Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Budget 2021: No 'green revolution' from Sunak
- China's coal consumption seen rising in 2021, imports steady
- Global emissions cuts must be ‘10 times higher’ for world to meet climate goals
- A tactical budget that spends today and taxes tomorrow
- Climate change: Will China take a 'great leap' to a greener economy?
- The climate crisis can't be solved by carbon accounting tricks
- Exxon Mobil’s chief says it is 'supportive' of zero-emission goals
- Gender equality in climate policy and practice hindered by assumptions
- Sources of uncertainty in long-term global scenarios of solar photovoltaic technology
- Fossil CO2 emissions in the post-Covid-19 era
There is widespread coverage of the UK’s final budget before it hosts the COP26 climate talks in November, with BBC News among those reporting that chancellor Rishi Sunak “did not go far enough to address the scale of the challenge of climate change”, according to “critics”. BusinessGreen says the chancellor “pledge[d] to put green investment at heart of economic recovery”. MailOnline reports that a new UK infrastructure bank was unveiled in the budget “to fuel [a] new green industrial revolution”. In print, the story runs under the headline: “Eco bank with £12bn to splash.” According to the Daily Telegraph, the new bank “will offer loans and investments worth two-thirds less than EU predecessor”. The paper says the European Investment Bank lent an average of £5bn a year to projects in the UK, according to the Treasury’s independent Office for Budget Responsibility, which compared that figure to the expected £1.5bn a year from the new UK infrastructure bank. BusinessGreen carries reaction to the budget from green businesses, campaign groups and political figures, with many welcoming elements of the chancellor’s speech but, lamenting the “missed opportunity” to do more. Analysis from Daisy Dunne, the Independent climate correspondent, runs under a headline saying: “Budget lacks urgency needed to tackle the climate crisis.” The i newspaper says green groups were “left disappointed”. Politico reports that the chancellor’s budget “did little to bring down emissions or address the hard parts of climate policy”. It adds that the chancellor “took more than half an hour to get to the green section” of his budget speech “despite the tub thumping his government has done over net-zero, green recovery and hosting this year’s COP26 UN talks”. Bloomberg runs the story under the headline: “Sunak’s budget falls short of UK’s big climate ambitions.” The Daily Telegraph reports on fuel duty being frozen for the 11th year in a row, but adds that “the Treasury signalled this could be the last year the fuel duty remains frozen”, quoting the budget “red book” document saying: “Future fuel duty rates will be considered in the context of the UK’s commitment to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.” The Daily Mail (not yet online) also reports: “Fuel duty, in particular, is likely to increase [in the future] to help the government meet climate change targets.” The Daily Express (not yet online) says the budget offers what it calls a “big bang moment for green energy to power recovery”, including the new infrastructure bank and a new green savings product announced by the chancellor, as well as funding for new port infrastructure for offshore wind, carbon capture and green hydrogen.
Several publications focus on the chancellor giving the Bank of England an updated mandate, which now includes supporting the UK’s net-zero target. The Financial Times reports that the bank has already responded by saying that it would adjust its approach to buying corporate debt, to take climate risks into account. Bloomberg also reports the news, saying the bank “will seek to start greening its corporate bond-buying program from the end of the year”. According to the Guardian: “Analysts said the bank’s new green mandate means its banking policy decisions would now work in lock-step with the government’s agenda, which together with the National Infrastructure Bank could help channel billions of private capital towards green spending.” Separately, the Financial Times reports the comments of UK pensions minister Guy Opperman, in an interview with the paper, saying pension funds should not divest from fossil fuel holdings.
Reuters picks out the budget announcement that the government is “taking steps to establish London as a global hub for the trade of voluntary carbon offsets”. The piece adds that the UK’s “carbon price support”, a top-up tax on CO2 emissions from power plants, will remain at £18 per tonne for another year, while the budget also said there would be proposals set out this year on “expanding” the UK’s new emissions trading system. The Scotsman reports that budget support for a green energy transition in the North Sea was “welcomed” by “oil industry leaders”. The Times also reports the £27m fund to support the energy transition in Aberdeen. The Financial Times is among those reporting on the budget designating eight locations in England as “freeports”, including Teesside in the northeast. According to the paper: “[P]eople in the renewable energy industry said [Teesside] was a frontrunner for a new wind turbine blade factory that US conglomerate General Electric is expected to build in the UK. The success of the freeport bid is likely to result in the investment being given the green light, which local leaders said would create up to 1,000 jobs.” According to the Times, several of the eight freeports have pledged to invest in “a green energy revolution”. Bloomberg says of another “freeport” in the northeast: “The Humber industrial cluster also has a major green-energy component, being focused on carbon capture, hydrogen technology and offshore wind to create 3,000 jobs, the government said.” In other UK ports news, the Daily Telegraph reports that carmaker Vauxhall has “demand[ed] taxpayer help to keep [production plant] Ellesmere Port open”. According to the paper, the firm wants support to switch production at the site to making electric vehicles, following the government’s decision to ban sales of new combustion engine cars from 2030. Separately, Reuters reports that Japanese firm Mitsui is to invest in the development of a UK carbon capture project.
