Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Vast majority of fossil fuels ‘must stay in ground’ to stem climate crisis
- UK-led COP26 talks at risk of failure over China’s refusal to cut emissions
- Ministers bowed to pressure to drop key climate commitments for UK trade deal with Australia
- Biden administration report shows solar could produce 45% of US electricity by 2050
- India: Renegotiate Indus water treaty with Pakistan to factor in climate change: parliamentary panel
- World’s biggest ‘direct air capture’ plant starts pulling in CO2
- The Cumbrian coal mine is careless diplomacy and economic idiocy
- What does the IPCC report mean for the UK’s climate policy?
- Unextractable fossil fuels in a 1.5C world
- An IPCC that listens: Introducing reciprocity to climate change communication
Many publications report on a new scientific study showing that most fossil fuel reserves owned today by countries and companies must not be extracted if the world is to achieve its climate targets. According to the Guardian, 90% of coal and 60% of oil and gas reserves should remain in the ground if there is to be “even a 50% chance of keeping global heating below 1.5C”, the stretch goal of the Paris Agreement. The newspaper notes that this is a poor outlook for the fossil fuel industry, as it suggests that “oil, gas and coal production must have already peaked and will decline at 3% a year from now”, meaning “trillions of dollars of fossil fuel assets could become worthless”. The researchers used a “complex model of global energy use that prioritised use of the fossil fuels that are cheapest to extract, such as Saudi oil, in using up the remaining carbon budget”, it continues. Among other things, this means there should be virtually no fracking or oil from tar sands, the US, Russia and the former Soviet states with half of global coal reserve will need to keep 97% in the ground, and China and India with a quarter of coal reserves will need to keep 76% in the ground, it adds.
ABC News has the Australian angle on the story, noting that Australia must leave “almost all its coal in the ground, as well as a good chunk of its oil and gas” (the figure for unextractable coal reserves in Australia is 95%). The Australian also takes this regional angle on the story. BBC News reports that the scientists behind the new study say they hope the “stark numbers” will inspire the political will to move swiftly away from fossil-fuel reliance. According to Associated Press, the study is an update by the team from University College London on numbers previously published in 2015, months before the Paris Agreement was signed. It adds that the previous study focused on the agreement’s other target of 2C and found that a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and 80% of coal reserves would need to stay in the ground to achieve it.
In a piece for the Conversation, the authors write that their analysis suggests that many countries with high dependencies on fossil fuels, such as Iraq and Angola, “will need to move out of fossil-fuel production relatively quickly, which raises concerns about how the transition can be managed fairly”. They note that the transition will require “measures that drive down fossil-fuel consumption, such as banning petrol cars or promoting renewable electricity generation, and those targeting production itself, including restrictions on new fossil fuel extraction licenses”. There is more coverage of the paper in New Scientist, CNN, MailOnline and the Hill.
Meanwhile, BBC News reports that residents and campaigners have “attacked” plans for the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years at a planning inquiry. Plans for the mine – proposed for a site in Whitehaven, Cumbria – are being considered by the planning inspector, but have been accused of undermining the UK’s climate targets, the news website notes. (See Comment section below.)
According to leaked documents seen by the Daily Telegraph, the COP26 climate talks taking place in the UK at the end of next month are at risk of “failure” over “China’s refusal to slash its emissions”. It notes that UK COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma held talks in China this week to “push Beijing to stop increasing carbon emissions well before their current deadline of 2030”. The newspaper says that the documents, which “reveal” China’s negotiating position, show Beijing saying that its current commitments represent its “utmost efforts” and are “consistent” with the Paris Agreement. The article continues by noting that the documents “reveal the gulf between China and the West, just two months before the summit”. Other publications also cover Sharma’s visit to meet China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua in Tianjin, with the Press Association reporting that he had “demanded more details from Beijing” about how it will meet its climate targets following two days of talks with Chinese officials. Specifically, it says the two men discussed Chinese commitments to not only peak emissions before 2030, but also achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and reduce the use of coal. Sharma told China that the choices it makes on coal, in particular, “will shape our shared future”, according to Sky News. Meanwhile, MailOnline says that Sharma “risked accusations of pandering to Beijing” due to Chinese state media reports that he “hailed” the country’s efforts to tackle climate change. The print edition of the Daily Mail says that the UK’s call for a new climate pledge got the “brush off” from China. In its coverage, Reuters notes that China, currently the world’s biggest emitter, is “coming under pressure to announce more ambitious measures on coal production and consumption”. The Evening Standard notes that the trip came shortly after US climate envoy John Kerry’s visit to Tianjin earlier in September, on which he had also pushed for more action from China. Elsewhere, the Hill reports that Kerry has addressed participants in a high-level dialogue with Latin American leaders, telling them that “there are 20 countries that are responsible for about 80% of all the emissions in the world” and they must take “bold action”.
