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Daily Briefing

22.09.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING China’s Xi pledges to end funding for overseas coal power plants
China’s Xi pledges to end funding for overseas coal power plants

News.

China's Xi pledges to end funding for overseas coal power plants
Politico Read Article

China’s president Xi Jinping has announced to the United Nations General Assembly that his country will end support for the construction of new coal-fired power plants abroad in “a move that would cut off a key source of financing for the fuel most responsible for climate change”, Politico reports. Instead, the Chinese leader told the assembly that the nation will “step up support for other developing countries in developing green and low-carbon energy”, it adds. The news website notes that while Xi did not give a timeline to end coal financing, China has not funded any coal plants via its Belt and Road Initiative so far this year. According to the New York Times, the pre-recorded message marked a “surprise move” designed to lift China’s standing on addressing climate change, and was significant given that it is “by far the largest financier of coal-fired power plants abroad”. The Wall Street Journal reports that Beijing has faced pressure from the US, the EU and environmental groups for financing and building coal power plants in developing countries even as it commits to cutting emissions at home. As the Hill notes in its coverage, China is “still expected to use coal domestically”, and analysis by BBC News Shanghai correspondent Robin Brant describes the pledge as “low-hanging fruit in terms of China’s addiction to coal”, noting that “half the coal burned in the world is burned in China”. Reuters adds that the move, which followed similar announcements by South Korea and Japan earlier this year, was welcomed by US climate envoy John Kerry who said “we’ve been talking to China for quite some period of time about this” and said it was a promising move ahead of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. The Financial Times also has the story. Carbon Brief’s China specialist Hongqiao Liu has written a Twitter thread analysing the announcement from Xi.

In more news from the General Assembly, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres welcomed the new climate pledges both from China and the US (see below), but warned that “we still have a long way to go” to succeed at COP26, Reuters reports. In a speech dismissed as “lie-filled” by political rivals, Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, told the meeting that he had come to showcase “a new Brazil, with its credibility restored before the world”, according to the Guardian. Reuters states that the president “bragg[ed] that his country’s environmental laws are a model for the world and reinforc[ed] a vow to end illegal deforestation”, but adds that “environmental groups were not convinced by Bolsonaro’s speech”, noting that his government lacked significant climate commitments. In another speech, Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan said that the Paris Agreement would be presented to his nation’s parliament for approval next month, making it the last G20 country to ratify the deal, Reuters reports.

Separately, in UK finance news, Reuters reports that Britain’s export credit agency said it aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions across its £50bn investments by 2050 and increase its support for green exports. The newswire notes that the move comes ahead of the nation hosting COP26 and follows criticism by campaigners that state-backed groups such as UK Export Finance are “not doing enough to overhaul their lending”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen reports that the UK’s first ever ‘green gilt’ is “on track to beat all previous records for British government debt sales thanks to huge demand from investors”, helping to raise £10bn towards net-zero initiatives.

US: Biden vows to double aid for vulnerable nations dealing with climate change
The Washington Post Read Article

The second big announcement from the UN General Assembly came from US president Joe Biden, who said his nation would double the funding it provides each year to help developing nations deal with climate change and build greener economies, according to the Washington Post. Specifically, the president said he he intends to work with Congress to boost US contribution to $11.4bn each year, framing the decision as “part of a broader return to multilateralism”, the newspaper adds. The piece also provides the context behind the new pledge, noting that developed countries pledged more than a decade ago to provide $100bn in climate finance annually by 2020, but “that money has never fully materialised”. It adds that, according to recent analysis by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), developed nations had only mobilised $79.6bn in 2019. Climate Home News reports that while the new US announcement did indeed double its most recent pledge, from April, of $5.7bn, it “does not single handedly close the global funding gap” to the $100bn target. This sentiment is echoed in Bloomberg’s coverage, which notes that the commitment still “falls short of the $40bn or more activists have said the US should be providing”. Reuters notes that while some environmental groups “welcomed the new pledge as a much needed boost” for the Paris Agreement, other activists were “unimpressed” by the announcement. It quotes Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, who said “the US is still woefully short of what it owes and this needs to be increased urgently”. Meanwhile, the New York Times quotes Marshall Islands climate envoy Tina Stege, who said they now needed “the rest of the G20 to follow suit” on climate finance. According to Politico, Biden did not specify in his UN speech how he plans to convince Congress to increase aid from the previously announced $5.7bn commitment. It adds that “the relative frugality from the US on climate aid is seen as a major obstacle to securing more ambitious action” at the upcoming COP26 summit.

