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By Justin Rowlatt
Chief environment correspondent

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image captionThe world is not on track to meet its goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C

Countries only have only a limited time in which to act if the world is to stave off the worst effects of climate change. Here are five reasons why 2021 could be a crucial year in the fight against global warming.

Covid-19 was the big issue of 2020, there is no question about that.

But I’m hoping that, by the end of 2021, the vaccines will have kicked in and we’ll be talking more about climate than the coronavirus.

2021 will certainly be a crunch year for tackling climate change.

Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General, told me he thinks it is a “make or break” moment for the issue.

So, in the spirit of New Year’s optimism, here’s why I believe 2021 could confound the doomsters and see a breakthrough in global ambition on climate.

  • Have countries kept their climate change promises?

  • Snowy UK winters could become thing of the past
  • How hot could it get where you live?

1. The crucial climate conference

In November 2021, world leaders will be gathering in Glasgow for the successor to the landmark Paris meeting of 2015.

Paris was important because it was the first time virtually all the nations of the world came together to agree they all needed to help tackle the issue.

The problem was the commitments countries made to cutting carbon emissions back then fell way short of the targets set by the conference.

In Paris, the world agreed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change by trying to limit global temperature increases to 2C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. The aim was to keep the rise to 1.5C if at all possible.

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We are way off track. On current plans the world is expected to breach the 1.5C ceiling within 12 years or less and to hit 3C of warming by the end of the century.

Under the terms of the Paris deal, countries promised to come back every five years and raise their carbon-cutting ambitions. That was due to happen in Glasgow in November 2020.

The pandemic put paid to that and the conference was bumped forward to this year.

So, Glasgow 2021 gives us a forum at which those carbon cuts can be ratcheted up.

2. Countries are already signing up to deep carbon cuts

And there has already been progress.

The most important announcement on climate change last year came completely out of the blue.

At the UN General Assembly in September, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060.

Environmentalists were stunned. Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth – responsible for some 28% of world emissions – making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead.

That was a complete turnaround from past negotiations, when everyone’s fear was that they might end up incurring the cost of decarbonising their own economy, while others did nothing but still enjoyed the climate change fruits of their labour.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionChina is responsible for around 28% of global greenhouse gas emissions

The UK was the first major economy in the world to make a legally binding net zero commitment in June 2019. The European Union followed suit in March 2020.

Since then, Japan and South Korea have joined what the UN estimates is now a total of over 110 countries that have set net zero target for mid-century. Together, they represent more than 65% of global emissions and more than 70% of the world economy, the UN says.

With the election of Joe Biden in the United States, the biggest economy in the world has now re-joined the carbon cutting chorus.

These countries now need to detail how they plan to achieve their lofty new aspirations – that will be a key part of the agenda for Glasgow – but the fact that they are already saying they want to get there is a very significant change.

3. Renewables are now the cheapest energy ever

There is a good reason why so many countries are now saying they plan to go net zero: the collapsing cost of renewables is completely changing the calculus of decarbonisation.

In October 2020, the International Energy Agency, an intergovernmental organisation, concluded that the best solar power schemes now offer “the cheapest source of electricity in history”.

Renewables are already often cheaper than fossil fuel power in much of the world when it comes to building new power stations.

And, if the nations of the world ramp up their investments in wind, solar and batteries in the next few years, prices are likely to fall even further to a point where they are so cheap it will begin to make commercial sense to shut down and replace existing coal and gas power stations.

That is because the cost of renewables follows the logic of all manufacturing – the more you produce, the cheaper it gets. It’s like pushing on an open door – the more you build the cheaper it gets and the cheaper it gets the more you build.

Think what this means: investors won’t need to be bullied by green activists into doing the right thing, they will just follow the money. And governments know that by scaling up renewables in their own economies, they help to accelerate the energy transition globally, by making renewables even cheaper and more competitive everywhere.

image copyrightEPA

4. Covid changes everything

The coronavirus pandemic has shaken our sense of invulnerability and reminded us that it is possible for our world to be upended in ways we cannot control.

It has also delivered the most significant economic shock since the Great Depression.

In response, governments are stepping forward with stimulus packages designed to reboot their economies.

And the good news is it has rarely – if ever – been cheaper for governments to make these kind of investments. Around the world, interest rates are hovering around zero, or even negative.

This creates an unprecedented opportunity to – in the now familiar phrase – “build back better”.

The European Union and Joe Biden’s new administration in the US have promised trillions of dollars of green investments to get their economies going and kick-start the process of decarbonisation.

Both are saying they hope other countries will join them – helping drive down the cost of renewables globally. But they are also warning that alongside this carrot, they plan to wield a stick – a tax on imports of countries that emit too much carbon.

The idea is this may help induce carbon-cutting laggards – like Brazil, Russia, Australia and Saudi Arabia – to come onside too.

The bad news is that, according to the UN, developed nations are spending 50% more on sectors linked to fossil fuels than on low-carbon energy.

5. Business is going green too

The falling cost of renewable and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business.

There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life?

Indeed, why carry carbon risk in their portfolios at all?

The logic is already playing out in the markets. This year alone, Tesla’s rocketing share price has made it the world’s most valuable car company.

Meanwhile, the share price of Exxon – once the world’s most valuable company of any kind – fell so far that it got booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of major US corporations.

At the same time there is growing momentum behind the movement to get businesses to embed climate risk into their financial decision making.

The aim is to make it mandatory for businesses and investors to show that their activities and investments are making the necessary steps to transition to a net zero world.

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Seventy central banks are already working to make this happen, and building these requirements into the world’s financial architecture will be a key focus for the Glasgow conference.

It is still all to play for.

So, there is good reason for hope but it is far from a done deal.

To stand a reasonable chance of hitting the 1.5C target we need to halve total emissions by the end of 2030, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the UN-backed body that collates the science needed to inform policy.

What that means is making the sort of emissions reductions achieved in 2020 thanks to the massive international lockdowns every year to the end of the decade. Yet emissions are already edging back to the levels they were in 2019.

The truth is lots of countries have expressed lofty ambitions for cutting carbon but few have yet got strategies in place to meet those goals.

The challenge for Glasgow will be getting the nations of the world to sign up to policies that will start reducing emissions now. The UN says it wants to see coal phased out completely, an end to all fossil fuel subsidies and a global coalition to reach net zero by 2050.

That remains a very tall order, even if global sentiments on tackling global warming are beginning to change.

Follow Justin on Twitter.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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