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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- China’s energy map to 2025 plans massive boost in power capacity
- UK: Prime minister faces cabinet split as push for onshore wind farms gathers momentum
- UK: North Sea sector confident Sunak tax plans will not target energy profits
- EU leaders may endorse taxing windfall profits of energy companies
- UK: Ofgem plans for Gazprom Energy takeover after customer exodus
- German CDU party member: Climate targets must be realistic
- Ukraine invasion chills COP26 fossil fuel commitments
- Germany: How the funding programme for hydrogen works
- Machine learning–based observation-constrained projections reveal elevated global socioeconomic risks from wildfire
- Estimate of the carbon footprint of astronomical research infrastructures
Various Chinese and international media outlets have reported on the country’s 14th five-year plan (FYP) for the energy sector, which was published on Tuesday. Bloomberg reports that China is targeting “a huge increase” in its power capacity over the next five years to ensure energy security while pursuing its climate agenda. According to the plan, the nation intends to increase its power generating capacity by 800 gigawatts (GW) – or “about twice the size of India’s entire power fleet” – between 2021 and 2025, Bloomberg says. The outlet adds that the plan also aims to “boost gas production and keep oil output at high levels”. Euronews reports that China “aims to increase its renewable energy output, but maintains that crude oil and natural gas production will still be at the forefront of its future plans”.
Covering the plan’s headline targets, China’s state news agency Xinhua says that the country “aims to bring the annual domestic energy production capacity to over 4.6bn tonnes of standard coal (tce)”. The state-controlled newswire adds that, according to the plan, “the annual crude oil output will recover and stabilise at 200m tonnes, while the annual natural gas output will reach over 230bn cubic metres by 2025”. Pandaily – a Beijing-based independent website focusing on technology – reports that the plan puts forward “the main objectives of constructing a modern energy system”. It says that the 14FYP period “looks to lay a foundation for achieving peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and, subsequently, achieving carbon neutrality before 2060”.
In other Chinese-language publications, the 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese financial outlet, reports that the plan “introduces and elaborates on the development principle, main objectives, tasks and measures for developing China’s energy industry during the 14FYP”. Han Xiaoping – chief information officer of China Energy Net, an “energy information and consulting service provider” – told the National Business Daily that the 14FYP period collides with China’s timeline to promote its energy transition to achieve its carbon-peaking goal. Han told the reporter that, therefore, the plan is “very important” and will “impact [China’s] future energy development profoundly”.
Separately, Reuters reports that China’s top economic planner the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has also announced a target to produce up to 200,000 tonnes per year of green hydrogen, a “zero-carbon fuel generated using renewable power”, by 2025. It adds that the hydrogen plan will also result in China having about 50,000 hydrogen-fuelled vehicles by 2025. Xinhua notes that China is currently the largest hydrogen producer in the world, with an annual production output of about 33m tonnes – although most of this is currently produced using fossil fuels.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson is facing a split in his cabinet over an attempt to “tear up planning rules” that prevent the construction of new onshore wind farms in a bid to cut the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, the Daily Telegraph reports. The article notes that next week’s energy security strategy, triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an accompanying surge in gas prices, will make it easier to secure planning permission for wind farms in a move that will reverse a change implemented by David Cameron’s government in 2015. It adds that the issue is a controversial topic within the Conservative party, and that eight of Johnson’s cabinet ministers signed a letter to Cameron in 2012, urging the government to withdraw wind power subsidies and ensure the planning system “properly takes into account the views of local people”. The piece also quotes one cabinet minister as saying that “nothing has changed since 2012” and urging the prime minister to relax planning laws for “housing, nuclear power and shale gas” instead. The Daily Mail notes that Priti Patel, Nadine Dorries, Nadhim Zahawi and Jacob Rees-Mogg were among the 101 Conservative MPs who signed the letter to Cameron. It adds that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has argued that Britons have since changed their minds on windfarms, stating that ministers want to see a major “acceleration” in onshore wind. Analysis in the i newspaper looks at where in the UK onshore wind is likely to be built, noting that around 70% of the British public support its development. According to BBC News, Downing Street sources say the government has “got to be open” to more onshore wind where it works, but that the “big wins are offshore”. It notes that the upcoming strategy to make the UK more “energy independent” will focus on nuclear energy, renewable energy, making homes more energy efficient and increasing North Sea oil-and-gas production.
Separately, BusinessGreen reports on research from trade body RenewableUK that shows a dramatic uptick in projects touted by developers in the UK over the past year, which puts the nation “ahead of China and the US in terms of proposed offshore wind capacity”. It finds that the UK’s total pipeline of offshore wind projects now stands at 86 gigawatts (GW).
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that civil servants have been sent “back to the drawing board” by foreign secretary Liz Truss, who has ordered a “radical” review of the government’s international development strategy that will see “women and girls prioritised over global health and climate change”. (For more on how climate change disproportionately affects women’s health, see Carbon Brief‘s interactive from 2020.)
