Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Boris Johnson puts army on standby amid fuel supply crisis
- UK: Labour promises to spend £28bn a year on tackling climate crisis
- Australian PM Scott Morrison may not attend COP26 as he has 'things to focus on' domestically
- Power crunch threatens Chinese economic growth, warn banks
- The Guardian view on Labour’s spending plans: Vote red, go green
- Why natural gas should be part of our environmental strategy
- Spatial variation in avian phenological response to climate change linked to tree health
- Double benefit of limiting global warming for tropical cyclone exposure
- Shutdown of Southern Ocean convection controls long-term greenhouse gas-induced warming
Boris Johnson has put the army on standby to help deliver fuel to petrol stations, the Guardian reports. It continues: “No 10 said army drivers would be ready to help deliver petrol and diesel on a short-term basis, but stopped short of an immediate deployment, even though some essential workers have not been able to carry out their jobs without fuel. The decision was taken at a meeting of cabinet ministers on Monday, as the industry said consumer panic – rather than real shortages – was the main driver of the problems, and predicted that it would ease within days.” The army tanker drivers will receive specialised training before deploying to help deal with supply chain issues, according to Reuters. However, the newswire reports separately that, according to environment secretary George Eustice, “Britain has no plans yet to get the army to drive trucks to deliver fuel to petrol stations”. The Times says that armed forces have been put on “formal notice” to prepare 150 military personnel to drive tankers, noting that up to 80 will be ready for deployment by the end of the week. It adds that Boris Johnson has urged the general public to let key workers fill up first, after warnings from doctors that the fuel crisis poses a “real risk” for the NHS. The Financial Times also notes the strain on the NHS, while the Times picks up on the pressure on businesses. Meanwhile, the Independent and the i newspaper note that petrol and diesel prices have reached an eight-year high. Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that numerous petrol stations across London ran out of fuel on Monday. And the Guardian says that the government has “taken the opportunity to point the finger at an organisation that has long been a thorn in its side: the Road Haulage Association”.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the fuel industry expected demand to return to normal “in the coming days”, but that “it’s right that we take this sensible, precautionary step”, according to Sky News. And according to Reuters, “Britain’s fuel suppliers said on Monday they expected normal demand to return in the coming days”. However, Bloomberg says that “companies that sell gasoline and diesel are struggling to provide clear timelines on when the situation will normalise”. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, the UK environment minister has urged people to “buy petrol as usual”, adding that there is no shortage of fuel, but that panic-buying is causing problems. Similarly, according to the Scotsman, the Deputy First Minister of the Scottish government has said there is enough petrol supply to meet normal purchasing demands in Scotland, but that panic-buying cause petrol stations to run out of fuel. The Guardian notes that the shortage has been worsened by increasing numbers of people filling up with the wrong types of fuel and the Independent adds that police have “appealed for drivers to stop calling them about queues at petrol stations”. Elsewhere, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph report that UK electric car inquiries have risen.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that energy company Shell will take on 255,000 additional customers from Green – one of seven small energy suppliers that collapsed amid the price surge in wholesale energy markets. The company will grow by over a quarter from taking on the new customers, Reuters notes. The MailOnline adds that seven energy suppliers have collapsed, forcing Ofgem to find new providers for 2m customers. Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports that UK households “face a collective bill of more than £820m for rescuing the customers of energy suppliers that have collapsed in recent weeks”. Bloomberg reports that the natural gas shortage has caused electricity producers to burn more coal, driving the cost of carbon permits to record highs. And analysis by the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit warns that “families that live in homes with lower energy efficiency ratings are suffering the most financially from global gas price increases, paying up to the equivalent of £246 more on their annual gas bills”. Meanwhile, IEA executive director Fatih Birol has said that “clean energy policies are not to blame for recent spikes in gas and electricity prices, and the soaring prices should not derail Europe’s green transition”, according to Reuters.
