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TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 28.09.2022
Denmark, Germany and Poland warn of ‘sabotage’ after Nord Stream leaks

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News.

Denmark, Germany and Poland warn of ‘sabotage’ after Nord Stream leaks
Financial Times Read Article

“Suspicious” leaks in two major Russian pipelines transporting gas to Europe via the Baltic Sea are probably the result of sabotage, officials in Denmark, Germany and Poland have warned, according to the Financial Times. Nord Stream 1 was transporting gas to Germany as recently as the start of this month, whereas Nord Stream 2 had been filled with Russian gas in preparation for its planned start-up, but both have been “at the centre of the energy conflict between Russia and Europe”, the newspaper adds. Reuters reports that European nations are investigating what they have referred to as “attacks”, noting that seismologists in Denmark and Sweden said they had recorded “two powerful blasts” that did not resemble earthquakes in the vicinity of the leaks on Monday. However, the newswire emphasises that it remains “far from clear who might be behind the leaks”. New Scientist notes that EU leaders have previously accused Russian president Vladimir Putin of “leveraging energy supplies” in response to sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine. According to Politico, “the idea that the EU’s undersea energy and communications infrastructure were now a Russian target would force European militaries to prepare for a largely unexpected new front in the Ukraine war that could bring them into a direct showdown with Russia’s navy”. As the Washington Post points out, the leaks have not had an immediate impact on European gas supplies – as Russia had already cut flows to the continent – but the “episode is likely to mark a final end to the Nord Stream pipeline projects”. Gas prices have jumped by 7% in Europe and 3% in the UK following the leaks, amid concerns over security of supply, the Daily Telegraph notes. A Reuters analysis piece considers the likely climate impact of the gas leaks, as large volumes of the potent greenhouse gas methane leak from the damaged pipelines. It calculates that the amount leaking from Nord Stream 2 alone would be “roughly on par” with the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted in an entire year by mid-sized cities such as Havana or Helsinki.

Against the backdrop of this large methane leak, comments by John Kerry appear in Reuters, with the US climate envoy calling for countries to ramp up spending dedicated to cutting methane emissions.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that the Taliban have signed a provisional deal with Russia to supply gasoline, diesel, gas and wheat to Afghanistan, in the “first known major international economic deal struck” since the group took power in the country. The Financial Times has a piece about how Cuba is paying for its imports of Russian oil.

Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid
Associated Press Read Article

Hurricane Ian has made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the western end of Cuba, “knock[ing] out power” across all of the country and “devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown”, reports Associated Press. According to the story, “tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area” ahead of Ian’s arrival, the storm damaging houses, crops and causing floods. The state of Florida is “bracing for impact” as Hurricane Ian “barrels towards the vulnerable Gulf Coast”, E&E News reports. While Ian’s “exact pathway remains uncertain”, the Tampa Bay region could “face its first direct landfall of a major hurricane in more than 100 years”, the outlet says, with the storm “intensif[ying] faster than any other hurricane this Atlantic season”. While meteorologists were able to predict that Ian would strengthen at “breakneck speed”, forecasters say that the storm could stall near the coast as it approaches land, triggering a “devastating storm surge”. The article highlights the “clear role” of “unusually warm waters” and “changing wind patterns in parts of the Atlantic, influenced by climate change”, while pointing to research suggesting that “hurricanes are moving more slowly as the planet warms, allowing them to dump more rain in a single location”. BBC News says that “residents in Florida are anxiously bracing for life-threatening tidal surges”.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg carries a story headlined, “why Hurricane Ian got so much stronger, so quickly”. It explains the “rapid intensification” of such storms. US president Joe Biden has urged Florida residents “to leave their homes if told to do so by local officials” and told city officials that “the federal government would do everything to help them cope”, reports the Financial Times. It adds that “federal officials are already dealing with the devastation caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico, which killed more than a dozen people and has left hundreds of thousands without power.” Using Tampa Bay as an example, Politico points to a trend “that has alarmed climate scientists, disaster experts and emergency planners: people, infrastructure and investment have flocked to coasts that are susceptible to the powerful storms, just as they have to wildfire-prone rural areas of the west”.

Separately, Reuters reports that Vietnam has “downgraded” Typhoon Noru to a tropical depression while warning residents to stay alert to flooding and landslide risks. Noru, which “made landfall with winds of 117kph (72mph)”, was the “strongest storm to hit the neighbouring Philippines this year and killed at least eight people, flooding farmland and communities and damaging crops, mainly rice”.

