Today's climate and energy headlines:
- US: Biden administration to finance $8bn in power-grid improvements
- 'Lack of leadership and coordination': MPs slam Treasury for failure to align tax system with UK's climate goals
- Japan cancels its last coal power plant project
- China: Ministry of ecology and environment responds to questions about supporting developing countries to build coal-fired power projects
- New homes in poorer areas to bear brunt of increasing flood risk, study says
- This might be the Senate’s most important climate vote ever
- Combining ambitious climate policies with efforts to eradicate poverty
- Current and future flood risk of new build homes across different socio-economic neighbourhoods in England and Wales
The Joe Biden administration in the US has unveiled new programmes to improve the nation’s power grid, framing them as part of its effort to fight climate change, the Wall Street Journal reports. It notes that the Energy Department will provide more than $8bn in loans for new high-voltage transmission lines. The article adds that the administration sees this as “a way to boost low-carbon energy supply by connecting the often remote hot spots for wind and solar power to more populated areas”, as well as a means of boosting reliability during extreme weather. Reuters says that the initiative is part of the wider goal of achieving 100% clean power by 2035. It notes that up to $5bn will be available from the Energy Department’s Loan Programs Office (LPO) and up to $3.25bn will come from the Western Area Power Administration’s Transmission Infrastructure Program, which is set aside for parts of the US West. The piece adds that the LPO “has more than $40bn in funds left over after the financing went mostly unused during the Trump administration”. Another Reuters article says the “White House hopes to capitalise on growing support from US utilities, unions and green groups for a national clean energy mandate by backing efforts to require the US grid to get 80% of its power from emissions-free sources by 2030, according to a senior administration official”.
Meanwhile, a piece in the Hill states that after updating the US’s nationally determined contribution (NDC) target under the Paris Agreement last week, the Biden administration plans to provide more details on how it will achieve its climate goals and put pressure on foreign countries to increase their own in the coming months. The piece quotes the US NDC (pdf) which says the government sees “multiple paths” to achieve its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. [For more information on the new US NDC and wider climate policy, see Carbon Brief’s new US country profile.] Reuters outlines how Biden intends to champion his $2tn jobs-and-infrastructure plan – which has a large climate component – in a series of speeches this week. Meanwhile, another Reuters piece reports that a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Congress are working on an alternative to Biden’s plan that would “cost roughly half as much but spend far more on roads and bridges”. It notes that, according to Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican, their package – like Biden’s – would include an energy component, but he did not elaborate and gave no timeline for the plan’s launch.
Finally, US climate envoy John Kerry has called on scientists to help in the fight against climate scepticism, according to Reuters. The newswires says that Kerry told a Nobel Foundation summit: “Scientists want to avoid the fray – but we are in a war against denial…I think we have to fight back, and I think scientists have to be at the front of that fight.”
A report from the UK’s Public Accounts Committee – a select committee of MPs that examines the value for money of government projects – has warned that the Treasury and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have limited understanding of how the nation’s tax system supports or hinders its climate and environmental goals, according to BusinessGreen. The “scathing” report urges the government to reform the tax system and says that the two departments responsible for administering UK taxes take a “very limited view” on the role of tax in environmental outcomes and are missing opportunities to use tax reforms to aid the net-zero transition, the news website continues. The Press Association, via the Guardian, reports that with six months until the UK hosts the COP26 climate summit, the committee’s chair, Meg Hillier, warned that the Treasury and HMRC needed to “catch up fast”. The committee reported that the Treasury had told them the government “did not have a plan for the reduction in tax revenue on fossil fuels and greenhouse gases, which, in addition to fuel duty, includes £9bn of other taxes”, according to the newswire. PA adds that the report found that the Treasury and HMRC do not sufficiently assess the green impacts of taxes, such as fuel duty or air passenger duty, and gave the example of the fuel-duty freeze as a case where immediate priorities had come ahead of long-term environmental plans. The Independent notes that chancellor Rishi Sunak “came under fire last month after announcing in his budget that the government would freeze fuel duty for the 11th year in a row”. [See Carbon Brief‘s breakdown of the 2021 budget and analysis showing the UK’s CO2 emissions are as much as 5% higher than they would have been without a 10-year fuel duty freeze.] An opinion piece in BusinessGreen by Libby Peake from the thinktank Green Alliance draws on recent survey results and is titled: “The public want green taxes, but will the government deliver?” An opinion piece in the Times Red Box by Labour peer Lord Triesman states: “Government and regulators now need to create an environment where investors and lenders are rewarded for taking the long-term view. What will ultimately bring down green financing costs is longevity and pipeline security.”
