Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US environmental agency releases climate report delayed by Trump
- World leaders WILL meet face to face at Britain’s COP26 climate conference
- Climate emissions shrinking the stratosphere, scientists reveal
- EU’s ‘brutal’ emissions rules risk driving middle class off the road
- HSBC has stakes in firms that plan more than 70 new coal plants
- German cabinet agrees more ambitious CO2 cuts before September election
- Call for new deal to help farmers lead battle against climate and nature crises
- Shrinking population in China brightens the climate outlook
- Nature-based solutions can help cool the planet – if we act now
- Give research into solar geoengineering a chance
- Widespread six degrees Celsius cooling on land during the Last Glacial Maximum
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a climate report that had been delayed by the Trump White House in 2017, BBC News reports, which says the impacts of warming are being felt by Americans “with increasing regularity”. The broadcaster adds that the report “has said for the first time that climate change is being driven at least in part by humans”, adding: “A press officer for the EPA told the BBC that, until Wednesday’s report, the agency had never before – not even during the Obama years – attributed global warming at least in part to human activities.” The Washington Post covers the report under the online headline: “US has entered unprecedented climate territory, EPA warns.” The New York Times covers the report and says it “shows how global warming is making life harder for Americans in myriad ways that threaten their health, safety and homes”. Picking out a number of the report’s findings, it adds: “Wildfires are bigger, and starting earlier in the year. Heatwaves are more frequent. Seas are warmer, and flooding is more common. The air is getting hotter. Even ragweed pollen season is beginning sooner.” The Hill picks out impacts such as “the loss of Alaskan permafrost, more severe summer heatwaves in US cities and the recession of winter ice in the Great Lakes”. The outlet says the EPA report comes on a relaunched website tracking 54 climate change indicators such as temperatures, flooding and drought. Bloomberg says the website is interactive, “showing how the world is changing [and] allowing Americans to prepare”. Axios also has the story. Separately, the New York Times has a new interactive feature – under the headline: “There’s a new definition of ‘normal’ weather’” – showing rising average temperatures across the US, based on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In other US news, the Financial Times reports on a former Mitsubishi car plant in Illinois, which closed in 2015, but is about to reopen under electric vehicle startup Rivian. The article reports that the United Auto Workers union is “fret[ting] over [the] prospect of fewer jobs and a non-unionised supply chain”. A New York Times article also reports that while “President Biden says slowing climate change will create jobs”, the “[t]ension between unions and environmentalists shows it’s not so simple”.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times Moral Money newsletter reports that climate risks are “loom[ing] large for [the] US housing market”, citing submissions to the country’s housing regulator following a call for “help in identifying credit risks in the government’s trillion-dollar mortgage portfolio”. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports the comments of the chief executive of asset management firm Brookfield Renewable Partners saying he “wouldn’t bet against” President Biden’s target for a zero-carbon electricity grid by 2035. Finally, the Guardian carries a comment by climate scientist William J Ripple under the headline: “Joe Biden’s 50% emissions goal is ambitious. But it’s still not enough.”
The UK is to announce today that the COP26 UN climate talks will be held in person in November, reports the Sun. It says: “The decision not to opt for a virtual gathering will be confirmed in a speech by summit president Alok Sharma.” The paper adds: “Insiders said leaders needed to ‘look into China’s eyes’ to put pressure on Beijing to commit to ambitious promises – and this could only be done in person.” In the Guardian, a comment from environment correspondent Fiona Harvey, published yesterday, argues against those promoting a virtual COP26 UN climate summit. Harvey says the “biggest unanswered question” for the talks is whether they will be held in person or virtually. She adds: “In the past year, the world has grown used to virtual conferences. Zoom fatigue and online meeting etiquette are now the currency of work and social life. Major international meetings have taken place online for the first time: the UN general assembly last September, a virtual Davos and a White House climate summit last month. In these circumstances, a virtual COP26 looks a good idea.” As a result, Harvey writes, “a rising chorus of voices within Whitehall is calling for a virtual COP26”, before adding: “Yet these calls should be resisted.” She argues that a virtual COP would give cover to “laggards” and that only the “global glare of a real COP” will drive increases in ambition. She adds: “In the white heat of in-person negotiations, longstanding positions melt and new alliances are forged.” Harvey concludes: “[Boris] Johnson’s advisers may push for a safe, predictable, virtual COP26. The prime minister should ignore them, go with his instincts and take the risk of a real in-person COP26, where his unique personal appeal, infuriating to many, could be his great strength. Glasgow could yet be his finest hour.”
