Sunday, June 23, 2024

DeBriefed 3 May 2024: G7 sets end date for coal; Deadly floods around globe; Brazil’s pitch to tax ultra-rich

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Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

G7 sets end date for coal

CUTTING COAL: The US, UK, Germany and other Group of Seven (G7) countries committed to phase out coal power by 2035, the Associated Press reported, noting that it “puts a timeline” on global pledges to “phase down” coal. G7 countries agreed two years ago to decarbonise their power sectors by 2035 and Climate Home News noted that most nations in the group already have coal phase-out plans. 

LEEWAY: However, the G7 pact also included an “alternative goal” to phase out coal power “in a timeline consistent with keeping a limit of a 1.5C temperature rise within reach”, Reuters said. Sources told the outlet that this would “grant room for manoeuvre to Germany and Japan”, two coal-reliant countries. The Financial Times said the deal also leaves open the possibility of “continued investment in gas”. 

FUELLING THE FIRE: A study found that global banks lent $470bn (£374bn) to coal industry companies between January 2021 and December 2023, Der Spiegel reported. Meanwhile, in the UK, the government is expected to permit fossil fuel companies to explore for oil and gas under offshore wind sites for the first time, the Guardian reported, with experts saying this will likely do little to increase production. 

Deadly floods hit globe

COUNTRYWIDE IMPACT: Heavy rainfall and flooding have hit many parts of Kenya in recent weeks, killing more than 180 people, Reuters reported. At least 48 people were killed after a dam burst its banks near a town in the south of the country, according to the Standard newspaper. A river also overflowed into the famous Masai Mara wildlife reserve and flooded tourist camps, the New York Times said.

CLIMATE LINK: Context News reported that scientists blame a “deadly cocktail” of climate change and the El Niño weather pattern for floods in Kenya and other neighbouring countries. In the Conversation, a hydrology consultant said that the floods also “expose decades of poor urban planning and bad land management”.

HIGHWAY HIT: Meanwhile, heavy rainfall persisted in China’s Guangdong province. At least 24 people died after a highway collapsed due to the “torrential rain”, the Independent said. There is no formal “attribution” study on whether global warming worsened the Guangdong floods, but one rapid analysis found that the “somewhat uncommon event” was “exacerbated” by both human-caused climate change and natural variability. 

BURST DAM: In Brazil, more than 30 people following heavy rains and flooding and a hydroelectric dam burst, BBC News reported. The “extreme weather” across the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul was caused by a “rare combination of hotter than average temperatures, high humidity and strong winds”, the outlet said. 

  • CARBON BUDGETS: For the second time in two years, the High Court in London has ruled that the UK’s climate action plan is unlawful, Reuters reported, in a legal challenge put forward by environmental groups.
  • UP, UP AND AWAY: Airlines lobbied the EU to “weaken” its plans to make the sector monitor and report non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions from flights, according to the Financial Times. 
  • SNP SWITCH: Humza Yousaf resigned as Scotland’s first minister days after he ended a power-sharing deal with the country’s Green party, the Scotsman reported. Yousaf “cut ties” with the Greens after a “bitter row” over his party’s recent decision to abandon 2030 climate targets, Sky News said. 
  • PLASTIC PITCH: Rwanda and Peru put forward a proposal to reduce global plastic production by 40% by 2040 at UN treaty talks, the Guardian reported. The target should “align” with aims under the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5C, the two countries said.  
  • BIG OIL: Large oil companies “misled Americans for decades” on climate change and knew the “consequences of their emissions” for at least 60 years, according to a new Democrat report and Congressional hearing covered by NBC News. 


The number of countries expected to submit new biodiversity pledges ahead of the UN summit COP16 in October.


Countries that have done so, Carbon Brief analysis showed. 

