Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Xie Zhenhua: Welcomes the US’s return to the Paris Agreement, looks forward to seeing it catch up and showing leadership
- Top central banks identify nine ways to make their policies greener
- US EPA to review attacks on science under Trump
- One of Earth’s giant carbon sinks may have been overestimated – study
- Covid response to overshadow climate and industry at EU summit talks
- UK: Government climate leadership under fire over North Sea energy transition
- UK: World's largest floating offshore wind farms set to be built along the Welsh coastline
- Rising risk of wildfires across UK from climate crisis, scientists warn
- Labour to outline plan to spark electric car 'revolution' across UK
- With Britain’s aid budget cut, COP26 is doomed
- The effect of climate change on indicators of fire danger in the UK
- A trade-off between plant and soil carbon storage under elevated CO2
- The tipping points and early warning indicators for Pine Island Glacier, West Antarctica
During a virtual conference on Tuesday, China’s special envoy on climate change Xie Zhenhua said he welcomes the US’s return to the Paris Agreement and looks forward to seeing it “catch up and show leadership”, according to state-run Chinese news agency China News Service. Xie was speaking during the 5th Ministerial for Climate Action, co-hosted by China, EU and Canada, it says. Huang Runqiu, China’s minister of ecology and environment, co-chaired the conference, according to Shanghai Securities News. Huang said that China would implement “effective policies and measures” to formulate a climate action plan and enforce “firm targets” to control CO2 emissions, reports the newspaper, which is run by state news agency Xinhua. Also reporting on the conference, People’s Daily Online, the official news outlet of China’s Communist party, focuses on Huang’s quote that says the 14th five-year plan period is the “key period” for China to realise its twin goals of peaking emissions by 2030 and “carbon neutrality” by 2060.
Meanwhile, Economic Daily, a Communist party paper run by China’s State Council, reports a study that says all of China’s coal-fired units will be expected to retire by 2060. The paper was released by the Beijing-based Global Energy Interconnection Development and Cooperation Organization. The study is also picked up by the People’s Political Consultative Daily, the newspaper published by the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. The report says the study provides a “Chinese plan” for reaching its climate goals. Two other state-run outlets, chinanews.com and CCT
Elsewhere in the Chinese-language media, Yi Gang, governor of the People’s Bank of China, has said that China’s “dual carbon” goals would be “costly” and in need of market capital, reports Beijing Business Today, a state-supervised paper. Finally, an English report by state-run tabloid Global Times says that Shanghai and Hubei are making the “last push” to complete the building of the national Emissions Trading Scheme for its scheduled launch by the end of June.
The world’s largest central banks have identified ways they could use monetary policy to tackle climate risks, the Financial Times says, citing a new report. The options, including “greener asset purchases and climate-related lending schemes”, are set out by the Network for Greening the Financial System, the paper says, calling the body “a group of 89 central banks and financial supervisors formed to support the Paris climate goals”. The FT describes one option as central banks directing their corporate asset purchases by “screening out the assets, issuers or sectors that produce the most carbon emissions, such as coal-fired power stations”. The Wall Street Journal says the report “warns” that “climate change [is] a risk to monetary policy execution”. The paper quotes the report saying: “[U]nder all possible scenarios, climate-related risks will have consequences for the economic outlook, for the financial system in which central banks operate and, thus, for the conduct of monetary policy.” Reuters calls the report “cautious” and says it warns of “costly drawbacks” to the potential central bank interventions. It says the network behind the report includes the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan. Reuters adds: “[The network] found that all the options on the table either hinder monetary policy effectiveness, increase risk or run into operational feasibility constraints. The group has so far failed to reach a consensus on policy action and instead recommended small initial steps.” Explaining the lack of consensus, the newswire says: “There has been some disagreement among central bankers about how far they should go to fight climate change. ECB president Christine Lagarde along with former Bank of England chief Mark Carney have advocated central bank action on climate change, but Fed and Bundesbank officials have a taken more cautious stance.”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that Sweden’s Riksbank, “the world’s oldest central bank, warned on Wednesday that rising temperatures mean monetary policy can’t ignore the fallout of carbon emissions”. It quotes the bank’s annual statement saying: “If climate change increases the risk of catastrophe, makes economic developments more uncertain and worsens growth prospects, it may lead to a lower long-term real interest rate.” BusinessGreen carries a comment by Alison Rose, chief executive of UK banking firm NatWest Group, who writes under the headline: “Banks have a key role to play in net-zero – but there are no quick-fix solutions.”
