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Daily Briefing

28.05.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project
Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project

News.

US: Biden officials condemned for backing Trump-era Alaska drilling project

President Biden’s administration is “facing an onslaught of criticism from environmentalists”, says the Guardian, after opting to defend the approval of a massive oil and gas drilling project in Alaska. The paper explains: “In a briefing filed in federal court on Wednesday, the US Department of Justice said the Trump-era decision to allow the project in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska’s north slope was ‘reasonable and consistent’ with the law and should be allowed to go ahead.” The stance means the Biden administration is contesting a lawsuit brought by indigenous and environmental groups “aimed at halting the drilling due to concerns over the impact upon wildlife and planet-heating emissions”, the paper notes, adding that Biden “has paused all new drilling leases on public land but is allowing this Alaska lease, approved under Trump, to go ahead”. The project, known as Willow, is being overseen by the oil company ConocoPhillips and is designed to extract more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day for the next 30 years, the paper says. The Hill reports the reaction from Siqiñiq Maupin, director of Sovereign Iñupiat for a Living Arctic, who said: “The Biden administration had a chance to stand with indigenous communities in how it responded to our lawsuit, and to stop a project that will further harm our people and our climate, but they chose not to take that opportunity…This is especially disappointing coming from a president who promised to do better, but we’re not backing down and we will see them in court.”

At the same time, the New York Times reports that the White House said yesterday that it plans to revise a Trump-era rule that limited the ability of states and tribes to veto pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute their local waterways. The paper explains: “The Trump administration finalised the rule last June, saying that curbs on state authority were necessary because too many states had been using clean water laws to block pipelines, coal terminals and other fossil-fuel projects from going forward. Since then, 20 states and several tribes have challenged the rule in court, contending that the constraints could hamper their ability to safeguard their rivers and drinking water.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “is now saying that it will move to bolster state authority”, the paper says. Reuters quotes EPA administrator Michael S Regan, who said: “We have serious water challenges to address as a nation and…I will not hesitate to correct decisions that weakened the authority of states and tribes to protect their waters.“ The Washington Post says that “plans to build massive ports for shipping coal abroad, seaside terminals for supercooling gas and thousands upon thousands of miles of pipelines cutting through rivers and streams across the US will all soon be getting extra scrutiny” as a result. In order to undo the Trump rule, the EPA will have to put forward a new one in its place, notes the Hill: “As part of that process, during which the Trump rule will remain active, the agency is planning to hold listening sessions with stakeholders next month.”

In other pipeline news, Reuters reports that US energy companies are “scrambling to buy more cyber insurance after this month’s attack on Colonial Pipeline disrupted the US fuel supply”. And the Hill reports that the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will also formally issue a security directive that will “require pipeline companies to report cybersecurity incidents within 12 hours of them occurring”.

The Guardian Read Article
Germany: Merkel fights back against Britain's green agenda

Germany is “fighting a push by Britain for tougher corporate climate change rules”, reports the Daily Telegraph. The paper continues: “The Germans are resisting UK efforts aimed at forcing major companies to report how exposed they are to the risk of climate change, sources said – a key priority for the government as it gears up for the the delayed COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in six months’ time.” Treasury sources tell the paper: “It’s on a knife edge – it could go either way. But we want to make it work and if we can get it over the line it would be a major step forward to getting markets to play their part in the transition – and doing that globally.” The paper adds: “Other potential roadblocks to a deal next week are understood to include a US consultation over the issue with the Securities and Exchange Commission which is yet to conclude and the need for Canada’s provinces to sign up to the new regulations.”

In other news from Germany, Reuters reports that “NordLink” – a direct power cable to Norway – officially opened yesterday, which will “provide Europe’s largest economy with green energy at a time it is phasing out polluting coal power”. The Times adds: “The €1.8bn NordLink project is sometimes described as Germany’s ‘battery’, allowing it to export some of the vast surpluses of renewable electricity the north of the country produces on windy and sunny days. In return, the German grid will be able to import clean Norwegian power during the fallow periods known as the Dunkelflaute (dark doldrums), when production from its wind turbines and solar farms falls short.”

