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Daily Briefing

25.10.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING COP26: ‘World conflict and chaos’ could be the result of a summit failure
COP26: ‘World conflict and chaos’ could be the result of a summit failure

News.

COP26: ‘World conflict and chaos’ could be the result of a summit failure
The Observer Read Article

There is a continuing deluge of media coverage reporting on the build up to COP26, the UN climate summit in Glasgow which starts in less than a week. The Observer carries an interview with Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who says that global security and stability could break down, with migration crises and food shortages bringing conflict and chaos, if countries fail to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. She tells the newspaper: “We’re really talking about preserving the stability of countries, preserving the institutions that we have built over so many years, preserving the best goals that our countries have put together. The catastrophic scenario would indicate that we would have massive flows of displaced people.” The Observer notes the “unusually strong warnings from the normally reserved Espinosa”. It adds: “She also held out the possibility that if a shortfall [of climate pledges] remains at Glasgow, as is likely, between necessary and offered cuts, nations could be asked to revise their plans soon after – though that is likely to be unpopular with many.” The Times says that the UN is expected today to publish its third report assessing global climate pledges and it will warn that “global greenhouse gas emissions are on course to be 16% higher by the end of this decade than they are now”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg says that “a blueprint for how developed countries will contribute $100bn a year to poor nations confronting climate change is set to be unveiled on Monday despite objections from the US and other nations that almost derailed the announcement”. ITV News says that the report “is expected to be published [today] that some will see as proving the [$100bn a year] target has been flunked again, while others will cite it as demonstrating – for the first time – that the target is on course to be achieved, at last”. ITV News adds: “This report by German and Canadian ministers, commissioned by the UK as president of COP26, will say the target may be hit in 2022 or more likely in 2023, but that it hasn’t been met in 2020 or 2021.So purists – such as many developing nations but also some in Washington – would say the target has been missed once more. That said, the Canadian/German report will also say that more than $500bn will be donated in the five years to 2025, based on national promises, and in that sense rich countries will meet the target on an annual average over the full five year term.”

The Guardian carries the views of COP26 president-designate Alok Sharma who says that achieving a global climate deal in Glasgow in the next three weeks will be harder than signing the Paris Agreement of 2015. He says: “It was brilliant what they did in Paris, it was a framework agreement, [but] a lot of the detailed rules were left for the future. It’s like, we’ve got to the end of the exam paper and the most difficult questions are left and you’re running out of time, the exam’s over in half an hour and you go, ‘How are we going to answer this one?‘” Bloomberg says that the UK government is “asking world leaders to pledge to halt deforestation by 2030”. But, it adds: “Brazil – home to the Amazon rainforest – has yet to sign, raising questions about how effective it can be. The European Union, Indonesia and Democratic Republic of Congo are among those who have already agreed to support the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use, according to people familiar with the matter.” Another Bloomberg article says that “nations are edging toward a deal that could create a global carbon market” at COP26. It adds: “Brazil [has] softened its stance on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, which aims to create a framework for countries and companies to meet their climate goals by trading carbon credits, according to people familiar with the issue, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.” (See Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A on Article 6.) And a further Bloomberg article says that “there’s progress on carbon-market talks, but an agreement to phase out coal is looking increasingly unlikely” at COP26. It adds: “The Group of 20 leaders meet this week in a summit that will set the tone of COP, and so far talks on coal have been bitterly difficult, with signs of backsliding compared with earlier this year.” The Press Association walks through “some of the key areas where action is needed and where momentum and new commitments could help Glasgow be seen as a success”.

In other COP26 news, Reuters reports that “Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida is making arrangements to try and attend [COP26], the daily Yomiuri reported on Saturday”. Bloomberg says that “European Union diplomats have been banned from attending most social events at COP26 due to a surge in Covid-19 cases in the UK”. BBC News carries an interview with climate campaigner Greta Thunberg who says: “The change is going to come when people are demanding change. So we can’t expect everything to happen at these conferences.” The Observer speaks to families with children – now teenagers – born at the time of the 2009 climate conference” to see what their view on the world is now given the continuation in global warming. Climate Home News and the Financial Times report, separately, on methane leaks close to the COP26 site in Glasgow as well as by a leading corporate sponsor of the summit.