Separately, the Times covers a report from the NGO Greener Transport Solutions submitted to the cross-party transport committee which finds that a pay-per-mile road-pricing system “must be introduced by the end of the decade” to make up for the £40bn hole in the public finances every year set to arise from the switch to electric cars due to lost fuel taxes. Meanwhile, another Times story says that automotive company Lotus has pledged to build electric sports cars in the UK and to sell “tens of thousands” of vehicles by the middle of the decade. In more UK news, the Financial Times reports that the government is in talks with some of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth and pension funds about investing in British clean energy projects, including gigafactories and offshore wind farms.
Finally, in mainland Europe, Politico reports that France and Germany have jointly presented their national plans under the EU’s pandemic recovery package, with the two nations pledging to spend 50% and 40%, respectively, of the funds on climate-related investments.
A Japanese initiative developing a new coal-fired power plant has been cancelled, “leaving the country with no new construction on the horizon”, according to Bloomberg. The joint venture of Kansai Electric Power and Marubeni, a trading and investment business conglomerate, ditched the project due to the government’s tighter environmental rules and banks curbing financing for carbon-intensive projects, the news website states. It adds that rather than proceeding with the 1.3 gigawatt (GW) coal power project that was set to begin operations in 2024, the companies may now build a biomass facility instead. Reuters reports that Kansai Electric Power, which is Japan’s second-biggest provider of fossil fuel electricity, is “being targeted by a shareholder resolution aimed at pushing the utility to cut coal use”.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that an assessment by the NGO Reclaim Finance has concluded that the Powering Past Coal Alliance, which has 111 members including 24 governments, is “not fit for purpose” and in danger of being used as a “greenwash”. The newspaper notes that the initiative, which is led by the UK and Canada, forms a “key plank” of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s strategy ahead of the COP26 climate summit later this year. However, it says that while members are supposed to show they are on a pathway to eliminating coal-fired power plants some, “including the UK and Canada”, are continuing to expand the use of coal.
Li Gao, director-general of the Department of Climate Change in China’s Environment Ministry (MEE), has defended Beijing’s strategy of backing some developing countries to build coal-fired power projects, reports Phoenix TV. Li said at a press briefing on Tuesday that China’s support was out of “overall consideration for local economic and social development, as well as the needs for [tackling] climate change”, the Hong Kong-based TV station notes. According to Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK), Li stressed that China only provided such “support” in response to “local needs”. He said he had noticed some “international opinions” which urged China to stop doing so, but many developing countries “can’t even use or afford electricity”, says RTHK. Li pointed out that, therefore, the “support” for coal power in those nations “cannot be stopped in a simple way”, the article adds.
Reporting on the same conference, Beijing’s state news agency China News Service highlights Li’s quote: “Dealing with climate change is not to prevent people in developing countries from living a good life.” It also says that Li stated China would help more developing countries transition towards renewable energy to reduce their reliance on coal power gradually. In a separate China News Service article, Li is cited saying that China is accelerating the formulation of climate change law and the introduction of carbon market trading regulations.
