks of crossing dangerous climate thresholds and the inevitability of global warming impacts”. He adds: “Although the report is based on previously released studies that had already been covered by the media, the grim tone of the leak drew global attention.” Climate campaigner and author Alice Bell tells Berwyn that the pattern of recent IPCC leaks suggest they are intended to “lead the agenda”. That is, “by selectively using certain parts of the leaked information, people can try to shape the conversation about the reports before they are even released, she said”. Sina Löschke, a communications manager for the IPCC working group II, explains to Berwyn that leaks occur “despite the rules on confidentiality set by governments, and the agreement to treat them confidentially signed by expert reviewers”. And Berwyn also quotes climate scientist Prof Michael Mann, who warns that a leak “damages the IPCC process”. He says: “It’s like leaking an unpublished scientific article that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed. Peer review exists for a purpose, to weed out claims, conclusions, etc. that don’t stand up to further scrutiny by experts before they are advertised as published findings.” He adds that he “fear[s] that leaks like this just make the IPCC more vulnerable to criticism, bad faith or otherwise”.
New research explores the drivers behind autumn and winter “Santa Ana wind-driven wildfires” in California. “Temperature during the event and antecedent precipitation in the week or month prior play a minor role in determining area burned,” the authors say, adding that “burning is dependent on wind intensity and number of human-ignited fires”. Powerlines failures have been the “dominant cause” of fires during Santa Ana wind events in the past decade, the study says. Therefore, “future fire losses can be reduced by greater emphasis on maintenance of utility lines and attention to planning urban growth in ways that reduce the potential for powerline ignitions”.
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