Today's climate and energy headlines:
- White House to set up panel to counter climate change consensus, officials say
- Australia launches climate change plan to tackle emissions
- Exxon asks US regulator to block climate-change resolution – investors
- Hedge fund forecasts demise of coal in Europe within 3 years
- Climate plan 'not pie in the sky' before election, says Spain
- UK must stop investing in fossil fuels in developing countries
- Want a Green New Deal? Here’s a better one.
- Greta Thunberg: ‘All my life I’ve been the invisible girl’
- Essential gaps and uncertainties in the understanding of the roles and functions of Arctic sea ice
The White House is to set up an “ad hoc” group of scientists to “reassess” federal climate science studies and “counter” their conclusions, according to a Washington Post exclusive that cites “three senior administration officials”. According to those individuals, the group “would include scientists who question the severity of climate impacts and the extent to which humans contribute to the problem”, the Post reports. The plan for this informal group has yet to be finalised, but replaces earlier proposals to set up a federal advisory panel chaired by the climate sceptic William Happer, because such a group would have been subject to public records requests and other rules, the Post says. CNN and the Hill follow up the story. Axios says: “The panel would be the reincarnation of an idea put forward by former EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] administrator Scott Pruitt, who pushed for a ‘red team-blue team’ debate on the science modelled after military studies…However, in the new version, there is no other team representing mainstream climate science — other than climate reports themselves.” It quotes Nasa’s Dr Kate Marvel saying: “This is like assembling a panel of ‘gravity skeptics’ who insist it’s safe to jump off tall buildings, except in this case they want to take us all with them.” Separately, Reuters reports that President Trump has nominated Kelly Craft as his envoy to the UN. The Daily Express reports Craft’s 2017 comments saying: “I believe there are scientists on both sides [of climate science] that are accurate. I think both sides have their own results from their studies, and I appreciate and I respect both sides of the science.” The Independent also covers Craft’s comments.
The Australian government has relaunched its emissions reduction fund with A$2bn of new money, reports the Financial Times, following four years of rising emissions. The paper says the “pre-election announcement” has been criticised as insufficient to meet Australia’s climate goals. Bloomberg covers the story under the headline: “Australian leader makes climate change pitch as election looms”. It adds that the opposition has pledged deeper emissions cuts and more funding. The Guardian says the relaunch will “attempt to appeal to voters deeply concerned that the coalition [government] have been been wreckers on climate change”. In separate news stories, the Guardian reports that the fund will pay for a gas-fired power station “that would be built anyway”, with another articlesaying it will pay for a $56m electricity interconnector between Tasmania and the Australian mainland. Guardian Australia political editor Katharine Murphy has a comment under the headline: “If the coalition has had a climate epiphany, I’m Beyoncé.” Another Guardian comment argues the emissions reduction fund is “deeply flawed – and no rebranding will change this”. Meanwhile, BBC Newsreports that a million tonnes of “sludge” dredged from the seafloor outside the Hay Point coal terminal is to be “dumped” on the Great Barrier Reef. And Axioshas a feature about: “How one Australian region [the Australian Capital Territory] kicked the coal habit”.
Oil and gas major Exxon is trying to block an investor demand that it set emissions reductions targets, reports Reuters. The firm has written to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the financial regulator, to argue against the plan, which is set to be voted on at the firm’s May annual meeting and which was put forward by investors with a total of $1.9tn under management, reports the Financial Times. The investors include the Church Commissioners for England, which has “warned that fossil fuel companies are in its sights, following its successful push to get coal miner Glencore to cap its coal production”, reports another Financial Times piece. Separately, the Daily Mailreports that the Church of England is backing student climate protests. The church’s General Synod voted overwhelmingly on Friday to “step up its environmental programme in response to the escalating threat of climate change”, the Mail adds. The Guardian reports that teachers and students held “mock climate change classes” in Whitehall on Friday, in the latest round of action.
Coal demand in the EU could “collapse within three years”, says the Financial Times, reporting comments from “senior London commodity hedge fund manager” Per Lekander who “manages more than $1.1bn at Lansdowne Partners”. Lekander’s prediction is based on carbon prices reaching €50 per tonne on the EU Emissions Trading System. The paper quotes him saying: “My projection for coal becoming less than 5% [of European power supply] is three to four years because once you get a €50 carbon price it shuts down…Investors are increasingly starting to realise that climate change is not a political thing, it’s real. And if it is real then you need to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. And that is going to happen. It could go even faster. I think it will be basically zero.” Separately, the Financial Times reports that the €1.5bn Datteln coal plant in Germany is “in doubt”. Due to have opened next summer, the plant may never operate due Germany’s planned coal phaseout, the paper says. Carbon Briefcovered the phaseout plans in January.