North Sea fossil fuel companies believe they have a “tacit agreement” with the UK government that if they step up investment in oil and gas production they will be “spared a windfall tax” in the today’s Spring Statement by the chancellor, according to the Financial Times. The piece notes that Rishi Sunak is under pressure from the Labour party to levy such a tax, but he has “consistently rejected the idea, warning this would undercut investment”. It cites a North Sea executive who said that business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had talked of a “quid pro quo” with the industry while another said the chancellor had decided against new taxes but needed to show “a return”. Meanwhile, the article notes that Shell recently announced that it has resubmitted plans for approval of the large Jackdaw North Sea gasfield, while leaving open the possibility of reviving the Cambo oilfield off the coast of Shetland. The Guardian reports that climate activists have reacted with concern to the reports that Shell is reconsidering its decision to abandon Cambo, warning that such a reversal would further threaten the UK’s emissions reductions targets. The Independent reports that a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development suggests that wealthy countries must end oil and gas production by 2034 to ensure the world does not pass 1.5C of warming.
As the nation prepares for Sunak’s Spring Statement, the Press Association reports that business groups have called on the chancellor to step in with support to help them manage soaring energy costs, as there has been “very little action so far”. According to Bloomberg, independent advisory group Citizens Advice has warned that the UK government must do more to help consumers as “rising energy bills threaten to push millions into fuel poverty”. The Sun reports that Sunak will cut fuel duty for British driver by at least 5p, noting that this would be the first cut since 2010 and a 11-year freeze, which the newspaper itself has long campaigned to maintain. (Carbon Brief analysis from 2020 suggests that this freeze means the UK’s CO2 emissions are as much as 5% higher than they otherwise would have been.) The Times says that the UK government has “dismissed fears of diesel rationing” after some of the world’s biggest commodities traders suggested that Europe could face a supply shortage, due to disruption to supplies from Russia. Meanwhile, a piece in the Guardian asks if a behavioural change campaign by the UK government could help to “save energy and cut Russian gas imports”.
Finally, the Financial Times reports that central banks have “intensified discussions” with energy trading firms calling for help to ease market strains sparked by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but are “unlikely to unlock immediate extra support”.
As the UK looks set to reject a windfall tax on the exceptional profits of some energy companies, EU leaders will likely give the green light to a proposal by the European Commission, Bloomberg reports. It says that EU heads of government are due to debate the issue and others during a two-day summit starting on Thursday. The article also says that the leaders may also pledge to phase out Europe’s dependence on Russian fossil fuels and begin filling depleted gas reserves as soon as possible, backing the commission’s plan to cut Russian imports by almost two-thirds by the end of this year.
Separately, Politico reports that the European Commission will announce new state aid rules that allow EU countries to support businesses affected by the crisis in Ukraine, covering compensation to companies for extra costs due to high gas and electricity prices. The Financial Times reports that Belgium’s prime minister Alexander De Croo has warned that European capitals need to avoid competing for bilateral gas deals and instead jointly buy fuel from big suppliers.
The government has prepared plans to take over the funding of the UK arm of the Russian energy company Gazprom, “should the state-backed supplier collapse as customers cut supply contracts due to the invasion of Ukraine”, the Guardian reports. The piece notes that if Gazprom Energy, which has contracts in place with about two-thirds of the UK’s major gas users including ceramics, paper, glass, steel and fertiliser companies, were to fail, it would be put into taxpayer-funded special administration, as happened to the residential energy supplier Bulb last year. The Financial Times reports on warnings from industry that thousands of companies “risk a cataclysmic spike in bills” if Gasprom Energy does go bust. Overall, it says the company has 30,000 corporate customers, but has been under pressure as the likes of Siemens and McDonald’s say they are trying to withdraw from their contracts. The newspaper adds that many of these companies are on contracts negotiated long before energy prices began rising last summer, meaning they still pay rates far below market levels, and if they were forced to cut their contracts short they would struggle to find a new supplier willing to take on the risk. According to Bloomberg, business groups have been warning the government for weeks that energy intensive companies “could be in trouble” if Gazprom goes into special measures.
Meanwhile, under “rising pressure” as many of its rivals cut ties with the country, France’s TotalEnergies will stop buying oil from Russia by the end of this year, according to the Financial Times. And another Financial Times articles states that Russia is “throttling back capacity on a major pipeline”, run by the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, which sends crude oil to global markets. It notes that this is “driving prices higher and raising fears that Moscow was prepared to retaliate against western sanctions by curbing its own energy supplies”.
Die Zeit reports that Lower Saxony’s economic minister Bernd Althusmann has announced the readiness of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to achieve the goal of climate neutrality by 2045. Within frames of planned reform on the climate law he warned: “We can only set goals that are realistically achievable. Climate policy must not lead to excessive bureaucracy. That would only paralyse the necessary expansion of renewable energies and endanger the climate goals.”
