Before Covid, giving up flying was taking off. We need to get that momentum back

It’s hard to remember what life was like before the pandemic hit. A year and a half ago, 2019 was drawing to a close with something like a promise. It had been the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the school climate strikes, and the momentum was with climate activism. And 2020 promised to be the year of change.

Helped by Thunberg’s yacht journey across the Atlantic, the spotlight was on aviation’s role in the climate crisis. An airline ticket is about the most carbon-heavy thing consumers can buy, and for those of us fortunate enough to be able to access air travel, our flights can quickly put us among the top polluters in the world.

Climate crisis: Boris Johnson ‘too cosy’ with vested interests to take serious action

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Personalities including John Humphrys drew attention for declaring they’d given up flying, but beyond the headlines a growing number of ordinary people were also quietly ditching plane trips. Enlightened countries, such as Sweden, saw a drop in air bookings, and rail provision rose across Europe. Much Better Adventures led the charge with Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, a collective of outdoor and travel outfits taking action on the crisis. The travel pages of this paper drastically reduced the number of flights it took and wrote about.

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Whitest-ever paint could help cool heating Earth, study shows

The whitest-ever paint has been produced by academic researchers, with the aim of boosting the cooling of buildings and tackling the climate crisis.

The new paint reflects 98% of sunlight as well as radiating infrared heat through the atmosphere into space. In tests, it cooled surfaces by 4.5C below the ambient temperature, even in strong sunlight. The researchers said the paint could be on the market in one or two years.

White-painted roofs have been used to cool buildings for centuries. As global heating pushes temperatures up, the technique is also being used on modern city buildings, such as in Ahmedabad in India and New York City in the US.

Currently available reflective white paints are far better than dark roofing materials, but only reflect 80-90% of sunlight and absorb UV light. This means they cannot cool surfaces below ambient temperatures. The new paint does this, leading to less need for air conditioning and the carbon emissions they produce, which are rising rapidly.

“Our paint can help fight against global warming by helping to cool the Earth – that’s the cool point,” said Prof Xiulin Ruan at Purdue University in the US. “Producing the whitest white means the paint can reflect the maximum amount of sunlight back to space.”

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Shell calls on investors to vote for its new climate strategy

Royal Dutch Shell has urged investors to vote for its strategy to shift the business towards cleaner energy sources, despite warnings that the plan does not go far enough to meet the Paris climate agreement goals.

The oil company set out its energy transition plan before its annual shareholder meeting in May, when investors will be able to take part in an advisory vote on Shell’s climate plans for the first time. The vote will not be binding.

Shell’s strategy includes plans to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy it produces by 20% before the end of the decade, by producing less oil and more renewable energy, and further steps to become a carbon neutral company by 2050.

Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive, said the company was asking shareholders to vote for an energy transition strategy “designed to bring our energy products, our services, and our investments in line with the temperature goal of the Paris agreement and the global drive to combat the climate crisis.

“It is a strategy that we believe creates value for our shareholders, our customers and wider society,” he said.

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How Texas’s zombie oil wells are creating an environmental disaster zone

When Laura Briggs and her husband finally found their dream home in west Texas, they knew they’d be sharing space with the oil industry. The Pecos county ranch’s previous owner, local attorney Windel “Hoot” Gibson, died there when a rickety old pumpjack teetered over and fell on top of him.

But sharing 900 acres with a handful of old oil wells seemed like a fair trade for a spacious ranch where the Briggs family could raise four kids and a mess of farm animals. The property is smack dab in the middle of the Permian Basin, an ancient, dried-up sea that streaks across Texas and New Mexico and is the most productive oil field in the United States. Approximately 3m barrels of the Permian’s monthly crude production happens in Pecos county; there is an oil or gas well for roughly every two people here.

The climate emergency is here. The media needs to act like it

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After closing on the property a decade ago, it didn’t take the Briggs family long to make the place their own. They built a roomy, two-story metal house and constructed livestock pens for hogs, goats, donkeys and cattle. For a few years, the Briggs ranch delivered the rural splendor they’d hoped for. “When you come out here, it is dry. There is no Starbucks. But there is a peace to that,” Laura said. “This takes some stress off your shoulders and you’re like, all you really need in life is a pair of blue jeans and a good book.”

