Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Every weekday morning, in time for your morning coffee, Carbon Brief sends out a free email known as the “Daily Briefing” to thousands of subscribers around the world. The email is a digest of the past 24 hours of media coverage related to climate change and energy, as well as our pick of the key studies published in peer-reviewed journals.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Britain says all options on the table to combat energy crisis
- War in Ukraine: Oil prices plunge as UAE supports supply boost
- South Korea’s pro-nuclear president-elect boosts atomic stocks
- US EPA restores California's ability to set stricter clean car standards
- UK: Climate advisers find 'multiple' risks of failure in government's green homes plan
- Assembly passes climate bill committing Northern Ireland to net-zero by 2050
- Why onshore wind, not fracking, offers Boris Johnson a better weapon against Vladimir Putin
- US ban on Russian oil will have limited effect
- Demographics of emissions
- Solar park management and design to boost bumble bee populations
- Climate change and lithium mining influence flamingo abundance in the Lithium Triangle
- A century of warming on Caribbean reefs
The UK will consider all options to boost energy supplies in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the prime minister Boris Johnson’s’ spokesperson has said, reports Reuters. It quotes the spokesperson saying: “The moratorium on fracking remains in place, but it’s important that we look at all options given the ongoing situation in Ukraine and the effect that that’s having on oil and gas prices.” The publication says business and energy minister Kwasi Kwarteng “said on Wednesday the government continued to support the idea of fracking if it could be done safely and sustainably”. Johnson said he would set out plans for greater energy independence in the next few days, the newswire adds. The prime minister’s spokesperson “opened the door to a shift in the UK’s position on fracking”, the Guardian reports, adding: “No 10 source confirmed it was under review.” It says there are “tensions” between No 10 and the business and energy department, where secretary of state Kwarteng “has been a public sceptic about the benefits of fracking”. The Times carries an “exclusive” saying: “Boris Johnson has been warned by the business secretary that a return to fracking might not yield any gas for at least a decade and would face public opposition.” It says Kwarteng is “understood to view the plans as impractical and is said to be ‘extremely sceptical’”. The Independent reports “anger over mooted fracking rethink”. BusinessGreen says the government is “considering a raft of competing proposals for curbing UK fossil fuel imports”, from floating offshore wind to fracking. The Press Association also says Johnson is “looking at all options”. Bloomberg says the PM’s energy plan “isn’t likely to be ready this week, but may come next week”, citing a “person familiar with the plans”. The Politico London Playbook says “it remains to be seen how seriously the government sees [fracking for] shale gas as an option, or how much this talk is political posturing”. It adds that there is debate within government over how or whether to increase support for consumers facing rising energy bills. A Daily Telegraph feature looks at the potential of fracking in the UK and cites an industry lobbyist “agree[ing] fracking would not be a quick fix to the urgent question of cutting Putin’s grip on European gas markets, due to the time taken for wells to develop”. It cites Carbon Brief analysis showing domestic fracking would produce less than 5% of UK gas demand over the next five years, even in the industry’s own best-case scenario and assuming no planning issues or delays due to protests, which dogged previous attempts to develop the technology.
Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the opposition Labour leader Kier Starmer “called for the government to invest in nuclear and renewable energy sources and insulate homes to reduce reliance on Russian oil and gas”. ITV News, the Independent, BusinessGreen and the Daily Express all report new analysis from the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) showing that accelerated efforts to insulate homes and roll out heat pumps would cut demand for gas imports more quickly than development of new oil and gas fields in the North Sea.
Elsewhere, the Guardian says slower driving and shorter showers “could help Britain wean itself off Russian resources” and the i newspaper says an expert “called on ministers to organise Covid-style national press conferences to inspire collective action from the public which could save households money, reduce Russia’s economic power, and cut carbon emissions”. The Independent says “Britons could be ‘inadvertently funding’ Ukraine war by filling up cars, government told”. Another Independent article says “around 10” Russian oil and gas tankers have been turned away from UK ports since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Global oil prices have plunged after the United Arab Emirates said it supported higher production, BBC News reports, adding: “The fall follows weeks of skyrocketing prices due to supply disruptions sparked by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” An article in the New York Times says attempts to replace Russian oil will be difficult, reporting: “[A]s the US and other customers shun Russian crude, the global oil market faces its greatest upheaval since the Middle East tumult of the 1970s.” For the Guardian, environment correspondent Fiona Harvey reports: “Oil and gas companies are looking at a bonanza from the Ukraine war.” It adds: “[M]any are using soaring prices and the fear of fuel shortages to cement their position with governments in ways that could have disastrous impacts on the climate crisis.”