UK: Keir Starmer speech – Labour plans publicly owned renewable energy giant
BBC News Read Article

Labour leader Keir Starmer has announced that, if the party wins the next UK general election, his government would create a new, publicly owned renewable energy company called Great British Energy, BBC News reports. Speaking at his party’s annual conference in Liverpool, Starmer said they would ensure that public money spent on British industry would encourage private investment, stimulate growth and produce benefits for British people, according to the news website. “Labour won’t make the mistake the Tories made with North Sea oil and gas back in the 1980s. Where they frittered away the wealth from our national resources,” Starmer told the audience. According to the BBC, Great British Energy would be modelled on France’s EDF and various other firms owned by foreign states that currently operate in the UK, and “ensure a massive expansion in clean energy planned by Labour will deliver British jobs and greater energy security”. According to the Sun, Starmer “accused the Tories of allowing too many foreign businesses to own and control vital sources of energy, and said his plans would keep business in the UK”. The Guardian reports that Starmer said the goal would be to “turn the UK into a growth superpower” with Labour’s “green prosperity plan”, which he said would create 1m new jobs, cut energy bills and help to address climate change. He told the audience that the Conservative government had left the UK economy at the mercy of the energy impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the newspaper notes. According to the Financial Times, Starmer said that, as prime minister, he would allocate £8bn for co-investments in private sector energy projects in the UK, with seed funding for Great British Energy coming from this fund. The Daily Telegraph notes that the new company would be able to invest in new wind farms, tidal energy, solar power and nuclear power plants. The newspaper adds that, according to the Labour party, the announcement builds on its commitment to make the UK a “clean energy superpower by 2030”. Overall, Starmer vowed to build a “fairer, greener, more dynamic nation” if he wins the next election, the Evening Standard reports. The Guardian’s environment correspondent Fiona Harvey writes in an analysis piece that “Labour’s targets closely match the advice given by energy economists: go for energy efficiency as a top priority; ramp up renewable energy generation; windfall taxes on energy companies; offer people alternatives to petrol-guzzling cars; and invest in up-and-coming technologies such as hydrogen and green industry”.

Meanwhile, in an “exclusive” story, the Independent reports on shadow international aid secretary Preet Gill’s announcement that the Labour party would restore the requirement 0.7% of national income to go to aid, after it was cut to 0.5% by former Conservative prime minister Boris Johnson. It adds that this would also include a new focus on using UK aid to developing countries to address climate change – “this century’s biggest threat to humanity”.

The Guardian also reports that an environmental campaigner has been ejected from an event sponsored by the power station operator Drax at the Labour party conference following criticism of the company’s use of biomass.

US: The unlikely allies who sank Joe Manchin's energy deal

Progressive Democrats and Republicans in the US have banded together to oppose a bill backed by the Democrat West Virginia senator Joe Manchin that would have loosened oil-and-gas permitting regulations, Vox reports. The outcome is “ultimately the result of both policy disagreements and personal grudges”, according to the news website. While many Democrats were against the permitting measure due to environmental concerns, Republicans would have liked to see restrictions relaxed more and also did not want Manchin to achieve another major win, in the wake of his support for the Democrats’ major Inflation Reduction Act, it continues. All of this meant that Senate Democrats did not appear to have the 60 votes necessary to proceed with the proposed bill, the Hill reports. It adds that Senate majority leader Charles Schumer and Manchin had previously agreed to include the reforms in the new funding bill as a condition of Manchin’s support for the Inflation Reduction Act. The proposed changes to what the Financial Times calls the nation’s “clunky energy permitting system” would have capped the time for environmental reviews of major projects at two years and limited the timeframe for legal challenges. While progressives resisted it on the basis of it potentially accelerating the development of fossil-fuel projects, the newspaper notes that renewable industry bosses have also warned that permitting reform is needed for the Inflation Reduction Act to reach its full potential.

Separately, Inside Climate News reports on a new study that finds only a small amount of the payments paid out by the US Department of Agriculture via its conservation programmes are supporting climate-related practices.

Germany set to backtrack on nuclear phaseout
Politico Read Article

Germany will “probably” extend the runtime of two of its three remaining nuclear power plants until April, amid energy supply issues in France, economy minister Robert Habeck has said, Politico reports. It adds that the “original plan” was to shutter Germany’s three remaining reactors by the end of the year, but earlier this month – going against a core principle of his Green party –  Habeck opened the door for the Isar 2 and Neckarwestheim reactors to be activated in an emergency. More than half of France’s nuclear power stations are currently offline, leaving a gap in electricity supplies that are normally provided to its neighbour, the Guardian notes. This all comes against the backdrop of the wider energy crisis, and Germany’s need to save gas reserves ahead of winter, the newspaper continues.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Reuters reports that International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol has expressed support for the government’s move to restarting idled nuclear power plans. This would help to ease Europe’s energy supply fears over the winter, as more liquefied natural gas (LNG) will become available to the global market, according to Birol.

