Today's climate and energy headlines:
- World is in danger of missing Paris climate target, summit is warned
- UK due to set out major energy investment plan on Monday
- Biden considers former EPA chief McCarthy for domestic climate czar – sources
- Five years after the Paris agreement, the world still isn’t doing enough to combat climate change
- Climate change battle draws close to home
- Intensified humid heat events under global warming
- Tropical Pacific climate variability under solar geoengineering: impacts on ENSO extremes
There is widespread international media coverage of the UN’s “Climate Ambition Summit” held online on Saturday and co-hosted by the UK, France and UN. “The world is still not on track to fulfil the 2015 Paris climate agreement, the UK’s business secretary Alok Sharma warned, after a summit of more than 70 world leaders on the climate crisis ended with few new commitments on greenhouse gas emissions”, reports the Guardian. The newspaper quotes Sharma, the COP26 president, saying: ““[People] will ask ‘Have we done enough to put the world on track to limit warming to 1.5C and protect people and nature from the effects of climate change?’ We must be honest with ourselves – the answer to that is currently no.” It adds: “He said progress had been made at the [summit] marking five years since the Paris accord was adopted. More than 80 world leaders including China’s Xi Jinping, the European commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and Pope Francis urged swifter action on the climate crisis.” BBC News says the heads of state “outlined new pledges and commitments to curb carbon”, adding: “China’s contribution was eagerly awaited, not just because it is the world’s biggest emitter, but because it has recently promised to reach net-zero emissions by 2060…But while President Xi Jinping outlined a range of new targets for 2030, many analysts felt these did not go far enough. India brought little in the way of new commitments, but prime minister Narendra Modi said his country was on track to achieve its goals under the Paris agreement and promised a major uptick in wind and solar energy.” The Guardian has a video of Boris Johnson’s speech in which he said his motivation was to save the environment and create new jobs. The Press Association says “as the summit kicked off, UN secretary general Antonio Guterres urged leaders to declare climate emergencies in all countries until emissions were reduced to zero overall, starting with meaningful cuts now”. Reuters notes how Guterres said that “rich nations are ‘lagging badly’ on a longstanding pledge to channel $100bn a year in funding, from 2020 onwards, to help poorer countries develop cleanly and adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change”. Climate Home News says that Australia, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Brazil were among big emitters absent from the summit because they failed to meet the ambition benchmark to participate. Climate Home News also ran a live-blog throughout the summit tracking all the key speeches and announcements.
In terms of commitments by individual countries, the UK’s pledge to end its financing for oil and gas projects overseas attracts coverage. The Financial Times says the move “will strip out billions in underwriting loans to energy projects”. It adds: “Support for overseas fossil-fuel energy projects has totalled more than £3.5bn over the past five years but will be halted sometime next year, though no date was set for when the new policy will take effect and the government said there would be ‘limited exceptions’.” The Guardian says: “The halt to funding for fossil fuels has been mooted since early this year, when the prime minister was stung by accusations of hypocrisy because the UK continued to fund such developments despite preparing to host the next round of vital UN climate talks, COP26, in Glasgow.” The Press Association notes that “under the plans, the government will end export finance, aid funding and trade promotion for new crude oil, natural gas or coal energy projects, with ‘very limited exceptions’ for some gas-fired power plants and other schemes”. The New York Times says that Johnson’s move will help him “find common cause” with Joe Biden.
China’s new pledge gets a lot of media focus, too. The Financial Times says “China [has] vowed to nearly triple its wind and solar capacity during the next decade”. It adds: “President Xi’s appearance was the most anticipated, as he pledged China would cut its carbon intensity, which measures emissions relative to gross domestic product, by more than 65% by 2030. This was an increase from its previous goal of 60-65%. It would also increase wind and solar installed capacity to 1200GW by 2030, Mr Xi said, up from 415GW at the end of 2019.” Reuters says China “looks to reach the peak of its emissions before the end of the decade”. The Independent says that “the leaders of China and India failed to set ambitious new climate targets”, adding that “India’s prime minister Narendra Modi did not announce any new plans for tackling its emissions at the climate action summit”. Reuters notes that Modi said India’s renewable energy capacity would reach 175GW before 2022. Press Association picks up that Pakistan says it will focuse on “nature-based solutions” including mass tree planting, as well as a ban on new coal power stations: “Prime minister Imran Khan said that by 2030, 60% of Pakistan’s energy would be renewable, and 30% of its vehicles would be electric.” Bloomberg reports that Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau has “pledg[ed] billions in new money to combat climate change and increasing his government’s carbon tax”.
