Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Vital COP26 climate talks could be derailed by coronavirus
- EU seeks power to tighten emission targets every 5 years
- Britain sees wettest February on record as Storm Jorge brings further flooding and strong winds
- British hedge fund billionaire Hohn launches campaign to starve coal plants of finance
- Greta Thunberg in Bristol: thousands turn out for climate strike
- Energy’s stranded assets are a cause of financial stability concern
- Mangrove blue carbon stocks and dynamics are controlled by hydrogeomorphic settings and land‐use change
- Blue carbon gains from glacial retreat along Antarctic fjords: What should we expect?
The Guardian reports that “concern is growing among campaigners” that this year’s UN climate talks, scheduled to be held in Glasgow, could be derailed by the coronavirus outbreak. It adds: “While the talks will take place over a fortnight in November, the frantic round of global diplomacy required to reach a settlement is already under way and is being affected by the outbreak of the virus. Campaigners fear that preparations are being hampered by both the travel restrictions and the urgent demands the outbreak is putting on governments’ time and resources…With the coronavirus taking hold across [China], the climate is likely be much less of a priority. Italy also plays a vital role in this year’s talks as the country is officially co-host of COP26 and some key pre-meetings are planned there. Normally, at this stage before crunch climate talks, officials and politicians from the host nation would be convening meetings in key countries.” The Scotsman also covers the story.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that 60 climate campaign groups, including Oxfam, Greenpeace, ShareAction and the World Wildlife Fund, have written to the prime minister Boris Johnson saying the “coming months must see a green turbocharging of our decarbonisation policies and investment to maximise our emissions reductions, so that we reach net-zero as soon as possible”. The newswire adds: “The campaigners set out their priorities in a ’Glasgow Action Plan’ that included Britain unveiling more ambitious and detailed decarbonisation plans ahead of the summit, stopping financing fossil fuel projects abroad, and leading international efforts to boost aid for countries hit by climate disasters. Britain should also ramp up support for what are known as ‘nature-based solutions’ – harnessing processes at work in soil, forests, grasslands, peatlands, mangroves or other ecosystems to absorb and store large amounts of carbon, the letter said.” The Times focuses on how the charities say that “sales of new petrol and diesel cars should be banned by 2030 and frequent flyers should pay extra tax to help the UK to meet its climate targets”.
In other UK policy news, the Mail on Sunday reports that the new chancellor Rishi Sunak has “been canvassing business reaction to introducing a range of new green taxes as part of a drive to tackle climate change”. The Press Association says that Sajid Javid, who Sunak replaced as chancellor last month, has told the Times that “a network of electric car-charging stations were in the budget he would have delivered, had he remained chancellor”. And analysis by BBC News shows that “nearly two thirds of UK homes fail to meet long-term energy efficiency targets”.
The Financial Times reports that it has seen a leaked draft of the European Union’s new “landmark climate law” which will be unveiled this week: “Brussels wants the power to impose tighter carbon emission targets on EU governments every five years as Europe strives to become the first continent in the world to reach climate neutrality by 2050…[It would commit] its member states to abide by regularly revised emission cuts for the next 30 years. Europe’s 2050 climate law is the cornerstone of Brussels’ Green Deal, which aims to make the EU the world’s largest economic bloc to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050 compared with 1990 levels. In a radical move, Brussels will reserve the power to raise emissions targets every five years from 2030 onwards using a legal instrument where member states and the European Parliament have limited power to object. Known as a ‘delegated act’, this type of legislation gives Brussels the power to set revised emission targets based on ‘the best available science’, according to the document. It can only be rejected if a qualified majority of EU governments and MEPs block the proposal within four weeks of it being proposed.”
Several UK publications cover the Met Office’s confirmation that last month was the UK’s wettest February on record. The Independent says: “Thanks to storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge, the country has seen an average of 202.1mm of rainfall over the month, surpassing the previous record of February 1990 when 193.4mm fell, the Met Office said.”
Meanwhile, a thinktank called the Australia Institute has published analysis of weather data showing that, reports BBC News, “Australia’s summers have become twice as long as its winters amid increasing temperatures driven by climate change”. It adds: “The Australia Institute found that summer across most of the country over the past 20 years was about a month longer than in the mid-20th century, while winters had become shorter. Between 2014 and 2018, summers were found to be about 50% longer. The findings followed Australia’s warmest and driest year on record.” The Guardian and Reuters also covers the findings. Additionally, the Guardian has an in-depth feature on Australia’s “lost harvest”. A feature in the Sydney Morning Herald looks at “the new dread of Australia’s once-loved long, hot summer”.
Separately, many outlets report that an usually warm winter in Germany has resulted in the ice-wine harvest failing for the first time in the country’s history. The i says: “Temperatures did not drop to the -7C required to freeze the fruit before it is picked and pressed to produce the annual vintage. Experts are concerned that the already rare beverage will become even more scarce as a result. Their fears follow warnings from scientists about the potential effects climate change could have on wine production. Up to 85% of vineyards are at risk of being spoiled, they predict.” The Guardian and BBC News also cover the story.
CNN reports on how “a warming planet has major ramifications on winter snowpack across the globe, including a long-term drying trend for many”. It adds: “That’s a concern for winter sports enthusiasts and communities that depend on snow throughout the year.” MailOnline looks at how “the UK’s only working sled-dog centre will close next month ‘due to climate change’ amid fears the Cairngorms could be snow-free by 2080 if temperatures continue to rise”. The Daily Mirror also covers the story.