Labour MP and shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves has pledged that Labour would spend £28bn per year on climate change until 2030, the Guardian reports. It adds that this is the party’s biggest spending pledge to date, and that “Labour said it would hope to attract a matching sum of private investment in green technologies. In total, the party will commit to spending £224bn on climate measures over the next eight years”. The Independent adds that Reeves called herself “Britain’s first green chancellor” and pledged to spend money on “gigafactories to build batteries for electric vehicles, a thriving hydrogen industry, offshore wind with turbines made in Britain, planting trees and building flood defences”. The Times says that the pledge “quadruples the government’s pledge to spend £37.5bn on green policies for the duration of this parliament”. Separately, the Independent says that Reeves has “thrown down the gauntlet to Chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of next month’s Budget which comes weeks before the global climate change conference in Glasgow”. BusinessGreen, BBC News, the Scotsman and the Herald also cover the announcement. Meanwhile, DeSmog reports that earlier in the day, “Labour’s energy spokesperson has said he stands ‘completely’ with biomass giant Drax, despite admitting that its use of wood pellets in its North Yorkshire power station is not carbon neutral”.
In other UK news, BBC News reports that £15m funding has been given to plans more than 1m new trees in the Northern Forest. BusinessGreen adds that Wildlife Trusts have already raised £25m in the past year, and plan to “restore 30% of land and sea by the end of the decade”. And Reuters reports that Insulate Britain protestors blocked the M25 again on Monday, despite a court order banning them from doing so.
Australian Greens Leader Adam Bandt has accused Scott Morrison of being “in hiding”, after he said that he may not attend COP26 this year, the Daily Telegraph reports. According to the newspaper, Bandt said: “While the rest of the world’s pledging bold 2030 targets, Scott Morrison’s in hiding. He’s planning not to go to the Glasgow climate summit, hiding behind a 2050 delay while backing more coal and gas… This is the climate’s last chance summit and Scott Morrison is refusing to show his face”. However, Australian Foreign Minister has reiterated that no final decisions have been made on Morrison’s attendance at COP. The Independent and Times also have the story.
In other COP26 news, Reuters reports that the executives of more than 100 major companies have urged Brazil to take a “leading position” at COP. Separately, the newswire reports that “the world’s poorest countries have said they may struggle to meet visa requirements and cover all Covid-19 quarantine costs for the COP26 climate summit, raising concerns that some might not be able to attend in person”. The Scotsman runs a story under the subheading “Nicola Sturgeon’s government is acting as an ‘agent’ of the UK Government and could bear the cost of significant bills in the event of COP26’s cancellation due to its relationship with third-party suppliers, it can be revealed.” And another Reuters piece says that “young activists who fought to get climate change to the top of the global agenda are being challenged to help come up with the solutions ahead of next month’s COP26 United Nations summit.”
Elsewhere, the Guardian has published a piece on “how German coalition wrangling could affect COP26 mood”. It notes that Germany’s election this month was called the “climate election”, adding that “at Glasgow, Germany will share the crucial task of persuading rich countries to provide $100bn a year in climate finance to poorer countries”. It continues: “The complex manoeuvring to form a coalition in Berlin, however, could affect the mood in Glasgow. Delegates will be watching to see whether German parties agree to speed up Germany’s coal phase-out, with closest attention on the first-placed Social Democrats (SPD), the second-placed Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Liberal party (FDP), who along with the Greens could play a role as kingmaker in any coalition.” EnergyMonitor notes that the Greens won almost 15% of the vote – nearly doubling their 2017 percentage, and marking the biggest increase of all parties. And a Nature news article says that “strong results for green and liberal parties mean climate and energy policies are expected to feature heavily in upcoming coalition talks”. Politico and Reuters and the New York Times also look at what the coalition could mean for climate.
