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Briefing date 22.01.2024
Baku backtracks after backlash over all-male UN COP29 committee

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Climate and energy news.

Baku backtracks after backlash over all-male UN COP29 committee
Financial Times Read Article

Azerbaijan has backtracked after a backlash over the absence of women on the committee behind the UN COP29 climate summit to be held in Baku, reports the Financial Times. In a development first revealed last week by Carbon Brief’s editor Leo Hickman, President Ilham Aliyev’s appointment of a 28-member organising committee for COP29 did not include a single woman. The move drew widespread criticism, the FT explains, adding: “Some 75 female leaders from business, civil society and academia sent a letter to the president on Friday, urging him to include ‘as many women as possible’ on the committee to ensure the best outcomes for the negotiations.” In response, Aliyev announced an expanded committee of 42 organisers would include 12 women and another two men, the FT says. Among the women added are Umayra Taghiyeva, the deputy minister of ecology and natural resources, the human rights commissioner, Sabina Aliyeva, and Bahar Muradova, the chair of the state committee on family, women and children’s problems, notes the Guardian. Reuters and BusinessGreen also have the story, while Climate Home News publishes a comment piece by four academics who write that the all-male committee had been “inexcusable” and would have been a “major step backward for climate action”.

In other COP29 news, Bloomberg reports that “executives from Azerbaijan’s state-owned oil and gas company Socar held meetings in Davos with consultants and government officials as they seek to improve the company’s climate record” before COP29. And the Big Issue looks at “everything you need to know” about the “already-controversial” summit.

Elsewhere, the Guardian interviews Pedro Pedroso, the outgoing president of the G77 plus China bloc of developing countries, who says that the credibility of the COP28 agreement to “transition away” from fossil fuels rides on the world’s biggest historical polluters rethinking plans to expand oil and gas production. He said: ​​“As we speak, unless we lie to ourselves, none of the major developed countries, who are the most important historical emitters, have policies that are moving away from fossil fuels, on the contrary, they are expanding.”

UK: Fate of Grangemouth oil refinery sealed as ministers agree to 'support transition'
The National Read Article

In a frontpage story, the National reports that the “fate of the Grangemouth oil refinery” in Scotland “has been sealed after ministers agreed to support its ‘transition’ following a crunch meeting on the site’s future.” The outlet continues: “Speaking after a meeting involving refinery owners Petroineos, Unite and both Scottish and UK government ministers, [Scottish] energy secretary Neil Gray said all present had agreed to support Grangemouth workers as the refinery wound down operations. It was announced late last year that the refinery would be closed – potentially as early as spring 2025 – and the site repurposed as an oil import hub.” The article quotes Gray as saying: “Given the significance of the Grangemouth industrial cluster to Scotland’s economy and the crucial role it will play in our just transition to net-zero, it is to be welcomed that this group of key stakeholders has committed to work collaboratively to support the refinery business and its workforce as it transitions.” In response, Richard Leonard – a Labour member of the Scottish parliament who represents the Central Scotland region – urged ministers not to treat the refinery’s closure as an “inevitability”, the newspaper adds. Leonard said: “This is a strategic national asset – people should not shrug their shoulders and say this can be simply replaced by an oil and gas import terminal.” At the same time, the Press Association reports that a planned strike by thousands of construction workers at energy sites across the UK – including Grangemouth – has been called off after they accepted a “whopping” pay offer. 

Meanwhile, the Observer reports that UK prime minister Rishi Sunak “is facing further attacks on his plans to expand oil and gas exploration in the North Sea this week”. Green groups and analysts “are lining up to criticise” the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill – to be debated in the Commons today, the newspaper explains. It quotes UpLift, a group that campaigns for clean energy, which “pointed out that the bill, which the government says will ‘max out’ the UK’s reserves, will actually result in only a 2% rise in North Sea gas output. ‘The remaining 98% of gas demand will come from existing North Sea fields,’ its analysis finds.” The Press Association reports on analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) thinktank, which finds that “electric vehicles could cut imports for petrol and diesel as much as granting new licences for UK oil production would and outpace it after 2030”. And the Financial Times reports that gas networks face an “uncertain future as Britain charts course for net-zero”. 

