Today's climate and energy headlines:
- 'We can do it': Boris Johnson declares UK can lead the world in building net-zero economy
- Poland defies Brussels by vowing to stick to coal
- Royal Shakespeare Company drops BP as theatre sponsor over climate concerns
- Scottish government fracking 'ban' to continue indefinitely
- The climate protest movement must not alienate Britain’s working classes
- Can Southeast Asia ditch coal?
- EU leaders risk trade tension with carbon border tax to protect industry
- Rapidly expanding nuclear arsenals in Pakistan and India portend regional and global catastrophe
Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister, has used his speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester to deliver “his firmest commitment yet to the UK’s net-zero emissions goal”, according to BusinessGreen. Johnson said that the UK could meet its target by “lead[ing] the world with clean green technology”, the website adds. It notes that the prime minister also “joked” about support for British research into nuclear fusion, which he said was “on the verge” of becoming commercially viable, having been there “for some time”. And Johnson said the UK’s track record on clean energy had repeatedly confounded its critics, which as as BusinessGreen notes, previously included the prime minister himself. The conference speech also covered Johnson’s alternative plans for the UK’s departure from the EU, which, says BusinessGreen, would include diverging from the bloc’s regulations. It adds: “Green groups have repeatedly voiced fears that the desire to break from EU regulations could result in a watering down of environmental rules. However, ministers have in turn reiterated that the government intends to maintain high environmental standards post-Brexit.” New Scientist also covers the climate aspects of Johnson’s speech, including his promise to “beat the sceptics” by reaching net-zero by 2050. The Independent reports that some scientists have “deride[d] Johnson’s claim” that the UK is “on the verge” of developing viable nuclear fusion.
Meanwhile, another article in the Independent reports that the UK government has been accused of “utter hypocrisy” after “rejecting calls from MPs to stop spending billions on overseas fossil fuel projects while claiming to be a leader in the fight against global warming”. The paper reports that international trade secretary Liz Truss had said it would be “too abrupt” to end UK Export Finance underwriting of loans and insurance for overseas fossil energy projects by 2021. It adds that such support amounted to £2.5bn over the past five years, according to parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee.
Separately, Reuters reports that the majority of the world’s 50 largest banks “have not made sustainable finance commitments to respond to the risks of climate change”, according to new findings from the World Resources Institute. Finally, a Reuters feature explores how the US Federal Reserve’s regional banks are “delving deeper” into climate-related financial impacts and renewable energy. It says: “Though the US central bank is taking the subject seriously, it remains far behind global peers, like the Bank of England and the Dutch central bank, who have led the way in calling for action to mitigate the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change on economic growth and financial stability.”
Poland is set on a “collision course with the Brussels over climate policy”, the Financial Times reports, as a result prioritising an end to its reliance on Russian gas over signing up to an EU net-zero emissions target. The FT story is based on an interview with Piotr Naimski, Poland’s chief strategic energy advisor, who is quoted telling the paper it is “not possible and not feasible” for his country to reach net-zero by 2050. Naimski said coal would still be providing up to half of Poland’s electricity in 2040, the FT reports. It adds that the comments “cast doubt on hopes that all EU states will sign up to the [net-zero] target by December’s COP25 climate summit in Chile”. Separately, the South China Morning Post reports that French president Emmanuel Macron is to meet China’s Xi Jinping in November to discuss climate change and trade. Its coverage cites a “source briefed on the Elysee Palace’s discussions” and also quotes a thinktank director saying: “The energy/environment agenda is a political priority in Paris and one of very few issues on which cooperation with China remains promising.”
The Royal Shakespeare Company is to end a sponsorship deal with oil firm BP after youth protests about what the theatre describes as the “climate emergency”, Reuters reports. The Financial Times also covers the news, in a story trailed on its front page, which says the deal has been ended four years early. The paper says the decision is “a sign of the intense pressures facing arts organisations over funding from oil and gas groups”. It notes that a 27-year sponsorship deal between BP and the Tate group of art galleries ended in 2016, but adds that the British Museum, Royal Opera House and National Portrait Gallery continue to hold deals with the firm. Under the headline “BP boss insists oil giant is part of solution to climate change challenge”, Herald Scotland carries the comments of Peter Mather, the head of BP’s operations in Europe, who says: “Satisfying growing energy demand but not increasing and in fact reducing emissions, getting towards net zero by the middle of the century, that’s what we’ve signed up to.” The Times, Associated Press, Guardian, Sky News, Daily Telegraph, BBC News and others all cover the story. Agence-France Presse begins its headline on the news: “BP or not BP?”
