Today's climate and energy headlines:
- World leaders in ten-point pledge to save the planet
- Global warming driving California wildfire trends – study
- Poland agrees coal mining phase out with unions by 2049
- Young people resume global climate strikes calling for urgent action
- Xi just radically changed the fight against climate change
- What's in Boris Johnson's climate in-tray?
- Pakistan’s most terrifying adversary is climate change
- Intensified burn severity in California's northern coastal mountains by drier climatic condition
- Fossil fuel–fired power plant operations under a changing climate
The Times reports that “world leaders including Boris Johnson have vowed to address pollution and plastic in the seas by 2050 in a strategy to halt the destruction of the planet”. It adds: “The ten-point pledge agreed by governments and the European Union also includes a renewed effort to reduce deforestation, environmentally harmful fishing practices and switch to sustainable food production systems. President Macron of France and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, are among 64 leaders who have pledged their support for the reforms.” The Guardian also covers the news – on its frontpage – saying: “Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Jacinda Ardern and Boris Johnson are among 64 leaders from five continents warning that humanity is in a state of planetary emergency due to the climate crisis and the rampant destruction of life-sustaining ecosystems…All signatories to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, launched virtually in New York on Monday, have committed to putting wildlife and the climate at the heart of post-pandemic economic recovery plans, promising to address the climate crisis, deforestation, ecosystem degradation and pollution. The announcement comes ahead of a major UN biodiversity summit on Wednesday, which will be hosted virtually from New York, and part way through negotiations on a Paris-style international agreement on nature.” Associated Press, via the Washington Post, says that “in a year of cataclysm, some world leaders at this week’s annual United Nations meeting are taking the long view, warning: If Covid-19 doesn’t kill us, climate change will”. Focusing on the UK’s commitment, BBC News says “an extra 400,000 hectares of English countryside will be protected to support the recovery of nature under plans to be announced by Boris Johnson”. Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environment analyst, says: “World leaders have often come together to strike deals over climate change, but a top level commitment on nature is much more rare. Environmentalists are delighted – they say nature is in freefall and urgently needs protection as roads, railways, housing and farmland cover the Earth.”
BBC News covers new analysis showing that climate change is driving the scale and impact of recent wildfires that have raged in California. The news outlet adds that the UK-based scientists who undertook the analysis found that there is an “unequivocal and pervasive” role for global heating in boosting the conditions for fire: “California now has greater exposure to fire risks than before humans started altering the climate, the authors say. Land management issues, touted by president Donald Trump as a key cause, can’t by themselves explain the recent infernos.” Meanwhile, the Washington Post covers a a new peer-reviewed study in the American Meteorological Society’s “Journal of Climate”, which shows “the probability has increased for future storm generation off the North American coast”. It adds: “The results ‘show an increase in both the frequency and severity of tropical cyclones, robust across the models downscaled, in response to increasing greenhouse gases,’ the study says, noting a particularly strong increase off the coast of North America.” The Guardian says that this weekend “California [was] bracing for another dangerously warm weekend, with dry winds, parched vegetation, and triple-digit temperatures threatening to ignite new fires and complicating containment efforts in an embattled state”.
In coverage of other new studies, ABC News has published an Inside Science story about a paper in the journal Science showing that “future marine heat waves will intensify and occur much more frequently as a direct result of anthropogenic climate change”. The New York Times says the study shows that human-caused global warming had made recent marine heatwaves it studied at least 20 times more likely. Separately, the Independent reports on the “zombie fires” in Siberia, which environmentalists are describing as a “climate bomb” – peat fires that are near-impossible to extinguish.
The Polish government and trade union representatives have agreed to phase out coal mining by 2049, reports Climate Home News. it adds: “The agreement was struck on Friday in the city Katowice, in the coal-rich southern region of Silesia, following several days of negotiations. It comes after hundreds of miners joined strikes this week by staying underground after their shifts in protest against threatened mine closures. This the first time Poland has put a timeline on ending coal, which accounts for around 75% of the country’s electricity generation.” EurActiv describes the deal as a “landmark plan”: “The agreement puts Poland on track to meeting European Union climate targets. Warsaw had previously rejected the existing EU target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, arguing it needed more time to make the transition. It also expressed concern last week over a proposal by EU chief Ursula von der Leyen to raise the bloc’s 2030 target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from 40 to 55%. Dependant on coal for 80% of its power needs, Poland ranks among the EU members most reliant on the fossil fuel and there are still 80,000 coal miners who fear for their livelihoods. But their unions agreed to a government plan that would see the coal sector survive on subsidies until 2049, when the last mine would be shut.” Reuters says “the coronavirus crisis, coupled with EU climate policies, has pushed Warsaw to take more decisive steps over the loss-making sector”. Politico says that the coal deal is “part of a green shift that’s delighting many in Brussels”. While climate standards are a factor, economic concerns were central to the shift, Poland’s climate minister Michał Kurtyka told the online publication. He said such a shift was “unavoidable”, adding: “We are going to create a zero-emissions energy system for the future centered on offshore wind, nuclear and decentralised energy.”