The Daily Telegraph Read Article
No new coal plants in Indonesia in another bid to cut emissions

Indonesia won’t approve any new coal-fired power plants as it steps up efforts to reduce its carbon emissions, Bloomberg reports. Energy and mineral resources ministry director-general Rida Mulyana told a parliamentary hearing yesterday that the government will only allow the completion of plants that are already under construction or have reached their financial close. The outlet explains: “This is the latest move by Indonesia, the world’s top exporter of thermal coal, to catch up in the global race to cut greenhouse gases. It also plans to offer renewable energy incentives, impose carbon taxes, and develop a carbon trading system as it seeks to cut emissions by 26.8%-27.1% from its 2010 baseline.” An official from the country’s state utility, Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), told the same hearing that Indonesia is planning to retire its coal-fired power plants gradually, Reuters reports. The final phase of the “retirement timeline” would see last coal plants shut by 2056, the official said, and “then we’ll reach carbon neutrality in 2060”. (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth profile of Indonesia.)

Bloomberg Read Article
British industries could be protected from polluting imports by border carbon tax

The UK government is considering plans for a carbon tax on imports from polluting industries, the Daily Telegraph reports, “in a move that could protect British farmers from foreign rivals”. The paper explains: “The proposals would initially target heavy industry such as steelmaking but could in future be expanded to include agriculture, a major CO2 emitter. UK farmers would likely hail the move as a lifeline if it goes ahead, amid widespread anxiety that rivals in Australia and elsewhere could use new trade deals to flood the country with cheap produce.” A spokesman for the UK’s business department tells the paper: “We recognise the importance of making sure our policies to tackle climate change are not undermined by emissions, industrial activity and jobs simply moving overseas…We are, therefore, committed to encouraging our trading partners to work with each other to mitigate the effects of climate change through diplomacy, so that different countries are not regulating emissions at different rates.” HuffPost notes that former international trade secretary Liam Fox called for the border tax in a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank yesterday. Fox said: “There is no point in damaging the competitiveness of economies such as the UK while other countries maintain their competitive edge at a cost to the global climate.“ Sources tell the outlet that prime minister Boris Johnson is “very open” to the idea.

Meanwhile, Ben Chu – economics editor of the Independent – has a comment piece looking at whether “so-called carbon border adjustment taxes [are] legitimate or even useful tools to be wielded by nations as part of the quest for global net zero emissions? Or are they old-fashioned trade protectionism in disguise?”

The Daily Telegraph Read Article
In the pipeline: networks to warm UK homes using surplus heat

Tens of thousands of UK homes, offices and hospitals “could soon be warmed with surplus heat from factories, incinerator plants and even disused mine shafts under plans by the government to fund low-carbon heating”, reports the Guardian. The government is set to spend £30m to help set up “heat networks” across cities including London, Glasgow and Manchester, the paper says, and a further £14.6m to develop other low-carbon technologies that can heat and cool buildings without fossil fuels. It continues: “The UK’s largest planned heat network will receive just over £12m to capture the surplus heat produced at a waste incineration plant in the London borough of Bexley to warm up to 21,000 homes in south-east London. The Cory waste plant receives 785,000 tonnes of non-recyclable waste a year from barges on the Thames which is burned to generate electricity and reduce the waste taken to landfill sites.” Lord Callanan, the minister for climate change, said almost a third of all UK carbon emissions come from heating homes “and addressing this is a vital part of eradicating our contribution to climate change by 2050”, the paper notes. It adds that “electric heat pumps are also expected to play a major role in the government’s soon-to-be-published heating strategy”.