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to carry out a review of political interference in science, the New York Times reports, adding that “Biden administration officials said [this] was needed to restore trust in the agency’s decisions”. The Hill also reports the story.
Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Hill report that Democratic senators are considering use of the Congressional Review Act to roll back a Trump administration rule that lifted Obama era climate rules on methane and limited the EPA’s ability to regulate the gas. The New York Times explains: “Under the Congressional Review Act, any regulation finalised within 60 legislative days of the end of a presidential term can be overturned with a simple majority vote in the Senate.” The Washington Post reports that the US Department of Transportation has “moved…to undo key deregulatory actions by the Trump administration, an overhaul that department officials said was necessary to address challenges that include climate change”.
In other US news, DeSmog reports the findings of a new poll which shows, it says, that “Americans support the steps taken by the Biden administration thus far to tackle climate change by large margins”. The Times uses its graphical “World at Five” feature to look at Biden’s plans for tackling climate change in a piece that reports: “Polls have shown consistently that the number of Americans worried about the climate is growing.” The article, which is headlined “President Biden faces gathering storms over his environment policies”, adds that: “Republicans have enough seats in the Senate to block sweeping environmental legislation, which would require 60 of the 100 votes. They might also try to scuttle the stealth climate measures in the $3tn infrastructure spending package that Democrats are expected to unveil.” Elsewhere, the Washington Post carries a letter from Paul Bledsoe, who served on a Clinton-era White House climate taskforce, and writes that the “costs to businesses and especially federal taxpayers [of extreme weather events last year] are far higher when all climate impacts are considered”. He adds: “It is time for the government to come clean about the true annual costs of climate change to all segments of society, including taxpayers, with detailed annual reports on the topic required to be submitted to Congress by the appropriate federal agencies. Only then will the costs of climate change become clear and will full pressure be exerted on Congress to act to cut the greenhouse emissions that are the ultimate source of the problem.” Finally, the Hill reports that 14 states have sued the Biden administration over its decision to pause leasing of public lands for oil and gas drilling. The Hill also reports that the Senate has confirmed David Turk as deputy energy secretary.
The potential of soils to soak up carbon dioxide and slow warming “may have been overestimated”, the Guardian says, reporting the findings of a new study. The paper explains: “Soils and the plants that grow in them absorb about a third of the carbon emissions that drive the climate crisis, partly limiting the impact of fossil-fuel burning. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere can increase plant growth and, until now, it was assumed carbon storage in soils would increase too. But the study, based on over 100 experiments, found the opposite. When plant growth increases, soil carbon does not.” The Guardian adds: “It is not yet known how big the effect of lower carbon storage in soils might be on the speed of climate change, and experts cautioned that other impacts of the climate emergency such as drought would also affect how well plants and soils store carbon.”
The ongoing Covid crisis and delays to the EU vaccination campaign are expected to “overshadow talks on how to align industrial policy with the EU’s climate goals at an EU summit meeting on Thursday”, EurActiv reports. It adds: “Campaigners hoped this meeting would be the moment to align industry and climate policy, but while European leaders will exchange views on the single market, industrial policy and competition policy, the Commission’s industrial strategy, which should have been released prior to the meeting, has been delayed until the end of April.” Energy Monitor carries the views of Pascal Canfiin, chair of the European Parliament’s environment committee, reporting: “[He] says the EU failed ten years ago to connect the climate crisis to recovery from the financial crisis, but insists it will not fail for Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, a comment for EurActiv by María Mendiluce, chief executive of the We Mean Business Coalition, says “Europe’s role must be to lead the world out of coal for good”. She adds: “For Europe, this is a huge opportunity to showcase its leadership on climate action by accelerating the global coal phase-out. Today, 15 European countries have committed to completely phasing out coal power and three have already become coal power-free.” Energy Monitor reports on Poland under the headline: “Poland sows the seeds of a post-Covid future beyond coal.” The website reports: “According to an analysis of six different countries, Poland has invested the greatest share (82.3%) of post-Covid-19 energy and climate-relevant spend in clean energy, rather than fossil fuels. That compares with 60.6% for Germany and just 34.0% for the UK.” However, Energy Monitor also quotes Joanna Flisowska, head of climate and energy at Greenpeace in Poland, who it says is “sceptical of Poland’s green recovery efforts”.