In other coal news, Deutsche Welle reports that around 150 climate activists entered the Garzweiler II brown coal mine in western Germany on Saturday: “Some protesters broke into the surface mine’s coal storage facilities, according to police and utility company RWE, which operates the mine. Others targeted two gas power stations in the region. Protesters said they are angry about the continued extraction and use of fossil fuels by Europe’s largest economy. According to the activists, the German government’s decision to allow the mining and burning of coal in the country until 2038 is too late to effectively tackle climate change.” Associated Press also covers the story. Meanwhile, Reuters says that “Siemens Energy is working on plans to exit technologies tied to coal-fired power stations”.
In Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that “Australia’s coal miners are headed for a $17bn collapse in export earnings this year as the shock of the coronavirus crisis persists and more Asian power utilities switch from coal to gas”. Kenya’s Business Daily reveals that “General Electric abandons Lamu coal power plant deal in policy shift”. The proposed $2bn coal plant on Kenya’s coast has been controversial since General Electric struck a deal in 2018 to design and build it. Business Daily adds: “American conglomerate General Electric will walk away from an agreement to build Lamu’s 1,050-megawatt coal-fired power plant as it shifts to renewable energy.”
In the UK, the Times reports that “deep coal mining is on course to return to Britain five years after the last pit shut”. It adds: “Planning officials at Cumbria county council have recommended approving a £160m mine that would create 500 jobs and end the country’s dependence on the US for imports of coking coal to make steel…The application presents a dilemma for Boris Johnson because he wants to position the UK as a global leader on tackling climate change. However, he is also under pressure from Conservative MPs in Cumbria, including his parliamentary private secretary, Trudy Harrison, to support the mine.” The Daily Telegraph says Cumbria council has agreed that the £165m mine can open on the condition it’s closed by 2049 – a “year before the UK’s carbon neutral deadline”. The newspaper quotes Prof John Barrett, a professor in energy and climate policy at the University of Leeds: “Clearly they don’t understand climate change. It’s the total emissions released that counts, not where we end up in 2050!”
Last Friday saw the resumption of demonstrations around the world by the Fridays For Future and the youth climate movement, reports the Guardian. The newspaper says: “Social distancing and other Covid-19 control measures dampened the protests, but thousands of activists posted on social media and took to the streets to protest against the lack of climate action from world leaders. Strikes were scheduled in at least 3,500 locations around the globe…Greta Thunberg led a strike in Sweden, which was limited to 50 people by the country’s lockdown laws – ‘so we adapt’, she tweeted, with a picture showing strikers more than two metres apart. The day of action also marked the 110th week of her own school strike, which began in August 2018.” Reuters says it was “their first global protest since the coronavirus crisis began”, adding: “A year ago, two global strikes drew more than six million people pour onto the streets, in what organisers said was the biggest climate mobilisation in history. For Friday’s protests, participants were asked to post pictures on social media and join a 24-hour global Zoom call.” Climate Home News has published the views of three youth activists explaining why they are striking for climate justice.
There is continuing reaction and analysis of China’s surprise pledge, made last week by president Xi Jinping, to reach “carbon neutrality” by 2060. Writing in Foreign Policy magazine, Prof Adam Tooze, director of the European Institute at Columbia University, says that Xi’s promise to the world “may have redefined the future prospects for humanity”. He adds: “That may sound like hyperbole, but in the world of climate politics it is hard to exaggerate China’s centrality.” However, he adds: “There are reasons to be skeptical. Xi is not promising an immediate turnaround. The peak will still be expected around 2030. Recent investments in new coal-fired capacity have been alarming…But as ambitious as the objective may be, Xi would not be making such an announcement lightly. Within China, his words have huge weight.”