China vows to rein in capacity in electric vehicle industry
Financial Times Read Article

China will “rein in expansion” of its electric vehicle (EV) sector, reports the Financial Times, quoting Xin Guobin, vice-minister of industry and information technology (MIIT), saying China would take “forceful measures” to address “blind” construction of new EV projects by some local authorities and enterprises. Chinese energy outlet quotes Xin saying that China will also promote uptake of “new energy vehicles” (NEVs) in “rural areas”. State news agency Xinhua says that China’s top economic planner, the national development and reform commission (NDRC), will start “optimi[sing] policies to promote NEV consumption” as this sector “underpin[s] economic growth”. China Energy Net reports that, as of the end of 2023, China’s NEV ownership totalled 20.4m vehicles, “accounting for 6% of the total vehicle inventory”. Another article by reports that China aims for 45% of all cars on the road to be NEVs by 2027 and for “old and obsolete internal combustion engine vehicles” to be phased out. A third article reports that, in December 2023, the number of public charging stations had increased 51.7% year-on-year. The Hong-Kong based South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports that China has discovered a “massive deposit of lithium” in Sichuan province. The Financial Times quotes a “leading South Korean industry executive” as saying “​​Europe is in danger of becoming overdependent on Chinese electric-car batteries”.

Elsewhere, state-run CCTV reports that China’s voluntary carbon-trading system, the China Certified Emission Reduction (CCER) programme, resumed trading on 22 January. CCER’s relaunch “marks the completion of China’s domestic carbon market architecture”, the broadcaster added. Caijing Eleven reports that the cement and aluminium industries “will be included in China’s emissions trading scheme in 2024”, but that there is no timetable for the inclusion of other industries, including iron and steel. The Financial Times reveals that although steel was “significantly” expanding a few months ago, December production “fell 15% year-on-year to its weakest level since 2017”. It quotes one analyst saying “we don’t believe these numbers”, as the fall “did not tie in with” any of the other data released. 

The Daily Telegraph says that the UK’s department for energy security and net-zero has “commissioned the thinktank RUSI to investigate whether over-reliance on [batteries and solar panels from] China amounts to a security risk”. Bloomberg reports that China and the Democratic Republic of Congo are “discussing $7bn in financing as part of a renegotiated minerals-for-infrastructure deal”. Caixin says that, after an eight-year freeze, China and the US have restarted a joint committee on cooperation in agriculture, which discussed “climate-smart agriculture [and] food security”. Another Bloomberg article reports that the Chinese company Longi, the world’s biggest solar equipment maker, argues that “a second Donald Trump presidency won’t halt its plans to expand sales in the US”. SCMP says that China and Russia are “exploring new areas of cooperation, including cars and farm produce in 2024”. Reuters says that Russia “leapfrogged Saudi Arabia to become China’s top crude oil supplier in 2023”, shipping the equivalent of “2.14m barrels per day”.

A commentary by John Kemp for Reuters argues that “massive growth in renewables capacity and a return to more normal river levels is likely to cause thermal growth [in China] to slow and then reverse”. The state-run China Daily carries a commentary by Dimitri de Boer, China chief representative of ClientEarth, an environmental law charity, who argues that “if other countries with significant manufacturing capabilities also follow suit as China [in installing solar power], it will contribute to addressing many of the world’s most pressing issues – stimulating economic development while accelerating global energy transition”.

