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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 17.02.2022
Australia’s biggest coal-fired power plant to shut years ahead of schedule

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News.

Australia’s biggest coal-fired power plant to shut years ahead of schedule
Financial Times Read Article

The 2.9 gigawatt (GW) Eraring coal-fired power plant – Australia’s largest – is to close it in 2025, seven years earlier than planned, the Financial Times reports. Origin Energy, its owner, said the plant was unable to complete with the “influx of renewables”, the paper adds, quoting the firm’s chief executive saying: “The economics of coal-fired power stations are being put under increasing, unsustainable pressure by cleaner and lower cost generation, including solar, wind and batteries.” Origin has joined the owners of other Australian coal plants in accelerating the closure of coal, reports Reuters. It says the firm plans to build a 0.7GW battery at the site of the Eraring plant. There are 16 coal-fired power plants in Australia, notes ABC News, with seven scheduled to close by 2035. It says coal power supplies 60% of the country’s electricity, down from 87% in 2006 and quotes the electricity market operator AEMO saying: “Planned additional transmission capacity – including the announced battery – will give the state access to enough electricity generation to meet the Energy Security Target at the time Eraring closes.” It then quotes Angus Taylor, federal minister for industry, energy and emissions reduction calling the early closure “bitterly disappointing”. The Guardian notes that renewables are expected to reach “at least 69%” of Australia’s electricity mix by 2030. Bloomberg also has the story.

A comment for Reuters Breakingviews by Anthony Currie says: “[T]he ruling right-wing federal coalition parties are raising fears of supply shortages and higher prices. Their refusal to embrace the shift to renewables is the real problem.” Renew Economy looks at how “the solar duck curve gave Australia’s biggest coal generator an early retirement”. Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that British utility firm Octopus will “partner with Aboriginal communities in northern Australia on plans for renewable energy projects it says could attract investments of as much as A$50bn over the next decade”.

US sea level to rise by 2050 as much as in past century, NOAA says
Reuters Read Article

Sea levels around the coast of the US will rise by up to a foot [~30cm] over the next 30 years as a result of climate change, Reuters reports, citing a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It continues: “In addition to more frequent bouts of coastal inundation associated with storm surges, rising sea levels are leading to increasing episodes of flooding from high tides alone.” The newswire adds that damaging floods typical with today’s sea levels would be expected to occur 10 times more often by 2050, according to NOAA. Associated Press says the increase in sea levels by 2050 would be as large as the rise over the entire 20th century, with another foot expected by 2100. Sky NewsInside Climate News and the Guardian all have the story.

Fossil fuel and agriculture handouts climb to $1.8tn a year, study says
Financial Times Read Article

Government subsidies for “heavily polluting industries led by coal, oil, gas and agriculture” have reached at least $1.8tn a year – some 2% of global GDP – the Financial Times reports, citing new research. It continues: “The biggest beneficiary of the handouts was the fossil fuel industry, which enjoyed $640bn a year, while the agriculture and forestry sectors received $520bn and $155bn, respectively, the research found.” Thomson Reuters Foundation also covers the findings, which it calls “the first in over a decade to estimate the total value of environmentally harmful subsidies”. It says the total includes “government money, tax breaks and other forms of support”. The outlet says the researchers are “calling for the subsidies to be reformed under talks on a global nature pact due to be agreed in the coming months”. The Guardian reports: “From tax breaks for beef production in the Amazon to financial support for unsustainable groundwater pumping in the Middle East, billions of pounds of government spending and other subsidies are harming the environment, says the first cross-sector assessment for more than a decade.” BusinessGreen also has the story. [See Carbon Brief’s explainer on the challenge of defining fossil-fuel subsidies, which, depending on the approach taken, can include direct support as well as implicit subsidies such as underpriced externalities or reduced tax rates.]

Lead EU lawmaker proposes carbon market rules to respond to price spikes
Reuters Read Article

The European Parliament’s lead lawmaker on EU carbon market reforms has proposed “rules to make it easier for policymakers to intervene if n the scheme if prices rise too fast”, Reuters reports. Ahead of EU negotiations over the reforms, it says German MEP Peter Liese, who is drafting the European Parliament’s position, proposed more rapid releases of permits when prices are rising quickly. It adds: “EU lawmakers will debate and vote on their final position in June, before parliament and EU countries negotiate the final law.” Bloomberg explains: “To be approved, Liese’s amendments would need to win majority backing in the European Parliament and weighted majority support from member states. In the first stage of the legislative process in the EU Parliament, the environment committee is set to vote on the carbon market overhaul in May.” In related news, EurActiv reports on calls from Poland to “curb financial speculators’ participation” in the carbon market. Politico says high energy prices have “spark[ed] yet another fight between Warsaw and Brussels”.

