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DeBriefed 14 July 2023: US says ‘no’ to climate reparations; ‘Plan’ for COP28; Extreme weather ‘intensifies’; Just Stop Oil prisoner interview

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

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Climate diplomacy

REPARATIONS: John Kerry, the US climate envoy, told a House of Representatives foreign affairs committee hearing that the country will not “under any circumstances” pay “reparations” to developing countries hit by climate change-fuelled disasters, reported BBC News. A key outcome of the UN’s COP27 climate summit in Egypt late last year was an agreement to establish a “loss and damage fund” for vulnerable nations, but it was not decided how it would work or who would pay into it.

DIPLOMACY: Kerry’s comments come just days before he travels to Beijing to restart bilateral talks with China on climate change, explained Reuters. Meanwhile, Kerry travelled with US president Joe Biden to the UK this week. Over a cup of tea with King Charles, they “found common ground…on the need to urgently combat climate change”, reported Politico

PLAN: At a meeting of G20 ministers yesterday, COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber put forward his vision – in a 15-page letter – for December’s UN climate talks in Dubai. The plan includes setting a “mid-century” timeline for “phasing down” the use of unabated fossil fuels. “Transition takes time,” he told the Guardian. Meanwhile, in a letter to the Financial Times, a group of climate ministers, led by Germany, Vanuatu and Canada, has called on the COP28 hosts to focus on the “phaseout” of all fossil fuels.

Extreme weather continues

‘UNPRECEDENTED’: Down to Earth reported that “1-10 July was a record-breaking period” for rainfall across several Indian states, with some “exceeding the normal by 61% going up to 10,000%”. Flash floods and landslides killed at least 20 people in Himachal Pradesh, said the Hindustan Times. India’s capital Delhi has seen “unprecedented flooding”, according to the Indian Express, with the Yamuna river reaching the highest level on record, prompting mass evacuations and causing havoc with water supplies.

CERBERUS: A lingering heatwave across southern Europe is set to “intensify next week and could break the 48.8C record for Europe’s top temperature”, said the Times. Dubbed “Cerberus” after the three-headed dog of Greek mythology, the heatwave saw the Italian health ministry announce yesterday an “extreme” health warning for 15 cities, including Rome, Bologna and Florence, reported Sky News. Drought and wildfires are affecting countries including Poland, Croatia, Greece and Spain.

INTENSIFYING: In the US, Axios said earlier today that an “expanding, intensifying heatwave prompted the National Weather Service to issue heat alerts for 115 million people on Friday in 15 states”. Southern states, from California and Arizona through to Texas and Florida, have all experienced extreme and sustained high temperatures. Meanwhile, the New York Times said that extreme flooding across north-eastern states – particularly Vermont where up to 23cm of rain fell in two days last weekend – showed the “limits of America’s efforts to adapt to climate change”. 

Around the world

  • LOGGED: Deforestation in Colombia dropped by 29% in 2022, falling to the lowest level in nearly 10 years, according to new government statistics covered by Al Jazeera. The news came as the presidents of Colombia and Brazil pledged “cooperation” on protecting rainforests at a meeting in Colombia’s Amazonian city of Leticia.
  • PILBARA: One of Australia’s biggest fossil-fuel developments is a step closer to having its life extended for nearly 50 years after Western Australian officials dismissed appeals arguing it should be stopped on climate science and cultural grounds, according to the Guardian.
  • APPROVED: The European Parliament narrowly voted to pass a fiercely contested law to restore degraded natural ecosystems, noted EurActiv, “defeating a right-wing attempt to reject it”.
  • LITHIUM AND COBALT: The International Energy Agency said the supply of minerals critical to the energy transition could move “close to levels needed to support climate pledges by 2030” after a surge in investment, reported Reuters.
  • ROSEBANK: The UK’s largest undeveloped oil and gas field is “highly unlikely” to be approved until August, reported City AM, “amid growing concerns from regulators over electrification and net-zero compatibility”.

The increase in the number of people globally who are currently facing hunger since 2019, according to a new report from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization covered by BusinessGreen. “Climate extremes” have played a central role in pushing up the total from 613 million people four years ago to 735 million today.

  • Oceans around the equator have become “greener” over the past 20 years, according to a new Nature paper. The researchers studied “possible climate-change-driven trends in phytoplankton populations” from Earth-observing satellites.
  • A new study in Nature Communications examined the extent to which forests around the world are being divided up into smaller, isolated patches separated by roads or infrastructure – known as fragmentation.
  • Chinese drivers could, together, save up to 400m tonnes of CO2 by driving less “aggressively” between now and 2050, a new Nature Sustainability study found.

