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Daily Briefing

20.09.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Climate pledges tough to secure before COP26 summit, PM warns
Climate pledges tough to secure before COP26 summit, PM warns

News.

Climate pledges tough to secure before COP26 summit, PM warns
BBC News Read Article

There is widespread coverage of various global leaders heading to New York for the annual UN general assembly, where climate change will be a key discussion point. BBC News covers the remarks of UK prime minister Boris Johnson upon his departure: “There is a ‘six out of 10’ chance of getting other countries to sign up to financial and environmental targets ahead of November’s key COP26 climate change conference, the UK PM has said. Boris Johnson is in the US for a UN meeting where he will urge leaders to take ‘concrete action’ on the issue. But he said it would be ‘tough’ to persuade allies to meet their promise to give $100bn a year to developing nations to cut carbon emissions…With some 100 world leaders expected in New York at the UN general assembly this week, Johnson will seek to galvanise action during a series of high-level meetings.” The Sun says: “As well as pressing the flesh, Johnson will use a major speech on Thursday his fellow leaders to cough up in the last 50 days before November’s get together…Flanked at the UN foreign secretary Liz Truss and COP26 president Alok Sharma, the PM will unveil an additional half a billion of UK taxpayer cash toward the [$100bn] goal…Ahead of the visit, Mr Johnson said he would be pushing world leaders in New York to take ‘concrete action on coal, climate, cars and trees’.” The Independent also has details of the UK’s financial offer: “In a meeting also attended by the world’s biggest carbon-emitter China, he will announce that the UK is putting half a billion pounds into assisting poorer countries to wean themselves off coal power and switch to cleaner energy sources.” [It is unclear whether this is new, or previously announced funding.] A separate Sun article says that “world leaders have just 1,000 hours to tackle climate change”.

The Financial Times notes Johnson telling journalists that the UK was in the “lead”, when it comes to making “huge efforts” to reduce carbon emissions and was the first to commit to net-zero by 2050. [It was the first major economy to do so but not the first country.] “We’re virtually the only country that gets anything like the faintest batsqueak of approval from the climate change experts,” the FT reports Johnson saying. [Johnson may be referring to the recent Climate Action Tracker analysis, which found the UK’s target to be 1.5C compatible but said it lacked policies to match.] The Times says: “Johnson is due [today] to meet the leaders of Brazil, South Korea, Turkey and Qatar.” It also notes Johnson responding to reports [as explained by Politico] that Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who was newly promoted to UK secretary of state for trade, has tweeted climate sceptic views a decade ago. The paper says: “Unusually, the prime minister admitted that in the past he had been far more sceptical of the necessity of confronting climate change. ‘I don’t want to encourage you but if you were to excavate some of my articles from 20 years ago you might find comments I made about climate change that weren’t entirely supportive of the current struggle. But the facts change and people change their minds and change their views, and that’s very important too.’” BBC environment analyst Roger Harrabin says: “The PM will attempt to persuade China to quicken its timetable for reducing emissions, even though China’s not primarily to blame for climate change so far.” (In a separate BBC News article, Harrabin asks: “Should green campaigners put more pressure on China to slash emissions?” He says: “Much stronger action from Beijing is certainly essential to prevent global heating getting even worse. But, to be fair, China’s not quite as blameworthy as it seems.”) The Daily Mail and Sky News are among the other outlets covering Johnson’s trip to New York.

Meanwhile, Reuters quotes Alok Sharma saying that “the ball is in China’s court when it comes to making [COP26] a success”. The Press Association says that Sharma was “unable to confirm China would even be sending a delegation” – although he insisted he was “very, very hopeful” they would. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “President Xi Jinping would come for the world leaders’ conference which is the first two days of COP. But, of course, we want China there as part of the negotiations. I do feel that they will come for that. I certainly expect that China will send a negotiating team to Glasgow.“ (Xinhua has just confirmed that Chinese president Xi Jingping will attend tomorrow’s general assembly debate at the UN via video link, rather than travel there in person.)

Separately, BBC News has a news feature under the headline: “The world awaits India’s net-zero emission deadline.” And Reuters reports that “Australia said on Monday it would step up grant funding for hydrogen projects to boost clean energy output, a response to international pressure to set more ambitious carbon emissions reduction targets for 2030”.