The Spanish government has published a plan to drastically cut carbon emissions just two weeks before a general election, reports Reuters. This timing may “nix its chances of becoming law”, it adds. The plan would aim to make Spain carbon neutral by 2050 through measures including “phasing out coal and nuclear in favour of renewables and making sure all new cars are emissions-free by 2040”. According to Reuters, energy minister Teresa Ribera told a news conference: “This is not pie in the sky…there is no reason for us to delay this debate. I am convinced that whoever (is in government), this will be approved and broadly supported by all Spaniards and political forces.” Carbon Brief carried an in-depth interview with Ribera in December.
The UK must “prove it is serious about phasing out use of fossil fuels worldwide”, writes former UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon in the Guardian. He criticises the investment priorities of UK Export Finance (UKEF), the government agency that provides support for international trade by British companies. Ban writes: “It is deeply concerning to note that over the period 2010-2014, UKEF provided more than 99.4% of its energy finance to fossil fuels, and less than 1% to renewable energy. Over the longer timeframe of 2010-16, it is estimated that UKEF provided £4.8bn of support for fossil fuel projects. The UK’s total spend on its International Climate Fund for a similar period, 2011-17, was £4.9bn.” He adds: “The time has come for the UK to change course, in the interests of the whole world…There is now a growing consensus that fossil fuels should not be funded in any way by export finance organisations.” The Guardian has a news story reporting Ban’s comments. Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports comments from Sir David Attenborough, who has called plans for a coal mine at a Northumberland beauty spot “shameful”.
“We favour a green new deal to save the planet. We believe such a plan can be efficient, effective, focused and achievable. The green new deal proposed by [some] congressional Democrats does not meet that test,” begins a Washington Post leader. In a series of editorials, the paper sets out its view of a better alternative. It says policy should “start with carbon pricing. Then fill in the gaps”. On the international stage, the paper says “reentering the Paris Agreement would have to be top priority”. The series concludes by warning that “good intentions are not enough”, pointing to Germany “whose government has imposed extremely high electricity costs in the name of emissions reduction but that still burns tremendous amounts of noxious brown coal”. The New York Times also has an editorial on the green new deal. It says: “The ambitious plan has had a rocky start, but it has also changed the national conversation. That alone is reason to applaud it.” In an article at Vox, David Roberts says “green new deal critics are missing the bigger picture”. He explains: “To put it bluntly: this is not normal. We are not in an era of normal politics. There is no precedent for the climate crisis, its dangers or its opportunities. Above all, it calls for courage and fresh thinking…The kids are out there, organised, demanding a solution. Let’s try to give them one.” Separately, the New York Times reports on a video in which Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein “lectures children who want [a] green new deal, portraying it as untenable”. Axios also covers the video. The New Yorker carries a comment from veteran climate campaigner Bill McKibben, in which he says the video demonstrates why: “Climate change exemplifies an issue on which older people should listen to the young.”
The FT’s “Lunch with the FT” feature is an interview with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage “superstar” climate activist. The article begins: “For years climate change has been a big issue in search of a leader. Politicians, celebrities and naturalists have taken up the cause — think Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jane Goodall. But no one has captured the spirit of what is happening to the Earth as much as this autistic teenager, with her simple message: you are stealing my future.” The article continues: “She says her dad often asks her to tone down her speeches, which she writes herself. ‘He becomes scared when he reads it, he is like, you shouldn’t say this, it is too provocative,’ she says proudly…’People are unaware of what is going on. When I talk to people, they know the basics, they know the planet is warming because of greenhouse gases . . . but they don’t know the actual consequence of that.’”
A study identifies “important current gaps” in knowledge connected to the roles and functions of Arctic sea ice. “Crucial gaps” include a lack of direct data taken during the winter, a lack of data on snow and ice thickness from the Arctic Basin and a poor understanding of the “biological implications” of changing sea ice. “There is a need to develop or improve analyses and products of remote sensing, especially for new sensors and technology such as remotely operated vehicles,” the authors say.
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