Finally, in other EU news, EurActiv reports that the environment ministers of Czechia, Poland and Bulgaria have criticised the “do no significant harm” principle governing EU Covid recovery spending that, the website says, “de facto excludes oil and coal from funding”. A second EurActiv piece says seven EU leaders including French president Emmanuel Macron are, the website reports: “call[ing] on the European Commission to stop hindering nuclear power and consider ways of bringing atomic energy into the EU’s green finance rule book”. The piece quotes a letter from the leaders saying: “We are convinced that all available zero and low-emission technologies that contribute to climate neutrality … should not only be recognised but also actively supported by the European Union…This is especially valid for nuclear power, whose development is one of the primary objectives of the Treaty establishing the Euratom Community, obliging EU institutions to promote it.”
There is continuing coverage of reaction to the UK government’s “North Sea Transition Deal”, with the Press Association reporting it “has been welcomed by the oil and gas industry but criticised by green groups”. The newswire adds: “The industry welcomed the deal, saying it secures energy supplies and jobs, but it swiftly came under fire from environmental groups, which pointed to Denmark and Ireland’s moves to bring an end to new drilling licences.” The Scotsman reports that the deal has been “broadly welcomed by industry leaders”. Bloomberg reports that the UK government had “refused to rule out” eventually following the lead of Denmark, citing comments by energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who it quotes saying: “In due course we might [introduce a ban]…We’ve taken the view that at this point on the journey to net-zero, we want to invest in the sector, make sure that we can work with them.” Bloomberg notes that the deal’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the North Sea are less ambitious than the central pathway in recent advice from the government’s statutory Climate Change Committee. BusinessGreen and DeSmog UK also carry reaction to the deal. The Scotsman carries a comment piece by Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, who says the “North Sea oil industry must get a just transition away from fossil fuels to avoid [the] fate of [the] Central Belt’s ex-mining communities”.
New licences are to be issued for the building of floating offshore windfarms off the coast of Wales, reports the i newspaper. The process will be run by the Crown Estate, which manages seabed development on behalf of the Queen, the paper explains, adding that the licences would contribute to the UK’s aim of having 1 gigawatt of floating offshore wind capacity operating by 2030. The Crown Estate has said the leasing process would focus on projects of around 0.3GW, Reuters reports, adding that this would be “up to three times larger than any rights previously awarded to floating wind in Britain”. City AM and BusinessGreen also have the story. Separately, BusinessGreen reports that some £60bn is set to be invested in the UK offshore wind industry between now and 2026. The figure comes in new research from the Offshore Wind Industry Council, it adds.
In related news, the Guardian reports that the Scottish government “is in line for a windfall of up to £860m” from an upcoming auction of offshore windfarm plots. The paper says the Crown Estate Scotland has lifted a cap on bids from £10,000 to £100,000 per square km, in an auction for 8,600sqkm of seabed.