Gas price rise: Government considering loans for energy firms
BBC News Read Article

There is extensive, continuing coverage across the UK media of the rapid rise in wholesale gas prices which is causing a variety of knock-on impacts across the economy. BBC News says that “the government is considering offering emergency state-backed loans to energy companies as firms battle to stay afloat amid surging gas prices”. Business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is due to hold “crisis talks” this morning. BBC News adds: “The prime minister said the supply problems stemmed from the economy around the world waking up after pandemic lockdowns, ‘like everybody going back to put the kettle on at the end of the TV programme’. Nick Butler, visiting professor and chair of the Policy Institute at King’s College London, told the BBC’s Today programme that a reduction in supply from the US, Russia and the North Sea was playing a part, as well as limited storage facilities for gas in the UK. ‘The government has taken their eye off the issue of energy security,’ he said. ‘All of the focus in Whitehall has been on climate change. For the moment, we’re very reliant on oil and gas and when gas gets short in the world market, it hits back here.’ One senior executive at one of the UK’s largest energy companies described an estimate that 10 energy companies would survive this as ‘optimistic’.” The Financial Times says: “The UK’s largest energy suppliers are requesting a multibillion-pound emergency support package from the government to help them survive the crisis sparked by high gas prices, including the creation of a ‘bad bank’ to absorb potentially unprofitable customers from failing rivals.” The Times says that “two senior industry sources predicted that the bill could run to several billion pounds if, as feared, dozens of suppliers collapse”. The Daily Telegraph says that Boris Johnson “did not rule out the current gas shortage lasting for months”. It adds: “Multiple options are believed to be on the table. Industry sources also suggested that VAT or green levies on energy bills could be frozen or reformed to ease the burden on prices. It may be difficult to suspend green levies as the revenue raised is used to support vulnerable and low income households.”

Lots of the coverage focuses on the near-term impact on CO2 supplies to the food sector. BBC News says: “The high prices have already led two large fertiliser plants to close. This has resulted in a cut in the supply of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a by-product of fertiliser production – to the food industry and other manufacturers…CO2 is used to stun animals before slaughter, as a coolant agent in transport and as a shelf life expending agent in food packaging.” Reuters explains the wider context: “The government has been moved to act after low gas storage levels, decreased supplies from Russia, demand from Asia, low renewables output and nuclear maintenance outages combined to more than triple European gas prices this year, hitting record highs.” (See Comment below for more reaction.)

In other UK news, the Financial Times reports that “almost 100 UK businesses, including BT, Coca-Cola, Santander, Unilever and Heathrow, have written a letter to Boris Johnson telling him he has ‘a limited window’ to show ‘leadership’ on climate issues”. It adds: “The push by companies from across a broad range of sectors reflects frustration over climate policies to match the UK’s net-zero emissions goals. Companies such as National Grid, Tesco and the Co-op are demanding more comprehensive action ahead of COP26.” Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says that police have warned that “mass migration due to climate change may lead to an increase in racial tensions and community clashes in the UK”. It continues: “Dr Peter Langmead-Jones, the head of external relations for Greater Manchester Police, warned senior officers at a conference that ‘it would be sensible to predict there may well be a backlash’.” BBC News reports that it has obtains figures showing that “the Department for Transport operates 1,234 cars – 672 run on diesel, 63 on petrol, with the rest electric or hybrid”. The Times says that “Caroline Lucas, the former leader of the Green Party, has been criticised after saying that protests on the M25 were a ‘reasonable’ response to the climate crisis”.

Finally, Sky News carries an “exclusive” interview with Archie Young, the UK’s lead negotiator at COP26 in which he says that drilling for new oil and gas in the North Sea is one of the “challenges” to making sure UK domestic policy is fully aligned with tackling climate change.

‘A huge cause for concern’: Countries’ latest climate pledges not enough to meet Paris goals, says UN
The Independent Read Article

The Independent is among many outlets covering the findings of new UN analysis, released on Friday, showing that “the latest climate pledges put forward by governments would put the world on course for 2.7C of global heating by the end of the century – far above the goals set by the Paris Agreement”. The Independent adds: “The review finds that countries’ current climate commitments would see global greenhouse gas emissions increase by 16% by 2030, when compared to 2010 levels.” Bloomberg quotes the UN secretary general Antonio Guterres responding to the report: “This is breaking the promise made six years ago to pursue the 1.5C goal of the Paris Agreement. Failure to meet this goal will be measured in the massive loss of lives and livelihoods.” BBC News quotes Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate chief: “The 16% increase is a huge cause for concern. It is in sharp contrast with the calls by science for rapid, sustained and large-scale emission reductions to prevent the most severe climate consequences and suffering, especially of the most vulnerable, throughout the world.” The Financial Times says that the “analysis is based on all the existing climate pledges that have been formally submitted by the 191 parties to the Paris accord”. But larger emitters such as China and India have yet to submit their updated pledges.