A Guardian “exclusive” reports that greenhouse gas emissions are “shrinking the stratosphere”, citing a new study. The paper says the stratosphere has thinned by 400 metres since the 1980s, according to the research, and will contract by about another kilometre by 2080 “without major cuts in emissions”. The Guardian explains: “Scientists already knew the troposphere was growing in height as carbon emissions rose and had hypothesised that the stratosphere was shrinking. But the new study is the first to demonstrate this and shows it has been contracting around the globe since at least the 1980s, when satellite data was first gathered.” The changes in the Earth’s atmosphere “have the potential to affect satellite operations, the GPS navigation system and radio communications”, the Guardian adds. The Times also covers the new research under the headline: “Shrinking stratosphere leaves satellites in a spin.” It adds: “The findings are further evidence of the effect that emissions caused by humans are having on the planet.” Separately, the New York Times reports on the link between space junk and climate change, explaining: “Our planet’s atmosphere naturally pulls orbiting debris downward and incinerates it in the thicker lower atmosphere, but increasing carbon dioxide levels are lowering the density of the upper atmosphere, which may diminish this effect.”
The head of Stellantis, the world’s fourth-largest carmaker, has “warned ‘brutal’ environmental policies in the EU risk pricing the middle classes out of car ownership”, the Financial Times reports, citing comments made by Carlos Tavares at a conference held by the paper on Wednesday. It quotes Tavares saying: “How do we protect freedom of mobility to the middle classes that may not be able to afford to buy €35,000 BEVs [battery electric vehicles] where today for the same conventional product they pay half for it?” The FT adds: “While electric car prices are falling, they are not expected to become cheaper than petrol rivals until the second half of the decade.” (Energy Monitor reports a new study finding that electric cars and vans will be as cheap to make as conventional vehicles in Europe “no later than 2027”.) The FT also notes: “Britain’s move to phase out sales of petrol or diesel cars from 2030 has led Stellantis, which owns the Vauxhall plant at Ellesmere Port in the UK, to cancel plans to build a new Vauxhall Astra at the site and instead explore making an electric vehicle.” The Daily Telegraph carries the story on the frontpage of its business section. It says the move to electric vehicles “may even fail to significantly reduce carbon emissions because the vehicles are so much heavier than petrol ones”, according to Tavares. [See Carbon Brief‘s factcheck showing that electric vehicles have considerably lower emissions over their lifetimes.] A second Financial Times story covering comments at its conference reports: “The car industry in the US and Europe risks being left behind by their Chinese rivals unless they secure supplies of cobalt, according to the world’s biggest producer of the key battery metal.” The article is based on the comments of Ivan Glasenberg, the boss of mining firm Glencore, who also said he would consider selling a stake in one of the company’s cobalt mines to a western carmaker, according to the FT.
In other electric car news, the Times reports that Swedish firm Volvo is to float on the stock market. It adds: “The proceeds will probably be used to speed up Volvo’s move into electrification. It pledged all its cars will be zero-emission by 2030.” Meanwhile, BBC News reports that electric car firm Tesla “will no longer accept bitcoin [for purchases of its vehicles] over climate concerns”, citing a tweet from owner Elon Musk. The broadcaster says: “Market analysts see the move as an attempt by Tesla to assuage the concerns of investors who are focused on climate change and sustainability.” Reuters also reports that Tesla will no longer accept bitcoin for car purchases, adding that the currency “fell more than 10%” on the news. The Daily Telegraph and the Times also have the story.
A “loophole” in its pledge to stop financing coal by 2040 will allow bank HSBC “to support companies with plans to build more than 70 new coal plants”, the Guardian reports, citing a study by thinktank the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air. DeSmog also covers the report, saying it finds the coal plants “will contribute to 18,400 deaths annually”.
In other coal news, S&P Global Platts Analytics reports its forecast that global power demand will rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, rising an estimated 5% this year, with a similar increase for coal generation. It says the rebound is “at odds with accelerating net-zero pledges”. Mongabay covers the recently reported news that Indonesia plans to stop building coal plants after 2023 but says: “[T]he more than 100 plants to be built by then will still be churning out CO2 decades after that”.
Separately, Reuters reports that Germany’s biggest power producer RWE expects talks on earlier closure of the country’s coal fleet next year, following the recent approval of stricter climate goals. It reports: “[RWE chief financial officer Michael] Mueller said a new Berlin government needed to be formed after general elections in September, where the Greens are currently leading in polls.”
The German cabinet has approved draft legislation for more ambitious CO2 reduction targets, Reuters reports, including a goal of reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. The move follows a court ruling last month that “forced the government to act”, the newswire says, and comes ahead of September’s federal election for which the Greens are topping the polls. The Times says the move is an attempt to “try to regain the initiative from the high-flying Green [Party]”.