Reuters reports that the “British hedge fund billionaire Chris Hohn has launched a campaign to persuade central banks to starve hundreds of planned coal-fired power plants around the world of finance, aiming to block the projects before they can pose a threat to the climate”. It adds: “Hohn, a big donor to groups working on climate change, set out his concerns in letters to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde and the chairmen of Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered.” Hohn, writing on the website of his Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, says: “Coal is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions globally and the risks of its continued use in the power sector are not being adequately addressed by regulators and the financial system.” The Financial Times also covers the story: “Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered could all face a legal challenge from the charity co-founded by billionaire hedge fund manager Christopher Hohn, who has promised to take action if the three banks do not stop lending money to coal-mining companies.”
Meanwhile, in other coal-related news, the Japan Times reports that “Vietnam is scaling back a plan to build new coal plants, as financial restrictions and local environmental concerns increase the difficulty and complexity of constructing such facilities”. Reuters says that “South Korea will idle up to 28 of its coal-fired power plants in March, scaling up the country’s ongoing efforts to curb air pollution, the energy ministry said on Sunday”. The Motley Fool says that “US coal-fired power plants just had their worst year since the 1970s”. The New York Times has a news feature about how “fighting coal was supposed to lift [Michael] Bloomberg. Here’s why it didn’t.” The Guardian looks at Australia’s Collinsville, “the Queensland town on the frontline of the coal wars”. Meanwhile, Sky News in Australia reports that “energy minister Angus Taylor is preparing to use federal government support to keep Liddell [coal] power station open until 2026”. It adds: “Sky News understands Mr Taylor is deliberating whether the government should provide the $300m needed to keep the ageing station open, or if it could purchase it directly from [owners] AGL.” Finally, Bloomberg reports that “the pressure to get China back to work after the coronavirus shutdown is resurrecting an old temptation: doctoring data so it shows senior officials what they want to see”. It adds: “This phenomenon is playing out in Zhejiang province, an industrial hub on the east coast, in the form of electricity usage. At least three cities there have given local factories targets to hit for power consumption because they’re using the data to show a resurgence in production, according to people familiar with the matter. That’s prompted some businesses to run machinery even as their plants remain empty, the people said.” [Carbon Brief has recently updated its analysis showing how the coronavirus has affected China’s emissions.]
There has been continuing coverage over the weekend of Greta Thunberg appearing in Bristol on Friday to address a large crowd of climate protestors. The Guardian says: “Tens of thousands of people, many of them children skipping school, braved heavy rain to join a climate strike headed by Greta Thunberg in Bristol city centre. The vast crowd fell silent as the 17-year-old activist told them governments were acting like children and so it fell to young people to be ‘the adults in the room’. Police said there were more than 15,000 people at the Bristol Youth Strike 4 Climate event, while Thunberg estimated the figure as at least 30,000.” BBC News says “the teenager was welcomed by chants of ‘Greta, Greta’…She accused politicians and the media of ignoring the climate emergency and ‘sweeping their mess under the rug’. ‘We are the change, and change is coming whether you like it or not,’ the Swedish environmentalist said.” In a separate article, BBC News reports that organisers have started a crowdfunding appeal to raise funds to repair a college green that got damaged due to the volume of protestors standing on it to watch Thunberg’s speech. (The fund has already raised more than £12,000.) The Sunday Mirror reports that MPs are backing a “Greta’s law” to make all schools carbon neutral in a decade.
The Independent carries a comment piece by Rachel Trippier, one of the protestors: “She’s inspiring me and a generation of young climate activists.” Meanwhile, the Daily Mail sent its columnist Robert Hardman to Bristol to listen to the “eco-sermon from the pint-sized Pied Piper”. And the Sunday Telegraph’s Janet Daley reacts by claiming that “we seem to have woken up in the Middle Ages – to a world of child saints and plague towns and apocalyptic helplessness”.
Meanwhile, MailOnline reports that “a sick cartoon depicting the rape of 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg has sparked outrage at a Canadian oil company where employees are circulating helmet decal bearing the image” Finally, the Bristol Post has named and shamed a number of local men who have posted “abuse and threats” on social media aimed at Thunberg.
Patrick Jenkins, the deputy editor of the Financial Times, writes: “So-called stranded assets have long existed. Today, their incarnation as coal mines, oilfields and gas reserves in an unsustainably warming world, is a growing cause of financial stability concern…In time, financing fossil fuels may become taboo for mainstream regulated banks. It would be tempting to hail this as a victory for the planet. But that would be premature. As happened across other areas of banking as new tighter regulations were imposed after the financial crisis, non-banks – encumbered by little or no regulation and scant public scrutiny – sprang up to fill the gap. Private capital investors are showing growing interest in parts of the fossil fuel industry. As long as the cash flow is attractive, they will back coal, oil and gas, whether the traditional banks and big asset managers are there or not.”
The conversion of natural mangrove forests to aquaculture sites in Indonesia can cause soil carbon losses of 85% and plant carbon losses of 85%, relative to areas not affected by aquaculture, a study finds. The study tested soil and plant carbon levels across 255 mangrove sites across West Papua Province in Indonesia. Some sites were currently experiencing land-use change, whereas others had been left to regenerate for five to 25 years. “Mangroves left to regenerate for more than 25 years reached the same level of biomass carbon compared to undisturbed forests,” the authors add.
The disappearance of sea ice surrounding Antarctica could spark enhanced growth of undersea microorganisms, boosting “blue carbon” stores, a study suggests. The authors estimate that the complete disappearance of sea ice from the fjords of the West Antarctic Peninsula could lead to new carbon gains totalling 4,536 tonnes a year. (Around one tonne of CO2 is emitted from an economy flight from London to New York.) The findings suggest Antarctic sea ice melt may trigger a “valuable negative feedback on climate change”, the authors say.