Separately, a comment in the Times by Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives and ambassador for ambition for the Climate Vulnerable Forum group of nations is titled: “As climate-vulnerable nations we urge Johnson: listen to us.” He writes: “COP26 represents a last chance of updating Paris with new commitments to bring global emissions back within a 1.5C-compatible pathway…Yet this issue of increasing ambition isn’t even on the agenda. We in the highly vulnerable nations are calling on the UK prime minister Boris Johnson – before the UK-hosted COP26 in Glasgow – to support and facilitate our demand for a climate emergency pact which will represent a complete break with business-as-usual in the climate negotiations.”

Elsewhere, CNN reports that US president Joe Biden announced on Friday at the Major Economies Forum that the US and European Union have launched a global pledge to reduce emissions of methane by nearly 30% by the end of the decade.

Lukewarm: rich states set to fall short of $100bn climate funding goal
Reuters Read Article

Several outlets cover new data published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing, reports Reuters, that “wealthy countries likely missed a goal to contribute $100bn last year to help developing nations deal with climate change”. The data reveals that the funding increased by less than 2% in 2019. The newswire adds: “Rich countries are under pressure to commit more funds before [COP26]…In an update on climate finance, the Paris-based OECD said donor governments contributed $79.6bn in 2019, the latest year for which data are available compared to $78.3bn in 2018. It means a huge jump – of $20bn – in funding would have been needed last year for developed countries to meet their target to contribute $100bn in climate finance to poorer countries each year from 2020.” Politico says that “the US is not the only country contributing to that shortfall, but even its European partners regard it as an outlier on the issue”. Climate Home News notes that “the increase is far slower than that from 2017 to 2018 (11%) and 2016 to 2017 (22%)”. The Guardian reports on new Oxfam analysis of the OECD’s new data: “Current pledges and announced plans from developed country governments will amount to only about $93bn to $95bn a year in climate finance by 2025, according to Oxfam.”

China: Central environmental inspection team announces ineffective dual control work on energy consumption in Liaoyuan, Jilin
China Energy News Read Article

A Central Ecological and Environmental Inspection team in China has spotted a series of problems in the “dual control” work in the city of Liaoyuan in north-eastern China’s Jilin province, China Energy News reports. “Dual control” targets are a region’s total energy consumption and energy intensity (the energy use per unit of GDP). China Energy News, an affiliation of state-run newspaper People’s Daily, says that Liaoning failed to hit its “dual control” objectives set out in the 13th five-year plan, which ran from 2016 to 2020. It also notes that the city has seen “obvious problems” in the “illegal construction” and “illegal production” of projects with “high” energy consumption and “high” emissions. The outlet adds that the city faces a “particularly severe situation” in emission reduction. China News Service, a state-run newswire, also covers the story. It says that the new batch of Central Ecological and Environmental Inspection teams criticised seven “typical cases”, including that of Liaoyuan. (Read Carbon Brief’s Q&A to understand the significance of the central environmental inspection.)

Meanwhile, there is more coverage about the new instructions on the “dual control” policy released by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) last Thursday. According to CCTV, the state broadcaster, NDRC has explained how the new set of rules gives authorities more flexibility in managing total energy consumption while bolstering the implementation of “dual-control” goals. People’s Daily reports that the instructions have set three “milestone goals”. In essence, the document requires the “dual control” policy to be “more complete” by 2025 and “improved further” by 2030. By 2035, the allocation of energy resources should be “optimal”, People’s Daily cites the instructions saying.

Elsewhere, Beijing News reports that the Chinese capital city has seen more rainfall this summer than the same period of the past 20 years. Areas around Beijing have also experienced more precipitation events than usual, the publication says. The article notes that climate factors including global warming, El Niño, La Niña, sea temperatures and subtropical high have jointly brought more rain to northern China. Another possible cause, according to the report, is that China’s precipitation line has moved northwards because of global warming.

Comment.

The Times view on electricity prices: Power surge
Editorial, The Times Read Article

Many UK newspaper editorials and comment pieces respond to the escalating energy crunch, with the editorial in Saturday’s edition of the Times saying gas prices have risen 70% since August “and this is pushing up electricity prices too”. The editorial criticises the energy bill price cap introduced by former Conservative prime minister Theresa May, saying: “The cap has ensured that many smaller suppliers have had to close because they cannot pass on cost increases fast enough…The result is a less competitive market. What’s more, the cap is a blunt instrument when energy suppliers need to be encouraged to invest in renewables and clean energy to achieve the net-zero target.” The piece continues: “Nor should this crisis be used as an excuse to weaken the drive towards to net-zero. The crisis should instead be a spur to step up investment in the transition to clean energy and reduce the dependence on gas, limiting the scope for future Russian blackmail. An immediate priority should be to accelerate plans for new nuclear power stations, which need to be part of the future energy mix and whose economics suddenly looks less daunting.” An editorial in Saturday’s Daily Mail (not online) is titled: “Go green – but make sure the lights stay on.” It says: “The truth is, the transition to green energies such as wind and solar will need substantial backup from traditional sources for the foreseeable future.”