Finally, the Hindu in India interviews Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives who now represents the Climate Vulnerable Forum, which is made up of 48 of the most vulnerable nations to climate change. He says: “All the vulnerable countries will default on their debt. That would not be in the interests of anyone. If you do not have a Maldives, Maldives cannot pay their debt back. We owe a whole lot of money to China, for instance…We are asking for the possibility of swapping debt repayment to a climate resilient project. So instead of having to pay the $5m or $10m this month, if the Maldives can have a nature-based adaptation programme, a resilient adaptation programme, then I think it is a win-win for both sides.”

China to cut fossil fuel use to below 20% by 2060
Agence France-Press via the Guardian Read Article

China is aiming to cut fossil fuel use to less than 20% of its energy mix by 2060, according to an official plan published by state media and reported by AFP. The newswire adds: “The guidelines published by China’s official Xinhua news agency laid out a host of targets in its path towards carbon neutrality. Among them was the proportion of non-fossil fuel consumption reaching about 25% of total energy use by 2030 – when the nation targets peak emissions. By then, carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP would have dropped by more than 65% from 2005 levels, while the total installed capacity of wind and solar power is targeted to reach more than 1,200 gigawatts, Xinhua said. The guidelines also reiterated an earlier aim for carbon emissions per unit of GDP to fall 18% in 2025, from 2020 levels. Authorities called for a shift in industrial structures, saying they would ‘resolutely curb the blind development’ of projects with high energy consumption and emissions. The scale of coal-based oil and gas production capacity should be ‘reasonably controlled’ too, authorities said, while calling for the development of low-carbon industries. Meanwhile, they also stressed the need for effective responses against economic and social risks that could accompany a low-carbon transition, and to ‘prevent overreaction and ensure safe carbon reduction’.” Reuters says that China’s cabinet “said food and energy security must be considered amid those efforts”. Carbon Brief’s Hongqiao Liu has posted a twitter thread explaining the new guidance.

Meanwhile, China’s president Xi Jinping has said that China “must enhance self-reliance in energy”, Xinhua – the state news agency – reports. Xi made the statement while visiting the Shengli Oilfield in eastern China’s Shandong province last Thursday, Xinhua says. It adds Xi also stressed that China is “a manufacturing powerhouse” and needs to develop the real economy. CCTV, the state broadcaster, runs a clip of Xi delivering the speech to workers at the oil field, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. Bloomberg also covers the news, citing China’s state-run newspaper People’s Daily. Bloomberg says that the speech signalled “a continued role for fossil fuels in the nation’s efforts to meet power demands”.

Separately, Reuters reports that “China’s state planner on Monday said it has urged coal companies to strictly perform their contractual obligations as it continues to take measures to boost supplies and steady soaring prices”, adding: “China has been pushing coal miners to ramp up output and hiking imports so that power stations can rebuild stockpiles before the winter heating season, but analysts say shortages are likely to persist for at least another few months.” Bloomberg summarises the series of orders China has issued to tackle the ongoing power shortages in a report titled: “China tears up the rule book in the race to fix its energy crisis.” It says: “As the approaching winter threatens to ratchet up demand, authorities are taking extraordinary steps to intervene.” Another Bloomberg article says that China “needs more diesel, and needs it quickly to avert similar supply shortages seen in coal and natural gas”. Reuters projects that China’s new coal output rate puts the country “on pace to produce more of the fuel this year than ever before if the increase is sustained”. The newswire cites its own calculations “based on official Beijing data”. It says that the predicted record level would be “just under 4bn tonnes if new production rates are maintained until year-end”. It adds that the production boost “significantly raises potential to produce electricity in a country where most power is generated from coal”. The Washington Post analyses how President Xi’s pledge that China “will not build new coal-fired power projects abroad” raises pressure on developing countries – such as Vietnam – to “go green”. It says that Xi’s announcement “renewed attention on the thorny question of how to coax economies that had bet on fossil fuels to power development toward a faster adoption of wind, solar and other renewable sources”.