China is expected to burn more coal in 2021 than last year, Reuters reports, citing the China National Coal Association. The outlet adds that the news comes “despite Beijing’s pledges to boost the use of clean energy and curb greenhouse gas emissions”. Separately Global Times reports on moves to limit production of steel and other commodities in some Chinese provinces, as part of efforts towards the country’s new carbon neutrality goal. The Financial Times Lex column also looks at how “Beijing’s war on pollution is sharpening up…Expect coal-powered steel and aluminium producers to be most affected.”
In other coal news, Reuters reports that Japanese bank SMFG is “likely to halt new financing for any coal-fired power plants”, citing “sources close to the matter”. The newswire says this reflects “increasing pressure on Japanese lenders to cut coal funding”. Elsewhere, InsideClimate News reports on the bankruptcy of Blackjewel, once the sixth-largest coal mining firm in the US. And the New York Times carries a feature on Rawlins, a town in Carbon County, Wyoming, in the “heart of coal country”. It reports: “Despite its historic ties to coal, as well as local denialism about climate change, the county is soon to be home to one of the biggest wind farms in the nation.” In the UK, BusinessGreen reports that coal-fired power stations were “among the biggest losers” in the country’s latest capacity market auction, with gas, demand-side response and batteries securing the “lion’s share of contracts designed to help ensure the lights are kept on during next winter’s peak in power demand”. Germany has opened a third auction in which operators of hard coal power plants bid for compensation to close down, Reuters reports. Some 2.5 gigawatts is to go offline in 2022, it adds.
The world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions far faster to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, according to widely covered new research in Nature Climate Change. According to the Independent, the research found that global emissions fell by around 2.6bn tonnes in 2020, as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but that cuts of 1-2bn tonnes would need to be sustained every year to meet warming limits. In the words of the Guardian, this means: “Carbon dioxide emissions must fall by the equivalent of a global lockdown roughly every two years for the next decade for the world to keep within safe limits.” The Daily Telegraph has a similar take. According to Reuters, the scientists behind the research “warn[ed of [a] rebound” in global emissions following last year’s drop “unless efforts to phase out fossil fuel are intensified”. The Times reports the findings with a focus on the UK’s emissions cuts relative to other countries, reporting: “Britain is second best in the world”. Press Association via the Shropshire Star, the Los Angeles Times,Bloomberg and MailOnline also cover the research. Reflecting on similar findings of a rebound in CO2, published by the International Energy Agency on Tuesday, BusinessGreen editor James Murray has an article saying hopes that global emissions might have peaked in 2019 have been left looking “wildly optimistic”.
An editorial in the Financial Times says of the UK budget, published yesterday: “There were few concrete measures to ensure that post-Brexit Britain will remain competitive, or that it will achieve its target of net-zero carbon emissions.” An editorial in the Guardian says: “The climate emergency was noticeable by its absence.” An editorial on the budget in the Times mentions climate in passing, noting: “Finding ways to boost [growth] is even more urgent in the context of the added costs facing businesses from Brexit, the transition to net-zero emissions and adapting to the digital revolution.” Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf writes: “A UK Infrastructure Bank with capital of £12bn will not amount to much. Where is the ambition for investment? Where is the plan for environmental policy? Where, for that matter, is the discussion of carbon pricing? After the massive response to the pandemic, the needed long-term vision for a country facing an uncertain future is absent.” In his business commentary for the Times, Alistair Osborne notes that the new infrastructure bank comes not long after the government sold off the earlier Green Investment Bank, but adds: “Yet, its replacement looks more ambitious…Put some infrastructure experts in charge and minimise Treasury meddling and it might even work. Or more obviously than freeports anyway.” Writing on LinkedIn, former government adviser Josh Buckland writes: “The overall reaction to the green measures announced in the Budget is likely to be one of disappointment…Today’s budget does little to quell concern that the government is yet to really back up its positive political rhetoric on the green agenda with a economic and fiscal framework that is up to the task.” BusinessGreen editor James Murray says: “[The] budget significantly improves the UK’s green investment climate, but it was still a long way short of the comprehensive net zero transition strategy that is so desperately needed.” Several short comment pieces in the Daily Express (not yet online) react to the budget, including Jo Bamford, owner of hydrogen bus maker Wrightbus, saying “the UK can be a global leader in a future ‘net-zero’ hydrogen economy but we need to start now”. Another Daily Express comment, from Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, says: “The budget should have been the kickstart to creating jobs as part of Britain’s great green recovery. But the government missed its chance.” The paper also carries the views of Ecotricity owner Dale Vince, who says it was a “business-as-usual budget – with some green window dressing and some very un-green decisions”. Finally, the Daily Express (also not online) reports the views of its “eco family”, who the paper says were “[given] hope” by the budget but felt it “did not go far enough”.
