Today's climate and energy headlines:
- White House considering nearly doubling Obama’s climate pledge
- UK: Seven arrests as Barclays windows are smashed during Extinction Rebellion protest in London
- Carbon dioxide levels in atmosphere reach record high
- US: Exclusive – EPA reverses Trump stance in push to tackle environmental racism
- Chuan-Yu accelerates building China's first 100bn-level natural gas production base
- UK: SSE and Equinor’s ‘blue hydrogen’ power plant set to be world first
- Norway’s oil fund makes first investment in renewable energy
- Marine species increasingly can’t live at equator due to global heating
- How debt and climate change pose ‘systemic risk’ to world economy
- Our greatest libraries are melting away
- Managing momentum in climate negotiations
- Is the Paleo diet safe for health and the environment?
- Coastal migration due to 21st century sea level rise
The US government is considering a pledge to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by 50% or more by the end of the decade, reports Bloomberg – a target that “would nearly double the country’s previous commitment”. According to “people familiar with the deliberations”, the outlet says the emissions-reduction goal is “still being developed and subject to change”, but is “part of a White House push to encourage worldwide action to keep average global temperature from rising more than 1.5C”. The article continues: “Targets under discussion for the US pledge include a range of 48% to 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from 2005 levels by 2030, according to one person familiar with the deliberations. Another person said the administration, at the urging of environmentalists, is considering an even steeper 53% reduction…By comparison, under former President Barack Obama, the US promised to reduce planet-warming emissions from 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025.” At the same time, Reuters says that the Kyodo news agency is reporting that Japan “is looking to raise its 2030 greenhouse gas emissions-reduction target to at least a 40% cut on fiscal 2013 levels from 26% now”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has released details of a tax proposal to “replace subsidies for fossil fuel companies with incentives for production of clean energy,” as part of Biden’s $2.3tr infrastructure package. These clean energy tax incentives will include electric vehicles and efficient electric appliances, according to a separate Reuters piece, which adds that eliminating tax breaks from the fossil fuel industry would raise $35bn over the coming decade. According to a report from the Treasury, the main impact would be on oil and gas profits, Bloomberg reports, adding: “Research suggests little impact on gasoline or energy prices for U.S. consumers and little impact on our energy security.” A Financial Times editorial about Biden’s plan says that “‘infrastructure’ is a deceptively dry word” and notes that the proposed infrastructure reform encompasses a range of initiatives including “climate change abatement”. Meanwhile, a separate opinion piece in the Financial Times by Brad Handler – a senior fellow at the Payne Institute for Public Policy, Colorado School of Mines – says that Biden’s “slew of executive orders” shows his “resolve”. He says that although “conventional wisdom” says Biden can only effect modern progress on climate legislation, this view “undervalues the levers the administration can pull, including motivating the private sector”.
Elsewhere, another Reuters piece reports that US climate envoy John Kerry spoke to India’s prime minister Narendra Modi about “how the US could help mobilise finance to reduce risks in producing alternative energy in the fight against global warming”. It adds that Kerry discussed the option of “concessionary finance” – loans on terms lower than the market rate – to reduce the risk that India would face in transitioning to a clean economy. Modi told Kerry that India is committed to meeting its goals under the Paris agreement, the Associated Press reports via the Hill.
In other US news, Politico reports that Biden may appoint an envoy to “kill” the Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Reuters reports that Biden plans to issue an executive order requiring companies and financial institutions to “disclose climate change risks”, and a piece in the Guardian’s “America’s race to zero emissions” series notes the healthcare sector makes up 10% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Finally, in US comment, EurActiv carries a piece by Swedish politician Jakop Dalunde entitled “How Joe Biden could effortlessly boost aviation climate action”, and the South China Morning Post has a comment piece from Paul G Harris – professor of global and environmental studies at the Education University of Hong Kong – who writes that climate change is the one topic on which the US and China agree and says that the cooperation “sparks optimism”. However, he also notes that “if current and past practices [on decarbonisation] are accurate guides”, then there is “ample reason to worry”.
Climate activists smashed windows at Barclays headquarters in London and stuck the message “In Case of Climate Emergency Break Glass” on the front of the building, the Evening Standard reports. Seven women from Extinction Rebellion (XR) have been arrested on suspicion of criminal damage, the paper adds. The outlet reports that the action was part of the Extinction Rebellion “money Rebellion”. The Press Association adds that the protesters accuse Barclays of investing too much in fossil fuels, and wore patches on their clothes that read “Better broken windows than broken promises”. Sky News and the Independent carry video footage of the protest. CityAM reports that Barclays has “condemned” the actions and have highlighted their goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. According to the Times, Dale Vince – one of Extinction Rebellion’s “most prominent backers” has also condemned the group for their actions. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph carries a comment piece by its chief city commentator, Ben Marlow, entitled “Extinction Rebellion’s attack on the City is lazy and misguided”. Marlow argues that the protestors are “tone deaf” and that while many people have “great sympathy” with climate change, they “won’t tolerate… vandalism, violence or other mindless acts of criminal behaviour”.