Separately, EurActiv reports that the lead European Parliament lawmaker on the EU renewable energy directive has tabled a “radical overhaul”, including plans to “speed up permits for wind farms, promote biofuels in transport, and boost imports of green hydrogen”.

Oil firms’ climate claims are greenwashing, study concludes
The Guardian Read Article

“Accusations of greenwashing against major oil companies that claim to be in transition to clean energy are well-founded,” the Guardian reports, citing new research. It says the study looked at the records of ExxonMobile, Chevron, Shell and BP finding their climate claims “do not align with their actions, which include increasing rather than decreasing exploration”. The paper quotes one of the study authors saying of recent oil company climate pledges: “It’s like a very naughty schoolboy telling the teacher ‘I promise to do all my homework next week’, but the student has never worked hard.” NPR says the four oil firms “aren’t taking concrete steps to live up to their pledges to transition to clean energy, new research has found”. ABC News in Australia runs the story with the headline: “Big oil all talk, no action on climate change? Researchers say they’ve got the proof.” New Scientist also has the story. Carbon Brief‘s coverage includes charts showing how oil majors’ annual reports have made increasingly frequent mention of climate-related terms but their fossil fuel output has remained high.

UK: Tory MP hires staff linked to climate denial group
Politico Read Article

Craig Mackinlay, the Conservative MP who fronts the self-styled “net-zero scrutiny group” of 19 Tory politicians, has “recruited two members of staff with links to the country’s most high-profile climate science denial group”, reports Politico. It adds: “Members of the group have always maintained their focus is on the cost to households rather than questioning the science behind climate change.” However, the publication says that Mackinlay has “recently hired Harry Wilkinson, head of policy at Net Zero Watch, in addition to Ruth Lea, a former trustee of the group, to work in his parliamentary office…Net Zero Watch is the latest incarnation of the Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF), well-known to green campaigners as a megaphone for climate change denial.” The publication says it was “alerted to the moves” by DeSmog, which also reports the story.

Separately, the Guardian that constituents of Steve Baker MP “who are concerned about his environmental position have set up a ‘Steve Baker Watch’ group”. Baker is one of the other Conservatives in the 19-strong “net-zero scrutiny group”, which the Guardian explains he helped set up. It says the campaigning constituents told the paper: “Steve’s Net Zero Watch campaign will make people’s lives in Wycombe miserable. He wants to stop us getting cheaper clean energy, insulating our homes and creating a better future for our children. We’ve had enough!” The Guardian adds that while the “scrutiny group” of MPs “says it does not dispute climate science or the need to decarbonise”, its members have “called for cuts to green taxes and an increase in fossil fuel production to address the energy crisis, and recently pushed for fracking in the UK”.

Meanwhile, the New Statesman carries an interview with Conservative MP Chris Skidmore with the trail line: “The former energy minister on why Conservatives championing fracking and gas are betraying their own party.”

Elsewhere, openDemocracy reports: “Several top UK government posts have been handed to MPs ‘who haven’t clocked seriousness of climate crisis’.” Writing in the Financial Times, the paper’s UK chief political commentator discusses the Conservative Party’s “crisis of direction”. Pointing to issues such as the net-zero target, he says: “The prime minister has pledged to shrink the state, but the UK’s challenges require an active government.”

Comment.

Tory MPs fear that net-zero is hurting poor people. Ignore their crocodile tears
Caroline Lucas, The Guardian Read Article

“We cannot ask other countries to aim for net-zero if we abandon our commitment to it ourselves,” writes Green MP Caroline Lucas in a comment for the Guardian, adding: “Yet that is just what the tiny group of Conservative MPs in the net-zero scrutiny group are trying to make us do.” Lucas continues: “They are right to be worried about the impact of energy price rises on everyone in Britain, especially low-income households…But their crocodile tears about the impact on the least well-off would be more credible if their party’s action hadn’t contributed to the state we’re in, because the Conservative government’s decision to ‘get rid of all the green crap’ a decade ago means that the UK’s energy bills are £2.5bn higher than they would otherwise have been.” [This figure comes from Carbon Brief analysis published in January.] Lucas adds: “In any case, as has frequently been pointed out by energy experts, global gas prices are overwhelmingly responsible for the spike in energy bills, not green levies.” She concludes: “The government would do better to take its ideological foot out of its mouth and keep its manifesto promise to spend £9bn of public money on the energy efficiency that would actually help consumers as well as the planet.”