According to analysis by BBC News North America editor Jon Sopel, “British diplomats will have cheered his pledge to double to $11.4bn the money to tackle climate change by 2024 – something they have been lobbying the White House relentlessly on”. UK prime minister Boris Johnson, who has been urging leaders at the UN to pledge more money for climate action, heralded Biden’s commitment as a “very good start” towards the $100bn goal, Press Association reports. In its coverage, the Associated Press notes that combined with China’s pledge to end overseas coal financing, Biden’s announcement provided “some momentum going into major climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, in less than six weeks”

Separately, in what the Press Association describes as “a boost to organisers”, Biden has given his “clearest indication yet” that he plans to attend the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, saying he his “anxious” to attend during a meeting with Johnson at the White House. Politico has a piece analysing the relationship between the US and UK leaders, which it says has been strained at times. However, it says that Biden has offered “a big helping hand ahead of a crucial British climate summit”, giving him a “a diplomatic win ahead of his White House visit” with the climate finance pledge. These sentiments were echoed in a piece in the New York Times, reflecting on Johnson coming to the US to “make nice with Biden”. The Guardian has a piece comparing how the two leaders match up on a selection of policies, noting that “while their politics are radically different, Johnson has stressed that both men would like to spark a ‘green industrial revolution’, tackling the climate crisis while creating hundreds of thousands of jobs in clean energy”.

Finally, various UK newspapers – including the Daily Telegraph – report on the speech expected from Johnson later today at the UN, in which he will say that the world must “grow up” and act now on climate change.

Energy crisis forces EU ministers to face up to reliance on natural gas
The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian reports that the UK is “far from alone in its energy crisis” with governments across Europe, considering their reliance on gas and “acting to shield consumers from soaring bills, with nerves growing about the coming winter”. It notes that the energy price “increase is intensifying the conflict over the EU’s response to the climate emergency”, adding that according to the EU’s top climate official, Frans Timmermans, only one-fifth of the current energy price rises can be attributed to CO2 prices. The Financial Times also reports that rising energy prices have “intensified the political backlash against Brussels’ plans to extend carbon taxes on petrol and heating bills”, threatening a central policy of the EU’s green deal to achieve net-zero emissions. It adds that the crisis has “emboldened countries such as Spain and France that are firmly opposed to the planned revamp of the EU’s carbon pricing system”. A piece by Helen Thompson, a professor of political economy at the University of Cambridge, for the Financial Times notes that external gas dependency “interacts lethally” with European net-zero commitments. “To achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, gas prices must rise and investment in the sector fall. But right now, gas is an indispensable energy source. It also emits considerably less carbon than coal,” she writes.

In the UK, the Financial Times reports that industry experts have warned that UK household energy bills would “need to rise by more than £550 a year if the price of gas stays at its current level and without government intervention”. According to Bloomberg, several gas and power suppliers in the UK have stopped accepting new customers in “a dramatic escalation of the country’s energy crisis”. A Guardian “exclusive” story states that ministers are considering ways to cut energy bills for the poorest households to deal with the issue.

The Times reports on an intervention by the International Energy Agency, which has said that Russia “could do more” to boost gas supplies to Europe and help alleviate the problem. The Guardian states that the influential energy watchdog had “called out the gas-rich country for refusing to increase exports”.