Climate chiefs admitted net-zero plan based on insufficient data, leading physicist says
The Sunday Telegraph Read Article

In a frontpage story, the Sunday Telegraph reports on claims by an academic that the Climate Change Committee (CCC) based a number of its key net-zero recommendations on just one year of data. Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, an emeritus professor and former director of energy research at the University of Oxford, says the committee only “looked at a single year” of data showing the number of windy days in a year when analysing the extent to which the UK could rely on wind and solar to meet net-zero targets, the outlet reports. In a presentation “seen by [the] newspaper”, Llewellyn Smith – who led a recent Royal Society study on future energy supply – claimed the committee has “conceded privately that that was a mistake”. He attributed the remarks to Chris Stark, the CCC’s chief executive, the outlet adds. It includes a response from a CCC spokesperson, who said: “Our recent report modelled the 12-month operation of Britain’s power system in 2035 using hourly energy demand and real weather data from a low-wind year, stress-tested to simulate a 30-day wind drought. We welcome Sir Chris’ work, which considers other aspects of the energy challenge in 2050, under different assumptions about the future energy mix.” [Carbon Brief has previously reported on the CCC’s hour-by-hour modelling and its stress-tests of the country’s electricity system out to 2035. For example, this included the low wind speeds seen during 2010, which was a one-in-50 year event, and an “extreme”, 30-day wind drought combined with very high electricity demand. Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans has posted a Twitter thread explaining why the Sunday Telegraph’s story is “highly misleading”.]

Elsewhere, energy minister Lord Callanan has accused “vested interests” of “funding campaigns of misinformation” about heat pumps, reports Sky News. Appearing on the Climate Show with Tom Heap, Lord Callanan said: “I’m not going to mention names but people have a vested interest in maintaining our current supplies of gas boilers and the like.” Discussing the costs of heat pumps, he added: “Fairly soon, as prices come down, the installation routine becomes more efficient, the prices will be very low.” The Guardian reports on a new paper by Lord Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank, which – the outlet explains – “suggests the UK should invest £26bn a year in a low-carbon economy to revive prosperity instead of planning tax giveaways that will only lead to further stagnation”. The Daily Telegraph reports that Joe Kaeser, chairman of Siemens Energy, has warned energy bills will have to keep rising to pay for the net-zero transition. The Daily Telegraph also reports that the UK nuclear startup Newcleo has “dropped plans to build a pioneering power plant in Cumbria and will invest £4bn in France instead, after it was lobbied personally by Emmanuel Macron”. In a comment article for the newspaper, financial columnist Matthew Lynn says “Britain risks being humiliated by France in an area it should dominate”.

Atlantic storm to push German wind power to record
Bloomberg Read Article

German wind power output is forecast to hit “a record high” due to the current storm sweeping across northern Europe, reports Bloomberg. It says that production from thousands of German turbines is set to peak at 57,949 megawatts (MW) today, according to a Bloomberg model, while the current record of 53,022MW was reached just before Christmas. The outlet explains that wind power is Germany’s “biggest source of green energy”, which combined with solar to account for more than half of the country’s total power supplies for the first time last year.

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel reports that even though the German government has already agreed to introduce “climate funds” for citizens – revenues from the CO2 pricing will be distributed back to the population at the end of the year – this mechanism is “unpopular” among many German politicians. The outlet notes that Matthias Miersch, vice-chair of the Social Democrats, believes that “the proposal of a per-capita payment as the sole compensation for an increasingly higher CO2 price [to be] wrong”. However, in an interview with Die Zeit, Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), says that the German government “should quickly implement the climate money now because it creates a balance and helps convince more people to support the energy transition”. In the same interview, Birol notes that “Germany should not have decided to phase out nuclear energy so early, especially considering its strong economy”, which “affects the electricity supply and opportunities to reduce emissions and transition away from climate-damaging energy sources”. 