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Queenslanders will be hardest hit if Australia fails to act on climate change, Labor warns

The opposition climate change minister, Chris Bowen, has warned almost one million Australians will lose their jobs if runaway climate change decimates the environment and the economy – with Queensland bearing the brunt of any failure to act.

Bowen used a speech in Brisbane on Thursday night to warn Queenslanders they would pay the price for the federal Coalition’s failure to act in accordance with climate science, with half a million jobs lost in the state and a forecast economic contraction of 8% by 2050 and 14% by 2070.

Since taking the portfolio in late January, Labor’s new climate spokesman has been concentrating his advocacy in Queensland and other regional areas that swung to the Coalition in the 2019 election, in part because of successful scaremongering by Liberal and National MPs about the costs of climate action.

Bowen has reconfigured Labor’s messaging on climate policy to emphasise both the economic risks of failing to act and the upsides of new jobs created during the transition to a low emissions economy.

Morrison government can’t conceal inaction on climate from US with ‘smoke and mirrors’

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UK support for Mozambique gas plant fuelling conflict – Friends of the Earth

The UK government is facing fresh calls to abandon its £750m plan to support a gas export terminal in Mozambique over fears the fossil fuel project is stoking the insurgency in the north of the country, which has left thousands of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands.

In a letter to the government, seen by the Guardian, lawyers for the environmental group Friends of the Earth have warned that the huge natural gas project has worsened the conflict in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, and called on the UK government to withdraw its financial support.

Mozambique’s poverty-stricken northern province has suffered increasingly violent attacks by Islamic State-affiliated insurgents since 2017, many targeting towns and communities near the $20bn (£15bn) gas project, which is backed by major international investors and companies.

A natural gas plant on Mozambique’s Afungi peninsula. Total withdrew workers from the site after dozens of people were killed in an attack by Islamic State fighters in the nearby town of Palma. Photograph: WFP/Reuters

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth (FoE), said: “The violence started as far back as 2017, because of social inequalities, deprivation and acute issues like displacement of local communities from their land by the gas projects. This has continued and worsened recently.

“So, while the gas companies are a target of the violence, they are also a significant causal factor to the violence, exacerbating the conditions that meant this insurgency could take hold. They are an integral part of the problem.”

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Just 3% of world’s ecosystems remain intact, study suggests

Just 3% of the world’s land remains ecologically intact with healthy populations of all its original animals and undisturbed habitat, a study suggests.

These fragments of wilderness undamaged by human activities are mainly in parts of the Amazon and Congo tropical forests, east Siberian and northern Canadian forests and tundra, and the Sahara. Invasive alien species including cats, foxes, rabbits, goats and camels have had a major impact on native species in Australia, with the study finding no intact areas left.

The researchers suggest reintroducing a small number of important species to some damaged areas, such as elephants or wolves – a move that could restore up to 20% of the world’s land to ecological intactness.

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What are the five biggest threats to biodiversity?

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According to the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity there are five main threats to biodiversity. In descending order these are; changes in land and sea use; direct exploitation of organisms; climate change; pollution and invasive species. 

Converting wild spaces into agricultural land and the intensification of farming practices is causing the greatest destruction. Between 2010 and 2015, 3.3m hectares (8.1m acres) of forest disappeared, with no sign of rates slowing down. Predictions suggest agricultural land could increase by 18% by 2050, further removing the land available to nature. As agriculture intensifies, things like wetlands, scrubland and woodlands – which wildlife relies on – are ironed out from the landscape.

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Oil firm bosses’ pay ‘incentivises them to undermine climate action’

Lucrative pay and share options have created an incentive for oil company executives to resist climate action, according to a study that casts doubt on recent net-zero commitments by BP and Shell.

Compensation packages for CEOs, often in excess of $10m (£7.2m), are linked to continued extraction of fossil fuels, exploration of new fields and the promotion of strong market demand through advertising, lobbying and government subsidies, the report says.

