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:
- Climate crisis: last seven years the hottest on record, 2021 data shows
- UK: Green insulation levy may fall to reduce the cost of energy bills
- US greenhouse gas emissions bounced back sharply in 2021
- China to host ministers from oil-rich Gulf states as Kazakhstan unrest heightens energy security fears
- We can’t solve the climate crisis with a broken democracy
- Our energy market was designed to fail
- Biocrusts mediate a new mechanism for land degradation under a changing climate
- A regime shift in seasonal total Antarctic sea ice extent in the twentieth century
- Hydrological impact of widespread afforestation in Great Britain using a large ensemble of modelled scenarios
The European climate agency Copernicus has released a new report concluding that the last seven years were the world’s hottest on record, the Guardian reports. The paper says that, according to the analysis, 2021 was the fifth hottest year on record, clocking in at 1.2C above preindustrial temperatures – despite the presence of the cooling climate phenomenon “La Nina”. The Independent says: “While 2021 was one of the cooler years out of the last seven (on a par with 2015 and 2018), Europe still experienced its warmest summer on record, according to the report published on Monday. 2020 and 2016 remain tied as the hottest years on record.” And BBC News adds that the data comes from “a constellation of Sentinel satellites that monitor the Earth from orbit, as well as measurements taken at ground level.” Meanwhile, Bloomberg Green notes that atmospheric methane “increased by a record amount last year, to 1,876 parts per billion”. And the Times notes Europe’s 2021 extreme weather events, including “severe floods in July which killed more than 200 people in Germany and Belgium”. It continues: “The European temperature record was broken in Sicily, where 48.8C was reported in August, 0.8C above the previous high…Hot and dry conditions resulted in intense and prolonged wildfires in several countries including Turkey, Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal.” In its coverage of the report, the New York Times highlights that both the US and Europe had their warmest summers on record and that “higher temperatures around the Arctic caused it to rain for the first time at the Greenland ice sheet’s normally frigid summit”. Meanwhile, the Financial Times adds: “As economic activity surged last year, global emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels rose an estimated 4.9%, following a 5.4% decline in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions, according to calculations from the Cicero Center for International Climate Research in Oslo.” The report is also covered in outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, Al Jazeera, Sky News and Politico.
Elsewhere, the Financial Times covers a new report from reinsurance company Munich Re, which finds that insured losses in 2021 amounted to $120bn – the second highest since 2017. It says: “Reinsurance giant Munich Re is expecting a sustained rise in Europe’s relatively low levels of property catastrophe insurance — and in the cost of cover — following last summer’s disastrous floods on the continent. The floods, which hit western Germany hardest, killed more than 200 people and were Europe’s costliest natural disaster on record, with losses of €46bn ($54bn). But just €11bn of this was covered by insurance, in contrast with the US where the bulk of natural disaster losses are typically insured.” Associated Press adds: “Damage wrought by Hurricane Ida in the US state of Louisiana and the flash floods that hit Europe last summer helped make 2021 one of the most expensive years for natural disasters”. Separately, the South China Morning Post reports that, according to the report, “natural disasters cost Asia-Pacific US$50 billion last year, of which just US$9bn was covered by insurance”.
There is continuing UK media coverage of the energy price crisis. The Times reports that, in the face of rising gas prices, the Treasury could cut “a green levy on energy bills that covers the cost of insulation for the poorest households”. According to the newspaper, the £1bn levy helps around 20,000 households per year and adds £29 to the average energy bill. The levy is “viewed as an important part of the government’s attempt to hit net-zero”, the paper says. It continues: “The Treasury is reviewing all green levies, including more substantial ones for renewable energy, but many of them are subject to binding contracts, meaning the government would still have to pay them even if they were taken off bills. Officials are also drawing up plans for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, a scheme that has been proposed by Labour and would raise £1.2bn. However, ministers fear that increasing taxes on energy producers could disrupt supplies. Other options include facilitating billions in loans to energy companies to help them spread the cost of increased gas prices over a number of years and cutting VAT on energy bills.” Elsewhere, the Sun carries an “exclusive” on the outcome of meetings between prime minister Boris Johnson, chancellor Rishi Sunak and “officials” on Sunday evening. The paper says that a cut to the VAT on energy bills is “high up on a list of possible fixes to lessen the blow of soaring bills this spring.” It notes that last week, Johnson “seemed to rule out a VAT reductions on energy bills”, but that he also “previously backed using the freedom of Brexit to remove the 5% levy on energy bills saying it hit the poorest hardest.”