UK: Trust Labour to uphold green investment plan, David Lammy says
BBC News Read Article

There is yet more coverage of whether the Labour party will press on with plans to invest £28bn each year by the end of this next parliament in net-zero projects if they win the next election. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said it was a commitment voters could trust Labour to uphold, BBC News reports. When pressed, he added that Labour would not disregard “the economic climate” and that plans must be “within our fiscal rules”, the outlet says, adding he did not “quite know” what economic state Labour would be “inheriting”. The questions for Labour came after an “exclusive” in the Sun on Friday afternoon, which claimed that Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was “ditching his flagship promise”. The article quotes “Labour insiders”, who said: “We’re going to drop the figure altogether. We’ll keep the promise to turn Britain into a clean energy superpower, but the £28bn has just become an albatross around our neck.” The outlet adds that “high-level talks about how and when to drop the eye-watering £28bn sum have been held in recent days – to the fury of shadow energy secretary Ed Miliband.” [Labour later dismissed the article as inaccurate and stressed its pledge remained.] The Sunday Times takes a look at “what is going on” with the pledge, noting that “Labour is insisting it will press ahead with the transition to green energy if it takes power, despite dropping from its forthcoming manifesto a promise to spend £28bn a year on eco projects”. It adds: “A number of senior party sources have said it is preparing to abandon all reference to the £28bn figure originally attached to its green prosperity plan.” One source tells the newspaper: “You do need the investment and the money, there’s no doubt about that. But it will be towards the second half of parliament. It’ll be subject to what the government’s put in, and it’s got to be within the fiscal rules.” The Daily Mail says that senior Conservatives have accused Labour of “flip flopping” over the pledge, while the Financial Times reports that Starmer has set a “hard deadline” of 8 February to finalise Labour’s draft election manifesto.

Meanwhile, the head of the Fire Brigades Union has warned that the public will be put at risk if Labour drops their plan, reports the Guardian in an “exclusive”. Matt Wrack, the FBU’s general secretary, said: “If Labour doesn’t spend this money, it will put our members at risk, but it will also put communities at risk, especially in areas which are at risk of wildfires or major floods. It will increase the strain on the fire service and the risk to firefighters.” The Guardian also reports the comments of Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, who – speaking at the Davos Economic Forum – said that the UK should come up with its own version of Joe Biden’s $369bn (£290bn) Inflation Reduction Act, which has provided support to a range of technologies including electric cars and renewable power. In contrast, the chief executive of Enquest – a company that operates oil and gas platforms in the North Sea – has said that Labour’s plan to ban new oil and gas drilling is “economically senseless” and threatens to bring forward rig shutdowns by a decade, reports the Daily Telegraph. Speaking to the newspaper, Amjad Bseisu said: “It will exacerbate the decline of the industry and actually exacerbate the costs to the taxpayer, because we will have to decommission everything sooner rather than later.” The Daily Telegraph also reports that Gary Smith, the general secretary of the GMB union, “confronted” Starmer over the policy at a private meeting on Tuesday afternoon. Smith described the plan as “bad for investment, bad for jobs and bad for national security” – or “words to that effect”, the newspaper says. Finally, Politico says that, despite “years of talking up their green credentials”, Labour is on a “charm offensive” with the fossil fuel industry. One Labour official tells the outlet: “There has been quite a lot of engagement with the oil and gas industry in the last year, and it’s stepped up in the last six months.”

US: Climate test for natural gas exports splits White House advisers
Bloomberg Read Article

US president Joe Biden’s top advisers are divided over how much to ramp up environmental scrutiny of licences to ship natural gas abroad as companies and industry groups warn it could slow development of new export terminals, reports Bloomberg. Speaking to “people familiar with the matter”, the outlet explains that “administration officials who support taking a tougher approach argue it’s important on both climate and political grounds and are worried that the US has already authorised too much natural gas to flow overseas”. The article says that the “younger electorate…have come to view the multibillion dollar liquefied natural gas export projects as a test of the president’s commitment to fighting climate change”. However, it adds: “Even so, the issue is complex – cutting across myriad geopolitical, domestic and other interests. Biden pledged to provide more natural gas to Europe after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The US is now the world’s largest LNG exporter, and any change in policy could have have far-reaching consequences for the industry. Advisers have raised concerns about the economic risk.” A second Bloomberg article reports that “natural gas producers and pipeline companies are warning the Biden administration against any move to pause US liquefied natural gas export approvals, saying it would squander the climate benefits of replacing dirtier coal-fired power worldwide”. And Politico reports that “Biden administration’s climate-driven rethinking of US natural gas exports is spooking Europe’s fragile energy industry”.

