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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 16.05.2022
Breaking climate vows would be ‘monstrous self-harm’, warns COP26 president

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News.

Breaking climate vows would be ‘monstrous self-harm’, warns COP26 president
The Guardian Read Article

Speaking today in Glasgow six months after the COP26 climate summit, Alok Sharma will warn that failing to act on promises made at the event would be “an act of monstrous self-harm”, the Guardian reports. Sharma, a UK minister and COP26 president, will say that “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and rising energy and food prices, have changed the global outlook drastically in the six months since”, but that “responding to those changes by reneging on climate commitments would only result in worse damage”, according to the Guardian. He is expected to say: “The current crises should increase, not diminish, our determination to deliver on what we agreed here at COP26, and honour the Glasgow climate pact. [World leaders must show that] though the world has changed, our resolve has not.” The Independent reports that Sharma will particularly emphasise the need for countries to “revise and strengthen” their climate plans for 2030, which are currently not in line with a pathway to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels. The Times also covers the story. A separate Independent story says Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon will also call for countries to meet their COP26 commitments in an address today. (See Comment below.) Speaking in Washington during a trip to the US, Sturgeon is expected to say a failure to meet targets would be “catastrophic”, according to the Independent. In addition, the Guardian publishes an analysis on what progress has been made since COP26 and a separate story on whether COP27 in Egypt will bring the action needed.

UK: Natural gas to be classed as ‘green’ investment to boost North Sea
The Telegraph Read Article

The UK’s business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is “keen” to rebrand investments in gas fossil fuel projects as “green” to try to increase North Sea production, the Daily Telegraph reports in a frontpage story. The newspaper says Kwarteng is understood to be keen that drilling for the fossil fuel is listed as “environmentally sustainable” in a “new classification of activities being drawn up by his department and the Treasury”. It adds: “Producing and burning natural gas for power production and heating is a vast source of CO2 emissions.” A Whitehall source tells the Daily Telegraph: “Kwasi considers natural gas a transition fuel, and he accepts the reality of the situation which is that we will need gas for decades to come and we need more developments in the North Sea. A lot of investors with ESG [environmental, social and governance] targets are divesting from fossil fuels – we don’t want that to be done at the detriment of natural gas.” [Carbon Brief has previously examined claims that UK oil and gas might be “climate compatible” in a factcheck.]

Elsewhere, the Sunday Telegraph reports on a letter from 35 Conservative MPs to Kwarteng claiming the government’s review of fracking “will undermine public trust if it ignores evidence that the risks associated with shale gas production can be ‘managed and mitigated’”. The letter is signed by Steve Baker, the former Brexit minister and trustee of the UK’s most prominent climate sceptic lobby group the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF); Craig Mackinlay, who chairs the Net Zero Scrutiny Group and is also associated with GWPF, as well as former minister and Brexiteer Lord Frost.

It comes as the Sunday Times reports that the UK’s oil and gas regulator [which recently rebranded as the “North Sea Transition Authority”] is set to approve Shell’s Jackdaw oilfield, which was previously rejected over environmental concerns. The Sunday Times understands that approval of the project is now “imminent”.

UK: Labour to call vote on windfall tax for oil and gas companies
BBC News Read Article

The UK’s Labour party will call for a vote on Tuesday to introduce a windfall tax on oil and gas companies earning bumper profits to help those suffering from the cost-of-living crisis, BBC News reports. Shadow minister Ed Miliband told the BBC on Sunday that it was “obscene” that the government has refused to implement the policy, according to BBC News. The proposal has been criticised by Boris Johnson and Kwarteng, but the Treasury has said the option is “not off the table”, according to BBC News. The Press Association also reports there have been “mixed messages from the government on such a levy”.

Elsewhere, the Financial Times reports the head of a North Sea energy company has appealed for “fiscal stability” amid calls for a windfall tax. Gilad Myerson, executive chair of Ithaca Energy, argues that oil and gas production is a “very cyclical industry” where profits can be “very high but at times the losses could be very, very significant”, the FT says. He tells the newspaper: “What we need more than anything is fiscal stability”. The company is “betting on another 30 years of oil and gas production” and hopes to fund the Cambo oilfield project, the FT adds.