The setup with executives runs counter to efforts around the world to keep global heating to 1.5-2C (2.7-3.6F) above pre-industrial levels.

Boardroom rewards also underpin a skewed corporate logic that is slowing the world’s path to decarbonisation, according to the study, which was exclusively shared with the Guardian before publication in the Energy Research and Social Science journal.

Richard Heede, of the Climate Accountability Institute in the US, a co-author of the paper, said the discovery showed that the need for changes in corporate structures was more urgent than consumer behaviour changes.

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Failure is not an option. Australia must radically scale up its climate targets now | Will Steffen for the Conversation

In May 2011, almost precisely a decade ago, the government-appointed Climate Commission released its inaugural report. Titled The Critical Decade, the report’s final section warned that to keep global temperature rises to 2C this century, “the decade between now and 2020 is critical”.

As the report noted, if greenhouse gas emissions peaked around 2011, the world’s emissions-reduction trajectory would have been easily manageable: net zero by around 2060, and a maximum emissions reduction rate of 3.7% each year. Delaying the emissions peak by only a decade would require a trebling of this task – a maximum 9% reduction each year.

But of course the decade to 2020 did not mark the beginning of the world’s emissions-reduction journey. Global emissions accelerated before dropping marginally under Covid-19 restrictions, then quickly rebounded.

The Climate Council’s new report, released today, shows the immense cost of this inaction. It is now virtually certain Earth will pass the critical 1.5℃ temperature rise this century – most likely in the 2030s. Now, without delay, humanity must focus on holding warming to well below 2℃. For Australia, that means tripling its emissions reduction goal this decade to 75%.

Aim high, go fast

The Climate Council report is titled Aim High, Go Fast: Why Emissions Need To Plummet This Decade. It acknowledges the multiple lines of evidence showing it will be virtually impossible to keep the average global temperature rise to 1.5C or below this century, without a period of significant overshoot and “drawdown”. (This refers to a hypothetical period in which warming exceeds 1.5C, then cools back down due to the removal of carbon dioxide (CO₂) from the atmosphere.)

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China ‘must shut 600 coal-fired plants’ to hit climate target

China must shut down nearly 600 of its coal-fired power plants in the next 10 years, replacing them with renewable electricity generation, to meet its goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2060, a report has said.

But replacing the 364GW of coal generation with renewable power would achieve a net saving of $1.6tn (£1.2tn) over the period, since wind and solar power are now much cheaper than coal, according to the analysis company TransitionZero.

The coal consumption of China, the world’s biggest emitter, is of global concern. The country has ramped up plans for new coal-fired power stations in an effort to spur economic growth after the recession caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last September the country’s president, Xi Jinping, surprised the world by pledging that China would achieve net zero emissions by 2060, and that its emissions would peak before 2030.

Urgent policies needed to steer countries to net zero, says IEA chief

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Activist on hunger strike in Canada calls on government to halt logging

A man in the second week of a hunger strike is calling on a provincial government in Canada to halt logging, amid growing fears that clearcutting the country’s eastern forests could prove devastating for endangered species.

Jacob Fillmore, a 25-year-old activist in the province of Nova Scotia, has survived on broth and water for 12 days, camping outside the province’s legislative assembly to raise awareness over the destruction of old-growth forest.

“I recognise that a hunger strike is quite an extreme measure to take to get my message heard, but I think it’s time for extreme measures,” Fillmore told the Guardian. “We really don’t have any time to lose.”

Early in the week, protesters joined Fillmore in Halifax, the province’s capital, blocking roads and demanding the government halt the controversial logging practice of clearcutting, which they fear is pushing ecosystems to the brink. Support for Fillmore’s protest also speaks to a broader frustration across Canada over the continued harvest of old-growth forests – despite warnings from ecologists that the ageing trees represent a valuable tool in the fight against climate change.

Logging in Nova Scotia. Photograph: All Canada Photos/Alamy

For more than three centuries Nova Scotia’s forests have been harvested for valuable timber exports. But generations of relentless extraction have left the province with few remaining stands of Acadian old-growth, a mix of hardwood and softwood trees that once blanketed much of the Maritime province.