Meanwhile, the Financial Times reflects on the retirement of John Kerry and Xie Zhenhua – climate envoys for the US and China, respectively – which “spells the beginning of a new period in negotiations”. Political analysts “have credited the friendship for the progress made by Beijing and Washington over their respective climate change policies”, it says, adding: “In the days ahead of the COP28 summit, the US and China reached an agreement, nicknamed the Sunnylands statement for the location of the Californian meeting, pledging to “accelerate the substitution” of fossil fuels with green energy. A promise to triple the global level of renewables by 2030 and include more greenhouse gases such as methane in climate change calculations was taken as a good sign by the climate experts. But it left much work to be done if the world’s two largest polluters were to power the world to the Paris agreement goal of limiting warming to well below 2C and ideally 1.5C, they pointed out.” The Guardian describes the retirements as the “end of an era in global climate politics”. 

In other US news, the New York Times reports that the “Biden administration is overhauling the country’s disaster assistance programs, expanding aid for survivors of hurricanes, wildfires and other catastrophes and making it easier to access”. The Financial Times has a “big read” on how the US plans “to break Russia’s grip on nuclear fuel”. And the Washington Post reports that the “Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to significantly strengthen limits on fine particle matter, one of the nation’s most widespread deadly air pollutants, even as industry groups warn that the standard could erase manufacturing jobs across the country”.

Brexit divergence from EU destroying UK’s vital environmental protections
The Guardian Read Article

Exclusive “detailed analysis” by the Guardian – reported on the frontpage – reveals that “vital legal protections for the environment and human health are being destroyed in post-Brexit departures from European legislation”. The outlet says: “The UK is falling behind the EU on almost every area of environmental regulation, as the bloc strengthens its legislation while the UK weakens it. In some cases, ministers are removing EU-derived environmental protections from the statute book entirely.” It notes that “at least seven big policies have been changed that have put a chasm between the EU and the UK on environmental regulation”. These include the UK “falling behind on reducing carbon emissions as the EU implements carbon pricing” and “the EU is compensating those who are struggling to afford the costs of the green transition, while the UK is not”. Another article lists the “UK environmental protections dropped since Brexit”, while a third article reports on the “lament” of European lawmakers that the UK “used to be a leader on climate”. In related news, the Times reports that UK “​​companies are shelving plans for new sustainability initiatives as surveys show that being green is falling down the priority list”.

Climate and energy comment.

It’s time MPs were honest about the true cost of net-zero
Editorial, The Sunday Times Read Article

There is continued reaction to last week’s news of Indian giant Tata’s decision to close its two blast furnaces at the Port Talbot steelworks in south Wales. An editorial in the Sunday Times explains that “the blast furnaces, which generate huge amounts of carbon dioxide as they heat iron ore with coke and limestone to produce molten iron, will be replaced with a less polluting electric arc furnace, which will recycle scrap steel”. However, the new furnace will require fewer staff and so “up to 2,800 workers will lose their jobs”, the newspaper says. It argues that there “are nuances that make this different from the typical net-zero showdown. Port Talbot has been losing more than £1m a day. British steelmaking has been in decline for decades – mainly because of high energy and labour costs and cut-price competition”. This means that “switching to an electric arc furnace made commercial sense as well as satisfying net-zero criteria”. Nonetheless, “it is no coincidence that the boom era for setting net-zero targets was during Covid, when fossil fuel prices crashed as roads emptied and aircraft were grounded”, the editorial argues: “Much has changed since then. Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and a cost of living crisis in the West have forced governments to focus on the numbers.” It concludes: “Britain has already drastically reduced carbon emissions by deriving nearly half of our electricity from renewable sources. We should continue on that path. But our political leaders must either be more honest about the upfront costs of net-zero in jobs and taxes or take a more considered approach to achieving it. Trying to have it both ways is a recipe for losing ­public consent.”

