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As it happenedended1605874879

Climate crisis – live: Email carbon footprint ‘not a worry’ while activists protest Biden hiring oil figure

Follow the action as it happened

Sam Hancock
Friday 20 November 2020 12:21 GMT
AOC speaks at climate protest for Biden's early hires

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Louise Thomas

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A report published in the FT yesterday claimed officials involved in preparations for next year’s UN COP26 climate change summit have been “looking at research suggesting that if you reduced those emails by just one a day, you would save a lot of carbon”.

But experts have said otherwise. Prof Chris Preist, a researcher of sustainability and computer systems, told The Independent: “People should not worry about their email footprint too much because they only have a small effect on it and it’s a relatively small part of their own footprint.” 

Meanwhile, climate activists rallied yesterday outside the Democrat’s headquarters in Washington DC in protest of Joe Biden’s early hires of key staff with connections to the oil and gas industry.

Politicians including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez marched alongside protesters. AOC, as she is commonly called, said at the rally: “We’re going to organise and demand that the Biden administration, which I believe is decent and kind and honourable, keep their promise.”

See below for our live coverage as it happened.


Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling coverage of the climate crisis. 

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 08:09

Sending less ‘unnecessary emails’ unlikely to make a difference to UK’s carbon footprint

The UK has been tasked with finding innovative ways to cut the nation’s carbon emissions before Cop26 , which will be held in Glasgow next November, and the footprint left by web users is thought to be the focus of that endeavour. 

A study commissioned by energy company OVO at the end of 2019 found that if every adult in the UK sent one fewer “thank you” email a day the UK could save more than 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year – the equivalent to 81,152 flights to Madrid. The 10 most “unnecessary” emails OVO found were messages saying only “thank you”, “appreciated”, “cheers” and “LOL”.

But scientists are not convinced this is the answer. “People should not worry about their email footprint too much because they only have a small effect on it and it’s a relatively small part of their own footprint,” Prof Chris Preist, a researcher of sustainability and computer systems at the University of Bristol, told The Independent’s Daisy Dunne last night.

Read her analysis in full here:

Do we need to send fewer ‘unnecessary emails’ to tackle the climate crisis?

Our individual choices about whether or not to send an email are unlikely to make much difference to our carbon footprints, scientists tell Daisy Dunne

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 08:30

AOC joins climate activists in protest against Biden’s early hires

Sunrise Movement, the American youth-led organisation fighting for climate change to be taken seriously in government, led a rally yesterday outside the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC.  

The aim: to encourage Joe Biden to remember that their votes were what won him the White House, and not to recuit members into his adminsitration who have strong affiliations with anti-environemtnal organisation such as oil and gas giants. 

Politicians including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman marched alongside protesters, calling for the president-elect to stick by the environmental pledges he made throughout his victorious campaign. 

AOC, as she is commonly called, said at the rally: “We’re going to organise and demand that the Biden administration, which I believe is decent and kind and honourable, keep their promise.” Ms Ocasio-Cortez also reminded Mr Biden that the climate emergency is a “top three issue” and one that he must take seriously when he is sworn into office in January. 

Mr Biden has been on the receiving end of mass criticism after announcing some of his early hires, one of who is the Democratic Party’s top recipient of fossil fuel industry money. Representative Cedric Richmond, a Democrat from Louisiana, will lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where Politico reports he is “expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists”.

During his 10 years in Congress, Mr Richmond has received roughly $341,000 (£256,505) from donors in the oil and gas industry — the 5th highest total among House Democrats, according to reports in the Daily Poster. The sum includes corporate political action committee donations of $40,000 (£30,089) from oil giant ExxonMobil.

Mr Biden has promised a $1.7tn (£1.3tn) plan to combat climate change, and his making the climate crisis one of his campaign’s top priorities is thought to be a major reason he won the presidential election. He is yet to comment on the backlash surrounding Mr Richmond’s appointment.

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 08:54

Global map of bees created for first time

A global map of every species of bee has been created by scientists in an historic first step towards ensuring their proper conservation, according to a new study published on Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

It is thought more than 20,000 species of bee exist throughout the world and they are dying in huge numbers as a result of climate change, pesticide poisoning and plant loss. But until now, accurate information about the number of bee species and their activity around the world has been sparse - particularly in developing countries where records are hard to come by, the study said.

Bees provide essential services to our ecosystems and are the major pollinators of many of our staple foods, Dr Alice Hughes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Yunnan told BBC News today.

“Here we combine millions of records to create the first maps of global bee richness, and understand why we see these patterns,” Dr Hughes told the BBC. “These maps, and our framework, can then form the basis of future work, enabling us to better understand patterns of bee richness and ensure that they are effectively conserved into the future.”

(Current Biology)

Unlike other creatures, such as bird and mammals, more bee species are found in dry areas away from the poles than in tropical environments nearer the equator, the study concluded.

There are more in the Northern Hemisphere than the Southern, with hotspots in parts of the US, Africa and the Middle East. There are also fewer bee species in forests and jungles than in desert environments because trees provide fewer sources of food for bees than plants and flowers.

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 09:24

Johnson’s 10-point plan not ambitious enough to reach UK’s net-zero target

A quick analysis of the details of Boris Johnson’s climate action plan suggests that the new measures announced by the PM are not nearly ambitious enough to reach the government’s near-term climate goals, or its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

“There’s a gap between the government plans, even with this new set of proposals, and meeting the fourth and fifth carbon budgets, and there’s a second gap between the fourth and fifth carbon budgets and the path we would need to follow to hit net zero,” Dr Simon Evans, deputy editor of the climate change website Carbon Brief, told Daisy Dunne:

Boris Johnson’s climate plan is not ambitious enough to reach UK’s net-zero target

Analysis of the government’s own figures shows that new proposals will not cut emissions fast enough to reach the UK’s climate goals. Daisy Dunne takes a closer look

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 09:40

‘We need to think about the kit itself’: Climate expert weighs in on email debate

Dr Thomas Tanner, director of the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy at SOAS, University of London, told me this morning:

“On the face of it, emails don’t seem to be a major contributor to the climate crisis, but it becomes more important once you add in the contributions of every part of what makes that message possible, from the global data centres down to the home wifi.

