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Daily Briefing

22.12.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Brussels sets out new green aid rules, with ‘pragmatic exceptions’ for gas
Brussels sets out new green aid rules, with ‘pragmatic exceptions’ for gas

News.

Brussels sets out new green aid rules, with ‘pragmatic exceptions’ for gas
EurActiv Read Article

New rules outlining the conditions under which EU governments are allowed to support companies on environmental grounds, boost clean energy and phase out support for fossil fuels have been announced by the European Commission, reports EurActiv. According to the news website, the guidelines seek to align EU state aid rules with the European green deal and, once they are formally adopted early next year, they will immediately apply to all EU legal texts. It adds that EU member states will then have until 2024 to align their existing aid schemes with the new requirements. The piece notes that beyond broadening the scope of government support to include areas such as building energy performance and clean mobility infrastructure, EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager told reporters there would also be a “special clause” for natural gas allowing for “member states with the lowest GDP to transition from coal to gas”. Reuters states that support for fossil fuels such as coal and oil is “unlikely to be approved, while new investments in natural gas must be compatible with the EU’s climate targets”. The newswire notes that member states will also be able to use aid to close profitable coal, peat and oil shale plants “faster than market forces alone would have done”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that the commission is facing a “backlash” from climate activists including Greta Thunberg over plans to include gas and nuclear energy in a “green” investment guidebook. The EU’s “taxonomy for sustainable activities”, which is expected at the end of the year, is meant to guide investors to projects that are in line with the bloc’s climate targets. According to the newspaper, an EU official said gas and nuclear were likely to have “amber” status, meaning they would not be in the “green” category with renewable power sources, but would nevertheless still feature in the taxonomy.

In Germany, industry group BDEW have reported that coal and nuclear power – two energy sources that the nation is planning to phase out – accounted for a bigger portion of the its electricity production in 2021 than a year earlier, according to Reuters. Another Reuters story reports that Norway’s $1.4tn wealth fund will not divest from major emitting companies to meet plans to make its investment portfolio carbon-neutral by 2050, but will instead be an “active shareholder” in such companies by pushing them to make the net-zero transition.

Democrats not yet ready to trim climate ambitions despite Manchin blow
Politico Read Article

Politico reports that a day after West Virginia senator Joe Manchin “abruptly repudiated” their $1.7tn climate and social spending package, “progressive Democrats were still holding out hope that Manchin might agree to a sweeping series of tax credits aimed at encouraging a transition to clean energy”. The piece states that Democrats are currently committed to reconfiguring a climate package centred on clean energy tax incentives “rather than pushing through smaller potentially agreeable policies through regular order with Republican votes”. The New York Times has a piece based around a chart showing that the “stalled bill” is “crucial” for reaching the nation’s 2030 climate goals. Reuters quotes US president Joe Biden, who told reporters that “Senator Manchin and I are going to get something done”. According to the Associated Press, Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer was set to assemble Senate Democrats on Tuesday for a private virtual meeting to discuss their next steps on the bill. However, the news service notes that “Manchin and his party are so far apart…it’s unclear how they even get back to the negotiating table, let alone revive the sprawling more than 2,100-page social services and climate change bill”.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times has a piece headlines “Biden’s climate bill might be dead. But he just approved two huge solar farms”. The article states that the approval given to two large facilities in the California desert served as “a reminder that the Biden administration still has tools to combat climate change even if it can’t pass the president’s ‘Build Back Better’ bill”. According to the New York Times, the two projects – plus a third for which approval is nearing completion – would generate around 1,000 megawatts (MW), enough electricity to power about 132,000 homes.

Following the announcement of the new projects in California, the officials from the agency said it is bulking up its capacity to handle renewable energy permitting, according to Reuters. The Wall Street Journal reports that the trio of projects are the first to be approved under the Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan, which was first agreed under the Obama administration before going into “limbo” under former president Donald Trump as it was subject to several reviews. A separate Associated Press story notes that the US Bureau of Land Management has issued a call to nominate land for development within “solar energy zones” in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico that cover a combined area of around 140 square miles. Finally, the Hill reports that the Energy Department has announced a new office devoted to renewable energy demonstration projects, which will be funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law that Biden signed off in November.