The Guardian reports on calls for a windfall tax on oil and gas companies, noting that the North sea oil and gas industry is “expected to report near-record cashflows thanks to rising gas prices, low wind generation and Chinese demand”. Separately, the Guardian says that Sunak will hold summits this week to “attempt to quell growing Conservative unrest over the cost of living”. And the Financial Times says that Labour will today “pile pressure on Boris Johnson to scrap value added tax on household energy bills, by forcing a parliamentary vote on the issue that will expose Tory divisions on how to address the cost-of-living crisis”. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that Johnson “admitted he must do more to protect families from a £600 energy bill hike, but is scrambling for a solution just weeks before the crisis is set to strike”. The paper says that that Labour has accused Johnson of allowing a “vacuum of leadership”, adding that ministers “have focused on boosting the £140-a-year warm homes discount for the poorest households when the energy price cap soars in April, but Mr Johnson has now appeared to acknowledge that will not be enough”.
Separately, the Independent reports that business organisations and charities have advised Johnson to improve insulation in the UK’s least efficient homes. According to the groups, “improving insulation on the UK’s least efficient homes would save households around £500 a year on energy bills, totalling £8bn a year nationally”, the paper says. Elsewhere, Politico calls gas “the bad habit Europe can’t kick” in a piece on Europe’s gas industry, and the Conversation says that energy prices are “unlikely to fall this year” unless “major importers get serious about green transition”. The Times has a feature about the pressures forcing up global gas prices. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that gas in a Europe-Russian pipeline is continuing to flow “in reverse”, from west to east for a third week.
In other news, the Guardian says that UK energy supplier Ovo has apologised for an email it sent to customers, which listed 10 “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter”, including doing star jumps and cuddling pets. The email drew criticism from MPs, who called the guidance “insulting” and “offensive”, according to the paper. The Daily Telegraph and Financial Times also cover the backlash to the email.
There is widespread coverage of the Rhodium group’s report on the rise in US emissions in 2021. US emissions rose by 6.2% in 2021, following a more than 10% decline in 2020, the New York Times reports. The uptick was due largely to a “17% jump in coal-fired power generation… and a rapid resurgence of road transportation”, reports Inside Climate News. According to the Guardian, the rebound “[dashes] hopes that the pandemic would prove a watershed moment in greening American society to address the climate crisis”. The report was also picked up by Reuters, the Washington Post and the Hill. (See Carbon Brief’s coverage of how “coal and trucks pushed US ‘further off track’ for climate targets in 2021”.)
Many outlets also cover a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) identifying 2021 as the fourth hottest year on record in the US. Twenty major weather and climate disasters cost a total of “$145bn, with each costing more than $1bn”, reports the Hill. These conditions led to the deaths of “at least 688 people”, in the “most disaster-related fatalities for the contiguous US in a decade”, writes the Independent. Buzzfeed News reports the true toll from last year’s devastating extreme weather “is actually much higher”, and points to the “problems with cause-of-death reporting and the difficulty accounting for the lethal indirect effects of severe weather”. The story is also covered by the Washington Post, the Guardian, Reuters and AP.
In other US news, the Hill reports that the Biden administration “is taking steps to reverse a move from former President Trump that opened up more of the Arctic for drilling”. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the US “aims to double the country’s cover crop plantings to 30m acres by 2030 under a new Department of Agriculture conservation program launched on Monday.”
The South China Morning Post reports that the foreign ministers of four members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain – and the GCC’s secretary-general Nayef Falah al-Hajraf will visit China at Beijing’s invitation from January 10 to 14. Wang Wenbin – a spokesman of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs – announced the news on Saturday, the newspaper says. According to Al Jazeera, “the officials are expected to discuss strengthening energy ties with Beijing”. The outlet adds that “the visit may also ‘make breakthroughs’ in talks over a China-GCC free-trade agreement”, citing the Global Times, a Chinese state-run tabloid. At a daily press briefing on Monday, Wang stated that members of the GCC have “deep, traditional friendship with China and are China’s important cooperative partners in West Asia and North Africa”, according to CCTV, China’s state broadcaster.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “China is willing to increase ‘law enforcement and security’ cooperation with neighbouring Kazakhstan and help oppose interference by ‘external forces’, China’s foreign minister said on Monday”. The newswire writes that, according to experts, Beijing “worries” that “instability” in Kazakhstan “could threaten energy imports and Belt-and-Road projects there”, among other issues. A separate report from Reuters says that China’s “offshore oilfield cluster”, Bohai oil field, “has become the country’s largest crude oil producer”. The report cites Xinhua, China’s state news agency. The Global Times reports that “the annual crude oil output of China’s Bohai Sea oil field reached 30.132mn tonnes in 2021, accounting for one-seventh of the country’s overall annual crude oil output”, also citing Xinhua.