In addition, the Daily Telegraph reports that National Grid is turning away shipments of gas to UK ports over fears the country will be overwhelmed by supplies.

South Africa’s April floods made twice as likely by climate crisis, scientists say
The Guardian Read Article

Several publications, including Carbon Brief, report on a rapid analysis finding the rains behind South Africa’s deadly floods in April were made twice as likely by human-caused climate change. The Guardian includes comments from research author and leading climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who says: “Most people who died in the floods lived in informal settlements, so again we are seeing how climate change disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable people. However, the flooding of the port of Durban is also a reminder that there are no borders for climate impacts. What happens in one place can have substantial consequences elsewhere.” The Independent leads its coverage of the research with the headline: “At least 450 people were killed in South Africa’s floods. Climate change doubled the risk.” The New York Times and Associated Press also cover the news.

Elsewhere, BBC News reports on people suffering in severe droughts in East Africa. BBC News reports: “A fourth season of failed rains is causing one of the worst droughts East Africa has seen in decades, and this village, which is home to 3,600 families, is one of the areas hardest hit. The land is dry, dusty and barren. The remaining livestock eat the withered, grey shrubs which cover the land. The people eat whatever they can find, often not very much.”

China: Expansion of national carbon market delayed; how to solve carbon data accounting problems
Caijin Read Article

Caijing reports that the expansion of China’s carbon market – which currently covers the power-generating industry only – would be postponed over the “problems” regarding the quality of carbon emissions data. The Chinese financial publication says that the incorporation of “other high-emitting industries” into the national carbon market will be “delayed by one to two years”. [A report from last November said that China’s refining and petrochemical companies were expected to be included into the market this year.] Caijing says that, according to “various sources”, the “delay” is caused by the fact that the investigation into the quality of the carbon emissions data of thermal power companies from the previous two years have not been completed. It adds that the “challenges of accurately accounting the carbon emissions data from other high-energy-consuming industries will be greater”. The outlet says “all eight energy-intensive industries” are expected to be included into the national carbon market “after 2025”, citing projections from Sino Carbon, a Beijing-based consultancy. The company expected the electrolytic aluminium and cement industries to be included “in 2023”, followed by the “gradual incorporation” of the steel, petrochemical, chemical, paper and aviation industries, Caijing says. Caixin – another Chinese financial publication – covers the same news, noting that the “delay” is caused by “poor quality data”.

Caixin also reports that Gansu province and the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region – both in north-west China – “failed to reach renewable energy consumption targets” in 2021, “falling short by 2.6% and 1.8%, respectively”. The report cites data from the National Energy Administration (NEA), the state energy regulator. Meanwhile, an article in the New Statesman explains why China’s “global coal machine won’t be stopped so easily”. The article says that, although China has announced to “stop funding coal plants around the world”, there are “loopholes” in the pledge, which means that new plants “are still being built”. Separately, People’s Daily – a state-run newspaper – reports that China has approved its first “national carbon measurement centre” in Inner Mongolia.

Elsewhere, China Energy News reports that, among the 450 gigawatts (GW) “gigantic” wind and solar bases China plans to build in the Gobi desert and other arid regions, the construction of 85GW has already begun. The state-run industry newspaper cites Hu Zucai, an official from the state’s top economic planner. Finally, Bloomberg reports that Shandong province – described by the outlet as an “industrial hub” south of Beijing – “issued a tender on Thursday for the construction of 10 offshore solar plants in the seas surrounding China’s largest peninsula by 2025”. The planned capacity of the project is 11.25GW, “more than peak consumption in New Zealand”, the outlet says. Meanwhile, China’s Xinhua news agency reports that BRIC countries “renewed their commitment to tackling climate change” at a meeting hosted by China on Friday.

Comment.

Floods, fires, coral bleaching: Politicians leading the country to climate catastrophe
Christiana Figueres, Sydney Morning Herald Read Article

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres urges Australians to vote for climate action in the country’s general election on 21 May, saying: “Australia is sleep-walking towards devastating bushfires, floods and coral bleaching events that will become more frequent and dangerous than those over the last two years”. She continues: “Australia, your country needs a genuine and all-encompassing climate action plan that covers every sector and every community. It can be bold and exciting. It can be innovative and entrepreneurial. And it can embody a heartfelt and economically smart commitment to a safer climate future for the next generation.” In accompanying editorial, the Sydney Morning Herald argues the “major parties must do better on protecting climate” ahead of the general election. [Carbon Brief has produced an interactive grid analysis all the climate pledges from the major parties.]