Power shortages across China – driven by strict emissions targets and rising coal prices – are forcing factories that are “crucial to the global supply chain” to cut their production, the Financial Times reports. According to the newspaper, power shortages have hit at least 10 provinces in China. The New York Times has published a lengthy piece on the power outages, noting that there are “several reasons electricity is suddenly in short supply in much of China”. It says that as the world re-opens after the pandemic, demand in China’s “electricity-hungry export factories” is rising. It continues: “As electricity demand has risen, it has also pushed up the price of coal to generate that electricity. But Chinese regulators have not let utilities raise rates enough to cover the rising cost of coal. So the utilities have been slow to operate their power plants for more hours.” Reuters explores the reasons behind the power outages, noting that “Restrictions on power use in homes have only just taken effect. However, China’s massive industrial base has been wrestling with sporadic jumps in power prices and usage curbs since at least March, when provincial authorities in Inner Mongolia ordered some heavy industry including an aluminium smelter to curb use so that the province could meet its energy use target for the first quarter.” Goldman Sachs has cut China’s economic growth forecast for 2021 from 8.2% to 7.8% following the energy crunch, Reuters notes in a separate piece.
Reuters also reports that production in numerous factories, including many supplying Apple and Tesla, has stopped completely. It adds that shopping malls in China have been closing early, while some shops in the northeast operated by candlelight. According to the newswire, “the State Grid Corporation of China pledged it would take comprehensive measures to ensure people’s basic power usage demand”. The Wall Street Journal adds that the global supply chains for semiconductors and “other vital goods” are at risk. Meanwhile, Reuters notes that Chinese coking coal and coke futures jumped more than 4% on Tuesday amid the supply concerns. Senior officials “face mounting pressure from alarmed citizens to ramp up coal imports”, Reuters says in a separate article. In other Chinese news, the Washington Post reports that some Chinese solar-panel manufacturers “have stopped shipping to the US over tariff concerns”.
Meanwhile, the Finacial Times reports that oil prices have risen above $80 per barrel for the first time in three years, due to “a shortfall in global gas production, along with a concerted drive in China to cut down on pollution from heavy industry”. The Daily Telegraph adds: “Gas prices have rocketed to all-time highs in recent weeks due to weak global production, low exports from Russia, poor storage levels in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, and rising demand from economies emerging from lockdowns. High gas prices increase demand for oil-burning to generate electricity.” The Times adds that Brent crude, the global benchmark price, has risen for sixth consecutive day. Reuters also covers the news. Separately, Reuters covers projections from French company TotalEnergies, showing “a sharp drop in demand for oil between 2030-50, as other forms of energy supply become more popular, such as solar and wind power”.
Rachel Reeves’ pledge to spend invest £28bn per year on climate change until 2030 “shows Labour will take the climate emergency seriously”, an editorial in the Guardian says. It continues: “By contrast the government is investing just £5bn annually, a quarter of what experts say is needed to hit net-zero targets. In making a big spending commitment, Ms Reeves has put pressure on the government to set out a costed plan to meet its green pledges.” The editorial says that Reeves can make this pledge because capital investment is exempt from her previously self-imposed spending limits. The piece continues by running through some of Reeves’ other pledges, saying that Reeves’ “dig” at Jeff Bezos “revealed a populist touch”, and adding that it was “disappointing that her speech lacked a mention of wealth taxes to reduce inequality”. Meanwhile, and editorial in the Daily Mail commenting on Labour’s proposed policies refers to “borrowing stomach-churning sums to tackle climate change”. Meanwhile, Daily Telegraph columnist Tim Stanley has written an opinion piece entitled “Vote Conservative and you get Ed Miliband’s policies, plus chaos”. He states that it is “easy to see” why many activists are “cheesed off” and continues: “My complaint is that politicians are never honest about the costs. They set targets without addressing the consequences of using less coal and gas. The tech isn’t there yet to plug the gap: the boilers are unaffordable; the cost of electric cars has been underestimated.”
In other UK comment, Sam Laidlaw – executive chairman of Neptune Energy – has penned an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph under the subheading, “there is a quick zero-cost solution that would enable North Sea gas producers to supply additional capacity”. Laidlaw writes that energy companies, including Neptune, “have submitted plans to the Government to repurpose facilities previously used for oil and gas to speed the transition to hydrogen and carbon storage”, and adds that we “need to get the balance right between existing energy projects and the move to renewables”.