On the topic of heat pumps, the Sun reports that “millions of cash-strapped Brits will be able to afford to rip out their boilers and install eco-heat pumps within months, green campaigners say today”. The paper continues: “After a furious backlash at government plans to try and force Brits to swap over their dirty gas boilers as part of moves to go green, experts said it wouldn’t be long before the price is slashed to affordable levels.” Angela Terry, founder of One Home climate campaign group, tells the paper: “Within a few years, heat pumps will be a viable option for heating all UK homes when their gas boilers break down as the cost of all new technologies come down at scale…To stop runaway global warming, we have to tackle carbon pollution from heating – it sounds scary getting rid of your boiler, but it doesn’t have to be.” The Guardian also reports on a letter from the Construction Leadership Council to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng – signed by more than 50 organisations – which says that renovating the UK’s homes to low-carbon standards would cost the government only £5bn within the next four years and would create 100,000 jobs, cut people’s energy bills, increase tax revenue and bring tens of billions in economic benefits.

And speaking of the “furious backlash”, DeSmog reports that a #CostOfNetZero hashtag had apparently been “trending” this week among Conservative MPs only because Steve Baker – a Conservative MP who was recently appointed trustee of the climate sceptic lobby group, the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) – “kept tweeting it”. Baker “has released a steady stream of tweets” this week, the outlet explains, “using the hashtag to illustrate his concerns over the cost of heat pumps, electric vehicle chargers and solar power”. Analysis by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) shows that “of the 2,728 tweets and retweets posted with the hashtag so far, Baker is responsible for generating 90% of them, with a further 9% from the GWPF’s official account”.

In other UK news, the Guardian reports on new analysis which suggests that the “introduction of a four-day working week with no loss of pay would dramatically reduce the UK’s carbon footprint and help the country meet its binding climate targets”.

The Guardian Read Article
China’s vice premier demands senior officials to ensure the country hits its climate goals on time

China’s vice premier Han Zheng has demanded that senior officials strictly follow President Xi Jinping’s climate goals and ensure that the country peaks its carbon emissions before 2030 as well as achieve “carbon neutrality” before 2060, reports state news agency Xinhua. Han gave the instruction on Wednesday during a meeting with the “carbon emissions peaking and carbon neutrality leaders’ group”, Xinhua says. State broadcaster CCTV has a video of the conference. This was the first assembly of the leaders’ group, the official channel says. The clip shows several officials, including China’s climate envoy Xie Zhenhua, taking notes of the directives from Han, the group leader.

Bloomberg reports that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) will seek to establish a mechanism to contain steel output. The news agency adds that the new mechanism will be based on steel plants’ carbon emissions, pollutant discharges and energy consumption. Bloomberg attributes the information to a report from Shanghai Security News, an affiliation to Xinhua. The state-run publication says that the MIIT will also work with other authorities to review how the steel and iron industry has curbed its production volume. Separately, the outlet reports that the National Energy Administration (NEA) is researching “relevant policies” to manage and regulate the prices of the solar power industry.

Elsewhere, the Paper, a Shanghai-based newspaper, says that the province of Sichuan will start to probe the region’s crypto mining situation amid an escalating crackdown on the activity in China. The state-approved website says that the Sichuan branch of the NEA has organised a meeting for next month to ask various local power companies for their opinions on crypto operations and the impact of shutting crypto mines. Reuters says the meeting can potentially lead to a clampdown on virtual currency operators in Sichuan, the country’s second-biggest bitcoin production hub.

Finally, Reuters reports that estimates by environmental group Greenpeace suggest that electricity consumption from China’s data centres and 5G base stations could almost quadruple from 2020 to 2035, putting the sector under pressure to commit to clean energy sources.

Xinhua Read Article
Oman plans to build world’s largest green hydrogen plant

Oman is planning to build one of the largest green hydrogen plants in the world in a move to make the oil-producing nation a leader in renewable energy technology, the Guardian reports. The paper explains: “Construction is scheduled to start in 2028 in Al Wusta governorate on the Arabian Sea. It will be built in stages, with the aim to be at full capacity by 2038, powered by 25 gigawatts of wind and solar energy. The consortium of companies behind the $30bn (£21bn) project includes the state-owned oil and gas company OQ, the Hong Kong-based renewable hydrogen developer InterContinental Energy and the Kuwait-based energy investor Enertech.” Once online, the plant will “use renewable energy to split water in an electrolyser to produce green hydrogen, which is able to replace fossil fuels without producing carbon emissions”, the paper says.