Elsewhere, an article by David Fickling in Bloomberg explores how climate is “splintering Australia’s political parties”. He says: “The main parties won less than 75% of the vote between them at the 2019 election, down from 85% 12 years earlier. Climate is a particularly awkward issue: The Greens won about 10% of the total in 2019, while the Labor opposition blamed its loss in part on perceptions in blue-collar mining regions that it’s opposed to the coal industry.” In the New York Times‘ Climate Forward newsletter, Somini Sengupta also examines how climate fits into Australia’s election.

The Guardian publishes several articles on how climate change is shaping Australia’s election, including a feature on how many view climate impacts as a “local issue”; a comment piece by author Sisonke Msimang on the lack of diversity among independent “teal” candidates running on climate issues; and a column from Celina Ribeiro on how children could miss out on “glorious” Australian summers as extreme heat rises.

In addition, the Financial Times profiles a “tech billionaire” who has become “Australia’s first green corporate raider”.

The Observer view on the urgent need for a windfall tax on the energy giants
Editorial, The Observer Read Article

An editorial in the Observer argues in favour of Labour’s proposed windfall tax on oil and gas companies, saying: “North Sea oilwells should be taxed more heavily and so should the production of natural gas. Energy companies are making record-breaking profits from the sale of hydrocarbons that lie in the deep water that surrounds Britain and that should shame the industry when the people paying the highest price are the poorest in society.” Meanwhile, an editorial in the Sun argues the “public won’t swallow rampant profiteering by oil giants at a time of national hardship”. It says: “A windfall tax should not normally be the answer…And yet oil barons seem almost to be taunting the Government into such a crowd-pleasing step, with obscenely bloated profits, cash siphoned off to double execs’ multi-million-pound salaries and a devil-may-care attitude.” A separate editorial in the Observer denounces the blanket ban on GM foods in the UK and urges radical reform.

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail publishes a full-page opinion article by the right-wing, climate-sceptic commentator Ross Clark which makes various unsubstantiated claims about the BBC’s climate editor Justin Rowlatt, as well as attacks Rowlatt’s family members. [Clark has a history of questioning established climate science and defending fossil-fuel companies.]

In addition, a column in the Daily Telegraph by Michael Deacon argues that instead of being angry at new UK laws restricting the right to protest, climate activists should look “abroad”. He continues: “In particular, think of all the damage being caused by the war in Ukraine. The explosions, the pollution, the destruction of ecosystems. During the first two months of the invasion, Ukrainian ecologists reportedly recorded more than 1,200 environmental disasters. Clearly, Vladimir Putin is a far greater threat to the ozone layer than the long-suffering British motorist.”

Thunderer: We must not forget COP26 promises made in Glasgow
Nicola Sturgeon, The Times Read Article

Writing for the Times on the six-month anniversary of the COP26 climate summit, Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon says countries must not forget commitments made at the summit. She writes: “In a speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington today, I will urge countries to remain focused on delivering the promises made last November at the COP26 UN climate conference in Glasgow. The need to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5C remains imperative, as does addressing energy security, particularly in light of the Ukraine war and the effect it is having on energy prices. Nations must prioritise sustainability as far as they can, promoting energy efficiency and accelerating the development of renewable and low-carbon energy.”

Elsewhere, the Independent carries an op-ed by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, who says the UK government “refuses to acknowledge, let alone address” climate change.

Science.

Whither winter: The altered role of winter for freshwaters as the climate changes
Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences Read Article

This paper introduces a journal special issue on how winters at mid-to-high latitudes are changing and the implications for freshwater ecosystems. The different studies have been developed on the back of an American Geophysical Union (AGU) Chapman conference in 2019. They “demonstrate that lakes and rivers at mid-high latitudes are experiencing less ice cover duration and greater variability in year-to-year ice cover”, the introduction says. These changes impact processes occurring under the ice in winter by “altering the light regime, mixing, biota present, and the availability of oxygen”.

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