Elsewhere, South Hams Gazette reports that “China’s first youth climate striker”, 18-year-old Howey Ou, visited Totnes – a market town in Devon – “to meet other young campaigners for action on climate change”. Michael Day, the i newspaper’s chief foreign commentator, has a piece analysing the implications of the US-China tensions on COP26. Finally, Chinese industry news portal Beijixing Electricity Net reports that the country’s energy regulator has approved three coal mines to operate. The three mines, situated in the provinces of Gansu and Ningxia in north-western China, have a combined production capacity of 5.9m tonnes a year, the report says.

UK: Chancellor told to raise taxes to help push for net zero
The Times Read Article

More than a third of companies believe that the UK chancellor Rishi Sunak should increase taxes to tackle greenhouse gases as part of “a carrot and stick” approach to driving the transition to net-zero, reports today’s Times. It adds: “A survey of more than 1,000 businesses by EY released days before Rishi Sunak delivers his third budget found that 39% of respondents thought taxes should go up to raise the cost of emissions.” The Independent says “two in three voters in the UK support tax rises to pay for measures to mitigate the climate crisis, exclusive new polling for the Independent has found”.

Another article in the Times says that “with just over a week to go before Boris Johnson hosts the largest ever gathering of world leaders in Britain, tensions are rising and tempers fraying in Downing Street”. It continues: “The prime minister is said to be ‘irritated’ by Alok Sharma, the man he appointed to chair the COP26 conference in Glasgow – and the feeling appears to be mutual. Those around Johnson suggest that the ‘bookish’ Sharma doesn’t grasp the politics of the meeting and how it could backfire domestically. Those around Sharma are frustrated at No 10 for hyping expectations around what the two weeks of negotiations will achieve…Allies of the prime minister suggest that Sharma has failed to foster a team spirit around the conference and allowed differences to fester. An insider said: ‘He has this manner of ‘if only people would listen to me it would all be fine’. This has irritated Johnson.’ A supporter of Sharma, however, accused Downing Street of mismanaging expectations of what the conference can realistically achieve.” A frontpage story in the Daily Mirror says Boris Johnson has a “huge carbon footprint” due to his use of private jets.

In other UK news, the Guardian says “a clash between two multibillion pound ‘net-zero carbon’ schemes is brewing in the North Sea after the Queen’s property manager granted development rights for one patch of seabed to two different projects at the same time”. Another Guardian story says the “Conservative party and its MPs have registered £1.3m in gifts and donations from climate sceptics and fossil fuel interests since the 2019 general election, an investigation by the Guardian can reveal”. The Independent reports that “Britain’s charity watchdog has been criticised after dismissing calls from 70 leading scientists, including a former chief scientific adviser, to remove the charitable status of a high-profile climate change denialism group”.

The Guardian also reports that the government has come under fire from the environmental audit committee of MPs for its “inconsistent” policy on green jobs. The Times says that “a senior government climate adviser [Chris Stark at the Climate Change Committee] has given up red meat and the family car and is urging ministers to start a public information campaign encouraging people to make similar lifestyle changes”.

BBC News says that “Tata Steel says it needs a route map from the UK government [to make the industry ‘greener’] before it decides how it will make steel in the future”. The Financial Times reports that “the Chinese company behind the UK’s only ‘gigafactory’ is planning a huge expansion of the project and looking to spin off its electric vehicle battery division as it builds its European business”. The Press Association covers a joint letter from unions sent to government claiming that “climate crisis education should become fully embedded in the system”. The Daily Mirror reports that “new analysis shows the devastating effects to Britain’s houses by mid-century if we fail in that task and continue burning fossil fuels as we currently are”. And, finally, the Wall Street Journal carries a feature headlined: “Britain went all in on renewables and natural gas, leaving it vulnerable when winds died down and global gas supplies ran low.”

