Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Billions to be funnelled into hydrogen subsidies as UK races to hit net-zero
- US: First-ever water shortage declared on the Colorado River, triggering water cuts for some states in the West
- ‘You follow the government’s agenda’: China’s climate activists walk a tightrope
- US Treasury to oppose development bank financing for most fossil fuel projects
- Big Oil should help pay for the climate mess it created
- Economic impacts of tipping points in the climate system
- Personal carbon allowances revisited
Manufacturers could be guaranteed a price by the government for the low-carbon hydrogen they produce so that they do not sell to consumers at a loss, according to plans subject to consultation reported by the Daily Telegraph. The newspaper adds that these subsidies would be funded “through either higher bills or with money from the public purse”, and that officials are “hoping to replicate their success in wind power, which has grown rapidly over the latest decade after the state guaranteed electricity prices to developers”. It notes that the plans are part of the government’s hydrogen strategy, the latest document released this year as part of the government’s push to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The strategy says that hydrogen could meet 20-35% of the UK’s energy demand by 2050, the newspaper adds. BBC News says that the government plans to deliver 5 gigawatts (GW) of hydrogen production capacity by 2030, estimating that the industry could be worth £900m and support more than 9,000 jobs by then. The i newspaper explains that low-carbon hydrogen can either be “green” – meaning it is made using renewable energy – or “blue”, meaning it is made using gas power in conjunction with carbon capture and storage (CCS). “Making either kind of hydrogen is at the moment more expensive than just using natural gas directly,” it notes, which is why subsidies are required. The Times, which has the story on its frontpage, says that household gas bills are “expected to rise” under the plans, although it also quotes energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan who tells the newspaper that the cost to individual households would be “very small”. The newspaper says there are hopes that hydrogen could help decarbonise areas of British industry and transport and notes that the strategy is also accompanied by a £105m funding package to help construction and mining sectors switch to cleaner fuels, including hydrogen. In its coverage, the Financial Times also focuses on the potential taxpayer subsidies for hydrogen, while also noting that environmental experts and academics have warned hydrogen is being “overhyped”. In particular, it adds that the government has been criticised for choosing a “twin track approach” to low-carbon hydrogen that includes blue as well as green, despite concerns about the emissions associated with blue hydrogen. While hydrogen can in theory be used in a variety of applications, the newspaper quotes a scientist who says that due to the limited volumes of green hydrogen that are expected in the coming years, he gas should be seen as a “last resort for sectors that have no option to electrify”. According to BusinessGreen, the plan envisages hydrogen replacing gas in home heating in around three million homes each year, while quoting one expert who says the case for hydrogen in building heating is “far from proven”. The Guardian notes that the government plans to set out emissions standards for blue hydrogen projects to ensure they capture enough emissions to qualify as “low carbon”. Finally, Reuters notes that the government will also review the support required for network and storage infrastructure, and work with industry to examine the feasibility of mixing 20% hydrogen into the existing gas supply. (For more on hydrogen, see Carbon Brief‘s in-depth Q&A.)
In separate UK news, the Financial Times reports that mining company Glencore has acquired a stake in Britishvolt, the start-up behind plans for a gigafactory in Northumberland to equip the UK’s future electric car industry. As part of the deal, Glencore will supply the factory with cobalt, a key raw material used in electric batteries. And the Times reports that a Scotland Office minister has said that giving the go-ahead for a contentious North Sea oilfield is not a large climate change risk because the oil could sit in barrels rather than be burnt for fuel. Conservative minister David Duguid told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that the go-ahead was to extract oil and gas, which was distinct from “the consumption and the combustion” of them, the paper explains. When it was put to him that the fuels were not being extracted to simply be set in barrels, he replied: “Well, technically you could. I mean that’s the beauty of oil is you can store it.”
In a “bleak marker of the effects of climate change in the drought-stricken American West”, low water levels in the Colorado river’s largest reservoir has triggered the first-ever federal declaration of a shortage on Monday, according to the Washington Post. Lake Mead, the reservoir created by the Hoover Dam, is projected to be around 1,066 feet (325 metres) above sea level on 1 January next year, which is around three metres lower than the threshold that requires Arizona, Nevada and Mexico to reduce their water consumption in 2022, according to the newspaper. The New York Times reports that larger cuts are “likely in coming years as a warming climate continues to reduce how much water flows into the Colorado from rain and melting snow”. It notes that if the mandatory cuts, referred to as Tier 1 reductions, do not work then “increasingly draconian” tiers will be introduced to limit water use. Reuters and the Hill also have the story. In separate news, the Guardian has a piece by journalists David Sirota and Julia Rock noting that, according to census data, Americans are moving from safer areas of the US to the regions more at risk of heating and flooding as global temperatures rise.
Meanwhile, fires continue to rage around the world, with Reuters reporting that a “mammoth wildfire” – the Dixie fire – which has displacing thousands of northern California residents “braced for a resurgence of high winds on Monday”. The piece notes that it is the “biggest by far among scores of conflagrations raging across the Western US in a highly incendiary summer wildfire season experts say is symptomatic of climate change”. France 24 reports that following “bouts of extremely hot weather” in the Mediterranean region, hundreds of firefighters are tackling a large wildfire in the southern French region of Var. The Times also reports that several Greek villages have been evacuated as firefighters tried to contain new fires near Athens. A study covered by the Guardian finds that climate change is “increasing the number of high-risk fire days” in the Australian state of Victoria.