Atmospheric CO2 levels this March hit a record high monthly average of 417.14 part per million (ppm) – a 50% increase compared pre-industrial levels – the Guardian reports. This is according to data released by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography from the Mauna Loa Observatory. The newspaper notes that the previous record was 417.10ppm in May 2020, adding that the UK Met Office expects a peak CO2 level fo 419.5ppm in May. Last month, Carbon Brief published a guest post from Met Office scientist Richard Betts including these figures, which predicted that 2021 would be “the first year on record that sees CO2 levels of more than 50% above pre-industrial levels for longer than a few days”. The Times adds that global emissions fell by 7% last year due to the pandemic, but that a 7.6% reduction would be needed every year for the next decade to limit warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. Meanwhile, the Financial Times notes that methane has also reached record high levels this year, rising by 14.7 parts per billion (ppb) over 2020. According to a scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the jump in methane levels is “fairly surprising – and disturbing”, and the reasons for the increase are not yet known. The MailOnline, the Herald and the Hill also cover the story.
Michael Regan, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, has ordered the agency to “crack down on the pollution that disproportionately blights people of colour”, the Guardian reports. This move will “ensure vulnerable communities are front of mind when issuing permits for polluting facilities”, the paper notes, adding that the enforcement of pollution violations “dropped steeply” under the Trump administration. The initiative “could spur the distribution of more grants to underserved communities”, Bloomberg reports, adding that Biden has committed to allocating 40% of clean energy investments to “disadvantaged communities bearing the brunt of pollution and on the front lines of climate change”. The Hill also covers the story. Meanwhile, Bloomberg carries an interview with Regan. It reports that “before he even begins pursuing what he terms an ‘aggressive climate agenda,’ Regan faces the daunting task of rebuilding an agency left in disarray by the previous administration”. This includes hiring “hundreds of scientists” to fill vacancies after an “exodus” of staff under the Trump administration, it adds.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that “an alliance of Wall Street and big tech is warning the Texas government against imposing new costs on renewable power plants”, following the winter blackouts in Texas last month. And Bloomberg reports that a Texan renewable developer is planning to test the appetite for solar farms in the state.
Two regions in south-western China are fast-forwarding the construction of a major natural gas manufacturing base, the official Chongqing Daily reports. The project is jointly built by the municipality of Chongqing, which has the acronym of Yu, and its neighbouring Sichuan Province, or Chuan. It will cost CN¥710bn (£78bn) and take 15 years – from 2020 to 2035 – to complete, the report says. It is expected to produce 63bn cubic metres of shale gas a year by 2025 and become China’s first base to generate 100bn cubic metres of natural gas annually by 2035, the article adds. Separately, a CN¥5.3bn (£586m) offshore wind farm has been connected to the grid and begun generating power in southern China, according to various reports. The Zhuhai Golden Bay Offshore windfarm is located in the Great Bay Area – a mega metropolitan region comprising Hong Kong, Macau and nine cities in Guangdong Province – reports Science and Technology Daily. All 55 of its wind turbines went online on 2 April, the report says. China Urban Energy Weekly states that Golden Bay had generated 100m kilowatt-hours of electricity by 6 April.
Nearly three times more “new energy” vehicles were registered in China in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period last year, according to China Energy News. The state-run outlet says that 466,000 “new energy” vehicles completed their registration process between January and March – a 295% increase from last years 118,000. In China, “new energy” vehicles include pure electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, according to an official industry plan.
In other China news, an architectural energy expert tells China Urban Energy Weekly that it would be “very hard” for China’s urban buildings to peak their carbon emissions by 2030 “if the current developmental model continues”. Prof Long Weiding from Shanghai Tongji University tells the state-run publication that “big efforts” must be spent on reducing buildings’ emissions. Meanwhile, Prof Jiang Yi from Tsinghua University tells China Energy News that China’s building industry must focus on cutting energy consumption to “dramatically reduce” its emissions. Jiang says that a quarter of Chinese society’s energy consumption last year was used to operate buildings, and relevant activity emitted 1.1bn tonnes of CO2.
Britain could build the world’s first “blue hydrogen” power plant this decade, the Times reports. The power station would be built in Scunthorpe through a collaboration between energy companies SSE and Equinor, and would provide enough energy to supply over a million homes, according to the newspaper. It adds that the station would burn “blue hydrogen”, which is produced by “processing natural gas and capturing and disposing of waste CO2 in a process that has low but not zero emissions”. The cost of the project has not yet been revealed, but the paper reports that plans “would hinge on government support to make them viable”. (For more on hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels, see Carbon Brief‘s in-depth Q&A.)
Norway’s oil fund has announced plans to buy a 50% stake in a dutch offshore wind farm owned by “Danish renewable energy giant” Orfsted, the Financial Times reports. This is the oil fund’s first investment into renewable infrastructure, the newspaper adds. According to Reuters, the agreement was signed yesterday and completion is expected in the second or third quarter of 2021. The $1.3tr Norwegian wealth fund plans to invest around $12bn between 2020 and 2022 into “unlisted renewable projects such as wind parks and solar farms, looking at North America and Europe only, as mandated by parliament”, the newswire adds.
