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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 17.03.2022
Boris Johnson returns from trip to Saudi Arabia without commitment on oil

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News.

UK: Boris Johnson returns from trip to Saudi Arabia without commitment on oil
Financial Times Read Article

UK prime minister Boris Johnson “has failed to secure a commitment from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to raise oil production” after a day-long visit to the two Gulf countries, reports the Financial Times. It continues: “Johnson met the Saudi day-to-day ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and signed a memorandum of understanding to set up a strategic partnership council after arriving from the UAE. The prime minister also said Saudi Arabia would be announcing a £1bn investment in Teesside to produce green aviation fuel. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have rebuffed US appeals to increase oil production to offset the loss of Russian oil. Washington has had strained relations with Saudi Arabia since Joe Biden arrived in the White House after he vowed to reassess relations with the kingdom over human rights concerns. But Johnson, who is seen as having a better relationship with Prince Mohammed, also appears to have walked away empty-handed.” Responding to a question by a reporter about an agreement to raise oil production following his meeting with Prince Mohammed, Johnson said: “I think you need to talk to the Saudis.” He added: “I think there was an understanding of the need to ensure stability in global oil markets and gas markets and the need to avoid damaging price spikes.”

For now, “Saudi Arabia has shown no sign of abandoning an oil supply pact” with the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies – including Russia – known as OPEC+, says Reuters, which has seen global oil output increase “only gradually”. The newswire reports that the UEA also “remains committed to the OPEC+ agreement”.

Separately, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) monthly report has warned that oil markets are facing “the biggest supply crisis in decades” that threatens to keep prices high and depress economic growth because of a collapse in Russian supplies, reports the Times. It continues: “About three million barrels per day of Russian oil production – 3% of the global market – could dry up from next month as sanctions bite and buyers shun supplies from Russia after its invasion of Ukraine. The situation was said by the agency to be ‘threatening to create a global oil supply shock’ unless Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the only nations with the spare capacity to immediately offset this shortfall, agreed to pump more. However, so far they were ‘showing no willingness to tap into their reserves’, the agency said.” Reuters also covers the report, while Bloomberg says the IEA notes that the upheaval in oil and gas markets triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine “could well accelerate the [world’s] transition away from oil”, reports. The newswire says that the “IEA will publish a report later this week advising its members on how to curb short-term fuel demand”. A Reuters “factbox” notes that “Russian gas flows to Europe remain stable, but Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and voluntary actions by buyers are starting to impact its oil sales”.

Finally, the Financial Times reports that “as energy supermajors such as BP and ExxonMobil pledge to exit Russia because of its war in Ukraine, a lower profile group of companies that serve the country’s oil industry have not followed”. It explains: “Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Halliburton are the three biggest western oilfield services companies, hired to do the frontline work at oilfields such as drilling wells and producing oil and gas. The US-listed companies conduct billions of dollars of business in Russia and are partners of state-backed producers Rosneft and Gazprom.”

Europe seeks breakthrough on climate change plans amid energy crisis
Reuters Read Article

EU environment ministers will assess their progress on negotiating a raft of new climate change policies today, reports Reuters, “with countries divided over whether soaring energy prices should speed up or slow down their green agenda”. Proposals that “will both fight climate change and help wrest countries free of Moscow’s influence” include “a dozen laws to curb emissions from industry, transport and the energy sector”, the newswire says. Ministers will attempt to find routes out of disagreements on some of the most contentious proposals, which a majority of EU countries and European Parliament must both approve, the article says: Top of the list is a planned new carbon market to impose costs on CO2 emissions from transport and heating fuels. A preparatory document by France, which chairs meetings of EU ministers until June, said countries still hold ‘significant differences of opinion’ on that policy. Ministers will consider ways to ‘improve the acceptability of such a scheme’ or replace it with other CO2-cutting measures if agreement cannot be found, the document said.“ Reuters also reports that around 100 European Union lawmakers asked Brussels yesterday to withdraw plans to label energy investments in gas as green, saying this undermined Europe’s push to reduce reliance on Russian fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, new analysis suggests that halting Russian oil and coal imports would cause a short and painful transition for the the European Union, but with the help of its international partners the bloc could end its dependence on Moscow, Bloomberg reports. The research – by Brussels-based thinktank Bruegel and seen by Bloomberg – suggests that EU governments should start planning to reduce demand to ensure a smooth transition to an economy without Russian oil. In addition, the research suggests that “Europe should forge a Trans-Atlantic energy pact with President Joe Biden to tap spare US capacity to compensate for lost Russian volumes”, Bloomberg says, and that “joint diplomatic outreach to OPEC producers could also help navigate through the stormy period after Russian flows are halted”. One of the researchers tells the outlet that “Europe can live without Russian oil and coal supplies, but significant logistical problems will have to be tackled to lessen the impacts of such scenario”. Politico says that “EU unity has been impressive in slapping four rounds of sanctions on Russia”, but “moving to the next level of restrictive measures, however, will prove harder and expose some old diplomatic faultlines: Germany is highly wary of Polish and Baltic exhortations to go for Russian president Vladimir Putin’s jugular and sever the all-important energy income that helps fuel his war in Ukraine”.