“But in reality it is that very infrastructure that should probably be the focus of our attention – how can we ensure that the kit, from laptops to server systems, lasts longer between upgrades? Global policy commitments to ensure durability and longevity of devices would be a welcome boost to the COP26 agenda.

“However, governments may feel fewer emails pushes at a more open door – most of us feel we have too many emails to deal with, so organisational policies and behavioural change that attempts to limit them can be good for our mental as well as planetary wellbeing.”

He finished by clarifying: “The primary concern to date has been on ensuring greener energy inputs to the process of building and powering kit. My argument is we need to think about the kit itself too.”

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 10:00

Caterpillars are ‘aggressive fighters’ before they become butterflies

Surprising new research reveals some types of caterpillar can be “aggressive fighters” as they seek to dominate their preferred food sources. 

Milkweed - also known as “butterfly flower” in the US - is the monarch butterfly caterpillars’ favourite food, but when there are shortages, these voracious green and black stripy larvae have no qualms about resorting to violence - mostly headbutting - in order to keep eating, finds Harry Cockburn:

The very angry caterpillar: Before they become butterflies, the insects can be ‘aggressive fighters’

Nothing stops voracious monarch butterflies in their race to consume the best leaves

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 10:23

France given three months to fulfil climate commitments

France’s top administrative court has given the country’s government a three-month deadline to show it is working to meet its commitments on climate change, in a ruling deemed “historic” by campaigners. 

The Council of State, which rules on disputes over public policies, told the French government that “while France has committed itself to reducing its emissions by 40 per cent in 2030 compared to 1990 levels, it has, in recent years, regularly exceeded the ‘carbon budgets’ it had set itself”.

The French government, famous for brokering the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, was also accused of deferring much of its reduction efforts beyond 2020 - under the guidance of Emmanuel Macron. 

Despite Mr Macron’s 2017 promise to “make our planet great again”, lauded as a swipe at climate denialist Donald Trump who vowed to “make America great again”, France is far off track to meet its commitments under the 2015 treaty.

The Council gave the government three months to justify “how its refusal to take additional measures is compatible with the respect of the reduction path chosen in order to achieve the targets set for 2030”.  The ruling means that “policies must be more than nice commitments on paper,” said one lawyer who called the move “historic”.

In an unusual move for the court, the Council of State published its decision both in English and French, thought to be a reflection of the global interest in the issue.

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Sam Hancock20 November 2020 11:00

British businesses: We need more money to fund PM’s ‘disappointing’ plan

Business groups and investors welcomed Boris Johnson’s green plan but  also questioned whether the prime minister has pledged enough money to make a serious contribution to tackling the climate emergency, reports Ben Chapman:

British businesses disappointed with government

Aims of government’s ‘green industrial revolution’ welcomed, but questions raised about the cash to back them up

Sam Hancock20 November 2020 11:28

Bid launched to save ancient wildwood lichen

A bid has been launched to save one of England’s rarest lichens by transferring it from a fallen oak to nearby trees using a risky translocation method, the National Trust has said.

The lungwort lichen is a survivor of the ancient wildwood that grew in Britain after the last ice age, and its presence has traditionally been an indicator of a healthy woodland. But the frilly, greenish-gold lichen has become increasingly rare in England since the 18th century as a result of air pollution - which lichens are particularly sensitive to - and habitat loss.

In the Lake District it exists in only a handful of sites, including on a veteran oak tree in Borrowdale which formed what is thought to be the single largest community of the species in England. The tree, thought to be between 200 and 300 years old, blew down in storms earlier this year and the lichen would die if it was left, conservationists said.

A team has carefully removed a large patch of lungwort from the oak and reattached it to new trees using wire mesh, staples and eco-friendly glue, and rubbing its reproductive parts directly on bark in efforts to help it survive. It has been "translocated" to dozens of other trees across Borrowdale to give it the best chance of survival and it is hoped placing it high on trunks will give it the light it needs to establish and grow, and protect it from slugs and snails.

The translocation method has worked for other lichen species but there has been a very low success rate for lungwort outside Scotland, the experts said. A previous attempt to translocate the species in the Lakes in the 1980s was only 1 per cent successful, but it is hoped this bid to move three square metres, with a total of more than 100 translocations, will fare better.

Maurice Pankhurst, woodland ranger at the National Trust, told the PA news agency: "The communities of lichens and bryophytes in Borrowdale is one of the finest in northern Europe. Just as an art gallery would protect their collection of fine and rare paintings, it's essential for us to protect these rare species.”

He said that while air pollution had long been a problem, the “impact of acid rain has [now] declined, [and] nitrogen pollution is now more of a problem, arising from increased road vehicles and intensive agriculture, which is having a huge impact on these Atlantic woodlands and the old growth lichens which need very clean air to thrive”. 

“This is particularly pertinent after this summer when we witnessed increased numbers of visitors to the Lake District after lockdown restrictions eased,” Mr Pankhurst added. 

The presence or absence of certain lichen can be used to indicate the health of the habitat they are found in and can act as an early warning of environmental changes, PA reports. 

(AFP via Getty Images)
Sam Hancock20 November 2020 12:09

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