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Rio Tinto backs activist resolution to set emissions targets consistent with Paris agreement

The board of Rio Tinto has backed a shareholders push that would require the company to set emissions targets consistent with the Paris agreement and suspend membership of industry associations that lobby against action on the climate crisis.

In a statement to the ASX on Friday afternoon, the mining company recommended shareholders endorse two resolutions brought by activist groups, the Australasian Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ACCR) and Market Forces, ahead of Rio’s annual general meeting in May.

“For the first time, the board of an Australian company has supported a shareholder resolution, Rio Tinto should be commended for this,” Dan Gocher, the director of climate and environment at the ACCR, said.

“The board of Rio Tinto, already under significant pressure from shareholders, has finally acknowledged that its funding of Australia’s climate stalemate goes against its own long-term interests.”

Rio Tinto chairman to stand down amid Juukan Gorge outcry

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Coles shuns coal: supermarket giant vows to source all its electricity from renewables by 2025

The supermarket giant Coles has pledged to source all its electricity from renewable sources across its brands by 2025 after signing another agreement to buy clean power from a Victorian windfarm.

The move means all three of Australia’s major supermarkets, including Woolworths and Aldi, will be sourcing all their electricity from renewables by 2025 at the latest.

Climate change campaigners said the announcement showed a significant shift was occurring across Australia’s corporate landscape.

Coles Group’s chief executive, Steven Cain, told Guardian Australia the commitment, which builds on the group’s previous deals to buy renewable power, was responding to calls from staff and customers but also shareholders and investors.

“There’s no doubt that in out shareholder meetings people are asking more questions about sustainability because investors around the world – who themselves have investors – are asking, are we putting our money to work in a responsible fashion,” he said. “There’s more money available to companies that are doing this.”

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UN’s Kunming biodiversity summit delayed a second time

A key United Nations summit to negotiate an accord for nature similar to the Paris climate agreement has been postponed for a second time, it has been announced.

The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) said in a a statement that Cop15, the biggest biodiversity summit in a decade, had been moved to October due to delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. The negotiations in Kunming, China, had been scheduled for May after they were moved from October 2020.

Countries are expected to reach an agreement over targets to protect the natural world, including proposals to conserve 30% of the world’s oceans and land by 2030, introduce controls on invasive species and reduce plastics pollution.

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What is the Kunming biodiversity conference 2021?

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In 2021, hundreds of biodiversity experts and government ministers are expected to negotiate new targets on biodiversity at a meeting in the Chinese city of Kunming. The aim of the accord, “a Paris agreement for nature”, is to stop and reverse rampant biodiversity loss around the world.

Why is it a big deal?
In 2017 scientists said humans were causing the sixth mass extinction event in the Earth’s history. Now the UN has reported that the world has failed to meet a single target agreed a decade ago to stem the destruction of wildlife and life-sustaining ecosystems.

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Australia lags far behind other top economies on 'green recovery' pandemic spending

Australia is the worst performer on a list of the world’s 50 largest economies for “green recovery” spending to kickstart economic growth after the Covid pandemic, according to research conducted for the United Nations environment program.

The research suggests Australia spent US$2bn on green initiatives during the coronavirus recovery, compared with US$57bn in France, US$54bn in South Korea, US$47bn in Germany, US$42bn in the United Kingdom, US$41bn in China and US$24bn in Japan. Germany spent $9bn on hydrogen alone.

The work draws on evidence collected up to February 2021 by Oxford University’s Economic Recovery Project. The initiative is supported by the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund.

Brian O’Callaghan, an Australian economist and engineer who leads Oxford’s Economic Recovery Project, told Guardian Australia the research indicates that governments are falling short on green recovery spending in global terms.

The Green Recovery: how to fix Australia's energy-inefficient homes – video

Australia got the wooden spoon – coming in at the bottom of the list.

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Time is running short – but we can get a grip on the climate crisis | Alok Sharma

The climate crisis represents a clear and present danger to people and our planet. Its real-world consequences are now all too visible.