In other hydrogen news, Reuters reports that “Australia could supply Japan with one million tonnes of ‘green’ hydrogen a year by 2030, project developers predict, if costs can be lowered sharply and transport challenges overcome”. For more on hydrogen – and the different types of production – see Carbon Brief‘s Q&A.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Why Shell’s climate defeat matters

There is continuing reaction to the Dutch court ruling that Shell should deepen its cuts to emissions. Financial Times business columnist Helen Thomas writes that, although “Shell shares barely budged” this week, “make no mistake: this decision matters”. The judgment “shows where the expectations of companies – in this sector and others – are heading”, Thomas says: “It gave a clear view that oil and gas companies have a responsibility for what customers do with their products (Scope 3 emissions) and not just their own operations. It knocked down the argument that if big international companies do not produce this oil, someone else will and possibly in a less responsible fashion.” There is “little doubt this judgment will increase the pressure to be more ambitious on climate change pledges”, Thomas says, and “it provides the tools for further legal challenges”. She concludes: “These companies have been walking a strategic tightrope, between generating the returns and cash expected of them in a world powered by fossil fuels and showing an inclination and ability to be relevant in a world that wants to get rid of them. That was a balancing act made easier by oil prices at close to $70 a barrel. It just got rather harder.” Also in the FT, senior energy correspondent Anjli Raval has a Q&A on the ruling and its implications.

Elsewhere, Politico‘s Karl Mathiesen and Kalina Oroschakoff write that “Big Oil is the next Big Tobacco”. They explain: “In the case of tobacco, politicians were hesitant to harm a deep-pocketed industry. That stance was increasingly out of step with medical advice, which prompted activists to turn to the courts. The same thing is happening with climate change, said [Paul Benson, a lawyer with the NGO ClientEarth]; scientific warnings are increasingly dire, there’s a growing campaign for action, but lawmakers and regulators are timid about upsetting powerful interests like Dutch farmers, German carmakers or massive oil companies.” The Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington gathers reactions to the court ruling, quoting climate campaigner and author Bill McKibben saying: “It may be the most cataclysmic day so far for the fossil fuel industry…If you want to keep the temperature low enough that civilisation will survive, you have to keep coal and oil and gas in the ground. That sounded radical a decade ago. Now it sounds like the law.” Bloomberg climate reporter Laura Millan Lombrana reports that the group that won the landmark ruling “is already working on cases against other fossil fuel companies”. And the Independent’s Harry Cockburn writes that “emboldened by the success against Shell, oil majors could be in for a reckoning”.

Separately, the Financial Times also has further reporting on Engine No.1 – the hedge fund that successfully replaced two Exxon board members with its own candidates to help drive the oil company towards a greener strategy. It reports that the group says that Exxon will need to cut oil production, indicating they would keep pressing management to shift strategy in response to the shareholder vote. “They need to position themselves for success,” Charlie Penner, who ran hedge fund Engine No 1’s campaign against the company, tells the paper. “You would certainly believe that would mean less oil and gas production going forward.” Gillian Tett – chair of editorial board and editor-at-large, US, of the Financial Times – writes that the Exxon defeat was “remarkable” given that “Exxon used to be one of the biggest companies in the world” and Engine No.1 “holds a mere 0.02% stake (or $54m) in the company”. She adds that “it should act as a wake-up call for other executives with a bunker mentality”. New York Times reporters Peter Eavis and Clifford Krauss make a similar point, noting that Engine No.1’s victory “has delivered a jarring reminder of the perils of doing too little to change – and veteran oil executives say it will encourage activists to push for change at other companies like Chevron, the second-largest US oil company after Exxon”. Finally, Ben Wright – a columnist and associate editor for the Daily Telegraph – writes that “it’s hard to imagine that the oil industry has ever suffered a more bruising week than this”. He adds: “There’s still a debate to be had about when peak oil – the point of maximum petroleum extraction – might be. But it now seems clear that we have already passed the peak for many publicly-listed oil and gas companies.”