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

Coal financing in rapid decline 

The global energy crisis fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year sparked widespread fears of a “return to coal”. Yet, according to the latest data from Global Energy Monitor (GEM), there is scant evidence of this. The supposed rebound has been illusory, explained GEM’s Alex Hurley and Ryan Driskell Tate in a guest post for Carbon Brief. The financing of coal power outside of China has now hit its lowest point since 2010, they said. But what about within China? “Final investment decisions on coal plants across all financing types continue at a blistering pace.” 

Just Stop Oil protester speaks from prison

In April, Morgan Trowland, a 40-year-old civil engineer, was jailed for three years after being convicted of “recklessly causing public nuisance” by undertaking a Just Stop Oil protest which saw him scale the Dartford bridge over the Thames, stopping traffic for more than 40 hours. The judge, in his sentencing remarks, highlighted that the disruption cost an estimated “£916,696” in economic damage and caused some people to “miss funerals and hospital appointments”. He told Trowland that, although his motive was his concern for climate change, his actions were “totally disproportionate”. 

Speaking from prison this week as Just Stop Oil actions continue at sporting events and elsewhere, Trowland explained to Carbon Brief what led him to undertake his protest. The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Morgan Trowland Just Stop OIl 2022

Carbon Brief: When did you first become fully aware about climate change?

Morgan Trowland: There’s no one thing. I was taught about global warming at school in the mid-90s in New Zealand. It was particularly influential, aged 13, going to a model United Nations assembly and debating what to do about global warming. I remember representing Vanuatu in national costume. I did read the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report summary and I remember I printed it off and left it in my office lunch room at the engineering firm I worked at and was really surprised that no one wanted to talk about it at all. It was quite disturbing. Then [Al Gore’s] An Inconvenient Truth movie was quite an “oh sh*t” moment. Emotionally, it landed. But it was not enough for me to actually do anything. I just continued to lead a privileged life for quite a while after that. But there was one thing that really informed me about the severity of the global climate crisis and that was working in India and being alongside people who do manual work in really unpleasant heat. Personally, getting to know a few people in that situation, appreciating how horrific it would be to face that with little tiny children and being poor and not having any resources to deal with that. That never leaves me. So I’ve been informed by all kinds of things over the decades. But, in the beginning of Extinction Rebellion, because of finally trying to propose a proportionate response, something that would credibly change things, at that point, I was able to look more into the details of just how bad things were. Then you find all the science papers that aren’t in the IPCC consensus, all the really terrifying stuff that is possible. I do remember reading Jem Bendell’s Deep Adaptation paper. It’s pretty chilling. So, no one thing, just a whole parade of things.

CB: Isn’t there a sense of diminishing returns with these protests?

MT: Some civil-rights actions have taken decades. For example, the anti-slavery movement was going on with different rebellions and opposition in Europe for many decades. It’s terribly easy to become despairing about not having everything go your way right now, but I think it’s absolutely critical to keep resisting by whatever means seems to be effective and I feel I owe it to people who will really cop all the worst effects of this…Will we stop doing all kinds of illegal resistance and just stick to the legal political channels? That would be a huge betrayal of all the people that are genuinely suffering horrible injury, death, disease because of this. They can’t wait for the legal, political, commercial channels in this country to work their way through because they won’t.

CB: Can the upcoming UK general election change anything?

MT: There’s a really uncomfortable problem that lots of people who have engaged with resistance have to face up to. It’s that, whichever party is in power, they’re both going to prioritise economic growth over everything else. And that’s going to carry on destroying our environment. It seems with the Labour party that they’ll be a bit more gentle. But, ultimately, economic growth is the priority so it doesn’t all get solved by electing the Labour party. So, yeah, I think they’ll have to be continuing resistance.

CLIMATE TRIBALISM: Dr Hannah Ritchie from Our World in Data argued in the Guardian that, “from nuclear power to electric vehicles”, battles between activists “risk getting in the way of reducing emissions”.

GLOBAL STOCKTAKE: Writing in South Africa’s Daily Maverick, Dr Roland Ngam said that the “road to COP28 is littered with broken promises – but hope exists beyond fossil fuels”.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE: Chatham House has posted a YouTube video on a recent panel debate it hosted titled: “Will the ChatGPT era revolutionise climate financing decisions?”

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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