Rich countries fail to strengthen climate plans ahead of UN deadline
The Independent Read Article

The world’s richest countries have largely failed to update their climate goals in time to meet a UN deadline ahead of the COP27 climate summit in Egypt, the Independent reports. Most of the G20 group of the world’s largest economies – which collectively account for 80% of the world’s GDP – failed to submit new or strengthened plans to cut their emissions by 23 September, despite a request at the last UN climate summit for countries to “revisit and strengthen” their 2030 climate plans in 2022, it continues. Out of the 20 nations, only the UK, Indonesia, India, Australia, Brazil and South Korea came forward with new plans – although, as the article notes, analysts say Brazil’s new plan is weaker than its old one, and the UK’s emissions target has remained the same.

The Financial Times reports on comments by Francesco La Camera, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency, who told the newspaper, in reference to the Paris Agreement’s temperature targets: “If we don’t change dramatically the way we produce and consume energy, 1.5C is close to vanishing…If we don’t change attitudes very soon, also 2C is at risk.”

UK: Hydrogen is unsuitable for home heating, review concludes
The Guardian Read Article

Many UK outlets have reported on the findings of a major new study concerning hydrogen, which has political salience given remarks by the nation’s leaders. The Guardian says the “comprehensive review of scientific papers” has concluded that hydrogen is unsuitable for use in home heating, and will likely remain so “despite the hopes of the UK government and plumbing industry”. It notes that “hydrogen lobbyists are out in force at the Labour party conference this week, sponsoring several events in Liverpool, and will be plentiful at the Conservative party conference that begins this weekend”. The newspaper says they are hoping to convince the government to go ahead with a “mooted large-scale rollout of hydrogen for home heating” to replace gas. The review paper analysed more than 30 studies that looked at hydrogen and heating, all of which found that hydrogen was much less efficient and more expensive than alternatives such as heat pumps, according to BBC News. It says the study “contradicts” comments made by the UK’s new business and energy secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, who last week told the Commons that hydrogen was a “silver bullet”. New Scientist agrees that the study is “bad news” for various governments considering hydrogen as a solution to clean heating. The research is an expansion of a previous “study of studies” conducted by Jan Rosenow, head of thinktank the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP), according to Recharge. It quotes Rosenow saying: “Rather than hoping for hydrogen to eventually be able to replace fossil gas used for heating our buildings we should focus on speeding up the roll-out of energy efficiency and heat pumps, technologies consistently identified as critical for reducing carbon emissions from buildings.”

China will increase the construction of a new type of power infrastructure, focusing on gigantic wind and solar bases, power grids, etc
Jiemian Read Article

According to Song Wen, deputy director of planning department at the National Energy Administration (NEA), at a press conference hosted by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) on Monday, China will “focus on three areas to promote the development of high-quality energy infrastructure”, reports Jiemian. One of the areas, according to the official from the country’s top energy regulator, is to “increase the construction of new types of power infrastructure”, adding that the country should “steadily promote gigantic wind and solar bases primarily in the Gobi desert and other arid regions, hydropower bases in southwestern China and its power outbound channel constructions with renewable energy power transmission ratio in principle not less than 50%”, the article notes. Song stressed that “it is expected that the investment in key areas of energy during the period of 14th five-year plan would increase by more than 20% than that of the 13th five-year plan”, the Shanghai-based outlet adds.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg says that China’s “rapid build-up of clean energy is claiming more copper, supporting the market at a time when traditional sources of demand like housing are in the dumps”. The outlet adds that “underpinning” some of that demand for copper imports is a “long-anticipated shift in usage to feed growth across new energy sectors, from the construction of massive wind and solar projects in the interior, to the country’s electric vehicle boom”.

Separately, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) yesterday released data on the profits of national industrial enterprises from January to August, reports the China Energy News. The data shows that during the period the national industrial enterprises’ total profit reached 5,525.4bn yuan ($796.8), down 2.1% year-on-year, the state-run industry newspaper adds. Among them, the total profit of the coal mining and washing industry increased 1.12 times year-on-year, and the oil and gas extraction industry increased 1.11 times year-on-year, the newspaper notes. Elsewhere, the Shanghai-based financial outlet Yicai reports that profits at China’s auto manufacturers “doubled last month from the same period last year, even as profits at Chinese industrial firms continue to slide, albeit at a slower rate than in July”, according to the data released by NBS.

