Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US Election 2020: Trump and Biden row over Covid, climate and racism
- Australia backs desert project to export green hydrogen to Asia
- Prince William bemoans lack of 'political will' to tackle climate change
- Windswept Colorado wildfire prompts evacuations, closure of national park
- Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record
- Humanity has eight years to get climate crisis under control – and Trump's plan won't fix it
- Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court could shred environmental protections
- Green goals must not be lost to spending pressures
- Urbanisation's contribution to climate warming in Great Britain
In their final live TV debate ahead of the US election, US president Donald Trump and his Democrat challenger Joe Biden clashed over Covid-19, climate change and race, BBC News reports. Debating energy policy, Trump asked Biden: “Would you close down the oil industry?”, the outlet reports. Biden replied that “I would transition from the oil industry, yes…because the oil industry pollutes significantly”. He added that “Big Oil” had to be replaced by renewable energy over time with the US moving towards net-zero emissions, BBC News says. Trump seized on this answer, says Bloomberg, making a direct appeal to voters: “Basically, what he’s saying is he’s going to destroy the oil industry…Will you remember that, Texas? Will you remember that, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma, Ohio?”. He also boasted that “we saved our oil industry”, describing it as “vibrant”, the outlet adds. Biden clarified that he simply wanted to eliminate federal subsidies for oil companies, reports Reuters. This was “a point he reiterated to reporters following the debate. ‘We’re not getting rid of fossil fuels for a long time,’ he said”, the newswire adds. The night “featured a surprising amount of substantive policy debate as the two broke sharply on the environment”, the Associated Press reports.
Trump also explained his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement, the outlet says, declaring it was an “unfair” pact that would have cost the country trillions of dollars and hurt businesses. It adds: “Trump repeatedly claimed Biden’s plan to tackle climate change and invest in green industries was developed by ‘AOC plus three’, referring to New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Biden chuckled during much of Trump’s answer and said, ‘I don’t know where he comes from’.” The nearly 12-minute discussion was the “lengthiest exchange two presidential candidates have ever had” on climate change, the Washington Post says. It continues: “Trump falsely said Biden supports a ban on fracking – a claim his Democratic opponent has repeatedly knocked down.” (Biden said: “I do rule out banning fracking because we need other industries to transition to only net-zero emissions…What I will do with fracking over time is make sure we can capture the emissions from fracking, capture the emissions from gas,“ notes the Hill.) Trump also claimed that the US is energy independent and derided Biden’s plans to improve energy efficiency, saying, “they want to knock down buildings and build new buildings with little, tiny windows”, the paper adds. That was part of a “bizarre series of statements” that Trump made on climate change, says the Independent. The president “pivoted to an attack on clean energy, taking particular issue with windmills”, the paper says. Trump said he knew “more about wind” than Biden, before going on to say that windmills are expensive, “kill all the birds”, and “the fumes coming up, if you’re a believer in carbon emission…for these massive windmills is more than anything we’re talking about with natural gas, which is very clean”. Biden asked Trump to “find me a scientist who will say that”, the Independent notes. The New York Times has factchecked this claim as well as every other one made during the debate. And the Independent has asked “leading climate scientists, policy experts and environmentalists for their takeaways from the climate change portion of the debate”. The Washington Post also had live text coverage of the debate and published a piece before the event on how climate change “went from the back burner to a central issue in this year’s debates”. Axios notes that “the most notable part of Thursday’s presidential debate on climate change was the fact it was included as a topic and assumed as a fact”.
Carbon Brief is tracking the climate and energy pledges made by the presidential candidates via an interactive table.
There is continuing coverage of Australia’s granting of “major project” status to a $36bn renewable energy project, which aims to build the world’s biggest power station and export green hydrogen from a remote desert in the outback to Asia, the Financial Times reports. The announcement – expected today – “reflects growing recognition from a previously sceptical Conservative government that concerns over climate change mean it has to diversify its economy away from a reliance on fossil fuels”, the paper says. It continues: “Canberra’s backing for the ambitious project aims to fast-track construction of the world’s largest solar and wind farm on a 6,500 sq km site in the Pilbara, a region in Western Australia more typically known as a source of liquefied natural gas.” Reuters adds: “The project, on the drawing board since 2014, has switched from a plan to produce wind and solar power and transmit it to Asia, to a plan to use clean power to split water and produce hydrogen and then ammonia for export.”