In the Daily Telegraph an editorial says: “An energy crunch has been building for some time and has suddenly come to a head with a rapid rise in the price of wholesale gas.” It continues: “So far the UK has eschewed exploiting its own considerable shale reserves and needs to import gas…Britain has virtually ceased coal production and its belated efforts to revive a nuclear programme are now hampered by the deep freeze into which relations with China have been plunged. The country’s future is being gambled on the success of renewables…, an approach that hinges on the vagaries of the weather.” Today’s Daily Mail carries another editorial on the energy crunch (not online), titled: “Deep roots of gas crisis.” It says: “For years, successive governments have neglected infrastructure investment in traditional forms of energy such as nuclear in favour of developing unreliable renewable energies such as wind and solar…The aim to become carbon neutral by 2050 is all well and good. But we must have sufficient back-up energy sources until that goal is achievable.” The Independent has an editorial titled: “We cannot rely on market forces to wean us off carbon-based energy.” It says: “The rise in natural gas prices is almost a parable, a real-life teachable moment for the COP26 climate summit meeting in Glasgow in 1,000 hours’ time. What more salutary backdrop for a United Nations conference on the climate emergency than a sudden rise in the price of a fossil fuel, which makes the economics of wind, solar and even nuclear power look more attractive?” The Daily Mirror has an editorial which argues in favour of market intervention, saying: “Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng should abandon his Thatcherite ideological hostility to industrial strategy and act in the public interest. Immediately.” An editorial in the Sun on Sunday says the spike in energy prices is “deeply alarming” and says “gas prices are being driven up by global forces such as lower than expected exports from Russia and higher demand from the Far East”.

In the Daily Telegraph, international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard writes: “British manufacturing leaders fear an industrial collapse over the winter as spiralling gas and electricity prices overwhelm the country’s energy defences.” He compares the UK’s gas storage capacity with that of other European countries, which have much larger reserves. He says: “Large strategic gas reserves become even more critical under a net-zero strategy, not less – at least in the first phase up to the mid-2030s.“ A Sunday Telegraph comment by Simon Heffer runs under the headline: “Environmental hubris has left Britain vulnerable to Putin’s gas blackmail.” He says: “No-one doubts that preventing global warming is desirable.” Heffer argues in favour of fracking for UK shale gas and, potentially, “extending the life of coal-powered energy”, as well as building more nuclear. Writing in the same paper, David Green, chief executive of right-leaning thinktank Civitas, says: “Authoritarian regimes are exploiting the fact that the West does not have realistic carbon policies.” He also backs shale and nuclear, before concluding: “The most sophisticated totalitarian autocracy in human history, the Chinese Communist Party, sees clearly what is at stake. Its leaders will decarbonise, but only after the West has committed economic suicide.” In the Daily Mail, City editor Alex Brummer writes under the headline: “It’s time our leaders stopped being so naive on energy.”

Science.

Heat stress, labour productivity and adaptation in Europe – a regional and occupational analysis
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

By the 2080s, labour productivity may drop by as much as 1.6% on average across Europe due to rising temperatures, according to a new study. Combining climate model outputs of a daily heat stress indicator, occupational statistics across more than 250 regions of Europe and a model of the European economy, researchers analyse how rising incidences of heat stress will affect labour across the continent. They find that southern and eastern Europe will experience the strongest declines in productivity as the planet continues to warm, and that areas where low-earning occupations are more common will be hit harder than more well-off ones.

Biomass, carbon stock and sequestration potential of Oxytenanthera abyssinica forests in Lower Beles River Basin, Northwestern Ethiopia
Carbon Balance and Management Read Article

New research shows that bamboo groves have “significant carbon stock and sequestration potential” in the forests of Northwestern Ethiopia. Researchers examine more than 50 plots in two bamboo forests in the Lower Beles River Basin and analyse the plants within for biomass accumulation and soil organic carbon content. They find that these bamboo forests have the potential to sequester more than 1000 tonnes of CO2 per hectare – lower than other types of nearby forests, such as montane forests, but higher than previously found. The authors write: “sustainable management of these crucial vegetation resources will enhance their role in providing ecosystem services, including climate change mitigation”.

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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.