Saudi Arabia pledges 2060 net zero target ahead of COP26 summit
Financial Times Read Article

In a speech on Saturday, Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (known as “MBS”) announced Saudi Arabia’s pledge to cut its carbon emissions to net-zero by 2060 while maintaining its role as a leading producer of oil and gas, reports the Financial Times. According to the FT, “the kingdom would spend 700bn riyals ($187bn) on a range of new climate goals, including reducing carbon emissions by 278m tonnes annually by 2030.” Additionally, the kingdom plans to “join a US-led pact to curb methane emissions by 30% this decade”. In order to attain its 2060 net-zero goal, MBS said the kingdom would use a “carbon circular economy”. This is a “reference to carbon capture technologies” that “would allow for the continued burning of fossil fuels”, says the FT. It also reports that UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa called it “bold and courageous”. According to The Guardian, Saudi Arabia pledged to “plant 450m trees and rehabilitate huge swaths of land by 2030, reducing more than 270m tonnes of carbon emissions a year”, while attempting to turn Riyadh “into a more sustainable capital”. It adds: “Riyadh is forecast to make $150bn (£109bn) in oil revenues this year alone.”

Relatedly, Saudi Aramco’s chief executive Amin Nasser has announced that the oil and energy giant “aims to achieve net-zero emissions from its operations by 2050 while also expanding its maximum sustained production capacity to 13m barrels per day”, Reuters reports. It continues: “Nasser also warned that global spare capacity of crude was declining fast and there was a need for more investment” to ensure spare capacity for “global economies as they emerge from the coronavirus pandemic”. The newswire quotes Nasser saying: “Demonising the hydrocarbon industry is not going to help anyone.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Japan’s cabinet has approved a national electricity plan in which “renewables should account for 36-38% of power supplies in 2030, double 2019’s level”. The policy, it reports, “comes with no significant changes from the draft released in July, despite 6,400 public comments including criticism for its coal and nuclear policy”. According to the new plan, coal use “will be reduced to 19% from 26%”, “liquefied natural gas (LNG) lowered to 20% from 27%, oil cut to 2% from 3%”, the “nuclear target left unchanged at 20-22%” and “newer fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia will account for about 1% of the electricity mix by 2030”.

Finally, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that “Australia will make a formal pledge to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050 after Nationals MPs backed the goal in a tense meeting on Sunday that cleared the way for policies within days”. It reports that Australian prime minister Scott Morrison “is expected to ask the federal cabinet to endorse the target on Monday” and likely the full policy package – that could include “measures such as investments in hydrogen and rewards for farmers to offset emissions” – before he leaves on Thursday for the G20 summit in Rome and COP26.

Comment.

Comment: The Glasgow climate change summit's global stakes
Editorial, The New York Times Read Article

An editorial in the New York Times previews the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, which begins next week. It notes how the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was agreed in 1992: “Many follow-up meetings have been held, long on aspiration but short on action. Emissions have gone up, as have atmospheric temperatures, while the consequences of climate change…have become ever more pronounced.” It notes that China, Australia, Russia and India are among the countries yet to submit new pledges under the international climate regime, but also sets out for hope: “Gloomy predictions to the contrary, several things have happened since Paris that should inspire everyone.” These include, the editorial says, the rise of electric vehicles, falling costs of solar and batteries, and the return of the US to the climate table. It concludes that the main issue in Glasgow will be “whether the delegates will listen to the science, look clearly at what’s happening in the world around them and then – here is the hard part – provide action plans to match their aspirations”.

For the Guardian, the “secret negotiator” writes under the headline: “China, India and Brazil must set out their plans to cut emissions.” A comment for the Sydney Morning Herald by Sam Geall, chief executive of China Dialogue and an associate fellow of Chatham House, argues that China’s president Xi Jinping is “a likely no-show at Glasgow but it doesn’t matter much”. He writes: “[O]f course, there’s no way to address climate change without China, the world’s largest emitter by volume. But China hasn’t pulled out of COP26. Its top negotiators will still be there.” Geall notes that Xi has made two major climate announcements over the past year via video link: “In so doing, Xi signalled that climate will be an irrevocable part of his personal political legacy; that China plans to stay the course on climate, despite rising geopolitical tensions in other areas; and to the domestic bureaucracy, made clear that decarbonisation policies are of high importance.” Geall concludes that unless the rich world closes the gap on its pledged $100bn of climate support for developing countries, “it will have no moral standing to criticise China”, ending: “If the talks can’t get back on track, Xi’s absenteeism will not be the reason and will be the least of our problems.” In a similar vein, a feature for the Sunday Times asks: “Can Cop26 succeed if Xi Jinping stays at home?” It concludes: “The Chinese president may be conspicuous by his absence but behind the scenes his regime takes climate change seriously.”