In more China news, China Dialogue has an article by Ma Xinyue, research coordinator for the Global Development Policy Center’s Global China Program, examining how much overseas coal power capacity China is involved in and to what extent that is changing. Another China Dialogue piece looks at how Chinese media covered the recent flooding in Henan province, stating that “reportage of extreme weather should make the link with carbon emissions more emphatically”.
Finally, in UK policy news, the Sun reports that Sir David Attenborough “has warned Boris Johnson eco policies should not be costly if he wants people to back them”. It is not clear from Attenborough’s remarks , though, where, if at all, he specifically refers to costs. The Press Association (via ITV News) headlines its report about the same remarks as: “Sir David Attenborough urges greater public participation in climate shift.”
In an “exclusive” story, Sky News reports on a leaked government email that shows UK ministers agreed to “bow to pressure from Australia” and drop binding commitments to the Paris Agreement from its UK-Australian trade deal. The email from a senior official shows that both trade secretary Liz Truss and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng decided the government could “drop both of the climate asks” including “a reference to Paris Agreement temperature goals” from the text of the deal, it states. The piece notes that the UK government will argue that it still references the Paris Agreement – although not its targets – in the text of the treaty, “the first time this has happened in an Australian trade deal”. This is unlike the EU deal, in which temperature commitments are mentioned explicitly, it adds. BBC News picks up Sky News’s scoop.
A follow-up Sky News story notes that the decision has been “bitterly condemned” by Tory peer Lord Deben, chair of government advisers the Climate Change Committee (CCC). The Press Association notes that Australia has so far failed to improve on its target set in the Paris Agreement in 2015 and reports on comments by campaigners that removal of specific temperature commitments “renders using the term Paris Agreement utterly useless”. The Daily Telegraph quotes a trade expert who says the move would result in a loss of diplomatic leverage over Australia, a nation that has committed to maintaining its reliance on coal-fired power beyond 2030. Furthermore, the i newspaper adds that the development will fuel fears that Australia is “resisting attempts to ensure its climate commitments are binding”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the Australian government is expected to come under further pressure over its climate policy next week, as the foreign minister and defence minister meet their US counterparts in Washington DC. The piece notes the Biden administration has promised to “weave” climate change into all of its diplomatic engagements and adds that a top US climate official recently told the Guardian that Australia’s 2030 target of reducing emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels was “not sufficient”.
Solar power could supply nearly half of US electricity by 2050 in a scenario where the US reaches net-zero emissions, according to a new study by the Department of Energy and reported by the Hill. In such a scenario, solar production would increase from 3% of power generation in 2021 to 40% by 2035 and 45% by 2050, it adds. The Financial Times states that the scenario would be “required as part of an aggressive push to cut carbon emissions from an electric grid that at present relies heavily on natural gas and coal”, but would depend on “aggressive cost reductions, supportive policies and large-scale electrification”. The New York Times notes that administration officials “have provided only a broad outline for how they hope to clean up the country’s energy system and its cars and trucks”, and much of the detail will, ultimately, be decided by Congress, which is currently working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill and a much larger Democratic spending package.
In a separate, “exclusive” story, Reuters reports that major US airlines in the Airlines for America trade group plan to announce that they will back a voluntary industry target of 3bn gallons of sustainable aviation fuel in 2030 “as the White House looks to reduce aviation sector emissions”.
Mongabay reports that a parliamentary standing committee has urged the government of India to renegotiate the Indus water treaty (IWT) with Pakistan, as “climate change and environmental impact assessment (EIA) issues are missing in the original 1960 treaty”. The treaty is a UN-recognised trans-boundary water-sharing agreement that is “considered a success story in water diplomacy, more so for its survival despite the other conflicts between the two countries”. The article continues: “Climate change and environmental impact assessment have so far not been reasons” and that “this is the first time in the past 60 years that India has felt the need for re-negotiating the treaty.”
In other India news, Mint reports that environment minister Bhupender Yadav has “held talks with the UAE’s climate envoy and minister of industry and advanced technology Sultan Al Jaber on [COP26]”. It quotes Yadav telling his counterpart that “India was working to make sure that renewable energy, particularly solar, becomes cheaper than energy from fossil fuels”. He further “underlined the need for prioritising the concerns of developing countries, particularly in areas of implementation support including finance and technology.” In response, “UAE’s Al Jaber sought India’s support for the UAE’s joint initiative” “along with [the] US and UK” that “aims to increase and accelerate global innovation research and development on agriculture and food systems in support of climate action”.