Separately, China’s state broadcaster CCTV reports that China’s state economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), has officially listed “cryptocurrency mining activity” as one of the “eliminated industries”. (According to Shanghai Securities News, the news comes after a government notice from last September instructed the country to increase its monitoring of the crypto industry chain and banned new crypto mining projects in a bid to help the country achieve its climate goals.) In other news, Bloomberg reports that “Zhu Min, a former deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund,” said at a forum on Saturday that China “should take into account carbon neutrality goals when setting monetary policies”. The outlet cites Securities Times, a Chinese newspaper.
Mark Hertsgaard, the executive director of Covering Climate Now, has penned an opinion piece in the Guardian arguing that the “democracy emergency” in the US is linked to the climate crisis. He says that during the attack on the US Capitol last year, Republicans Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy “shamelessly put party ahead of country and ambition ahead of duty, setting up alarming ramifications for the future”. He continues: “The democracy emergency is closely linked to the climate crisis. Each is grounded in a big lie – that climate science is a hoax, that Trump won in 2020 – pushed by the same rightwing politicians and propaganda ‘news’ outlets and embraced with cult-like devotion by Trump’s followers. Left untreated, each threatens disaster. If Trump’s forces do change enough electoral rules and personnel to guarantee victory in 2022 and beyond, there is zero chance the US government will take the strong climate action needed to avert global catastrophe.” Hertsgaard goes on to list other countries where “authoritarianism is either entrenched or on the rise”, including China, India and Russia. He concludes: “The press in particular must not allow McConnell, McCarthy and most other Republicans to obscure that they are enabling the gravest threat to American democracy since the civil war – and, by so doing, encouraging a hellish climate future.”
Elsewhere, the Guardian has published an editorial saying that Joe Biden’s proposed agenda – most notably on climate change – “has been buried in a legislative graveyard”.
Former group chief executive of Centrica, Iain Conn, has penned a comment piece in the Times outlining five “fundamental design mis-steps” in the UK’s energy market. One of these, he says, is the cap on energy prices, which “supplier profit margins to extremely low levels and added a further difficulty in managing risk, especially if prices were to rise sharply”. He says that another is “the significant and growing costs of environmental policies to encourage the transition to a lower-carbon energy system were charged through customers’ bills rather than through general taxation”.
Elsewhere, the director of the Conservative Environment Network, Sam Hall, has written a piece in Conservative Home entitled, “The solution to a gas crisis is not to deepen our dependence on gas”, arguing that the rise in bills can be curbed “in tandem with our net zero goal”. He says: “Even if we’d offered more tax breaks to North Sea producers…it is highly unlikely that the UK could have produced sufficient gas to make a significant dent on the 400% increase in natural gas wholesale prices currently being experienced in the European market…The fact is that if we’d had more renewables on the grid, and had put in place a long-term set of financial incentives for homeowners to insulate their homes, we’d have lower demand for gas for heating and power now and therefore be less exposed to the current price rises.” To tackle the current energy crisis, he says that, in the short term, “the Treasury should consider providing some short-term relief”, and in the long term “the focus must be on reducing our dependence on gas”. He concludes: “For the sake of our bills as well as our security interests, we need to double down on homegrown green energy instead.”
Elsewhere, Independent writer Harry Cockburn says that critics have “missed the point” on the recent Netflix film “Don’t Look Up”. And Washington Post writer Kate Cohen has penned a piece entitled: “What ‘Don’t Look Up’ gets wrong about climate change.”
New research details the risks of a warming climate to biological soil crusts (“biocrusts”) – photosynthetic soil communities found in drylands worldwide. Using multiple decade-long experiments, the researchers find that biocrusts “recovered rapidly under ambient temperatures but warming interacted with the precipitation disturbance to halt recovery”. In addition, “warming alone caused losses of mosses, lichens and soil stability”, the authors say. The results “present a new mechanism contributing to land degradation in drylands whereby warming drives a state shift in biocrust communities, which degrades soil stability”, the authors say. For more on degradation in the world’s drylands, see Carbon Brief’s explainer on desertification.
In a new paper, researchers describe newly created “robust, observation-based reconstruction ensembles of seasonal Antarctic sea ice extent since 1905”. Using these reconstructions, the authors show that “the observed period since 1979 is the only time all four seasons demonstrate significant increases in total Antarctic sea ice in the context of the 20th century”. However, these observed increases are “juxtaposed against statistically significant decreases throughout much of the early and middle 20th century”. For more on the patterns of change in Antarctic sea ice extent, see Carbon Brief’s guest post from last year.
Widespread afforestation in Great Britain “may inadvertently reduce water availability, particularly in drier areas, whilst only providing a modest reduction in extreme flood flows”, a new study suggests. Using a high-resolution land-surface model, the researchers assess the impact of scenarios of widespread planting of broadleaf trees on the streamflow in 12 catchments. The results suggest that “afforestation consistently decreases median and low streamflow”, with “no nationally-consistent reduction of extreme floods”.