Meanwhile, Times journalist Hugo Rifkind calls the panic buying of fuel in the UK “a basic lack of trust”. And Nils Pratley, the Guardian‘s financial editor, notes that the £1bn will be added to household bills following the failure of energy suppliers. This “threatens to create a serious political headache next year when the extra charges are incorporated into the price cap from October 2022”, he says. Elsewhere, a Daily Express editorial argues that the fuel crisis “shows that we must continue to hasten the take-up of more secure, greener forms of fuel”. Meanwhile the Financial Times runs a piece in its Lex column entitled, “nuclear: energy price spike renews case for low-carbon maverick”. It notes that in the past century, safety and cost concerns have pushed down the contribution of nuclear energy to the world’s electricity mix. However, it continues: “The merits of a reliable, if costly, source of low-carbon energy have been underlined by the recent spike in global gas prices. In Britain that coincided with a period of light winds, drawing attention to the intermittency of renewable energy. In China, strict carbon emissions targets and rising coal prices are posing a threat to economic growth.” It concludes that for nuclear to “have a successful future”, costs must drop, developers must shorten their schedules and politicians must “encourage a sensible price on emissions”.
An editorial in the Chicago Tribune argues that “natural gas should be part of our environmental strategy”. It says: “the desperate grab for natural gas reflects the importance of this fossil fuel for economic and political stability across the globe. That important fact conflicts with the agenda of environmentalists who want to eliminate the use of all fossil fuels, preferably as of yesterday. Compared with burning coal, natural gas is relatively clean, but its use does indeed contribute to global warming and climate change… For now, the best way to reduce carbon pollution is to use less energy (which all of us can do) and discourage demand for the dirty stuff. Demand for coal already is under pressure. Natural gas, your day will come.”
In other US comment, the San Francisco Chronicle runs a piece by Democratic representatives Ro Khanna, who sits on the House committees on Agriculture, and Earl Blumenauer, who “has spent decades focusing on how to transition America’s economy to a clean energy economy.” The piece notes that each year, the US gives “big oil” $20bn in subsidies. It continues: “Unlike when they were first created, these giveaways no longer create jobs. Instead, they pad the profits of a malign industry. A recent study found that 96% of federal fossil fuel subsidies increase profits for oil and gas companies over and above the investment hurdles needed to begin new projects.” The piece calls for congress to “cut off the tap”.
A new study explores how the timing of egg laying by the “great tit” songbird varies in response to a warming climate and the health of oak trees. Using data from a 60-year study, the researchers find that, “while earlier reproduction in a great tit population is expected to help with warmer springs, oak tree health seems to influence their ability to modulate their breeding period”, explains an accompanying News & Views article. As caterpillars are the main source of nutrition for new chicks, if diseased oaks produce fewer leaves in the spring, resulting in fewer caterpillars than on healthier trees, then reproducing near sick oaks may limit the birds’ ability to adapt to climate change, the article says.
With global population projected to peak around mid-century and decline thereafter, a new study says there is a “double benefit” of rapid climate action of not only reducing the increase in exposure to tropical cyclones, but also avoiding the peak in population. It explains that “a middle-of-the-road socio-economic scenario combined with 2C of warming around 2050 increases exposure by 41%” or 52 million people. However, a stronger mitigation scenario reaching 2C around 2100 limits this increase to 20%, or 25 million, the researchers say.
New research reveals the influence of convection in the Southern Ocean on potential long-term global warming. The researchers find that Southern Ocean deep convection is a “major contributor” to the variations in effective climate sensitivity – which estimates the equilibrium response of near-surface temperature to a doubling atmospheric CO2 – in CMIP6 models. Comparing two models with very different sensitivities, the authors find that “greater storage of heat at depth can delay the Southern Ocean surface warming and associated cloud response, thereby delaying global surface warming by centuries”.
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