The shift of species away from the equator “can now be observed at a global scale”, the Guardian reports. This is according to new research that analyses the changing locations of almost 50,000 marine species between 1995 and 2015. The research finds that the diversity of “free-swimming species such has fish” has “dropped significantly”, and that future warming would further cut the species richness of tropical ocean regions. Meanwhile, a separate piece in the Guardian reports that scientists are urging the Australian government not to remove humpback whales from the threatened species list. The decision is based on a government discussion paper which estimates that populations have returned to their original size, according to the newspaper. However, it adds that scientists “have expressed concern that some of the data used is outdated”. One scientist tells the paper that the greatest threat was from ocean heating and acidification due to climate change, which could threaten the survival of humpback whales because it reduces populations of krill that the species depends upon for food.
Elsewhere, a piece in the Conversation warns that ocean stability is increasing six times faster than scientists were anticipating – indicating that the upper layers of the ocean are “trapping more heat, and containing less nutrients”.
A feature in the New York Times by international climate reporter Somini Sengupta examines how “staggering debt and mounting climate disasters” are taking a toll on dozens of poorer nations around the world. The piece outlines calls from academics and advocates, as well as a new assessment by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others drawing attention to this issue, and the impact debt could have on exacerbating climate risks. Sengupta notes that suggestions for how to deal with this vary but they tend to ultimately call “for rich countries and private creditors to offer debt relief, so countries can use those funds to transition away from fossil fuels, adapt to the effects of climate change, or obtain financial reward for the natural assets they already protect”. The piece also details the unique situations of Belize, Fiji and Mozambique – three nations facing climate impacts which are also heavily in debt to foreign creditors. “The discussions around debt and climate are likely to intensify in the run up to the climate talks in November, where money is expected to be one of the main sticking points,” Sengupta adds, noting that richer nations are “nowhere close” to delivering the $100bn a year they have pledged to help poorer countries deal with global warming.
Prof David Farrier, a literature professor at the University of Edinburgh, writes for the Washington Post about the ice cores that form “an immense library of our planet’s history”. He explains the history of scientists using ice cores from polar regions to obtain a glimpse into the history of the planet: “As fallen snow solidifies into ice, it traps microscopic bubbles of air along with traces of past climates. Ash from ancient forest fires, or pollen, can help scientists reconstruct what life on Earth was like thousands of years ago.” However, Farrier warns that this important source of information is under threat: “The rapid melting of the Greenland ice sheet is an unfolding environmental disaster…Without drastic cuts to emissions, Greenland could lose 35,900bn metric tons of ice by 2100. This would significantly contribute to the three feet of sea level rise predicted to occur by the end of the century.” He adds that as well as causing environmental harm, melting ice also “entails a deeper loss: our cultural memory”. Farrier says that “spending time in the library of ice reminds us that our history is bound up with that of the planet”, making a comparison with the story of the Library of Alexandria, which fell into disrepair, resulting in the loss of many manuscripts about the ancient world. He concludes: “The greatest library in history was lost to neglect. Unless we act now, the library of ice will meet the same fate.” (Carbon Brief recently published an interactive feature looking at how various “climate proxies” – including those from ice cores – can be used to reconstruct the climate of the past.)
A new paper considers the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on the UN Conference of the Parties (COP) climate negotiations. The pandemic “is bad news for climate action, but also provides opportunities”, the authors say: “The absence of a COP in 2020 gives negotiators additional time to address technical issues behind the scenes, including through club approaches.” Virtual forums “can be used to increase interactions, also involving top diplomats”, the paper says, while the extra time “also allows global leaders and influential environmentalists to improve their communication strategies, increasing ambition while effectively managing momentum”.
The “Paleo Diet” – also know as the “caveman diet” and based on the types of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans – can be considered as “an expensive and not nutritionally adequate diet with a high carbon footprint”, a new study says. The researchers assess the sustainability of the Paleo Diet, considering its carbon footprint, water footprint, cost, disease-specific relative risk and dietary quality. The results suggest that the Paleo Diet has a “worse environmental profile” than many other diets, including the Mediterranean Diet, Southern European Atlantic Diet and the Spanish Dietary Guidelines.
New research provides the “first estimate” of 21st century global coastal migration due to sea level rise. Combining sea level rise scenarios, socioeconomic pathways and discount rate assumptions, the researchers find “robust decisions” in favour of protection for “about 3% of the global coastline, covering 78% of global coastal population and 92% of global coastal floodplain assets”. The remaining 97% of global coastline cumulative 21st century land loss ranges from 60,000 to 415,000 km2 and coastal migration ranges from 17 to 72 million people”, the study says. It notes that, in absolute terms, “big countries in south and south‐east Asia account for the highest coastal migration, while in relative terms small island nations suffer most”.
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