In other hydrogen news, the Daily Telegraph reports that “zero-emission large passenger aircraft powered by hydrogen will be technically feasible in five years, according to Airbus, but they will not enter service for at least a decade as the price of the fuel needs to come down”. And the newspaper also reports that construction equipment manufacturer JCB is now “rigorously testing” the world’s first hydrogen-powered excavator.
In a story trailed on its frontpage, the Daily Telegraph reports on comments from Prince William criticising the lack of “political will” to tackle environmental issues. Discussing his plans for the “Earthshot Prize” – a £50m global environmental award designed to encourage progress over the next 10 years – the Duke of Cambridge told the “Outrage + Optimism” climate change podcast that it was time to “stop talking” and collecting data and to get on with creating change. Asked what outraged him about climate change, the duke replied: “I get outraged by the inaction”, the paper reports. He continued: “That’s probably a bit of a cliche, but that is what I get most troubled about. Especially as I’m in a position of responsibility, if you like, or leadership. I feel I can do a lot more if given that ability…So, therefore, I don’t understand why those who have the levers, don’t. That’s what really upsets me and keeps me awake at night.” Speaking about his motivation for launching the prize, the duke said: “The science is out there and is irrefutable. We have the data. So let’s stop talking about it and let’s actually provide the action,“ reports the Press Association. He added: “I think that’s what’s going to be really needed over these next 10 years.”
An “explosive” wildfire in Colorado prompted the closure of Rocky Mountain National Park yesterday, Reuters reports. The “windswept blaze raced over about 20 miles (32 km) of rugged terrain…scorching about 100,000 acres (40,470 hectares) of grass and timber in extremely dry conditions”, the newswire explains. (The fire spread six times its size over a 24-hour period, the Hill notes.) The weather forecast suggests “continued hot, dry, windy conditions in much of Colorado, but snow and much colder weather are expected this weekend” it adds. Fire crews and residents were “staggered by the fire’s speed and ferocity”, reports the New York Times, providing “a grim example of how climate change is making fire seasons longer and more destructive across the West”. The Washington Post says: “The blaze has all the hallmarks of climate change. It’s burning at an elevation of 9,000 feet at a time of year when snow should be falling. The fire is also raging during a severe drought, aggravated by record heat, through stands of trees killed or weakened by a bark beetle infestation.” Fire crews are still battling the Cameron Peak fire, notes Vox, which has become the largest wildfire in Colorado history. (Carbon Brief has previously published an explainer on how climate change is affecting wildfires around the world.)
For the first time since records began, the surface waters of the Laptev Sea in Siberia have yet to start freezing in late October, the Guardian reports. It continues: “The delayed annual freeze in the Laptev Sea has been caused by freakishly protracted warmth in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters, say climate scientists who warn of possible knock-on effects across the polar region. Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice.” (Carbon Brief has previously reported on research that found that climate change made Siberia’s heatwave at least 600 times more likely.) Dr Zack Labe from Colorado State University tells the paper that “the lack of freeze-up so far this fall is unprecedented in the Siberian Arctic region”. This is in line with the expected impact of human-driven climate change, he adds: “2020 is another year that is consistent with a rapidly changing Arctic. Without a systematic reduction in greenhouse gases, the likelihood of our first ‘ice-free’ summer will continue to increase by the mid-21st century.“ (As Carbon Brief reported last month, this year’s summer minimum in Arctic sea ice extent was the second lowest on record.)
Commenting on last night’s presidential debate, Emily Holden – an environment reporter for Guardian US – says that “a Trump win could be devastating to both US and global climate action, but a Biden win is not assured to significantly address the challenge either”. Biden’s comments that he would “transition from the oil industry” was “notable”, says Holden, because “it was the opposite of what he said about natural gas. He would not commit to any kind of end to the second half of the industry which has a fast-growing role in causing climate change”. Speaking to reporters after the debate, Biden insisted the fossil fuel industry wouldn’t “be gone” until 2050, notes Holden: “Those kinds of statements illuminate why American environmental advocates have quietly worried whether Biden will do enough on climate, even as they have endorsed him and backed his plan.” She concludes: “While Biden is pitching large-scale spending to both help the economy recover and put people to work in green jobs, some fear climate could get lost among his priorities or that the political roadblocks to working with Congress and getting climate efforts past a conservative supreme court would prove too difficult.”