Separately, the Press Association reports that the UK’s energy regulator Ofgem has told five energy suppliers to pay what they owe into a renewables fund or “risk being stripped of their licences”.

Global CO2 emissions from wildfires reached record highs this summer, satellite data shows
The Independent Read Article

New satellite data shows that global CO2 emissions from wildfires reached record highs this summer, reports the Independent. The data, from the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service, shows that both July and August were record months, the paper explains: “Wildfires released 1.26bn tonnes of CO2 in July, according to the data, with more than half of these emissions attributed to fires in North America and Siberia. In August, fires caused 1.38bn tonnes of CO2 to be released.” The Guardian quotes Mark Parrington, a senior scientist at Copernicus, who says: “It is concerning that drier and hotter regional conditions, brought about by global warming, increase the flammability and fire risk of vegetation. This has led to very intense and fast-developing fires. While the local weather conditions play a role in the actual fire behaviour, climate change is helping provide the ideal environments for wildfires.” The New York Times focuses on this year’s “extraordinary” wildfire season in California, which has emitted “twice as much CO2” this summer compared to last, and “far more than any other summer in nearly two decades”. Overall, the paper says, fires in the western United States released 130m tonnes of CO2 this summer. It adds: “Broiling summer temperatures across much of the west, coupled with severe drought, combined to make the fires grow rapidly, sometimes consuming tens of thousands of acres in a matter of hours.”

In related news, Reuters reports on new research that shows “human-caused climate change has intensified the withering drought gripping the southwestern United States, the region’s most severe on record”. The report, by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) drought task force, warns that extreme drought conditions are likely to worsen and repeat themselves “until stringent climate mitigation is pursued and regional warming trends are reversed”.

India: Gautam Adani throws $20bn green energy gauntlet at Mukesh Ambani
The Times of India Read Article

The Times of India reports that “Gautam Adani, India’s second-richest man who heads Ahmedabad-based edible oils, infrastructure and energy conglomerate” announced “a 20bn renewable energy play”. The outlet explains that “country’s largest private producer of power from coal-fired stations as well as renewable sources…plans to triple renewable generation over the next four years, power all data centres with renewable energy and turn its ports into net-zero [by 2025]”. Adani, it says, “hinted at getting into the green hydrogen space”, aiming to “become the producer of the least-expensive green electron anywhere in the world”, but did not say how. The outlet also says that Adani “hit out at the developed economies pressuring New Delhi to announce a net-zero goal”, saying “the economic and industrial might of the west sits on a carpet of carbon soot several centuries deep.”

Down To Earth reports that “climate change-induced extreme weather events put women, children and minorities at risk of modern slavery and human trafficking”, based on a recent study by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Anti-Slavery International that looks at India and other countries. The report, it says, “observed what happened in the Sundarbans delta”, where “rising sea levels, erratic rainfall, increased frequency of cyclones, tidal surges and floods, mean that millions of people across the Sundarbans are unable to work for most of the year”. The study finds that, in the delta region, “women were trafficked and often forced into hard labour and prostitution, with some working in sweatshops along the border”, the outlet explains, and points to the fact that “people displaced and migrating from rural to urban areas with no resources, skills or social networks at their destination are [being] targeted by agents and/or traffickers in Dhaka or Kolkata.”

China is key to saving the planet from climate change. But it can't quit coal.
The Washington Post Read Article

The Washington Post reports that “all eyes are on China” ahead of COP26, adding that “China’s strategy for cutting emissions could be the most important factor in whether countries are able to prevent irreversible and catastrophic damage to the Earth”. The newspaper also writes: “China’s climate pledges come as the country’s emissions and fleet of coal-fired power plants have grown during the economic recovery from the pandemic.” Meanwhile, Xinhua, China’s state agency, has a report on the transformation of Shanxi province, the country’s top coal-producing region. The official outlet says that Shanxi has been “long troubled by high carbon emissions and pollution, but in recent years, the local government is cutting coal-related pollution in its shift to green development”. The article explains a list of measures local governments have taken to cut the emissions from its coal mining industry.