With the new arc furnaces not operational until 2027, “Britain will become the only major economy unable to make steel from scratch and increasingly reliant on imports”, says a Guardian editorial. It adds: “That means well-paid engineering jobs moving to places such as India, while Britain adds to global greenhouse gas emissions as the steel it needs will have to be transported from elsewhere. Instead of bunging Tata £500m to make 2,800 people redundant, it would have been better for the Tories to steal Labour’s £3bn plan to move more slowly away from older coal-powered plants while transitioning to green steel as demand for climate‑friendly products increases.”

An editorial in the Daily Mail says the decision to close the blast furnaces is a “devastating blow”. It argues that “successive governments have saddled our domestic industry with crippling handicaps which make them uncompetitive”. It says: “First, the green taxes imposed by Ed Miliband’s Climate Change Act. Then the insane dash for net-zero, which has led Tata to switch to greener, but less labour-intensive, production methods. Politicians may wail and wring their hands, but their eagerness to burnish their green credentials is costing jobs and livelihoods.” Also in the Daily Mail, climate-sceptic columnist Andrew Neil writes that “Port Talbot has been sacrificed to the altar of net-zero”, while Mail on Sunday columnist Sarah Vine says that “Greta [Thunberg] and her chums will be delighted”. In the Daily Telegraph, an editorial says that Port Talbot “is a victim of net-zero madness”. It adds: “The closure will reduce British carbon output by only 1.5%. As steel will have to be imported from countries like China, global emissions might rise as a consequence.” Also in the Daily Telegraph, climate-sceptic columnist Allison Pearson says Port Talbot has “been sacrificed on the altar of net-zero”, which she describes as “that absurd and misanthropic creed which calls British workers losing their jobs ‘progress’ while their carbon will now be emitted in India and China”. 

In other UK comment, Clare Moriarty – chief executive of the Citizens Advice charity – warns in an article for the Financial Times that “people are getting into personal debt to pay their bills and keep the lights on”. She writes: “Getting people out of the red is the key to unlocking the fixes we need for the big issues. Making tangible progress on net-zero targets is an obvious one. That will be so much easier if the households currently struggling the most, but which stand to benefit the most from lower bills, are supported through the green energy transition. Sometimes that means financial help to get a heat pump or insulate a home; sometimes it’s informing people about using electricity at cheaper times of day. The problem is that these policies are hard to introduce, take planning and foresight and will pay dividends only in the future – something decision makers often shy away from.” Larry Elliott, the Guardian‘s economics editor and Observer columnist Martha Gill both focus on the Davos Economic Forum. Elliot discusses the “new mantra” of “glocalisation”, while Gill asks “can the super-rich tell us how to save the planet?”, adding: “Gen Z certainly think so.”

Finally, Dominic Lawson – another climate-sceptic columnist – writes in the Daily Mail that the government funding received by Drax power station is the “maddest net-zero subsidy of all”. He writes: “This grotesque trade gains Whitehall benediction because of an accounting sleight-of-hand. The colossal CO2 emissions from wood burning are attributed to the ‘carbon budget’ of the countries where the trees are grown, rather than here where they are incinerated.”

New climate research.

Synthesis of the land carbon fluxes of the Amazon region between 2010 and 2020
Communications Earth & Environment Read Article

The south-eastern Amazon was a net carbon source over 2010-20, meaning that the land released more carbon than it absorbed, according to a new study. The authors conducted “a comprehensive synthesis of existing state-of-the-art estimates of the contemporary land carbon fluxes in the Amazon”, using a range of “top down” and “bottom up” methods. They find that the entire Amazon was a net carbon source during recent climate extremes. The results point to increasing “human-induced disturbances” and “reduction in the old-growth forest sink during drought”, the paper says.

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