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An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.
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September heat record ‘shattered’
‘GOBSMACKINGLY BANANAS’: September has “shattered” its previous global heat record “by a record margin”, according to data covered by the Washington Post. BBC News reported that last month was 0.93C hotter than the 1991-2020 September average and 0.5C hotter than the previous record set in 2020. Several outlets, including the Guardian, have quoted the verdict of Carbon Brief’s science contributor, Dr Zeke Hausfather, who described the heat as “absolutely gobsmackingly bananas”.
OCTOBER HEATS UP: The unusual heat has continued into October, with the New York Times publishing a map showing that parts of Europe, the Middle East, southern Africa, southeast Asia, Australia, North America and South America experienced temperatures up to 9C higher than average this week. CBC noted that “warm summer-like weather” has continued in the Canadian province of Ontario and the Australian Associated Press reported that more than 100 fires have been blazing across New South Wales amid a heatwave in the Australian state.
PHASE ONE: The EU has launched the initial phase of its carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), the world’s first system to impose emissions tariffs on imported goods, according to Reuters. For now, importers of steel, cement and other products only have to report the emissions “embodied” in their goods, but, from 2026, they will face border charges for high-emitting goods, the Economist explained.
GLOBAL PUSHBACK: Major EU trading partners, including Russia, the UK and US, are likely to feel CBAM’s effects the most, according to a recent report by Carnegie Europe. Brazil, South Africa and India have accused the CBAM of being “discriminatory” and China has called on the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to assess the measure, Politico stated. Writing in the Financial Times, EU economy commissioner Paolo Gentiloni said non-European countries “need not fear” the tax and said it was “fully compatible” with WTO rules.
NEW CLIMATE CHIEFS: Meanwhile, European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič and former Dutch foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra have been approved by the European parliament as the EU “green deal” chief and climate commissioner, respectively, according to Politico.
- ‘IRRESPONSIBLE’ LIFESTYLES: The Pope has pointed to an “irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model” as a key driver of climate change in a new “apostolic exhortation” titled Laudate Deum (Praise God), CNN reported.
- RUSSIA ROADBLOCK: Ahead of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai, Russia has stated it will oppose a global deal to cut fossil-fuel use, according to the Financial Times. Another Financial Times article said the United Arab Emirates has proposed hosting COP for two years in a row as Russia continues to block eastern European states from hosting it next year.
- INDIA FLOODS: At least 14 people have been killed and 102 are missing after flash floods in North Sikkim, India, triggered by a glacial lake outburst, the Times of India reported.
- OIL LAWSUIT: Environmental groups have filed a lawsuit against French oil giant TotalEnergies and its major pipeline project in Tanzania and Uganda, alleging numerous criminal offences, according to Radio France Internationale.
- CLIMATE ARRESTS: Vietnamese state media has confirmed the arrest of energy expert Ngo Thi To Nhien, who worked on the G7-backed plan to wean the nation off fossil fuels, Agence France-Presse reported. Drilled has covered a string of arrests of Vietnamese climate advocates since 2021.
- ‘NET-ZERO ZEALOTS’: “Green politics” has been “under attack” at the UK’s Conservative party conference, the Guardian stated, with even the net-zero secretary, Claire Coutinho, taking aim at “zealots” who “view net-zero as a religion”.
The annual “global cost” of extreme weather that can be attributed to human-caused climate change, according to a new study in Nature Communications.
- The boom in commercial tree plantations for the purpose of carbon-offsetting threatens biodiversity in the tropics, a paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution concluded.
- The second Global Amphibian Assessment, published in Nature, found that 41% of species are threatened with extinction – and climate change is a key factor in their decline.
- A paper in Nature Food explored how meat taxes in Europe could be designed to avoid overburdening low-income consumers.
(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)
The second “pledging conference” for the UN’s flagship Green Climate Fund (GCF) took place on Thursday in Bonn, Germany. The GCF, which is the world’s largest multilateral climate fund, was established in 2010 as part of the global effort to help developing countries cut emissions and prepare for climate change. The event brought the total pledged by wealthy nations to just $9.3bn, less than previous funding rounds and short of the GCF’s internal targets, according to Climate Home News. Notable absences included the US and Australia, both of which have failed to pledge anything since 2014. They, along with Italy, Sweden and Switzerland, said they will commit funds, but did not specify how much. The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Green Climate Fund Pledge Tracker has data on every country’s contributions.