Meanwhile, Mint also reports that India’s petroleum and natural gas minister Hardeep Singh Puri has held a virtual meeting with US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm where the “need for keeping crude prices affordable was emphasised”. This, it says, “comes at a time when India’s petrol and diesel prices [are] at record highs”, with ratings agency ICRA estimating that the “country’s petrol and diesel consumption is expected to grow by 14% and 10% in FY22”. It says: “US crude oil exports to India [have] increased in the backdrop of the Indian government working on diversifying the country’s energy basket”. The “India-US Strategic Clean Energy Partnership” is scheduled to be launched today.
Separately, Bloomberg reports that “India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) is exploring a purchase of a significant minority stake in the $4 billion-plus Sangomar oil project off the coast of Senegal from Woodside Petroleum Ltd”.
In other climate-related news from India, the New Indian Express reports that “the Tamil Nadu government is in the last stages of finalising its draft” climate change action plan. The state “is facing a climate change crisis, with the problems of coastal erosion, depleting water resources, severe weather events and rising temperatures manifesting more recently. It adds: “Tamil Nadu constitutes 4% of India’s land area and is inhabited by 6% of India’s population, but has only 2.5% of India’s water resources.”
As the largest ever “direct air capture” project, which removes CO2 from the air, opened in Iceland, its co-chief executive told the Financial Times that it had “started design work on a facility 10 times larger that would be completed in the next few years”. The project by Zurich-based Climeworks will collect about 4,000 tonnes of CO2 a year and store it underground in a “demonstration of the technology’s viability”, the newspaper reports. Bloomberg notes that this “only makes up for the annual emissions of about 250 US residents. It’s also a long way from the company’s original goal of capturing 1% of annual global CO2 emissions — more than 300m tonnes — by 2025”. Reuters also has the story.
The Daily Telegraph’s international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard slams the UK’s proposed Whitehaven coal mine in Cumbria, writing that the facility “has no commercial rationale and will be obsolescent before it ever opens”. He notes his sympathy for the UK’s COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma, who is currently on a diplomacy tour to high-emitting nations while back home a public inquiry into the mine will continue for four weeks. “A ghastly torment for Mr Sharma’s negotiating team,” says Evans-Pritchard. “It was claimed at first that Whitehaven coking coal would supply Britain’s steel industry and displace imported variants with a higher CO2 footprint. But Tata Steel has since said the high sulphur content makes it mostly unsuitable for milling at Port Talbot,” he continues, noting that documents submitted by owners West Cumbria Mining now suggest most will be exported to Europe. Evans-Pritchard goes on to cite various analysis suggesting that the plans do not make economic sense, particularly as nations switch to producing “green steel” in the coming years. “The Whitehaven Colliery is never going to happen. But the fiasco has dragged on long enough to leave Britain with an excruciating diplomatic embarrassment. Worse yet – unless you are a climate denialist – it has intruded on the delicate chemistry of CoOP26. One weeps at the ineptitude.”
A piece by Prof Piers Forster, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) coordinating lead author and member of the Climate Change Committee (CCC), reflects on messages for the UK from the IPCC’s Sixth Assessment Report. He explores the implications of the report both for the UK’s 2050 net-zero target, which is “entirely consistent” with the findings, and for the diplomatic effort required for COP26. He concludes: “During the two-week online government approval process for the IPCC report, the UK government delegation earned respect from nations and authors alike for their diplomacy, organisation and leadership, helping to steer the report towards a set of strong, clear messages. They now pass the baton to the COP26 negotiating team, who have the vital job of securing ambitious climate action”.
Nearly 60% of oil and gas, and 90% of coal, “must remain unextracted” by 2050 to keep within a 1.5C carbon budget, a new study suggests. The researchers use a global energy systems model to assess the amount of fossil fuels that would need to be left in the ground, regionally and globally, to allow for a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5C. The study estimates that oil and gas production “must decline globally by 3% each year until 2050”. This implies that “most regions must reach peak production now or during the next decade”, the authors say, “rendering many operational and planned fossil fuel projects unviable”.
A new paper explores how to introduce more “listening” into the communication activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The authors present a “framework for categorising communicative activities into those which help the panel speak with a more human voice, and those that help it listen receptively to alternative forms of knowledge”. The latter involves imagining “new forms of expert contribution”, the authors say, which is “critical to enabling active and equitable dialogue with underrepresented publics that democratises climate governance, and enhances the public legitimacy of the IPCC”.