Finally, a comment for Thomson Reuters Foundation by Dr Hans Henri Kluge, World Health Organization regional director for Europe says: “Let me be clear: When leaders sit down in Glasgow to negotiate the world’s common commitments to tackle climate change, the links between health, climate change and migration must be placed front and centre…We cannot accept a world where the privileged few are protected from the ravages of climate change while the rest of the world bears the brunt.”

It would be a tragedy if the COP26 summit were to end in fudge or failure
Editorial, The Sun Read Article

It would be a “tragedy” if COP26 “ended in fudge or failure”, says an editorial in the Sun. The paper says its readers are already “doing [their] bit to save the planet” and now they “want world leaders to follow suit”. A “significant majority” of people “appear to back Boris Johnson over his plans to transform the environment”, the article says, but “government cannot – and should not – do it alone”. It adds: “As this paper has been saying for years, the keys to the Green Revolution lie in individual effort and, above all, private enterprise. The will for change behind both is growing by the day and providing a unique opportunity. Now it is up to leaders to join together on Sunday at COP26 to seize this moment.” A Sunday Telegraph editorial also focuses on individual contribution, warning of “a puritanical, anti-growth, anti-consumerist green movement” that could “capture the state and impose its cultural revolution on the population by fiat”. Noting that the UK government briefly published – and then removed – a research paper by its “nudge unit” proposing “a meat tax and a reduction in frequent flying” last week, the paper warns against “throw[ing] away over a century of development that has made British life immeasurably better”. And an editorial in the Sunday Mirror criticises Boris Johnson for “dump[ing] 21 tonnes of CO2 by taking election campaign flights in a private jet provided by a Tory donor”.

Elsewhere, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph comments on the financial implications of climate action, warning that “decarbonising the economy is a fine ambition, but the danger of setting demanding targets for introducing electric cars or heat pumps is that the public will be obliged to spend considerable amounts of money on new technologies that do not currently compete, like-for-like, with their fossil fuel alternatives”. The paper says there is a “great risk” that “for all the talk of distinctively Conservative environmental policies, the green agenda becomes a mechanism for introducing socialist command-and-control policies that seek to curtail individual freedoms and load the economy with even more debt, when other countries are doing less, if anything”. [Electric cars are already cheaper on a cost of ownership basis. The government’s net-zero strategy aims to make heat pumps as cheap to buy and run as gas boilers.] In contrast, an editorial in the Observer business section criticises the UK’s net-zero strategy for “lacking in both ambition and funding”. It adds: “Critics say the carbon savings set out in the paper will not get the UK close to its net-zero goal by 2050, and that without the funds might fail to meet even this limited ambition.”

Finally, a Guardian editorial comments on last week’s leak of draft documents from a forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which shows “governments lobbying hard against clauses…that they regard as detrimental to their interests”. The paper says: “The serious concerns raised by the leaks are not because observers think that the panel’s next report is likely to be substantially altered. The worry is more that the positions being taken by governments on crucial questions – such as Australia’s objection to closing down coal-fired power plants – reveal a deeply alarming unwillingness by politicians to do what scientists say is needed.”

When it comes to net zero, the government has a concrete problem
Camilla Cavendish, Financial Times Read Article

Writing in the Financial Times, Camilla Cavendish, a former head of the Number 10 Policy Unit, says that the UK can’t “build back greener”, if policies are contradictory. She writes: “Postponing a decision on a new nuclear power station makes no sense, given the urgent need for more reliable domestic supply. And it is simply bizarre to emphasise the importance of reducing carbon emissions from buildings, as the UK strategy does, while overlooking the vast, looming problem of concrete…Luckily, the market is already presenting an alternative: timber. Modern laminated timber is more stable than the old stuff: the world’s tallest timber building, in Norway, is 85 metres high.”