Meanwhile, the Chinese coastal provinces of Guangdong and Shandong have prioritised the development of renewable energy in their newly published regional 14th five-year plan, reports China Urban Energy Weekly. Guangdong Province in southern China pledges to “vigorously develop advantageous industries, such as advanced nuclear energy, offshore wind power and solar power”, the publication says. The coastal region also promises to “accelerate cultivating emerging industries, such as hydrogen energy”. In eastern China, Shandong aims to become “a national highland” of the hydrogen energy industry, the report says. The province, occupying the Shandong Peninsula, also plans to turn the region into a “hydrogen-powered corridor”, the article adds.
The Independent reports on new research that finds homes built in poorer UK neighbourhoods could face disproportionate risks as floods worsen over the next three decades. The study finds that among new houses built in England and Wales between 2008 and 2018, the proportion facing a high flood risk is likely to increase more in disadvantaged neighbourhoods than in richer ones by 2050, according to the news website. The Guardian also reports on the study, noting that without further action the share of homes at high risk of flooding is expected to increase from 5% to 7% under a 2C warming scenario, while the figures for disadvantaged neighbourhoods are 9% and 21%, respectively.
Finally, a piece in the Daily Telegraph is headlined: “‘Last chance to save the world’ climate warnings risk turning the public off”. It quotes Jamie Clarke, executive director of the charity Climate Outreach, and others who have told MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that “dire warnings and a failure to deliver solutions could lead to public disillusionment” about climate change.
An editorial in the Washington Post emphasises the significance of what it says sounds like an “arcane regulatory question”, namely “whether to use the Congressional Review Act to reverse a Trump administration rollback of Environmental Protection Agency rules on methane emissions in the oil and gas sector”. The Senate is expected to vote on this question today and the editorial states: “A positive result would show the world that the US has returned to sanity on one of the most pressing issues requiring global action. A negative vote — or passage by only a slim majority — would send a less encouraging signal.” The Obama administration brought in measures to deal with methane, a potent greenhouse gas, specifically to prevent leaks in the nation’s natural gas infrastructure. However, in “one of the most irrational moments in president Donald Trump’s anti-environmental frenzy”, the next administration moved last year to cut requirements for addressing such leaks. The editorial says that “Wednesday’s Senate vote should be just a start” and notes that the current administration has a plan to seal old wells and cut methane emissions in other parts of the economy. The editorial also references a relevant news piece, also covered in the Washington Post, which focuses on a new study that finds moving quickly to cut emissions of methane could slow the rate of the planet’s warming as much as 30%. According to the newspaper, the research concludes a “full-scale push using existing technologies” could cut methane emissions from sources such as fossil fuel infrastructure and livestock farming in half by 2030.
A piece by energy and climate writer David Roberts in Vox is titled: “America is making climate promises again. Should anyone care?” Roberts says that he is not enthusiastic about the new pledge, and even includes a list of “four ways Biden’s climate pledge amounts to less than it appears”. (The piece also includes an embedded tweet from Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans with a chart comparing the new US climate target to its old one under the Obama administration.) “Messages and conversations do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Policies reduce emissions, by driving changes in behaviour, and targets and pledges are not policies,” he says.
Climate policies that redistribute revenues from carbon pricing could help to reduce extreme poverty in developing countries, a new study finds. The authors analyse climate policies consistent with the 1.5C limit, implemented through ambitious emission prices in industrialised countries and initially lower prices in developing countries. They find that without “progressive redistribution”, climate policies could push an additional 50 million people into poverty. However, using a carbon price to fund an “equal-per-capita climate dividend” would offset this policy side effect, reducing those in poverty by six million, the researchers say. They add that 5% of the emission pricing revenues from industrialised countries would more than compensate for the policy effects in sub-Saharan Africa.
Homes built in “struggling or declining neighbourhoods” are “disproportionately” more likely to be at high risk of flooding in future as a result of climate change, according to new research. The authors compare property data to information on socioeconomic development in neighbourhoods, and investigate which houses will be at risk from flooding in the future under different emission scenarios. The study finds that 120,000 new homes have been built in flood prone areas over the last decade. The authors also discuss issues around future spending on flood defences, the affordability of private level flood protection and insurance.
Expert analysis directly to your inbox.