Reuters says that Greta Thunberg has reacted to the summit by saying that the “world remains in denial over the actions needed to prevent catastrophic warming”. The teenage campaigner is quoted as saying: “Hypothetical targets are being set and big speeches are being given, yet when it comes to the immediate action we need, we are still in state of complete denial.” The New Zealand Herald covers Jacinda Ardern’s response to Greta Thunberg’s criticism of the New Zealand’s government by pointing out “there has been more done in New Zealand’s climate change space than the teen activist might realise”. The Guardian also reports Ardern’s response to Thunberg. Japan’s Mainichi reports that Japan will “help firms develop green technologies such as carbon capture and recycling, hydrogen fuel and next-generation batteries through a new 2tn yen ($19bn) fund”, according to prime minister Yoshihide Suga.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg says the “underwhelming summit puts more pressure on president-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to assert US leadership on climate change when he takes office”. The Guardian picks up of Joe Biden’s statement over the weekend, saying: “The US will hold a climate summit of the world’s major economies early next year, within 100 days of Joe Biden taking office, and seek to rejoin the Paris agreement on the first day of his presidency, in a boost to international climate action.”
Bloomberg quotes “officials” in reporting that “the UK government’s long-awaited policy paper on energy will outline ‘major investments’ in hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, and nuclear power as well as reforms for the retail supply market”. The much-delayed energy white paper will, adds Bloomberg, “target household energy suppliers like Centrica and EDF, and outline ways to get customers off the most expensive plans”. It will also “build on points outlined in Boris Johnson’s 10-point green plan…and add detail on how the nation plans to achieve net-zero by 2050”. The Mail on Sunday also carries the story, adding: “Green taxes on electricity could be scrapped as part of a sweeping overhaul of the energy market. Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering plans to remove taxes on renewable electricity – and switch them to gas. Industry experts say the typical household’s energy bill would change little because most split their energy use equally between gas and electricity. However, as households move to powering more of their homes on electricity – for example, by replacing gas boilers with electric heat pumps – their bills should fall.” [As this newsletter was going to press, the UK government published the first details of the energy white paper.]
The frontpage of today’s Times says that “Boris Johnson has approved the start of negotiations with EDF about funding a new £20bn nuclear power plant despite concerns that taxpayers would foot the bill for any extra costs”. It adds: “The government is considering backing Sizewell C, a twin-reactor plant in Suffolk. It could generate 3.2GW of electricity, enough to provide 7% of Britain’s energy needs. The move is a vital part of the prime minister’s pledge to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. China General Nuclear Power, a Chinese state company, has a 20% stake in Sizewell C but is thought to be planning to pull out [a story reported by Saturday’s Daily Mail], increasing the need for new investors. The government is considering taking an equity stake in the plant amid concerns that private investment could still leave it with multibillion-pound liabilities. Taking an equity stake would allow taxpayers to benefit from any profits.” BBC News also carries the “breaking” story, adding that “the project has proved controversial with campaigners saying it is ‘ridiculously expensive’”. The Sunday Times says that “Sanjeev Gupta, the billionaire owner of Scotland’s last remaining steel mills, said a post-Brexit UK should abandon the European Union’s ‘outdated emissions rules”. Meanwhile, the Times reports that “British Gas will continue to market and sell gas boilers despite government hopes to start phasing them out”.
Separately, in other UK news, the Financial Times reports that “green campaigners are launching a legal challenge to try to stop the UK government’s huge road-building programme, arguing that ministers should review their policy in the light of ambitious new climate targets”. The FT adds: “The Transport Action Network pressure group filed the papers for a judicial review in the High Court on Friday as it sought to force transport secretary Grant Shapps to reassess the policy that was set out in a 2014 document called the ‘National Policy Statement on National Networks’…The campaigners have hired the same legal team that won a legal challenge on environmental grounds against Heathrow airport’s plans for a third runway earlier year.” The i newspaper report on new analysis from the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) which says that the “government should slap a 50% tax on the most polluting cars from next year to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles over the next decade…UKERC suggests the dramatic slump in car sales during the pandemic could have worrying consequences for transport emissions over the next decade and beyond unless the government takes radical action”. The Financial Times says that “Europe’s largest truckmakers have pledged to stop selling vehicles that produce emissions by 2040, a decade earlier than originally planned”. Finally, BBC News has feature about a Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation “controversy”.