Meanwhile, Süddeutsche Zeitung reports that German-Russian projects on Arctic climate research were stopped as a result of the war against Ukraine. “Unfortunately, we have to suspend the series of observations,” said the director of the Bremerhaven Alfred Wegener Institute, Antje Boetius. She emphasised that “Siberian Arctic with its heatwaves in summer” is the region which must be observed.
Austria Presse Agentur added that 20 nations, including Russia, were involved in the year-long Mosaic expedition with the “Polarstern” in the Arctic Ocean. With the sanctions against Russia nothing is the same in climate science as it was before.
Alistair Osborne, chief business commentator for the Times, writes that “the fossil fuel era seems to be very much alive and kicking” despite the commitments made only a few months ago at the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. “Sadly, political wishful thinking has since had a nasty brush with Realpolitik in the shape of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine…To boot, Europe has been forced to confront an uncomfortable truth: that whatever the sanctions on Russia, it’s so addicted to Kremlin oil and gas that the Putin war machine is still raking in about $1bn a day,” he writes. Osborne notes that UK politicians are “no longer vilifying North Sea production” and says that this shift in political mood has led to Shell reconsidering plans for UK oil-and-gas fields it had shelved. “One thing is missing from the government’s post-Ukraine reassessment of the North Sea: a ministerial campaign to promote energy efficiency. There’d be less need to drill or import if consumers and businesses were incentivised to cut energy use,” he continues, concluding: “If the PM wants to maintain COP26 credibility, he should drill into some of that.” Conservative MP Alexander Stafford also writes in the Times in favour of seeking ways to reduce energy demand in the UK. He dismisses calls to lift the moratorium on fracking and says that to get rid of the 4% of Russian gas in the UK’s system, “equivalent demand could be removed in just five years through installing energy efficiency measures in 6.5m homes”. Columnist Tim Newark writes in the Daily Express that “net-zero ideology has dominated government departmental thinking and thrown bureaucratic hurdles in front of our oil and gas industries”. He says that “generating our own oil and gas means we will not only have plentiful supplies but we can sell this bounty to Europeans threatened by Russia”.
Looking ahead to today’s Spring Statement, Conservative MP Robert Halfon, who chairs the education committee, writes in Times Red Box that the government should introduce a “downward escalator on green levies” to “provide some extra help for those at the lower end of the pay scale”. (Carbon Brief analysis has shown the relatively small impact such levies have had on energy bills.) Former Sun political editor Trevor Kavanagh writes his version of what he would like Rishi Sunak to say in his speech today. He quotes his imagined chancellor as saying “I will take the Sun’s sensible advice and slash fuel duty by 5p”. In the Daily Telegraph, columnist Robert Taylor says that “you can never trust a fuel duty cut”, stating that this is paving the way for the government to introduce road pricing to make up in the shortfall as the nation moves to electric vehicles. “For all Rishi Sunak assures us he is at heart a tax-cutter, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the government in which he serves is far more obsessed with global net-zero league tables than letting people keep more of the money they earn,” he writes. Alex Chapman, a senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, has a different criticism of the plan to cut fuel duty in the Guardian, stating that it “won’t benefit those in need”. He writes: “While many among the UK’s poorest people drive, government data shows that about 40% of the poorest households do not own a car. At the other end of the spectrum, the richest households are on an SUV binge. The result is that the top fifth of households spend almost five times as much on motor fuel each year as the bottom fifth.”
Economic correspondent from FAZ Christian Geinitz writes that German industry is ready to use green hydrogen produced with green electricity in the steel and chemical industries. This requires a large amount of renewables, so the author says that “hopes are pinned on windy and sunny regions, such as Australia, Latin America or North Africa”, because Germany itself cannot generate so much “green” electricity, especially in the context of abandoning Russian “natural” gas and switching to hydrogen.
The federal government last year launched a new funding program called H2-Global with a budget of 900m euros. All this money should be allocated by the end of the year, but Markus Exenberger, CEO of H2-Global says “so far there is no production capacity on an industrial scale, we are only creating a market”. The article continues: “Now it is needed to find the consortium consisting of manufacturers, operators, transport companies, equipment manufacturers and other players who want to supply hydrogen or derivatives to Germany and wants to start the first bidding process on the delivery side.”
The global increase in wildfire exposure over the 21st century – measured by population, GDP and agricultural area – will be higher than previously thought, according to new research. The study also finds that the increase in global fire emissions will be weaker than previously thought. The authors “present a machine learning framework to constrain the future fire carbon emissions” using 13 models from the sixth coupled model intercomparison project (CMIP6). They find that “elevated socioeconomic risks are primarily caused by the compound regional enhancement of future wildfire activity and socioeconomic development in the western and central African countries”.
Space missions and ground-based observatories emit greenhouse gases equivalent to more than one million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, according to a new study. The authors present the first estimate of the carbon footprint of astronomical research, by “using greenhouse gas emission factors that relate cost and payload mass to carbon footprint”. The study finds that research infrastructure is the single largest contributor to an astronomer’s carbon footprint of, accounting for 37 tCO2e per year per astronomer. Nature has also published a research highlight on the paper.