Helen Thomas, Financial Times Read Article
What climate science loses without enough Black researchers

In a powerful feature, Bloomberg journalists Saijel Kishan and Eric Roston report on the challenges facing Black researchers within the field of climate science. Vernon Morris – founding director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology and now a professor of chemistry and environmental sciences at Arizona State University – recalls being repeatedly “mistaken for a janitor when working at NASA decades ago as a grad student” and being “stopped at a science conference, despite wearing a speaker name badge, as he made his way to the podium to give a speech”, the article explains. “It’s that level of subtlety that we don’t want to call racism, but it’s the same,” Morris tells Kishan and Roston. He notes that the issue starts in school, the piece explains, as they “perpetuate de facto social and class filters. That means many of those in the higher echelons of climate academia have limited interactions with Black and other people of colour”. This not only “concentrates a culture, it concentrates a view, and it amplifies a segregated community of climate scientists”, Morris says. “Such a narrow demographic limits scientists’ perspectives, and consequently their output,” Kishan and Roston write. Among their interviewees, the pair also speak to Gerald Torres, a professor of law and environmental justice at Yale University, about diversity efforts at some institutions. He tells them that “we have to be sceptical and make sure that these efforts aren’t just a current fashionable policy position…Durable diversity means structural change. Ideological change will then follow.” J Marshall Shepherd, a professor of geography and atmospheric sciences at the University of Georgia, tells Kishan and Roston that scholarships aimed at turning students from marginalised groups into climate scientists often come too late: “They need to be targeted at school age.” There is also a risk that the role can often feel tokenised, he adds: “When people look at your scientific career, a lot of Black scholars get typecast inadvertently as mentors and outreach people…And they get short-circuited by that typecast, so they don’t ever evolve to high-level scientists.” Morris suggests that power structures need to change. He says: “It’s all the gatekeepers, the distinguished professors, the deans, that’s where the entrenched attitudes are…And that’s why policies addressing class and inequity are important. That’s how you disrupt entrenched power. That’s where you’ll get the biggest bang for the buck.”

Elsewhere in Bloomberg, the outlet reports that the founder and chairman of Irish green power developer Mainstream Renewable Power resigned after comments last week that Africa’s energy transition was being held back by a lack of education in “tribal societies”.

Saijel Kishan and Eric Roston, Bloomberg Read Article

Science.

Local conditions magnify coral loss after marine heatwaves

A new study shows that local stressors, such as sea urchin abundance, can intensify the coral loss caused by marine heatwaves. Scientists analysed more than 200 study sites at reefs around the globe, looking at the changes in coral cover both during a coral bleaching event and in the following year. By correlating these with other factors – such as wave intensity, macroalgae growth and parrotfish abundance – they showed that high abundances of either macroalgae or sea urchins significantly magnified the coral losses in the year following a heatwave. They write: “Our results offer an optimistic premise that effective local management, alongside global efforts to mitigate climate change, can help coral reefs survive the Anthropocene.”

Science Read Article
Growing mining contribution to Colombian deforestation

Mining operations in Colombia are contributing to tropical deforestation at a rate that’s been growing over the past two decades, according to a new study. By pairing high-resolution data on forest-cover change with records of concessions of land for natural-resource mining, the study shows that legal mining accounted for about 1% of deforestation in 2001 – but 5.6% of deforestation in 2017, the peak year. These contributions could have major implications for Colombia’s attempts to reduce carbon emissions, the authors say. Accounting for the carbon emissions due to deforestation in 2017 “would likely double the greenhouse gases emissions of the mining industry sector”, they write.

Environmental Research Letters Read Article

THE BRIEF

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THE BRIEF

Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.