Fracking’s false hope of low-priced energy security
Jeremy Warner, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

UK shale gas is “quite unlikely to be commercially viable”, writes assistant editor Jeremy Warner in the Daily Telegraph, in a comment that criticises commentators and prominent Conservatives for arguing that lifting the ban on fracking would “miraculously [end] all our worries about energy security and soaring fuel bills”. Warner says: “Even [then-chancellor George] Osborne, a fully signed up convert to the cause, was forced to admit that though he had high hopes for the number of jobs that fracking might create, the amounts of gas generated were likely to be too small to have any meaningful impact on international prices. Unfortunately, it is the latter that dictate what UK households have to pay.” In contrast, low gas prices in the US are due to “their output [being] landlocked and therefore command[ing] a lower price”, Warner says.

Meanwhile, commentator Douglas Murray writes in the Sun that a UK fracking industry would have “transformed” the country’s energy market and gas prices. His piece is titled: “Spineless ministers have swallowed ludicrous claims over fracking – leaving us to pay the price with sky-high fuel bills.” In the Daily Express, Tim Newark writes under the headline: “Fracking ban means we’re missing out on energy goldmine.”

With green solutions the UK can again inspire manufacturing envy
Clive Hickman, The Times Read Article

The UK manufacturing sector needs “dedicated funding for the global challenge of manufacturing transitioning to net-zero”, writes Clive Hickman, chief executive of the Manufacturing Technology Centre, in a comment for the Times. He continues; “If the government is to meet its 2050 net-zero target, it is vital that the sector takes bold steps to cut its carbon footprint, but it needs financial support.” He concludes: “The UK’s manufacturing might was once the envy of the world. Through innovative green technologies it can be again, and our historic manufacturing communities will be all the better for it.”

Meanwhile, Conservative MP Alexander Stafford writing for the Times Red Box says that renewables “are now the cheapest way of generating electricity and jobs in communities across the north of England and beyond”. He continues; “Insulation and renewables are both concrete, long-term solutions to the cost of living crisis and the challenge of levelling up, and are also net-zero policies”. Stafford adds; “Despite what some are trying to say, net-zero is about wasting less energy, bringing down bills and building homegrown energy industries in places that need the jobs, securing our future economy.” He says that “fracking is hugely unpopular” whereas “investment in jobs and action on climate change are hugely popular” and concludes: “Net-zero, far from being the cause, is the long-term solution to the current energy crisis.”

Wind groups blown off-course by ‘perfect storm’
Leslie Hook, Financial Times Read Article

A Financial Times feature looks at how European wind groups have been “blown badly off-course as supply chain disruption and soaring raw material costs prompt a stark reversal of fortunes”. It says: “While European turbine makers have been battered, the situation in China, the world’s biggest installer of wind turbines last year, has been quite different.” It adds: “While long-term demand for wind turbines is set to be boosted by net-zero emissions targets that now cover most of the global economy, the near-term outlook is not so rosy.”

Science.

Warming weakens the night-time barrier to global fire
Nature Read Article

Night-time fire intensity has increased globally as a result of hotter and drier nights, a new study says, reducing this “critical window” for slowing or extinguishing wildfires. Using global satellite observations of daytime and night-time fire detections and corresponding hourly climate data, the researchers find that “night fires have become 7.2% more intense from 2003 to 2020”. These results “reinforce the lack of night-time relief that wildfire suppression teams have experienced in recent years”, the authors say, adding: “We expect that continued night-time warming owing to anthropogenic climate change will promote more intense, longer-lasting and larger fires.”

Climate policy conflict in the US states: A critical review and way forward
Climatic Change Read Article

A new review article assesses the obstacles to “strong and effective” climate policy within US states and the potential solutions for overcoming them. The authors “examine emerging tensions between climate justice and the technocratic and/or market-oriented approaches traditionally taken by many mainstream environmental groups”. They suggest strategies for overcoming opposition to climate action, focusing on “political strategies, media framing, collaboration, and leveraging the efforts of ambitious local governments”.

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