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Countries are still struggling to agree on coal as COP26 looms

July 28, 2021, 1:20 PM UTC

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Here’s a word we’ve been hearing a lot lately: coal.

On Tuesday it was announced that China’s Belt and Road Initiative didn’t include any funding for coal projects in the first half of this year—for the first time since the plan was launched in 2013. That’s significant because the vast majority of coal plants still rely on funding from China, and the window of opportunity for funding from other sources is narrowing.

But if that implies that coal is truly on its way out, the last week also offered a shark rebuke.

Last week’s fraught G20 meeting finally stumbled towards an agreement to bring in new climate targets within the coming months, but its omissions were particularly telling: the ministers failed to agree on eliminating fossil fuel subsidies—or phasing out coal. Behind the veto were China, India, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, soaring electricity usage around the world—paired with drought that has hit hydropower, and other supply disruptions—has helped coal prices soar: markets for thermal coal in both Australia and New Zealand were surpassing highs last seen a decade, or more, ago. The International Energy Agency said earlier this month it expects coal-fired power to recover from the pandemic this year, and it may well hit a record in 2022.

All of this is, needless to say, sobering. Truly cutting emissions requires the world’s highest-carbon fuel to vanish, pronto; and many previously coal-dependent governments have at least promised to consign it to the dustbin of history. We’ve seen what happens, too, when coal does disappear. Carbon Brief estimates that about 40% of the rapid reduction in the U.K.’s emissions is due to an electricity system that is increasingly, if not quite 100%, coal free.

We’ve just passed the 100-day mark leading up to COP26 in Glasgow this November. After the G20 meeting, the question now is whether last week’s stalemate was a discouraging sign of things to come—or whether there’s hope it could lay the ground for a breakthrough.

More below.

Katherine Dunn


Climate meeting

This week marks a critical meeting of the world's top climate scientists, meant to finalize the sixth edition of the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or the IPCC. The meeting will last two weeks, held virtually, and NPR has this guide for what to watch for, from grappling with different scenarios for how the world addresses climate change, to detailing regional differences in temperature change. NPR

Mind the flood

Over the previous weeks, photos of inundated subway systems from Zhengzhou to London have spread across social media—raising red flags about transport infrastructure, whether it dates from the Victorian era, or is just a decade old. But transport experts are now worried the visible signs of increasing flash flooding could scare commuters away—when mass public transit is critical for reducing emissions. New York Times

'Off the scale'

If the recent extreme weather events from China to Germany to British Columbia have been grim, it might be extra nerve wracking to know that climate scientists, too, are surprised. “I think I would be speaking for many climate scientists to say that we are a bit shocked at what we are seeing,” said one. One culprit is the shifting jet stream, which is getting "slower and wavier", especially in the summer. Financial Times 

Keeping cool 

To prepare for the often crippling heat of the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo, athletes have had to adapt—not just for the race day, but their whole training plans. Some athletes have taken to hitting the sauna after they train, others purposefully run or bike at the hottest times of the day, and one even built a "DIY heat chamber." WSJ


How geopolitical tensions are squeezing clean energy ambitions by Sophie Mellor

How a hedge fund is forcing change at ExxonMobil by Fortune Editors

Unable to outrun Tesla or climate change, Mercedes goes all in on EVs by Christiaan Hetzner

Jeff Bezos's historic rocket trip created one giant meme trail back on Earth by Sophie Mellor

Another lumber run? Futures spike 19% as wildfires engulf British Columbia by Lance Lambert 

Ryanair has a plan to beat the COVID travel slump: fight climate taxes, buy more planes by Christiaan Hetzner


$26.2 billion

The (estimated) cost of a huge project to protect Houston from a future of perpetual flooding, as seawaters rise, hurricanes intensify, and the Texan coast, well, sinks (it's already sunk two feet so far). If that price tag looks hefty, experts warn that smaller scale solutions may only be a distraction. “We have to think big,” says one expert.“If you just have a Band-Aid solution, it’s not going to work.”

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