The power plays, the conflicts, the drama and the news about the weather: Diary notes ahead of the United Nations COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.
"The world – this precious blue sphere with its eggshell
crust and wisp of an atmosphere – is not some indestructible toy, some bouncy plastic romper room against which we can hurl ourselves to our heart's content." - Boris Johnson, UN, September 2021
Australia's attitude to climate change, says former prime minister Kevin Rudd, has been corrupted by "a toxic coalition of the Murdoch press, the right wing of the Liberal and National parties, and vested interests in the fossil fuel sector".
What Fox News did for Trump, Rudd says, Murdoch media in Australia is doing for coal barons and others standing against climate action.
Rudd has joined with another former PM, Malcolm Turnbull, to write to Pacific Islands nations apologising for Australia's refusal to do more. The Australian people, they say, would like to, but powerful political interests stand in their way.
Turnbull says even the current prime minister, Scott Morrison, believes the last five Aussie prime ministers all lost their jobs because they tried to do something about climate change. The minority National Party leader Michael McCormack has also just been replaced for not defending coal mining strongly enough. Turnbull says Morrison is determined not to go the same way.
Australia has a target to reduce emissions by a mere 26-28 per cent of 2005 levels by 2030, and because of National Party opposition cannot agree on a net zero target at all. In response, five young Australians, including members of First Nations and disability communities, announced yesterday they are filing complaints with the United Nations.
I feel it is necessary to do as much as I can to demand a safe future for all young people," said Wiradjuri 15-year-old Ethan Lyons. "We have seen things like worsened bush fire seasons, destructions of sacred land for coal, bigger heatwaves, and it is time to start taking action on the people that will not do anything about it."
All hail the Gambia
According to Climate Action Tracker, only one country in the world has an emissions programme that will allow it to meet the 1.5 degree target agreed in Paris 2015 as necessary to contain global warming. It's the Gambia, a tiny country in west Africa.
At the other extreme, five countries including Russia and Saudi Arabia are rated "critically insufficient". New Zealand is in the second-worst category, "highly insufficient". We're ranked lower than the EU, Japan, South Africa and even the US.
The methane monster
Methane will be a hot topic at Glasgow, mainly because of leakage from pipelines and storage tanks. And the country where the most damage is being done is Turkmenistan, directly to the north of Iran and Afghanistan.
During 2019, says the monitoring firm Kayrros SAS, 31 of the 50 most severe methane emissions were at sites in Turkmenistan. Environmental protections barely exist.
Methane has 80 times the heat-trapping capacity of carbon dioxide, in the short-term, and the US Environmental Defence Fund estimates human-caused methane is responsible for at least 25 per cent of global warming.
Stopping those emissions is one of the best options we have for quickly slowing the warming process.
Turkmenistan isn't alone. High methane emissions have also been detected from Russian oil and gas facilities, a rubbish dump in Bangladesh, a gas field in Canada and coal mines in the Appalachian Basin in the US. That includes West Virginia, home state of Senator Joe Manchin, the Democrat who killed a big part of President Joe Biden's climate action budget.
The worst year and the worser worst year
In the US in 2020, there were so many weather and climate catastrophes, the National Centres for Environmental Information (NCEI) declared an official "year of extremes". That was until 2021 came along.
This year, says the NCEI, with the mega-drought in the Midwest, cyclones in the south and east and wildfires on the west coast, nearly one in three Americans lives in a county battered by an extreme weather event.
Heat waves are not even counted on that list, but 64 per cent of Americans live in places that have experienced a multi-day heat wave.
Keep calm and carry on
The British Government has released its new climate strategy and it should, says Prime Minister Boris Johnson, reassure Britons they can "carry on with their existing lifestyles with a clear conscience". Keep calm and carry on.
"In 2050 we will still be driving cars, flying planes and heating our homes, but our cars will be electric, gliding silently around our cities, our planes will be zero emission, allowing us to fly guilt-free, and our homes will be heated by cheap, reliable power drawn from the winds of the North Sea."
The targets are impressive: a 68 per cent cut in emissions below 1990 levels by 2030 and 78 per cent by 2035.
Even before the strategy was released, Britain was ranked by Climate Action Tracker as one of only eight countries in the world doing enough or "almost" enough to limit warming to the Paris target of 1.5 degrees. It's also the only developed country among those eight.
But critics say Johnson is making it up. Labour's climate spokesman Ed Miliband: "The Government's own target says we need 600,000 homes a year installing heat pumps by 2028. But they are funding just 30,000 a year."
The steel industry, Miliband says, is offered only 4 per cent of the support it will need to get to net zero. The new green hydrogen strategy is backed by a £240 million fund, while Germany is spending £9 billion on the same thing.
Meat and dairy contributions
The world's 20 largest meat and dairy companies emit more greenhouse gas than Britain, France or Germany, according to a report called Meat Atlas 2021. Fonterra is on the list as the fifth largest emitter.
Those 20 major emitters also benefit from the support of pension funds, hedge funds and banks. In the five years to 2020, those companies and others like them have benefitted from $478 billion in institutional investments.
We can't plant trees on the moon
Most countries, including New Zealand, head to Glasgow with a "net zero" goal and their hopes pinned, to a greater or lesser degree, on carbon trading. Put simply, that's the ability to balance emissions against planting trees and biofuel crops.
But the South Africa-based global federation ActionAid warns there is not enough available land on the planet to accommodate all the promises already made to plant more trees.
Our Ministry for the Environment has sounded a similar warning. It says if New Zealand tries to meet its Paris commitments entirely by relying on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), we will have to cover almost all our sheep and beef farms with trees.
Climate Change Minister James Shaw says the chances of our relying solely on the ETS to meet our targets are "zilch".
Starting today, Glasgow Diary is a daily premium feature that will run through to the end of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.