In Nepal last month, I met communities displaced by melting glaciers. In Ethiopia, I saw how floods, droughts and locusts have decimated crops. Around the world, oceans are warming, and storms, floods and wildfires are intensifying, while here at home, our coastal towns face serious long-term threats from rising seas. Unless we act now, we will be out of time to hold back the worst impacts.

Our planet is heating up, fast. On course, scientists tell us, for temperature rises of some 3.5C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. The impact of such a rise will be nothing less than catastrophic.

Yet, at the same time, we are increasingly waking up to the danger, and the direction of travel is changing. Countries responsible for 65% of global emissions now have net zero or carbon neutral commitments.

The world is moving towards a low-carbon future, with clean energy now the cheapest source of electricity. But the pace of change needs to pick up. Globally, we must halve emissions over the next decade alone if we are to meet the goals of the Paris agreement – which aims to keep global temperature rises well below 2C and closer to 1.5C. That means taking action today.

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UK's Cop26 president calls for world to get on track to hit net zero by 2050

The world must be put on a path to reaching net zero by 2050 if the goal of holding global temperature rises below 1.5C is to be kept within reach, the UK host of this year’s climate talks has said.

Alok Sharma, the president of the UN Cop26 climate summit, said that for the talks in Glasgow in November to be judged a success, governments must urgently set out their targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade including announcing an end to new coal power plants and commitments to phase out existing ones. Sharma is also urging countries to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles.

The UK’s role as host will be pivotal in the talks, seen as one of the last chances to get on track to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and limit temperature rises to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspiration to stay below 1.5C. Current commitments would lead to a rise of more than 3C, which scientists say would be catastrophic.

Writing in the Guardian, Sharma set out the UK’s aims as host for the first time. He wrote: “I want to put the world on a path to reach net zero by the middle of the century, which is essential to keeping 1.5C within reach. Today’s global targets for 2030 are nowhere near enough to meet the Paris agreement temperature goal. So the UK is using the Cop26 presidency to urge all countries to set 2030 emissions reductions targets that put us on a path to net zero.”

The UK’s four goals for Cop26 are:

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UK slashes grants for electric car buyers while retaining petrol vehicle support

The UK government has cut grants for electric car buyers, to the horror of the automotive industry as it tries to rapidly shift away from fossil fuels.

The maximum grant for electric cars was reduced from £3,000 to £2,500 with immediate effect on Thursday. The government also lowered the price cap for cars eligible for the subsidy from £50,000 to £35,000.

The cut is likely to be controversial, only a fortnight after the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, extended a generous implicit subsidy for drivers of petrol and diesels by freezing fuel duty.

Electric cars cost more than those with internal combustion engines, but they are seen as a crucial part of meeting the UK’s decarbonisation targets. Other European countries such as Norway, Germany and France subsidise electric cars.

Electric cars rise to record 54% market share in Norway

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Feeding cows seaweed could cut their methane emissions by 82%, scientists say

Feeding seaweed to cows is a viable long-term method to reduce the emission of planet-heating gases from their burps and flatulence, scientists have found.

Researchers who put a small amount of seaweed into the feed of cattle over the course of five months found that the new diet caused the bovines to belch out 82% less methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The race to zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?

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The finding builds on previous research that showed that seaweed could reduce cows’ methane output over a shorter timespan. “We now have sound evidence that seaweed in cattle diet is effective at reducing greenhouse gases and that the efficacy does not diminish over time,” said Ermias Kebreab, director of the World Food Center and an agricultural scientist at University of California, Davis.

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UK foreign secretary pushes Australia to 'stretch' climate commitments before global summit

The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has stressed he expects Australia to “stretch” climate commitments and set out a plan to meet them before a major summit later this year.

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, continues to shift how he talks about the climate crisis without making new commitments to address it. But Raab expressed confidence the Morrison government would “step up to the plate” on climate.

Doubling uptake of wind and solar power could set up Australia for net zero emissions by 2040

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More than 100 countries have a target of reaching net zero emissions by mid-century. There is a push led by the UK and US for them to back it up with stronger commitments for 2030 before the conference in Glasgow in November.

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