Philippine supertyphoon Rai 'exceeded all predictions' - forecaster
Reuters Read Article

Forecasters say the rapid intensification that turned Typhoon Rai into the strongest storm to hit the Philippines this year surpassed all predictions, Reuters reports. The newswire reports that the typhoon left nearly 400 people dead and almost one million displaced, adding that while “it’s unclear exactly how global warming is affecting the intensification of such storms, the UN’s climate change agency has found it is ‘likely that the frequency of rapid intensification events have increased over the past four decades’ as temperatures rise”. Agence France-Presse notes that the Philippines is ranked among the most vulnerable nations to the impacts of climate change, and is hit by an average of 20 storms every year. Prof Liz Stephens, professor of meteorology at the University of Reading, tells the Daily Telegraph that although the typhoon was predicted a week in advance, the intensity of the storm was not. She also tells the newspaper that “climate change will continue to make storms more intense in the future. Warmer seas means more energy is created…And we’re starting to see that already”. Vice has a piece on the storm headlined, “This surprise super typhoon is further proof the climate crisis is here”.

Meanwhile, a Guardian editorial advertises this year’s Guardian and Observer appeal to raise money for charities that do “inspirational work” helping “in some of the hardest-hit areas and communities to adapt, survive and thrive” following climate impacts.

Gas prices surge to new records as fears of winter crisis deepen
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

The Daily Telegraph reports that “as colder temperatures set in and flows from Russia to the continent dropped”, gas prices in the UK and across Europe have “surged to fresh record highs” amid fears of a “winter supply squeeze” and rising energy bills. The article states that analysts at the financial services company Investec have attributed the latest turn of events to a combination of factors including low natural gas storage levels across Europe and lower output from renewable sources, as well as recent events that have squeezed energy supplies – such as French nuclear shutdowns, delays to the opening of Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and the phasing-out of German nuclear power. The Financial Times reports that ships carrying liquefied natural gas destined for China, Japan and South Korea are “changing tack mid-voyage to supply European consumers willing to pay a large premium”. As energy suppliers are threatened with collapse once again, the Times reports that the cost to the UK taxpayer of running failed energy supplier Bulb could increase by £1bn or more as gas prices hit new record highs. The Daily Telegraph has a piece by international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard on the latest developments, in which he takes aim at Germany’s decision to close down its nuclear plants as well. He says the new government is going ahead with this long-planned strategy “despite pleas for a stay of execution from a chorus of global climate campaigners”.

Human cost of China's green energy rush ahead of Winter Olympics
AFP via France 24 Read Article

Chinese farmers “say they are paying a heavy price as authorities rush to deliver on ambitious pledges to ramp up national green energy output”, reports AFP. The newswire’s investigative article says that “China has vowed the upcoming Winter Olympics 2022 will be the first Games to be run entirely on wind and solar energy, and have built scores of facilities to increase capacity”. However, according to the piece, “activists warn ordinary people are being exploited by ‘land grabs’ in the process”. Global Times – a state-run Chinese newspaper – reports that China and Russia “forge close ties” in energy cooperation under Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative. The newspaper cites a report from Sinopec, a state-owned petroleum and petrochemical enterprise group. The quoted report elaborates on Sinopec’s “participation and growth in Russia which deepens ties with China on energy cooperation”, the outlet says.

Separately, the Financial Times reports that China’s “voracious appetite” for natural gas has sparked “a wave of deals” with US exporters of the fuel. The publication describes the deals as “strengthening energy trade between the world’s two biggest economies even as their relationship grows more fraught”. It adds that “Venture Global LNG, a company building a pair of liquefied natural gas export plants in Louisiana, said it had agreed two contracts to ship 3.5m tonnes a year of the fuel to state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), the country’s biggest LNG importer”. Meanwhile, S&P Global Platts reports that CNOOC “will supply carbon-neutral LNG for the first time to Hong Kong”, citing a statement from the company.