In the Daily Mail, John Humphrys says: “Renewable energy is vital, but it’s not enough. We must change the way we live…We must travel less. Turn down the thermostat. Maybe even learn something from my parents’ generation; when it got cold our mothers buttoned up us kids in weird garments called liberty bodices.” Writing in the Sun, Prince Charles says: “Nobody should be expected to pay the earth to save it, but there are things individuals can do, and some may save money. I am of that generation that was brought up to “waste not, want not”, which is another way of saying reuse, repair and recycle. It also influences my attitude to food.” Also in the Sun, columnist Trevor Kavanagh argues that “there’s gold in them thar green hills” and that “capitalism is showing [Insulate Britain protestors] a green pair of heels”. Similarly, in the Spectator, Annabel Denham claims that “Boris Johnson should trust the market to solve climate change”. And climate sceptic columnist and Conservative peer Charles Moore writes in the Daily Telegraph that “the public is waking up to the costs of the West’s unilateral eco-disarmament”. A feature in the Economist concludes: “A poll for the Economist by Ipsos mori finds not only that 83% of Britons are concerned about climate change, but also that 51% believe the cost of tackling it will, in a year’s time, be larger than any savings from things like lower heating bills and cheaper petrol. Only 9% think the savings will be higher than the costs. People expect the trade-off to be more favourable in ten years’ time. Britons seem to be prepared for hair shirts. They just don’t want to wear them forever.”

In the Guardian, Erik Dalhuijsen, who is a “consultant petroleum and sustainability engineer and a climate change activist living in Aberdeen”, says that “Britain’s oil and gas workers want a green transition – but the industry doesn’t”. In the Scotsman, climate campaigner and author Mark Lynas writes: “Don’t let anyone tell you that COP26 doesn’t matter. It won’t decide our entire future, but it does represent a moment where we choose: will we begin to turn the carbon ship around, and move gradually into cooler waters, or will we carry on powering towards the rocks?”

Finally, writing for openDemocracy, veteran environmental journalist Geoffrey Lean looks back on 30 years of climate conferences and “recalls the many missed opportunities for change that led us to this boiling point”. He concludes: “The last four COPs have been largely inconsequential, but – just like after the Montreal ozone agreement – the world has moved faster than expected to tackle the issue. Paris aspired, against all expectations, to reach net zero emissions some time in the second half of the century. Now 133 countries have committed to achieving the goal by 2050, with China promising to follow by 2060…Will Glasgow rank with Paris or Copenhagen? Will Boris Johnson be humiliated like Rasmussen, or celebrated like the French leadership? Watch, as they say, this space.”

Science.

Historical precedents and feasibility of rapid coal and gas decline required for the 1.5°C target
One Earth Read Article

Limiting warming to 1.5C would require some countries to curb their coal use at a “historically unprecedented” rate, according to new research. The authors analyse a sample of 105 countries over 1960-2018, and find 147 examples in which coal, oil or gas use declined faster than 5% per decade. However, the study finds that the most rapid historical cases of fossil fuel decline occurred when oil was replaced by coal, gas or nuclear power in response to energy security threats of the 1970-80s. It adds that about half of the IPCC 1.5C-compatible scenarios require coal use to decline in Asia more rapidly than at any period in history.

Climate Variability and Impacts on Maize (Zea Mays) Yield in Ghana, West Africa
Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society Read Article

A new study of maize yield in Ghana finds a decreasing trend in rainfall and soil moisture, and an increasing trend in the maize yield, minimum temperature and maximum temperature in the country. The authors assess the impact of climatic variables on maize yield in the country and find that rainfall, soil moisture, minimum temperature and maximum temperature accounted for approximately 4%, 23%, 39% and 23% of the annual maize yield variations, respectively They add that under “wetter-than-normal conditions”, 75% of the variation in maize yield in Ghana was driven by climatic variables, while this number drops to 41% under “drier-than-normal conditions”.

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