Conservative candidate Yoon Suk-yeol has been narrowly elected president in South Korea, with Bloomberg reporting that he “supports policies that favour using atomic power to help meet climate targets”. It reports: “Yoon…said he wants nuclear to account for 30% of total energy generation, reversing [incumbent] president Moon Jae-in’s plans to ditch reactors. He also vowed to make South Korea a major exporter of nuclear equipment and technology, and integrate atomic power and renewable energy to push for carbon neutrality.” It adds that suppliers of nuclear equipment saw share gains on the result. (See the Carbon Brief profile of South Korea for more on its energy and climate policies.)
The Biden administration has restored California’s authority to set its own car pollution standards, the Hill reports, reversing a decision under former president Donald Trump. California’s standards have been widely adopted by other states and have been more stringent than federal rules, the outlet says, with the state’s limits “expected to push the market toward electric vehicles”. Forbes, Bloomberg and the New York Times all have the story.
The UK government’s plans for decarbonising buildings contain “multiple” risks of failure, according to an independent assessment from the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the Big Issue reports. It says the government’s official climate advisers warn the heat and buildings strategy is ambitious but lacking the firm policy needed to deliver its goals. The publication adds: “Decarbonising housing stock will protect millions from spikes in energy prices, but progress is moving too slowly, the CCC has warned.” BusinessGreen reports: “The government must act now to fill significant policy and funding gaps in its headline strategy for decarbonising heat and buildings, the CCC has warned.” A CCC blog from lead analyst on residential buildings Marcus Shepheard sets out the committee’s findings. The Daily Telegraph leads its coverage of the CCC report with the headline: “£450m heat pump subsidy scheme could end up funding those who would have bought them anyway.” The Daily Express takes a similar line.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has passed legislation committing the region to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050, Press Association reports, having previously been the only part of the UK without its own legislative climate targets. The bill includes a separate target of cutting methane emissions in Northern Ireland by 46% in 2050.
Coral reefs in the Caribbean “have been warming for at least a century”, a new study says. The researchers compiled a Caribbean coral reef database identifying 5,326 unique reefs across the region and used three temperature databases to “quantify change in thermal characteristics” of the reefs over the last 150 years (1871–2020). Regionally, “reef warming began in 1915”, the study says. More recently, Caribbean reefs have warmed by 0.18C per decade since the 1980s, ranging from 0.17C per decade on Bahamian reefs to 0.26C per decade on reefs within the southern and eastern Caribbean ecoregions, the study finds.
Writing in the i newspaper, chief political commentator Paul Waugh compares UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s views on fracking and onshore wind, noting how he is “often accused of political opportunism, shifting his stance on this or that issue like a weathervane”. Waugh says Johnson “is understood to be tempted” to reverse planning restrictions on onshore wind brought in by former Conservative prime minister David Cameron. Citing new Carbon Brief analysis, he says that there are 649 onshore wind and solar projects that have already been granted planning permission, “but are not yet built because of the lack of government support to bring them to the market”. The analysis shows that all of those projects were built, they would offset more gas demand than the total amount currently being imported to the UK from Russia, Waugh adds. He says that public opinion and economics both favour onshore wind over fracking, concluding: “For a prime minister who likes to see which way the wind blows, that shifting voter sentiment may prove a key factor. On what the public want, on the drive to net-zero, and on the fight against Russian president Vladimir Putin, more onshore turbines seem like a win-win-win.” For BusinessGreen, Aldersgate Group executive director Nick Molho writes under the headline: “The key lesson from the Ukraine crisis? Shifting to net-zero is more important than ever.”
In the Times Red Box, Conservative MP and long-time campaigner for lower fuel duty Robert Halfon says the chancellor Rishi Sunak “must reduce fuel duty and the green levy to shield the public”. Among other claims, he incorrectly states that “25% of our electricity costs go on an energy tax known as the green levy”. (Environmental and social policy costs make up 20% of electricity bills and 12% of energy bills overall, falling in absolute terms and as a share of the total when the energy price cap rises in April, to 13% of electricity bills and 8% of the bills overall.)