The Scottish government is set to confirm an effective ban on fracking will continue indefinitely, BBC News reports, citing “information accidentally published online”. It explains: “Energy minister Paul Wheelhouse is to make a statement at Holyrood [today] which is expected to confirm an effective ban after years of consultations.” The news is also reported by the Scotsman, the Herald and the Daily Telegraph.
As Extinction Rebellion protestors prepare to “descend on Westminster” in London next week, “the movement mustn’t overlook the committed activists in places such as Bolton, Wigan, and Sunderland who are also spreading the message across the country”, writes Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan and former shadow secretary of state for energy and climate change. She continues: “For the climate movement to succeed we have to build a broad coalition that covers our nation’s towns as well as our cities, and reaches out across class divides.” For example, says Nandy: “Calls for individual action can’t just be modelled on the lifestyles of middle-class city dwellers. Telling people to get out of their cars can’t be the solution in those parts of the country where decades of chronic underinvestment have left us without public transport.” Nandy says that she gets “more letters about the environment from my constituents than any other single issue” and adds that tackling climate change can be an “opportunity to rebuild our towns so they can play a major and significant part in our national story once again”. Separately, the Guardian says that specialist police have been assigned to deal with expected Extinction Rebellion action, while the Daily Telegraph reports that the protests are “putting a bigger strain on [the] police than terrorism”, citing a “senior Scotland Yard officer”.
In Southeast Asia, coal has found “one of its final frontiers”, writes Preeti Jha in a feature for Japan-based magazine the Diplomat. She continues: “[L]ast year it was the only region where coal’s share of power generation grew. Yet the growing urgency of the climate crisis and increasingly affordable renewable power could help catalyse a regional shift away from the fuel towards cleaner energy.” Jha notes that “China, Japan and South Korea are filling the funding gap to finance new coal plants in the region even as other sources dry up.” But she also quotes an environmental group director arguing: “In many ways Southeast Asia reminds me of where India was five years ago…They built a significant number of coal plants, but now they’ve got stranded assets. It’s a big problem. Southeast Asia has the opportunity to avoid that.” Carbon Brief recently published a country-by-country summary of current plans for new coal around the world. Elsewhere, Reuters reports that a large coal mine in India will be out of action for a month after flooding caused by heavy rains, amid an above-average monsoon that has “hampered production at many mines in India’s east”.
The incoming European Commission “risks stoking international tensions over trade and the environment even before it takes office in November by promising a carbon border tax to shelter its industry from the cost of cutting emissions”, Reuters reports, in a lengthy feature on the issue. It says that previous commissions have “resisted calls” to consider such a levy, but that there is “fresh momentum” for the idea, due to a shift in the balance of power towards France, rising EU carbon prices, a forthcoming drop in the number of credits handed out for free and a “rising tide of protectionism led by the US”. Nevertheless, Reuters reports that “history suggests” the US and China would respond – as they did over carbon trading imposed on international aviation – if the EU sought to introduce carbon border tariffs. Reuters suggests the design of any border adjustment could be key. It also quotes Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni, the commissioner expected to lead on this policy, saying the design would need to be “carefully crafted to exert political pressure on climate laggards to take action, to ensure that EU companies can compete on a level playing field”.
The climate impact of a nuclear war between India and Pakistan would threaten “mass starvation and additional worldwide collateral fatalities”, a new modelling study suggests. The soot in the smoke released in such a war would “rise into the upper troposphere, be self-lofted into the stratosphere, and spread globally within weeks”. This would block 20-35% of incoming sunlight, the study says, thus “cooling the global surface by 2 to 5C and reducing precipitation by 15 to 30%, with larger regional impacts”. An accompanying Science Advances editorial says “many of our planet’s ecosystems would likely collapse, causing widespread famine”.
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