Elsewhere, Reuters reports that the Biden administration in the US said yesterday it had authorised additional exports of liquefied natural gas “in a move that can likely help Europe deal with an energy crunch worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”. Reuters also reports that French prime minister Jean Castex told a news conference yesterday that France wanted to end its imports of Russian gas and oil by 2027. As part of that effort, the country will boost its LNG import capacity, he said. Portugal’s environment and energy transition minister Joao Matos Fernandes told Reuters yesterday that the EU “the war in Ukraine will definitely push Europe towards faster decarbonisation because it cannot rely so much on fossil fuels that it does not produce”. He added: “It won’t be easy. It’s a Herculean task but it’s a necessity, because Europe must diversify the sources of its natural gas imports.” Reuters also notes that “Russian gas deliveries to Europe via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline were steady while lower through Ukraine” yesterday.

US appeals court temporarily restores Biden measure for calculating climate risks
Reuters Read Article

A federal appeals court yesterday allowed the Biden administration to continue using Obama-era values for calculating the social cost of carbon (SCC) in government decisions, pending its appeal of a previous ruling, Reuters reports. The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit granted the government’s request to stay a preliminary injunction imposed by a lower federal court judge – an appointee of former US president Donald Trump – in February, the newswire explains. That ruling had temporarily blocked the administration from using an SCC value of about $50 per tonne – an increase from the roughly $10 or less per tonne imposed by the Trump administration. The panel of 5th Circuit judges said that the claims in the injunction – brought by several Republican-led states – are largely hypothetical, coming from potential regulations that may happen rather than actual harm, reports the Hill. The Washington Post explains that “the decision means that, at least until there’s a ruling on the case’s merits, the Biden administration can continue to consider the economic cost of climate change as it writes new rules, and strengthen existing ones, that could inch the country closer to Biden’s goal of cutting emissions in half by the end of the decade compared with 2005 levels”. It adds: “With sweeping climate legislation stalled in Congress, the administration is counting on these regulations to meet its emissions reduction targets.” The Biden administration had “warned of mass chaos caused by the injunction, including delayed or derailed rule-makings, project approvals, grant funds and even oil and gas lease sales”, says Politico. It adds: “While the stay is technically temporary, the three-judge panel’s order cast serious doubt on the underlying lawsuit brought by Louisiana and other red states”. The Wall Street Journal also has the story. (For more on the social cost of carbon, see Carbon Brief‘s explainer.)

Michael Gove ‘not convinced’ by case for more fracking in UK
The Guardian Read Article

Michael Gove – the UK’s secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities – has said he is “not convinced” by the case for more fracking in the UK, the Guardian reports. His comments open up “a cabinet split”, the paper says, after prime minister Boris Johnson “ordered a rethink” on fracking and minister of state for Brexit opportunities Jacob Rees-Mogg “backed reversing the moratorium”. Speaking at an environment reception, Gove cast Russian president Vladimir Putin in the role of a “pusher” of oil and gas fuelling an addiction to hydrocarbons, the paper explains. Gove said “the only way you can wean yourself off the addiction is to diversify the sources of energy we have”, adding: “The only way to diversify our sources of energy is if we ensure that we continue to invest in renewables, onshore and offshore wind, solar power and also look at the potential of hydrogen in the future, if we allow nuclear to be part of the mix and recognise that hydrocarbons have a role to play but a diminishing one over time.” While “onshore wind is blocked in many cases by planning restraints as the rules make it easy for communities to object”, the paper says, “Gove’s brief now encompasses planning, raising the possibility he could use reforms of the system to make it easier for onshore wind projects to gain permission”. The Sun says the cabinet has “bickered over restarting fracking the UK”. It reports: “Jacob Rees Mogg told a meeting of ministers that there can be “no stone unturned” to solve our energy crisis. But hours later Michael Gove took aim in public saying the baffling ban must stay. The big beast told green Tories at the Conservative Environment Network he was ‘not at all convinced’ that fracking is the way forward.“ Reuters reports that Johnson has said that a new national energy strategy for the UK will be coming “next week”. Measures will include a “massive jump forward on renewables, more nuclear, using our own hydrocarbons more effectively, also looking at what we can do to source hydrocarbons from places other than Russia”, Johnson said.