Factcheck: Do large solar projects produce more CO2 than they save?
This week, Carbon Brief factchecks claims pushed by right-wing politicians and anti-solar campaigners that a major UK solar project would produce more greenhouse gases than it is able to save.
Matt Hancock, former UK minister turned TV reality show contestant – has urged the government to reject plans for a solar farm in his West Suffolk constituency. The proposed Sunnica scheme is on track to be one of the nation’s largest solar projects. When built, the developers say it would produce enough electricity to power up to 100,000 homes.
Hancock is not alone. At least 19 other UK MPs – all Conservatives – have come out against new solar farms, citing the concerns of people in their rural constituencies. The issue became a hot topic during the Conservative leadership contest last year, when both former prime minister Liz Truss and current prime minister Rishi Sunak vowed to stop farmland being used for solar power.
This is part of a wider trend of groups claiming to represent local communities pushing back against new renewable projects. Hundreds of new wind and solar projects are facing local opposition across the US, amid an organised effort by climate-sceptics. In the UK, a group called the Solar Campaign Alliance, which stresses it is “not against renewables”, supports a network of around 100 anti-solar protest groups, including the Say No To Sunnica campaign.
One of the central points made by many of these activists is that some new solar farms are “not carbon neutral” and will “do nothing to help” the UK meet its climate goals. This has been repeated on the campaign websites and materials distributed by those protesting the Sunnica project and other sites. Also repeating the claim, Hancock has written in the Daily Mail that Sunnica “would pump out more carbon…than it actually saved”.
These claims appear out of step with the central role solar power is expected to play in getting the UK – and the world – to net-zero.
They come from analysis commissioned by the Say No To Sunnica campaign and carried out by researchers at Cranfield University. The authors argue that the Sunnica scheme “during its lifetime would constitute a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions”, largely based on the developers underestimating its “lifecycle” emissions – including those associated with battery production and replacement.
Solar projects do not produce emissions when they generate electricity, but the manufacture of their components does as fossil fuels are used in these processes.
Despite this, experts tell Carbon Brief that the Cranfield study contains unusual methodological choices. Not least, it compares the Sunnica solar farm to a scenario in which the grid decarbonises, thanks in large part to solar power. Prof Edgar Hertwich, a researcher of resource efficiency and climate change at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, says arguing that the new solar farm replaces renewable power is “conceptually not correct”.
A more relevant comparison would be contrasting Sunnica with a scenario in which fossil fuels continue to be used. Gas power produces more than eight times more carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of energy throughout its lifetime than ground-mounted solar panels.
The Cranfield researchers tell Carbon Brief they agree that the comparison they make is problematic, but point out that they followed the same methodology as the one used by the Sunnica developers.
They also warn that solar developers are not sufficiently accounting for battery production emissions when making claims about their net-zero credentials, stating that Sunnica did not factor in the need to replace batteries. However, other research shows that when solar power displaces fossil fuels from the grid, its climate benefits are only “marginally affected” by adding batteries.
Ultimately, the researchers stress that their conclusions “apply to this particular scheme only”, adding that each project “needs to be assessed on its own merits”.
The Say No To Sunnica campaign did not respond to Carbon Brief’s request for comment.
CLIMATE SLEUTHING: Bloomberg has a feature on Itziar Irakulis Loitxate, a PhD student tasked with searching for global methane leaks at the UN Environment Programme. She is the “closest thing the world has to climate police”.
SOLUTIONS SEARCH: NPR has dedicated an entire week to stories and conversations about the search for climate solutions, from the Philippines to California.
WEAPONISING HEAT PUMPS: A long read in Politico explored how the far-right Alternative for Germany party has turned the issue of electric heat pumps into “electoral rocket fuel”.
DeBriefed is written in rotation by Carbon Brief’s team and edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]
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