Thursday, June 20, 2024

DeBriefed 7 June 2024: Sheinbaum and Modi elected; Hottest May; Factchecking net-zero costs

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

Elections in India and Mexico

CLIMATE PRESIDENTA: Following weeks of deadly heat in the country, Mexico elected former climate scientist Claudia Sheinbaum as its first female president after a “landslide victory in Sunday’s election”, Axios reported. Sheinbaum was co-author of the industry chapter for the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that jointly won the Nobel peace prize, noted a profile by Mexican newspaper El Universal.

‘GREEN PROMISES’: However, Mexican climate scientists and political analysts questioned “whether she will deliver on her green promises”, Climate Home News reported. Boston Globe columnist Marcela García also doubted Sheinbaum’s “progressive credentials”, while Bloomberg columnist Juan Pablo Spinetto noted her support of the populist politics and pro-oil policies of her “mentor”, outgoing president Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

NO MODI MAJORITY: In India’s elections, meanwhile, prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) suffered the “unexpected blow” of losing its parliamentary majority, the Guardian reported. Modi will continue for a third term, but “[his government] will face major challenges fueled by climate change”, the New York Times said.

HEAT STRESS: At least 85 people died of heat stress in northern India last week, the Hindustan Times reported. Six weeks of voting “amid unusually high temperatures…may have depressed turnout” in the election, NBC News reported, but: “[n]either the BJP nor the opposition said much about climate change during the campaign”.

Around the world

  • MONEY TALKS: UN climate chief Simon Stiell opened intersessional talks in Bonn, Germany, by calling for “serious progress” on a new finance target, Climate Home News reported. Carbon Brief analysis revealed record UK climate finance spending.
  • BROKEN RECORD: May 2024 was the world’s 12th consecutive warmest month on record, Agencia EFE reported, citing the Copernicus Climate Change Service.
  • WINDFALL TAX: UN secretary general António Guterres has backed a windfall tax on fossil-fuel firms, which he called the “godfathers of climate chaos”, the Associated Press reported. BBC News said he also called for a fossil-fuel advertising ban.
  • GERMAN GAP: An expert council on climate issues said Germany is likely to miss its 2030 targets, Der Spiegel reported, adding that this contradicted ministers. At least six people have died in floods in southern Germany, said Tagesschau.
  • OFFSETS PLEASE: A group of 10 West African nations are supporting carbon credit use, Reuters reported. In a letter to the Science-Based Targets initiative they called for offsets to be included in corporate net-zero guidance, the newswire said.
  • EU ELECTIONS: European Parliament elections are underway, with exit polls from the Netherlands showing a Labour-Green alliance narrowly beating Dutch far-right leader Geert Wilders’ party, said Politico.

36.8 billion

Global carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels and cement in 2023, a record, according to a new Carbon Brief guest post on the world’s key climate indicators.

5

Years before the carbon budget for a 50% chance of staying below 1.5C is used up, according to the study described by the guest post, which updates IPCC figures.

1.43

Global warming in 2023, in degrees C above pre-industrial levels, also a record.

100%

Share of warming in the decade 2014-2023 caused by humans, according to the guest post.


  • Research in Nature Sustainability looked at how to incorporate environmental concerns when planning for more hydropower in Africa.
  • Catastrophic recent floods in Brazil were made twice as likely by climate change, according to a rapid attribution study by World Weather Attribution.
  • A study published in Environmental Research Letters and covered by Carbon Brief showed better refrigeration could cut almost 2bn tonnes of greenhouse gases a year.

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

The world will invest $2tn in clean energy this year, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA). This is roughly double the amount being put towards fossil fuels, the agency said. Carbon Brief analysis of the figures showed North America is the top spender on fossil fuels, while China is putting 3.7 times more money into clean energy than it is investing in fossil fuels. The world is still off track for the goal of tripling renewables by 2030, said another new IEA report covered by the Guardian.

Rapid climate action ‘makes energy cheaper, not more costly’

This week, Carbon Brief looks at the costs and benefits of cutting emissions to net-zero in order to tackle climate change, factchecking claims made during the UK election campaign.

Ahead of the 4 July election, UK politicians are talking about climate action in very different ways. As ever, a key battleground is the costs and benefits of cutting emissions.

The climate-sceptic Reform party has mislead by omission, highlighting a large and scary-sounding figure for the cost of net-zero, without mentioning the cost of the alternative.

Its manifesto says the cost of net-zero is “estimated by the National Grid and others at some £2tn or more” – but leaves out the part about this being cheaper than not meeting the target.

Conservative prime minister Rishi Sunak has portrayed net-zero as a reluctant sacrifice. In this week’s leaders’ debate on ITV, he said: “Of course we are going to tackle climate change and get to net-zero…[But I am] not going to impose thousands of pounds of costs [on voters].”

This, too, is only a partial accounting, focusing on the investments needed to decarbonise.

In contrast, opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said less on the investment required, but touted the economic opportunity and potential to lower bills. He told the leaders’ debate: “[The transition] is a huge opportunity. If we go to renewables that means cheaper bills.”

A much-discussed report by consultancy Aurora appeared to offer more support to Sunak than to Starmer, noting higher investment needs to decarbonise electricity more quickly.

Yet Aurora later tweeted further details from its modelling, showing that a faster transition to net-zero power would result in lower bills – despite larger investment costs.

The costs and benefits of net-zero

At a global level, reaching net-zero by 2050 would “make energy cheaper, not more costly”, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

It compared global energy costs on the world’s current path – heading for 2.4C of warming – with the accelerated action needed to reach net-zero by 2050 and stay below 1.5C.

It totted up investment needs, financing costs, the cost of fuel – including fossil fuel “rents”, such as oil company profits – as well as subsidies and distributional impacts.

Strikingly, the IEA concluded that accelerating climate action to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 would make the global energy system “more affordable and fairer”.

According to the report, this is because higher investment costs would be more than offset by lower fuel bills, greater efficiency and reduced fossil fuel rents. It concluded:

“Energy transitions could lead to major reductions in household energy bills and accelerate progress towards universal energy access. But managing upfront costs for poorer and rural households – as well as ongoing costs – remains a key public policy challenge.”

If those challenges can be overcome, in other words, then it would be cheaper to avoid dangerous climate change than to continue on our current path.

As well as being cheaper on its own terms, this would also limit the negative economic impacts of warming. As Green MP Caroline Lucas tweeted during the leaders’ debate, what is the cost of not decarbonising?

IPCC CHAIR: In an interview with African Arguments, IPCC chair Prof Jim Skea talked about developing country representation, model reliance on CO2 removal and more.

SECRET SPHERE: Amid doubts over European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s climate commitment if she wins a second term, Politico’s Karl Mathiesen recounted her “secret climate crusade” to get her Green Deal “past sceptical colleagues”.

GAZA HEATWAVE: Climate Home News reported on the unequal effects of a recent heatwave on communities in Gaza and nearby Tel Aviv.

Coming up

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