In related news, Bloomberg reports that “UK fuel prices at the pump soar to record levels” and the Daily Telegraph notes that a litre of diesel “now costs a record 176.04p for the UK’s roughly 12m users of diesel, up from about 112p in June 2020. It means drivers are forking out more than £90 to fill up the average car”.

Meanwhile, the Press Association reports that energy trading giant Trafigura is “actively looking” at reopening a gas terminal in the north-east of England as the UK and Europe try to reduce their reliance on Russian energy. The Swiss company has had the option for years to reopen the Teesside site, but was waiting for the “right market window”, the newswire explains. The company told PA that “in the current market conditions we are seeing unprecedented interest in establishing Teesside as a major import terminal of LNG [liquified natural gas] into the UK”. The plan could “open another route for gas from the Middle East or the US into the UK, and onwards to Europe”, the newswire says.

Great Barrier Reef hit by sixth mass bleaching event, leading coral scientist says
The Guardian Read Article

A leading coral scientist has warned that a sixth mass bleaching event is unfolding across the Great Barrier Reef, with official monitoring flights now under way all along the Queensland coastline, reports the Guardian. Prof Terry Hughes from James Cook University says he has received a “flood of reports from the field” of bleached corals in the last two weeks. Hughes tells the Guardian that he believes a sixth mass bleaching event is now unfolding, and that it was not mild or local. He said: “We all breathed a sigh of relief because corals that were pale in December regained their colour in January and February. But in the last three weeks there have been reports of moderate to strong bleaching all along the reef.” The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has confirmed monitoring flights are being conducted “along the length and breadth” of the 2,300km world heritage reef, the paper notes. It adds that the authority is due to make a formal update on conditions over the reef tomorrow. (For more on how climate change threatens the Great Barrier Reef, see Carbon Brief’s interactive feature, which includes an interview with Hughes.)

UK: Ministers falling behind on levelling up and net-zero, say government’s own advisers
The Independent Read Article

The government’s infrastructure advisory body has warned that the UK is at risk from failing to deliver on its net-zero target and levelling-up agenda unless it “pick[s] up the pace”, the Independent reports. A new report from the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) says the government was making only “slow progress” with plans to boost investment in deprived parts of the country and shift Britain’s energy use to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, the outlet explains. The commission warned that strategies over the last year “lack detailed delivery policy, leave key gaps, or simply do not go far enough”. It added: “Delays to decisions on who pays are now holding up delivering infrastructure, including low carbon heat and energy efficiency. Open and honest conversations, followed by clear decisions, are needed to address this.” The report urges the government to commit to 10 key priorities for the year ahead – including the urgent need for a comprehensive energy efficiency push to insulate Britain’s homes and accelerate the roll out of electric vehicle charging points, the Independent says. The Daily Telegraph leads with the line that “ending the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2030 may not be realistic because the electric vehicle charging network isn’t close to being ready”. The Yorkshire Post also has the story.

Elsewhere, the Times reports that “more than a million acres of trees will be planted in England by 2050 under legally binding environmental targets proposed by the government”.

Mark Carney’s bid to boost carbon market scaled back amid controversy
Bloomberg Read Article

Former Bank of England governor Mark Carney’s initiative to boost the market for carbon offsets is being scaled back, reports Bloomberg, “in the wake of fierce debate around whether the traded assets really help avert global warming”. The outlet explains: “In September 2020, Carney and Standard Chartered Plc chief executive Bill Winters launched a bold project to expand the controversial market for the financial instruments, which allow buyers to claim reduced greenhouse gas emissions often without making any changes to their own activity. Some 18 months later, the body is re-purposing its mission to tackle the criticism that offsets don’t represent real carbon reductions.” This “slimmer version” – with about 90 members – is dubbed the “Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market”, and will instead focus on assuring the quality of offsets sold, says Bloomberg, adding: “Targets to increase the size of the market have been ditched, and Carney’s promise of a pilot market early this year has also been scrapped.” Carney remains on the body’s “distinguished advisory group,” which has no decision-making functions – a change from the original plan, a person familiar with the process tells the Financial Times.