Wildfires could become much more common in the UK unless greenhouse gas emissions are curbed, says the Press Association via the Guardian, reporting new research from the University of Reading. The study found that conditions of “exceptional danger” could be seen on “up to several days a year by 2080” in parts of the country, whereas they currently occur only once every 50-100 years. The newswire adds: “The findings highlight the importance of taking the threat of wildfires – which can pose environmental, health and economic risks – seriously in the UK, as the problem is likely to grow.” New Scientist reports the findings and says they have led researchers to “warn that planning rules may need to block the building of new homes in fire-prone areas”. It adds: “A scenario in which the world cuts carbon emissions significantly was found to reduce the increase in future [UK] fire danger, but not eliminate it.” In the Conversation, study author Prof Nigel Arnell explains how the team calculated the increase in wildfire risk. He explains: “Colleagues and I recently estimated this by combining our version of the fire danger model used by the Met Office with the latest climate projections. The fire danger model indexes danger using temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind and evaporation to estimate how much dry material is available to burn and whether a fire will spread.”
The UK’s opposition Labour party has called for interest-free government loans to help “up to a million households buy electric cars over the next two years”, the Guardian reports. It says shadow business secretary Ed Miliband will use a speech today to call for the measure as part of plans for an “electric car revolution”, including government finance to support “three more gigafactories by 2025 to build the batteries for electric vehicles”. The Press Association via Yahoo News, the Mirror, Sky News and the Independent all have the story. [The next general election in the UK is scheduled for 2024.]
The Conservative UK government’s decision to “slash” the budget for overseas aid “has dealt a potentially lethal blow not only to the thousands, including in Yemen, who depend upon this aid for survival – but to the UK’s hopes for a successful COP26”, writes Neil Parish, Conservative MP and chair of parliament’s environment committee, in a piece for the Times Red Box. Parish writes: “COP26 and our reputation are on the line because one of the main tasks of the presidency is raising finance to tackle climate change. In 2009, developed countries promised to raise at least $100bn in climate finance to the developing world. The COP26 president Alok Sharma has made this one of his priority diplomatic issues, urging all donor countries to step up efforts towards this target. But no nation will listen when we’re reducing our overseas aid.” He continues: “It’s true that the government has pledged to protect its commitment to double international spending on climate change. However, pointing to this promise in order to assert that the UK is ‘leading by example’ completely misses the point. The chancellor has defended the cut by arguing that public finances are straining with Covid-19. Yet the countries we’re asking to increase climate finance are facing an identical fiscal environment, so they can give the exact same excuse for not doing so.”
New research investigates wildlife risk in the UK under future climate change. Using data from the UK Climate Projections 2018 (UKCP18), the researchers find that “fire danger will increase across the whole of the UK” – driven by increasing temperatures and reductions in relative humidity. The absolute danger now and in the future is greatest in the south and east, the study finds, noting that “the average number of danger days increases three-to-four times by the 2080s”. The authors note that “reducing emissions to levels consistent with achieving international climate policy targets significantly reduces, but does not eliminate, the increase in fire danger”. For more on UKCP18, see Carbon Brief’s Q&A.
There is a “trade-off” between the effects of rising atmospheric CO2 levels on plant biomass and on stocks of soil carbon, a new study suggests. Using data from more than 100 elevated CO2 experiments, the researchers find that the effect of elevated CO2 on soil carbon is “best explained by a negative relationship with plant biomass”. That is, when plant biomass is strongly stimulated by elevated CO2, soil carbon storage declines, and when biomass is weakly stimulated, soil carbon storage increases. Overall, the researchers finds that soil carbon stocks increase with elevate CO2 in grasslands, but not in forests. An accompanying News & Views notes that the findings are “contrary to the assumptions encoded in most computational models of terrestrial ecosystems”, which “assume that rising levels of atmospheric CO2 will increase plant growth, thus producing more plant litter and thereby increasing stocks of soil carbon”.
Researchers have identified “three distinct tipping points” in how the Pine Island glacier in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet responds to ocean warming. Conducting a systematic investigation of the stability of the glacier, the study shows that “early warning indicators in model simulations robustly detect the onset of the marine ice sheet instability”. The “third and final event, triggered by an ocean warming of approximately 1.2C…leads to a retreat of the entire glacier that could initiate a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet”, the authors conclude. For more on climate tipping points, see Carbon Brief‘s in-depth explainer and guest post on the West Antarctic ice sheet.
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