Elsewhere, a report in China’s Economic Observer says that the country must switch from controlling its total energy consumption to curbing its total carbon emissions as soon as possible to realise its 20/30 climate goals. The article cites Fan Gang, an economist and president of China Development Institute, a thinktank based in Shenzhen. Finally, Xinhua Daily carries a satirical cartoon, which mocks companies for selling “carbon neutral” mooncakes ahead of the Mid-autumn Festival, a traditional Chinese festival for family reunions. A short article accompanying the cartoon says that the so-called “carbon neutral organic mooncakes” are a marketing stunt of some companies and warns readers not to buy them. “Do not get tricked and pay the intelligence tax,” it says.

Finally, the Taipei Times runs an opinion piece with the title “China as the global climate outlaw”. The article is written by Joseph Bosco, a fellow of the Institute for Taiwan-American Studies and a member of the Global Taiwan Institute’s advisory committee.

M25 protest: Insulate Britain activists dragged off the motorway by police after running into traffic
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Protesters from the climate activist group Insulate Britain have stopped cars on the M25 by “running into oncoming traffic”, the Daily Telegraph reports. According to the newspaper, this is the fifth time in eight days that the group has “caused chaos on Britain’s busiest motorway” during the morning rush hour. It continues: “After being criticised for a soft approach in previous days, officers on the scene appeared to be taking a markedly tougher stance on Tuesday morning, physically dragging protesters off the carriageway.” Meanwhile, the Daily Mail has penned an editorial (not yet online) calling the protestors “puerile eco-morons”. It continues: “Hard-pressed families already facing punishing energy bulls won’t take kindly to climate change warriors whose antics inflict extra economic pain”.

A Daily Express editorial (also not yet online) on the topic of gas boilers highlights that entrepreneur Dale Vince has unveiled plans to power houses with bio-methane. It continues: “rightly, the UK is scrambling to secure reliable and affordable energy supplies, but it is not always best to follow the herd, especially if a solution could be found in the green grass of home”.

Comment.

Democrats may be on the verge of climate disaster
Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic Read Article

“I’m starting to become concerned about President Joe Biden’s ability to pass a climate bill,” says Atlantic staff writer Robinson Meyer. He continues: “They’re speaking sotto voce, but still: In the past few days, Democrats on the party’s left and right flanks have started to hint that, well, in some circumstances, given some contingencies, they might prefer no bill to a negotiated compromise with the rival flank.” Meyer discusses the “worrying signs” coming from Democrat senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, as well as “a small group of far-left environmental groups”. The latter has “demanded that any Clean Electricity Performance Program allow only solar, wind, and geothermal energy, leaving no role for other zero-carbon energy sources such as nuclear”, Meyer explains, noting: “Such a mandate is disconnected from reality: Insisting on a renewables-only grid would not just cost more than the entire reconciliation bill, but violate the pro-nuclear plank of the bipartisan infrastructure plan, which progressive lawmakers in the House agreed to last month. In other words, the decision to allow some nuclear power in this bill has already been made; the groups are telling someone not to eat a sandwich when the crumbs and empty wrapper are already on the ground.” Meyer warns that “if this sort of brinkmanship renders legislation unpalatable, then lawmakers won’t swallow it. And the US will go at least another decade without a climate law”.

Science.

Modelling forest ruin due to climate hazards
Earth System Dynamics Read Article

A new study estimating the risk of forest collapse due to extreme climate events finds that beyond a threshold frequency of hazards, forest ruin becomes “certain to occur within a centennial horizon”. The paper uses a “growth-ruin model” for trees, which accounts for the interactions between tree physiology and climate hazards, and focuses on drought-heatwave hazards. The study “is a proof of concept for the quantification of forest collapse under climate change”, according to the authors.

THE BRIEF

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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.