An editorial in the Daily Telegraph says the government “must act now to forestall [an] energy crisis”. It calls for investment in “North Sea oil and gas, as well as nuclear and hydrogen power”. (Hydrogen is not a source of energy.) It concludes: “For Johnson to be serious, he needs to amend the unrealistic green targets he has hitherto enthusiastically embraced, including the 78% carbon reduction target by 2035. While it is clear the future of energy production is away from hydrocarbons and towards more renewables, this cannot happen by jeopardising our economic future.” (New wind or solar farms would generate electricity six times more cheaply than the current price of running gas-fired power stations; the Climate Change Committee’s director of analysis has tweeted that at current oil and gas prices “the net-zero programme would involve a significant national cost saving overall”.)
Another comment article in the Daily Telegraph sees climate-sceptic commentator Ross Clark claiming that “[c]limate radicals fuelled Europe’s reliance on Putin’s gas”. (Electricity generated by windfarms last year avoided the need to buy roughly £15bn of gas in the UK and €56bn of gas in the EU.) Jeremy Warner, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph writes: “As things stand, it is virtually impossible for Europe to impose an embargo on Russian oil and gas.”
An editorial in the Financial Times says the US ban on Russian oil and gas imports and a UK plan to ban oil imports by the end of the year is designed to “deprive Moscow of the foreign currency necessary to fight its war in Ukraine”, but adds: “On their own, the moves are unlikely to be effective.” This is because the two countries account for only a small share of Russian exports, it says, adding that the moves will nevertheless have an impact, raising pressure on others to do the same and encouraging “self-sanctioning” among buyers. The paper adds: “The US push to find extra supplies – potentially leading to partial detentes with Venezuela and Iran – may provide some relief [from surging prices], especially if other Opec producers can be persuaded to increase deliveries.”
An editorial in the Times says there are “not many places that the West can turn to fill the shortfall in energy supplies caused by their collective resolve to stop buying Russian oil and gas”, with two options being the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. It concludes: “The West must stand for human rights indivisibly, but it cannot fight all its ideological battles simultaneously. At the moment, the target must be the Putin regime [in Russia]. Saudi Arabia shows no sign of moderating its behaviour in order to meet western standards of justice. But it must be kept onside if the West is to prevail over a more dangerous state.”
The Washington Post has an editorial saying “another energy crisis is here” and, as a result: “We need to have a serious – and realistic – conversation about the future of US energy.” It says: “In the short term, President [Joe] Biden has little choice but to turn to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela for more heavy crude oil…In the medium term, we need more US production of oil and natural gas, changes to US refineries so they can handle more shale oil, and an ongoing push to be more energy-efficient…In the longer term, the United States must continue to push for greener energy.” An article for Politico says the crisis will “accelerate the energy transition”.
A comment for the Independent says US pump prices are near record highs: “But in a just world, with good leadership and equitable climate policy, we would be paying way, way more for it.”
An editorial in Nature Climate Change says a greater “understanding [of] the demographics of emissions is needed for climate justice” because individual carbon footprints “depend on behaviour, wealth and lifestyle”. It notes research it recently published – covered by Carbon Brief – showing that the per-capita footprint of the richest 1% globally is 75 times higher than the poorest 50% of the world’s population. It says: “there needs to be a shift in focus to the super-rich – action from this group of individuals could have a substantial impact on emissions reductions”. The piece concludes: “Reducing emissions from the highest emitters is essential, as is overall emissions cuts wherever possible but not at the expense of those at the other end of the wealth spectrum – any mitigation policies need to ensure that they can have better lives and be lifted out of poverty.”
Managing ground-mounted solar parks as wildflower meadows – as opposed to turf with wildflower margins – could bring twice as many bumblebees to nest and forage within them, a new study suggests. The researchers explore how solar park management, size, shape and landscape context might impact ground-nesting bumblebee density, nest density and nest productivity inside existing solar parks and surrounding landscapes in the UK. The results “demonstrate how incorporating biodiversity into solar park management and design decisions could benefit groups such as pollinators”, the authors conclude.
Climate change combined with mining in the “Lithium Triangle” of the Chilean Andes could soon have “dramatic effects” on the abundance of threatened flamingo species, a new study warns. The researchers “explore how climate change and the mining of lithium for green technologies influence surface water availability, primary productivity and the abundance of three threatened and economically important flamingo species” in the region. The findings suggest that efforts to slow the expansion of mining and the impacts of climate change are “urgently needed to benefit local biodiversity and the local human economy that depends on it”.