  • Methane emissions from China’s abandoned coal mines have been underestimated, Nature Climate Change research found. 
  • Plans to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere “fall short” of the measures needed to limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial temperatures, new research covered by Carbon Brief warned. 
  • A study in Nature Geoscience said that losing tropical forest has a greater effect on increasing land surface temperatures than gaining forest does on cooling them.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)

Recent Carbon Brief analysis showed that fossil fuels supplied a record-low 2.4% of electricity in Britain, for one hour on Monday 15 April. This new chart paints a more complete picture of how British electricity supplies are shifting decisively away from fossil fuels. The figure shows the distribution of half-hours in each year since 2009, arranged according to the share of fossil fuels during each time period. Periods when the grid was more than 50% reliant on fossil fuels are shaded red and, reading from top to bottom, these have become increasingly rare over the past 15 years. Periods with less than 50% fossil fuel, shaded blue, are becoming more common.

Brazil’s pitch to tax the ultra-rich

This week, Carbon Brief speaks to a policy expert about how Brazil’s plan to tax billionaires could help to address climate change.

Quentin Parrinello, a senior policy advisor at EU Tax Observatory.

Earlier this year, Brazil proposed a global tax on the ultra-wealthy, an idea recently supported by other Group of 20 (G20) countries. 

The funds could be used to tackle inequality and climate change, ministers from Brazil, South Africa, Germany and Spain wrote in the Guardian last week. 

The tax would raise up to $250bn (£200bn) each year from around 2,700 billionaires, according to a report from the EU Tax Observatory. 

Quentin Parrinello, a senior policy advisor at the think-tank, tells Carbon Brief about the proposal and how it could help to tackle climate change. This interview was edited for length.

Carbon Brief: Can you explain how a 2% billionaire wealth tax would work? 

Quentin Parrinello: We’re looking at all of the taxes paid by the super-rich, adding all of them and, if they do not add up to a minimum amount [of] 2% of their wealth, then there’s a top-up tax to reach that 2%…Back in February, there was a meeting of finance ministers from the G20 in São Paulo. Gabriel Zucman [director of the EU Tax Observatory] was invited to present that idea of a minimum tax on the super-rich…There was a wide recognition in response that tax progressivity is indeed a topic that needs to be tackled and also a lot of demands for technical details, which is why the Brazil [G20] presidency commissioned us to do a report that is due to look at the feasibility of the technical implications of that tax. 

CB: With climate change already intensifying each year, should these discussions have been pursued decades ago? 

QP: Billionaires derive their wealth from global assets that have access to global markets and that emit carbon all over the globe. So they have a very clear responsibility in heightening climate change and carbon emissions…I think that, sadly, the conversation might be slightly easier now than it was 10 or 15 years ago because we’re seeing in many more countries today the effect of climate change. It’s not rhetoric about potential future impacts, we’re seeing the impact now. We’re seeing an increasing number of floodings and heatwaves everywhere.

CB: The proposal is due to be discussed at the G20 summit in July. What are the next steps? 

QP: We’re releasing our report with all the technical details around June. Our understanding is that the [Brazilian G20] presidency wants to use that report to convince a large number of countries to endorse the need for a discussion to happen around the summer. As more countries endorse it, perhaps we’ll have enough countries to start an international negotiation. Those things, unfortunately, take time. So we’re not looking at something that will deliver a tax up and running in six months. That might take a few months more, perhaps a few years more. I think what we need to have is clear commitment from G20 presidencies, from an increasing number of countries to actually talk about this to go towards a negotiation framework that enables us to deliver on that tax. 

CLIMATE SOLUTIONS: Data scientist Hannah Ritchie spoke to the New York Times podcast the Ezra Klein Show about the feasibility of “sustainability without sacrifice”. 

WOODLAND WOES: The Financial Times looked at how deforestation can be a “driving factor” in diseases spreading from animals to humans. 

GREEN PUSHBACK: The Guardian examined how climate policies have become a “focal point for far-right attacks” in Germany in a short video documentary. 

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected].
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