Finally, the state-broadcaster CGTN has a comment piece by Azhar Azam, a market and business analyst, titied “China: An eco-friendly growth model for both the South and the North”. He writes: “As absolute decoupling of GDP from emissions again becomes a debating point, China shows the way it can be achieved simply by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The Chinese strong growth in renewable output is helping to turn the country greener at a fast pace.” [The article cites analysis published by Carbon Brief which found that China’s CO2 emissions fell by a record 8% in the second quarter of 2022.]

Comment.

The Guardian view on Keir Starmer’s speech: starting to stand for something
Editorial, The Guardian Read Article

There is widespread coverage in the British press of Labour leader Keir Starmer’s speech at the party conference in Liverpool, including his announcements about expanding the nation’s low-carbon power supply. A Guardian editorial highlights Starmer’s desire to make the country a “green growth superpower” with a new, state-owned company – Great British Energy – at its heart. It describes his argument – that the state can deploy renewable energy quicker and to the greater benefit of the nation than if the job was left to foreign state-owned entities and private equity actors – as “refreshing”. The piece also attributes this approach partly to Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader and now shadow climate minister. In its editorial, which focuses on what Labour needs to do to win the trust of voters at the next election, the Times says “the urgency of tackling climate change and expanding housing supply are especially potent causes for younger voters”. The Daily Mirror’s editorial describes the creation of Great British Energy as “crucial to clinching a deal with the electorate”, and says Starmer is “ready to be a bold, decisive and competent Labour prime minister delivering for working people”.

The Daily Telegraph is less sure of Starmer’s appeal, with its editorial dismissing what it refers to as a “fanciful ambition of a fossil fuel-free Britain by 2030” [this is misleading as the Labour plan is only for net-zero emissions electricity system by 2030, five years earlier than the government’s current 2035 target]. The Sun’s editorial say that if Starmer thinks the nation is “excited by a new nationalised energy firm run by Ed Miliband and the unions, he has a shock coming”. It concludes: “Labour seem to believe simply not being Tories will hand them power. Starmer will need more than that.”

Writing in the Independent, associate editor Sean O’Grady anticipates a Labour turnaround within the current parliamentary term, although he is less enthused by Starmer’s message. “Starmer making a speech about solar power, wind farms and home insulation can’t be many people’s idea of a fun afternoon in Liverpool, but the Labour Party was certainly enjoying itself as he trudged his way through his green agenda,” he writes.

Europe’s energy crisis is destroying the multipolar world
Jeff D Colgan, Foreign Policy Read Article

Jeff D Colgan, an associate professor of political science at Brown University, has an essay in Foreign Policy explaining how the economic damage to both Russia and the rest of Europe resulting from the invasion of Ukraine and associated energy crisis is having a profound impact on the world’s balance of power. “The implication of this shift – still dimly understood – is that we appear to be moving swiftly to a bipolar world dominated by two superpowers: China and the US,” he writes. Colgan also emphasises that “these economic woes have nothing to do with the clean energy transition or the EU’s emergency response to market disruptions caused by the war in Ukraine. Instead, they can be traced to Europe’s past decisions to develop an addiction to Russian fossil fuels, especially natural gas”.

Elsewhere, columnist Javier Blas writes in Bloomberg that, in his view, the leaking Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines are a sign that Russian leader Vladimir Putin is “fully weaponising” gas supplies to Europe. “Traders who’d been betting that Nord Stream might reopen in a few months, resulting in lower gas prices, have closed those positions. The lesson is clear: the energy war is ongoing, winter is about to start, and Putin will continue to play dirty,” he writes. Thomas L Friedman uses his New York Times column to warn of the cascading effects of the war in Ukraine, including increased pressure on Indigenous communities fighting oil drilling expansion in their forests. “Which is why Putin’s war is not just a crime against Ukraine and humanity. It’s also a crime against the home we all share: planet Earth,” he concludes.

Finally, Alex Kemp, a professor of petroleum economics at the University of Aberdeen, writes in the Daily Telegraph about the history of the UK’s approach to its oil-and-gas resources in the North Sea. And, writing in the Daily Express, Tim Newark once against takes aim at “net-zero ideology” and praises fracking in the UK.

Science.

Hardship at birth alters the impact of climate change on a long-lived predator
Nature Communications Read Article

Red kites born during a drought are “disadvantaged throughout life”, new research finds. The authors examine the “demographic response” of red kites to drought, using the results of surveys conducted in Spain’s Doñana National Park. They explore two ways that extreme events can impact individuals – by altering the fitness of adults encountering a current extreme, and by affecting the development of individuals born during a natal extreme. The authors find that “incorporation of natal effects caused a 40% decline in forecasted population size and a 21% shortening of time to extinction”.

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