In the Guardian, energy correspondent Jillian Ambrose argues that China’s move “sends a pointed geopolitical message to the US”, adding: “China offered no details of how it would achieve the ambitious carbon-neutral target, but the action required would set in motion powerful geopolitical and economic shifts which hold important implications for the future of fossil fuels, low-carbon technologies and climate diplomacy.” AFP says “the direction of travel for now still points to an energy future dominated by coal”. Akshat Rathi writing for Bloomberg says: “Every new country that joins this carbon-neutral group puts more pressure on holdouts to align their policies with global goals. Two of the biggest economies remain outside of the consensus: India, at number six, and the national US economy that remains the largest by size and historical contribution to warming.” Also in Bloomberg, Andrew Browne writes: “At the very least, it signals a profound rethinking of how China sees its global responsibilities on carbon emissions. The days when it tried to catch a break on climate change by asserting its status as a developing country are over.”
Roger Harrabin, BBC News’s environment analyst, observes that “the UK has been steadily slipping from its climate targets”. He adds: “It’s consistently promised tougher policies for the future, but for a few years, Britain’s long-term climate strategy has lain buried in fog. We know the net-zero carbon destination point, but we can’t yet see how the government intends to get there…In previous years, climate policy was typically held up in different government departments. But environmentalists say key policies are now stuck in a Downing Street logjam awaiting sign-off from the prime minister himself.” Harrabin then walks through a range if items in the prime minister’s “climate in-tray”, including the infrastructure strategy, transport decarbonisation plan, heat and buildings strategy and energy white paper.
Separately, BBC News carries a feature by chief environment correspondent Justin Rowlatt on whether “we too anxious about the risks of [nuclear] radiation”. He asks: “Is it time to reassess our attitude to nuclear power?”…Despite the popular anxiety about this form of energy, it’s hard to see how the UK government can meet its carbon reduction targets without new nuclear. Not least because decarbonising transport and home heating will involve a massive increase in electricity demand.”
In the Times, economics editor and an economics columnist Philip Aldrick writes: “Britain has carbon taxes, like fuel duty, but they are inconsistent…Consistent carbon taxes would raise about £30bn of extra revenue for the state, which the government should direct at green projects but the public will face higher bills. Getting started early would ease the pain. Changing incentives would also spur on the hydrogen revolution that so fascinates the prime minister, as well as the carbon capture industry we desperately need. Even when we hit net zero, costs will remain. The annual bill for carbon capture will be £20bn, the Committee on Climate Change estimates. All of which will ultimately be charged to consumers. This is not a story of whizzy new tech Mr Johnson likes to sell. But it is what needs to happen to give the UK a chance of delivering its promise.”
In the New York Times, novelist Fatima Bhutto asks why her country “debates women’s honour inexhaustibly but pays little attention to the ferocious and imminent dangers of climate disasters”. She continues: “Pakistan’s current government is speaking about climate change, but it is a conversation that has come too late, unaccompanied by serious action…Karachi’s rainfall, like the rising temperatures, is a consequence of the raging climate war. We have sat by and watched how cities die: slowly. We didn’t watch closely enough when the villages sank and struggled. But it is clear now that this is how a planet burns, one fire at a time, one degree hotter until eventually all that remains will be the chalky bones.” Meanwhile, the Independent has published reportage by Saiyna Bashir from Pakistan flood-stricken regions: “The effects of climate change are being increasingly felt in Sindh, and they are taking a particularly heavy toll on these communities of subsistence farmers, nomadic tribes, as well as on those living in urban slums. Urgent assistance is required now.”
California’s northern coastal mountains have seen increasing severe wildfires since the 1980s, a new study says. To look at changes to burn severity in the mountains, the researchers studied high-resolution satellite imagery spanning 1984-2017. The authors say: “These results suggest that relative importance of drivers for burn severity in the broader domain of California’s northern coastal mountains varied with weather scenarios, especially when exacerbated by warm and extended drought.”
Climate change is “unlikely to seriously threaten capacity and efficiency at power plants at most locations” – provided sufficient air con is used, a new study concludes. The study uses a power plant modelling tool to study how a variety of power plant configurations respond to varying meteorological conditions and how US coal and gas power plants might respond to climate change by 2050. The findings “underscore the importance of incorporating climate factors into the electric power system’s design and planning”, the authors say.
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