President-elect Joe Biden is considering appointing Gina McCarthy, who headed the US Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration, as his domestic “climate czar” in charge of coordinating climate policies across federal agencies, according to two people familiar with the plan, reports Reuters. The same sources has told the newswire that “Biden is also considering Michael Regan, an African American who runs North Carolina’s environmental agency, to run the EPA”. Reuters adds that the climate czar role does not require Senate confirmation and that “McCarthy was key to writing the Clean Power Plan, a signature Obama-era measure that imposed the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from US power plants”.
Separately, the New York Times has a feature on how Biden “has placed the longer-running climate challenge at the centre of his administration’s economic priorities”, with his pick for Treasury secretary, Janet L Yellen, and National Economic Council director, Brian Deese. The newspaper adds: “[They] are preparing to weave efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate clean energy production into the economic stimulus legislation that his team is crafting. It is also expected to play a heavy role in a broader infrastructure initiative that could be one of Mr Biden’s best hopes for a major bipartisan bill in his first year in office.” [See Carbon Brief’s in-depth 2017 interview with Brian Deese.]
There is lots of comment marking the fifth anniversary of the Paris Agreement being adopted. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says: “Can humankind take the necessary steps to derail the human-driven threats to our own existence Frankly, we have no choice. We must redouble efforts to mitigate the worst effects of the problems that we, through decades of human activity, have wrought. The Paris agreement was a start, but we need a restart, a fresh global drive to combat the common menace – ourselves, and the way we produce and consume energy…The Paris agreement was a bold pact framed by optimism, but also by a recognition that weaning the world off fossil fuels is expensive, will require unimaginable levels of political will and self-sacrifice, and cannot be achieved without deep wells of mutual goodwill.” Writing in the New York Times, former US vice-president Al Gore argues that “the world has finally begun to cross a political tipping point…as in the pandemic, knowledge will be our salvation, but to succeed, we must learn to work together, lest we perish together”.
The Financial Times has a “big read” by environment and clean energy correspondent Leslie Hook in which she notes how, five years on, “the tone has shifted – and so has the prognosis for the planet”. She adds: “Amid the cheerleading remarks at the summit on Saturday, there has also been a decisive acceleration in national climate pledges, and legally binding carbon targets, that has helped to push down the planet’s warming trajectory, according to scientists.” A separate Financial Times article highlights via charts the “energy trends since 2015”. Associated Press journalists Seth Borenstein and Frank Jordans remark that “scientists and diplomats say the outlook for mid-to-late century is not as gloomy as it was when the historic 2015 Paris climate accord was signed…But they caution that impacts of warming already are hitting Earth harder than scientists predicted. And they say the use of coal, oil and natural gas that fuels climate change is not dropping as much as needed, despite cheaper renewable energy.” The Independent’s climate correspondent Daisy Dunne examines whether the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C goal is still in reach and quotes Carbon Brief’s new analysis by Dr Zeke Hausfather in which he says: “If we had to give a best estimate for when the latest models think we will pass 1.5C, it’s probably around 2032.” Dunne also speaks to a range of “scientists, politicians and activists” for the Independent asking them “what needs to happen in the next five year to tackle the climate crisis”. The Independent’s Louise Boyle also has a Q&A looking at the Paris Agreement.
Meanwhile, Climate Home News carries a comment piece by Agripina Jenkins Rojas, who was part of the Costa Rican delegation at COP21 five years ago. She writes: “The spirit of the Paris Agreement and a commitment to continue to raise ambition needs to be respected. That way, my daughter will one day know that the implementation of the deal was a decision made by us to prioritise the well-being of her generation, of the one before her and of all those that will follow.” The Guardian’s Australia editor Katharine Murphy remarks on Scott Morrison’s snub by not receiving an invitation to speak at the UN event this weekend: “As far as I’m concerned, this prime minister will get due acknowledgement when he earns it – when he does something substantial to change the Coalition’s rancid, partisan, post-truth brinkmanship on climate politics, not when he makes tentative noises about perhaps doing something.” The Independent has a comment piece by Ugandan climate justice campaigner Vanessa Nakate in which she says: “Vague, distant targets for 2030 or 2050 will not keep the world ‘well below 2C’ of warming as the Paris Agreement promised. I can tell you, a 2C hotter world is a death sentence for countries like mine.” Finally, the journal Climate Policy has a “viewpoint” co-written by the three former UNFCCC leaders Christiana Figueres, Yvo de Boer and Michael Zammit Cutajar. They write: “We recommend the establishment of a 2030 interim target, reflecting the scientific finding that, in order to have a good chance of not exceeding the 1.5C temperature increase threshold, a halving of net CO2 emissions by 2030 (from 2010 levels) is needed. This would provide an important medium-term milestone in tracking progress towards net-zero, which could be assessed at the 2033 global stocktake.”