A new report from thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) says that a new deal for UK farmers is needed to secure their livelihoods and help them lead the battle against climate change and nature losses, reports the Press Association. The report warns that the “farming sector is key to tackling the nature and climate crises”, the outlet explains, but “the sector is also facing multiple challenges and changes, from Brexit and the transformation of subsidies to new technology, an ageing workforce, recovery from the pandemic and more extreme weather driven by climate change”. The article adds: “The IPPR report said the new financial support schemes must be developed so they are accessible to the majority of farmers but have sufficient incentives to progress and meet more ambitious environmental targets.” The Yorkshire Post carries the news on its frontpage.
Separately, the Independent and BusinessGreen have continuing coverage of a new study from the British Ecological Survey, which says that restoring UK’s peatlands, forests and grasslands are “vital” for tackling climate change.
In a comment for Bloomberg, Peter Orszag of investment firm Lazard discusses the potential impact of China’s “shrinking population” on its climate future. The article says that a “soon-than-expected” drop in the country’s birth rates “will lower global greenhouse-gas emissions”. [According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China’s population did not peak in 2020 and there “remains uncertainty” as to when its overall population will begin to decline.] The Bloomberg column notes: “From a climate perspective, the population decline is good news, since fewer people means lower emissions.”
Meanwhile, an editorial carried by West Hawaii Today commends the joint statement published by China and the United States last month. Originally published by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the article says: “Combating climate change will require buy-in from the world’s leading countries, and even a vague agreement is a step toward the kind of unity needed to reach solutions.” Separately, Argus Media reports on the cooperation between Sinopec, China’s state-controlled oil firm, and automotive manufacturer Great Wall to develop hydrogen energy.
In Chinese media, state-run the Global Times reports that fossils found in south-eastern China’s Fujian Province indicate that the climate in the region 15m years ago was very similar to the currently predicted global climate in 2100. China Science Daily, another official outlet, also has the story. It says that analysis of the fossils show that the level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere at the time was “markedly higher” than its current level, and the Earth’s annual temperature was 3-7C higher than now. Understanding how climate and biota developed then would bear “significance” to predicting their future changes in the context of global warming, the report adds.
Elsewhere, Dr Zhou Xiaochuan, former governor of China’s central bank, has urged the country to establish a “qualified” basic framework for its soon-to-be-launched carbon market to prevent the national scheme from “following a wrong path”. Dr Zhou also warned that the money in the carbon market should not be used “in other areas”. He made those comments in a column published by Peking University’s PKU Financial Review. According to Eknower, an independent social media account focused on energy news, the coal price in China has set a “new historic high”, and the oil price “continues to increase”. It says that the soaring costs of fossil fuels would further accelerate the replacement of renewable energy. Finally, state-run newspaper China Daily focuses on the new employment opportunities in the country due to its climate goals.
A comment in Nature authored by a number of climate scientists says the potential of “nature-based solutions” to climate change “remains controversial”. They ask: “Decision-makers urgently need to know: what role do nature-based solutions have in the race to net-zero emissions and stop further global temperature increases?” The article says: “Analyses of nature-based solutions often focus on how much carbon they can remove from the atmosphere. Here, we provide a new perspective by modelling how these solutions will affect global temperatures – a crucial metric as humanity attempts to limit global warming. Our analysis shows that nature-based solutions can have a powerful role in reducing temperatures in the long term…[But] the more ambitious the climate target, the shorter the time frame for such solutions to have an effect on peak warming.” They add: “Our model reinforces the conclusion that an ambitious scaling-up of nature-based solutions needs to be implemented fast and thoughtfully – and not at the expense of other measures.”
An editorial in Nature argues in favour of research into solar geoengineering, saying that while there is “no substitute for aggressive cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions”, the “risks and benefits of technologies that could mitigate global warming need to be evaluated”. The editorial continues: “Some studies suggest that solar geoengineering could provide much-needed short-term relief if global warming becomes unbearable. But technical, environmental and ethical questions remain…More research is needed to understand these issues.” It concludes: “If solar geoengineering is harmful, leaders will need evidence so that they can rule out the technology.” (For more on solar geoengineering, see Carbon Brief‘s explainer.)
The land surface in “low-altitude, low-to-mid-latitude” regions cooled by almost 6C during the last ice age, a new study suggests. The researchers use measurements of dissolved noble gases in groundwater as a “proxy” for past land surface temperatures, which is based on a “direct physical relationship that is rooted in their temperature-dependent solubility in water”. The authors conclude that the result “broadly supports a recent reconstruction based on marine proxy data assimilation that suggested greater climate sensitivity than previous estimates”. (For more on proxy data and climate sensitivity, see Carbon Brief’s explainers.)
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