China's Feb power consumption surges 16.9% y/y
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports that China’s electricity consumption reached 623.5 terawatt hours (TWh) in February due to “continuous and stable economic recovery”, according to the state energy regulator, the National Energy Administration. The channel says that the figure was a 16.9% jump compared to February last year. China’s state broadcaster CCTV also covers the news. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reports that China is expected to “stand firm” on developing its nuclear energy capabilities as part of its decarbonisation push, “despite security concerns triggered by the Russian invasion of Ukraine”.

Elsewhere, Tian Lei – a researcher at the Energy Research Institute of the China Academy of Macroeconomic Research – pens an opinion piece in the state-run Economic Daily. Tian explains the necessity for China to “bolster the coal, oil and gas industry chains” amid the “European energy crisis” triggered by the “Russian-Ukraine conflict”. Finally, Caixin – an independent Chinese financial publication – focuses on workplace safety in Chinese coal mines. It says the “situation is still severe”.

Comment.

Boris Johnson wants the UK to be energy independent – here’s how
Guy Newey, Reaction Read Article

Writing for the website Reaction, Guy Newey – director of strategy at the Energy Systems Catapult and former energy adviser to Greg Clark, who was secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy during 2016-19 – lays out how the UK could achieve “energy independence”. In the short-term, he suggests “urgently reduc[ing] demand for gas” by driving increases in insulation, uptake of heat pumps and making sure gas boilers are running efficiently. In the medium-term the UK should encourage the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs), getting “serious about nuclear” and redesigning power markets “for a renewable future”. On nuclear, Newey writes: “The medium-term goal must be nuclear being built without government subsidy. But in order for that to happen, we need to reduce build and financing costs. The best way to cut build costs is a programmatic approach – you take the learning from your first reactor, move the team from Somerset to Suffolk and strip out costs. This is what we have done with renewables, and what France did with nuclear in the 1970s. South Korea repeated the feat over the past two decades. You need to take on the green NGOs, many of whom will oppose you at every turn.” The Financial Times also has a piece looking at the options available to Boris Johnson on energy security.

Also on UK energy policy, a Sun editorial says that while “it sticks in the craw that Boris Johnson had to lobby the brutal Saudis in person to pump more oil…the bleak reality is that we must reduce Western reliance on Russia – and ­rapidly get pump prices down”. The paper adds that “it is ignorant nonsense to pretend that more wind farms and solar panels alone can power Britain. Until we build new nuclear plants we will need more oil and gas, including from dodgy regimes”. Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Philip Cunliffe – senior lecturer in politics and international relations at the University of Kent – criticises Boris Johnson for “seiz[ing the opportunity of the Russian invasion to double down on his ecological commitments”. Finally, Nils Pratley – the Guardian‘s financial editor – says that chancellor Rishi Sunak’s energy crisis package for low-income households “is already out of date”.

Science.

Tropical methane emissions explain large fraction of recent changes in global atmospheric methane growth rate
Nature Communications Read Article

Tropical methane emissions are responsible for more than 80% of the increase in atmospheric methane over 2010-19, according to new research. The authors analyse a decade-long dataset of satellite observations of methane emissions. They find strong seasonal links between large-scale changes in sea surface temperature over the tropical oceans and regional variations in methane emissions over tropical South America and tropical Africa. They conclude that existing predictive skill for sea surface temperature variations could be used to help forecast variations in global atmospheric methane.

The Paris Agreement’s ratcheting mechanism needs strengthening four-fold to keep 1.5C alive
Joule Read Article

There is an 80% chance of limiting warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels if countries continue to raise ambition on climate change at their current rate, a new commentary paper finds. However, it adds that this scenario would lead to 0.2C of temperature overshoot and large-scale reliance on CO2 removal. The commentary analyses ​​the strength of the Paris Agreement’s “ratcheting mechanism”, whereby countries periodically raise the ambition of their climate pledges. It warns that to ensure a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5C, the ratchet needs to be strengthened four-fold. (For more on the ratchet mechanism, see Carbon Brief‘s explainer.)

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