“The battle against climate change will require a combination of sacrifices, trade-offs and proactive steps by all,” says a Financial Times editorial, commenting on the advice published by the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) last week. [See Carbon Brief’s in-depth coverage.] It continues: “So far, efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions have largely left our energy-hungry daily routines unchanged…[But] it has become clear that if we are to make significant and rapid progress towards meeting climate change goals, lifestyles will have to change.” The scale of the changes required “are such that it will require major investment”, the FT says, noting that “fossil fuels are woven into the fabric of many societies”. In addition, “governments also have to be clear on their priorities – and underpin these with consistent political messaging”, the editorial says, noting: “Yet, as campaigners have pointed out, Mr Johnson’s green vision sits at odds with plans confirmed by chancellor Rishi Sunak last month to press ahead with a £27bn road-building programme.” Governments everywhere “will need to consider how to balance commitments to reducing emissions with that of helping their economies recover from the consequences of the pandemic”, the article concludes: “Governments everywhere will need to consider how to balance commitments to reducing emissions with that of helping their economies recover from the consequences of the pandemic.”
Also in the FT, Adair Turner – chair of the Energy Transitions Commission and former chair of the CCC – writes that the estimated costs for reducing greenhouse gas emissions have “collapsed”. He says: “The estimates keep dropping because key technologies keep getting cheaper. Solar electricity costs have fallen 80% in 10 years, and even more in favourable locations such as India and the Middle East. Wind costs are down around 60%, and batteries are 85% cheaper.” By the 2050s, the transition to a zero-carbon economy “will have increased living standards in most countries, even before allowing for the benefits of avoided climate change and reduced local pollution”, he writes: “Over the long term, humanity does not face a trade-off but a clear win-win.” A business leader column in the Observer makes a similar point, noting that the CCC report “brings to heel the two most pervasive myths that climate deniers have set to stalk Britain’s climate ambitions. The first is a menacing right-wing imagining of economic hardship in which the ‘eye-watering costs’ of green investment collide with a slowdown in productivity and growth. This is a fallacy easily disproved.” The second myth is that the “future of climate action will be worse than what we have known, coupled with uncertainty over the correct path to take and doubt over whether it will make a difference anyway”. The article explains: “The committee puts paid to these doubts by setting out the steps to be taken and exactly how they will make a difference…Under the new lore of net-zero, Britain’s future will be brighter and greener.”
In the Guardian, Matthew Pennycook – shadow minister for climate change – warns that the benefits of net-zero “will only materialise if the government delivers on its promises”. He writes: “To judge solely on the basis of Boris Johnson’s rhetoric, one would be forgiven for thinking the government he leads is firmly on track to net-zero. Yet as things stand, not only is it way off track to meet the legally binding target, but the government’s own projections indicate that it’s not even on track to meet the less ambitious one that preceded it.” Finally, writing in the Spectator, James Kirkup – director of the Social Market Foundation – uses the example of a potential new battery “gigaplant” in Blyth in Northumberland to warn that “though I’m in favour of net-zero and decarbonisation, I do worry that the political case for them is sometimes being sold on promises of economic gain that will not always deliver tangible benefits to the voters whose consent for low-carbon policies will always be needed”.
New research uses climate models to investigate future changes in “wet bulb temperature” – a measure combining temperature and humidity that can be useful for investigating humid heat. The study finds that extremes of both temperature and wet bulb temperature will become more frequent as the climate warms – especially over the tropics. However, humid heat events are likely to become more frequent, intense and long-lasting than dry heat events, as wet bulb temperature is particularly sensitive to global warming, the authors say.
A new modelling study investigates the impact of solar geoengineering on the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) by carrying out a 1,000-year-long simulation. The authors find that simulating a 4% drop in solar irradiance causes extreme El Niño events to become more frequent but less intense than their pre-industrial state, while extreme La Niña events become more frequent and more intense. The study estimates that the frequency of extreme El Niño and La Niña events would increase by around 60% and 30%, respectively.