BBC News environment correspondent Matt McGrath previews China’s next five-year plan, due to be unveiled on Friday, saying climate change “may emerge as a key goal”. He writes: “It’s expected to outline stronger steps in limiting carbon from the world’s biggest emitter. But concerns over the impact on the economy could stem the shift towards greener policies.” An article from part of Chinese financial media group Southern Finance Omnimedia Corp (in Chinese) reports that carbon neutrality is to be a key issue at the annual “Two Sessions”, China’s biggest annual political meetings, which begin this week. In his column for Bloomberg, David Fickling picks out “four numbers to gauge China’s climate ambitions”. These are the plan’s target for renewable energy capacity in 2025, its goal for the share of “new-energy vehicles” and targets to reduce emissions in the steel and cement sectors. Meanwhile, an Associated Press article reports on the “tensions” between the US and China that “threaten” global efforts to tackle warming. It reports: “The two countries both say they are intent on retooling their economies to burn less climate-wrecking coal, oil and gas. But tensions between them threaten their ultimate success. China and the United States are the world’s No. 1 and No. 2 carbon polluters, respectively, pumping out nearly half of the fossil fuel fumes that are warming the planet’s atmosphere.” Separately, World Nuclear News reports that China is “on course to lead in nuclear by 2030” with the world’s largest fleet of reactors, according to the International Energy Agency.
In a comment for the Guardian, Prof Simon Lewis, of University College London and the University of Leeds, writes on the challenges posed by the proliferation of net-zero targets. Lewis says: “Long-term commitments have not resulted in sufficient near-term actions…But a more insidious problem is emerging. Net-zero increasingly involves highly questionable carbon accounting. As a result, the new politics swirling around net-zero targets is rapidly becoming a confusing and dangerous mix of pragmatism, self-delusion and weapons-grade greenwash.” Lewis explains the three major “deceptions” he sees being used around net-zero, which are: “overreliance on carbon removal…offsetting against notional emissions trajectories” and a lack of “additionality”.
The New York Times carries an interview with Exxon Mobil chief executive Darren Woods, reporting: “He went so far as to promise that Exxon would try to set a goal for not emitting more greenhouse gases than it removed from the atmosphere, though he said it was still difficult to say when that might happen.” It quotes Woods saying: “What society demands, and appropriately so, is affordable, reliable energy that doesn’t have the emissions associated with today’s energy systems…We’re working on that evolution.” The paper adds: “While that might seem like a guarded statement, Mr Woods, a soft-spoken electrical engineer from Wichita, Kansas, is clearly changing the tone of the company, which he took over four years ago.” The Wall Street Journal reports that Exxon “had been pessimistic about [the] economic prospects of the technology but now wants to commercialise carbon capture and storage”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Exxon has “unveiled plans to grow dividends and curb spending”, adding: “Investor pressure has mounted for Exxon to cut costs, improve financial returns and better prepare for the energy transition to lower-carbon fuels.” The Financial Times reports that Woods “continues to rule out a net-zero target”. It adds: “Resentment at Exxon’s perceived offhand treatment of shareholders and hostility to change, coupled with the impression that it is not taking climate change risks as seriously as investors do, is breeding discontent.” Relatedly, a comment for the Guardian runs under the headline: “Global oil companies have committed to ‘net-zero’ emissions. It’s a sham.”
Global climate change policy “is committed to tackling gender inequalities in mitigation and adaptation”, a new review paper says, but “progress is hindered by numerous challenges”. These include “an enduring set of gender assumptions”, including: “women are caring and connected to the environment, women are a homogenous and vulnerable group, gender equality is a women’s issue and gender equality is a numbers game”. The authors show how these assumptions “propel strategies that have unintended and even counterproductive consequences”.
A new study assesses why the deployment of solar photovoltaic (PV) technology “has consistently outpaced expectations over the past decade”. The researchers compile a collection of 1,550 projections of future PV capacity from peer-reviewed and grey literature, including Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and non-IPCC scenarios. As an accompanying News & Views article explains, uncertainties in these projections is not driven by “modelling or techno-economic assumptions”, but rather “who created these scenarios, and when and how”.
Five years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, “growth in global CO2 emissions has begun to falter”, a new “brief communication” paper says. The authors show how the Covid-19 pandemic has “radically altered the trajectory of global CO2 emissions”. However, in order to sustain a decline in global emissions, “contradictory effects of the post-Covid-19 investments in fossil fuel-based infrastructure and the recent strengthening of climate targets must be addressed with new policy”, the authors warn.
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