In other news related to extreme weather, the New York Times reports that tropical storm Henri has formed off the East Coast of the US, joining tropical storm Fred, which has just struck Florida and tropical depression Grace, which came ashore in Haiti. The piece notes that “while it is not uncommon for there to be several active weather systems at once during hurricane season…it is somewhat unusual to have three with tropical storm watches or warnings for land areas at the same time”. It also notes that the “links between hurricanes and climate change are becoming more apparent”. Grace “dumped heavy rain on the southern coast of Haiti, bringing flooding near the worst-hit areas and exacerbating the humanitarian crisis”, reports Reuters. BBC News adds: “Roads already made impassable by the quake could be further damaged by the rains, so aid teams are racing to get essential provisions to the quake-hit region.”
Finally, the Financial Times reports that some airlines and airports have started to plan for a future in which severe weather driven by climate change impacts flight schedules more frequently. And the Guardian covers a new survey for the survey for the Global Commons Alliance, which finds that three-quarters of people in the world’s wealthiest nations “believe humanity is pushing the planet towards a dangerous tipping point and support a shift of priorities away from economic profit”.
The Guardian reports that China’s environmental activists were left wondering what they could do to push their government into taking more action following the publication of the first part of the IPCC’s latest assessment report. The news outlet says that “inside China any attempt to criticise the government for inaction is increasingly dangerous”. It adds: “Marches and protests seen over the world calling for greater action against an existential threat are largely impossible in China.” Meanwhile, a South China Morning Post report analyses how much it will be in China’s own interest to accelerate emission-reducing efforts. Another opinion piece in the publication, authored by Anthony Rowley, a veteran journalist specialising in Asian economic and financial affairs, says that “a Marshall Plan is needed to curb emissions and avert disaster”.
Separately, a Caixin editorial says that institutional mechanisms “must be rationalised” for China to tackle climate change. It notes: “Rationalising institutional mechanisms for carbon emission reduction will be an extremely complicated task, the most effective solution for which will involve the setting of appropriate prices for energy-related products and services. “In addition, Economic Information Daily, an affiliation with state news agency Xinhua, reports that the emission-reduction pathways for multiple “key” sectors – such as iron and steel, building material, non-ferrous metal and petrochemical – are “getting clearer”. The publication says that relevant departments and industry associations are assessing the emission status and potential of “key” sectors in order for them to be included in the national carbon market. People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper, runs an interview with a “carbon emission administrator”, one of the newest occupations to be officially recognised in China.
Elsewhere, China News Service reports that rescue efforts were still underway more than 24 hours after a coal mine in north-western China had been flooded by mud, leaving one dead and 19 stuck. The state-run newswire said that the 19 workers were trapped around 1.2 kilometres from the mine’s entrance. Xinhua says that more than 900 rescuers were “racing against time” to search for the stuck miners. The mine had been ordered to shut 12 days before the accident due to “serious safety concerns”, the local government said at a press conference on Sunday, according to state-run Beijing Youth Daily.
The US Treasury has issued new energy financing guidance to multilateral development banks saying the nation would oppose their involvement in fossil fuel projects except for some natural gas facilities in poor countries, Reuters reports. The Treasury, which is the largest shareholder in major development banks including the World Bank Group and the African Development Bank, said it would “strongly oppose” any coal projects and “only consider fossil fuels if less carbon-intensive options [are] unfeasible”, according to the news wire. The guidance contains exceptions, for example potentially supporting the transportation and distribution of natural gas, but not production, according to the Hill. The news website notes that some environmental groups were “unsatisfied with the guidance, arguing that it did not go far enough to eliminate fossil financing”.
Meanwhile, the Hill also reports that the Biden administration will review coal leasing on federal lands this week while also announcing plans to appeal an order that halted a moratorium on oil and gas leasing. Reuters reports that US oil industry groups have sued the administration for halting drilling auctions on federal lands earlier in the year.
Chris Van Hollen, a US Democrat senator, writes in the Washington Post that the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a reminder of the “considerable resources” that will be required to deal with climate change. He notes that it is “only fair” that the “corporations that have profited from dirty energy” should provide some of these resources. “That’s why this month, I led a group of fellow senators in announcing new federal legislation that would require the biggest polluters – mostly mega-wealthy oil companies – to begin helping foot the bill to address the climate crisis,” he writes. This legislation has been dubbed the Polluters Pay Climate Fund Act, and Van Hollen compares it to legislation Congress passed in the 1980s to clean up concentrated hazardous waste sites. It would require the 25 to 30 biggest fossil-fuel polluters in the US, including oil giants such as ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell and BP, to pay a tax based on a percentage of their global emissions. “The corporate polluters and their shareholders led by Big Oil – have never been asked to pay for any of the societal costs of their climate pollution. Instead, perversely, their damaging business model has actually been rewarded for generations with federal subsidies from US taxpayers – and in some years paying no tax themselves,” he says.
Separately, climate scientist Dr Michael Mann has written a piece for the Boston Globe titled “you should be concerned about climate change but big oil should be terrified”. And New York Times columnist Prof Paul Krugman has a piece on “the bad economics of fossil fuel defenders”.
Crossing a “tipping point” would increase economic losses from climate change “almost everywhere”, a new study suggests. The authors identify eight climate tipping points covered in literature so far and use integrated assessment models to determine the damages if these tipping points are crossed. Collectively, climate tipping points increase the social cost of carbon (SCC) by around 25%, the authors find, with approximately a 10% chance that they more than double the SCC. The tipping points with the largest effects are “dissociation of ocean methane hydrates and thawing permafrost”, the study notes.
A new perspective paper suggests that “personal carbon allowances” (PCAs) could be trialled in “elected climate-conscious technologically advanced countries, mindful of potential issues around integration into the current policy mix, privacy concerns and distributional impacts”. The authors discuss how PCAs could play a role in achieving climate mitigation targets and argue that “recent advances in [Artificial Intelligence] for sustainable development, together with the need for a low-carbon recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, open a new window of opportunity for PCAs”.
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