Furthermore, China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has listed the “expansion of the consumption of new energy vehicles, green smart home appliances and green construction materials” as some of its “key” tasks for 2022, according to 21st Century Business Herald. The outlet cites a report from the ministry’s social media account. Elsewhere, Shanghai Securities Journal reports that, as the deadline of the first “performance period” of the national carbon market draws close, tradings under the national emissions trading scheme (ETS) has “heated up dramatically”. The outlet says that trading activity has “increased continuously” as of late, with the cumulative trading volume and turnover of carbon emission allowances reaching 131m tonnes and nearly 5.4bn yuan, respectively.

Campaigners lose court fight over UK Government climate inaction
The Independent Read Article

Climate campaigners challenging the lawfulness of the UK government putting “the safety of short-term corporate profit over the welfare of ordinary people” have lost a High Court fight, the Independent reports. It adds that the Plan B Earth group had argued that ministers had not taken “practical and effective” steps to reduce emissions, meaning climate change and human rights legislation under the Paris Agreement, the 2008 Climate Change Act and the 1998 Human Rights Act 1998 had been breached. The campaigners said they plan to appeal to the Court of Appeal and, from there, to the European Court of Human Rights, the news website reports.

Meanwhile, Climate Home News reports that the UK government has launched a consultation on “climate compatibility” tests for new rounds of North Sea oil and gas drilling licences, “ignoring calls to keep fossil fuels in the ground”.

Separately, BBC News reports that scientific leaders in the UK have urged the government not to abandon talks to enable the nation to participate in the €100bn Horizon Europe research programme. According to the news story, “projects range from fundamental research to tackling societal issues, such as combating climate change and efforts to find treatments for debilitating diseases”.

Comment.

Climate change is ravaging the planet. Don't let Joe Manchin slow the US response
Editorial, Los Angeles Times Read Article

A Los Angeles Times editorial states that while US president Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill would be the biggest investment in climate spending in US history, hopes for it were “dashed” over the weekend by West Virginia senator Joe Manchin. The Democrat, whose vote is crucial in the evenly divided Senate, announced that he would not consent to the bill in its current form. The editorial says: “As a result of Manchin’s opposition, the bill could be shrunk even more to appease him (it started out at $3.5tn) or scrapped altogether, in which case Congress will have failed, again, to take action to slow the existential threat of climate change.” It notes that with 50 Republican senators also refusing to support Biden’s bill, Manchin is not solely responsible for its potential failure. The paper continues: “Manchin and GOP lawmakers parrot fossil-fuel industry talking points that the energy sector is already moving to renewable power and accelerating the transition would risk the reliability of the electric grid. But the US, along with other major world polluters, aren’t moving fast enough to phase out fossil fuels and cut carbon to limit global temperature rise.” The piece concludes by stating that Democrats must continue to push for the Build Back Better bill because “there’s too much at stake”.

In an opinion piece for the Guardian titled, “By ditching landmark climate legislation, America makes the world unsafe”, journalist Kate Aronoff echoes these points and writes that “what the Build Back Better bill represented was a bare minimum”. She adds: “With a deadly Omicron surge encroaching, the child tax credit about to lapse and student loans payments starting up again in February, Democrats will struggle to point voters to success stories during next year’s midterm elections without Build Back Better in hand.”

An editorial in the Financial Times says that “Democrats must find trade-offs to build back better”. It states that “Democrats lacked the Congressional strength they hoped for, and at times misread a mandate to eject Donald Trump as one to transform the US”. The newspaper argues that much of the bill’s content addressing climate change and poverty “deserves to come into law”, suggesting that “a guiding principle might be that climate change, given the existential stakes, should be the priority”.

Science.

High CO2 expands where plants can grow in CESM‐CLM4‐CNDV
Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres Read Article

A new study finds that elevated CO2 levels may increase the total area of the Earth where plants are growing by around 23%. Using climate models with a dynamic vegetation component, researchers project the response of global vegetation to a warmer atmosphere with or without higher CO2 levels than at present. They find that while a warm atmosphere alone shrinks the global “vegetated area” as compared to the pre-industrial simulation, a warm atmosphere with high CO2 increases both the vegetated area and the total mass of vegetation. They also note that the changes in vegetation can act as feedbacks on the climate through both changes in albedo and water vapour, and state that the work “highlight[s] the importance of including climate-vegetation feedbacks in Earth system modelling”.

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.