In related comment, James Forsyth – political editor of the Spectator – writes in the Times that the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow next year could provide a way for Boris Johnson to build bridges with the US – were Biden to win. A Biden president would be “keen to show that the US is back in the multilateral system”, Forsyth says: “The most obvious way to do that would be to re-enter the climate change agreement from which Trump withdrew. By good fortune, Britain is also hosting the (delayed) UN climate change conference in Glasgow next year, COP26. That summit is where it would make sense for the US to show the constructive role it now intends to play.” Forsyth notes that “Johnson and Biden have a shared interest in making Glasgow a success”, adding: “Working on that with the British will, influential figures in government hope, show the Biden administration that the caricature of Johnson as a mini-Trump is not right. He takes global warming, the environment and international co-operation seriously.” In related news, Reuters reports that a win for Biden would “inject new life into global cooperation in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, according to past climate negotiators”.
In an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, Gina McCarthy – former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency – and Mitch Bernard – executive director and chief counsel of the Natural Resources Defense Council – comment on the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. The “Court’s role in dealing with environmental issues is more important now than ever”, they write. “A further anti-environmental shift on the court could put at risk more than specific public health and environmental laws,” they say: “Also on the line are the legal and regulatory tools we have to fight climate change and even the ability of public interest groups to bring cases that challenge actions of industry.” One such case “could determine whether fossil fuel companies may condemn state-owned land, or land in which a state has an interest, to run an oil or gas pipeline through the land despite the state’s objections”, McCarthy and Bernard explain. They conclude: “The Supreme Court plays a critical role in protecting the environment and public health. Judge Barrett’s appointment to a seat on the court could have a profound influence on how we safeguard our communities against environmental disasters and the widening hazard of global climate change — and, ultimately, on the kind of world our children inherit.”
Writing for Vox on the same topic, Jody Freeman – the Archibald Cox professor of law and director of the environmental and energy law program at Harvard Law School – notes that “Barrett’s record on environmental issues is thin, so her views are a matter of speculation”. Freeman adds: “Yet it seems fair to say that Barrett’s addition to the high court will cement a trend, already underway, to restrict the modern administrative state. A further tilt of the court in the direction it is already going — sceptical of expansive regulation, unsympathetic to the idea that agencies should have some room to interpret their statutes broadly to solve new problems, and uninterested in reading statutes with their broader purpose in mind — certainly won’t help the cause of environmental protection or public health.” Finally, the Washington Post reports that Barrett moved one step closer to the Supreme Court yesterday as “the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced her nomination with solely Republican support after Democrats boycotted the vote”.
Writing in the Times Red Box, Philip Dunne – the MP for Ludlow and chairman of the environmental audit committee – writes that “we need to start seeing more action from the government” to help the UK reach its net-zero goal. Dunne discusses the relative merits of offshore wind power, hydrogen and heat pumps, noting that “whatever the make-up of our future energy mix, the natural environment must not be compromised”. He concludes: “The government has promised numerous strategies in the coming months setting out the path to net-zero. My only hope is that the proper focus on controlling the pandemic and deferral of a multi-year spending review does not deflect from pursuing progress on the real, tangible projects that the government and industry can work together on – otherwise reaching net-zero by 2050 will be nothing more than a pipe dream.”
Across the island of Great Britain, 5.8% of the total land area is covered by artificial surfaces, increasing from 4.3% in 1975. Increased urbanisation warms the Earth’s surface through the creation of urban heat islands. Standard estimates of temperature changes may not account for urbanisation, meaning that place where people live may be warming quicker than those estimates suggest. Using observations from a high-density urban monitoring network, this study finds that local warming in some regions may be over 8C. Half of Great Britain’s population currently live in areas with average daily-mean warming ~0.4C due to urbanisation. Under heatwave conditions up to 40% of GB’s population may experience over a 1C additional warming due to urbanisation.
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