Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
Expert analysis direct to your inbox.
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.
Sign up here.
Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Draft shows EU to back new funding for green industry, but officials urge caution
- UK: Octopus Energy customers saved up to £9 as they helped reduce demand
- UK competition watchdog to ease rules on climate change action
- Indian industry turns to biomass as capital bans coal in pollution fight
- China just saw its coldest temperature on record: -53C
- Indonesia to set coal power plants emission quotas this month
- Can ChatGPT save the planet?
- Recent and future declines of a historically widespread pollinator linked to climate, land cover and pesticides
- Greenhouse warming and internal variability increase extreme and central Pacific El Niño frequency since 1980
Reuters reports that European Union leaders are to “back new EU funding for the green tech industry to counterbalance subsidies in the US and China”, draft conclusions of their summit in February show, but “EU officials were quick to play them down as going too far”. The newswire continues: “In their current form, the draft conclusions for the 9-10 February EU leaders’ summit, seen by Reuters, would signal that Germany and other northern European countries are ready to drop their earlier objections to the EU jointly raising more money. But some EU diplomats said that was not the case and the part of the draft which refers to new EU funding to counter the $369bn of subsidies offered to the green industry by the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), was likely to be changed. European makers of wind turbines, solar panels, batteries and hydrogen are considering whether to invest in the United States instead of in Europe, because of the help offered by the US legislation, much of it subject to local content requirements.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutter has said he will oppose any fresh EU money being raised to fund Europe’s response to the IRA, arguing the union already has ample cash to support its green transition. In a separate article, the FT says that “Marvel Fusion, one of the few European start-ups trying to deliver zero-carbon fusion power, is being pushed by investors to move to the US as American officials attempt to lure clean-energy businesses across the Atlantic”. And a comment piece in the FT by the authors of its “Energy Source” newsletter argues that “Europe needs its own Inflation Reduction Act”. Relatedly, Paul Waugh, who is the chief political commentator at the i newspaper, has a comment piece under the headline: “Brexit Britain is getting squeezed by the US and the EU in the race for green jobs.”
In other EU news, Reuters covers a new report by Aurora Energy which concludes that “imports of renewable hydrogen into the European Union by 2030 will be competitively priced compared with domestically produced clean hydrogen, a future energy source to replace fossil fuels”.
There is continuing coverage in the UK media of the new “demand flexibility service” which has been officially launched this week by National Grid’s Electricity System Operator (ESO) to help reduce peak demand during times where supplies are tighter than usual. The Press Association reports that “Octopus Energy has said that some of its customers earned up to £8.75 in credits for [lowering] their energy use on Monday evening and helping reduce the strain on the power grid”. The newswire adds: “The energy supplier said that more than 400,000 customers took part in the challenge between 5-6pm on Monday. The average customer was awarded between £1.25 and £2.50 in special points which entitle them to rewards, reducing their demand by around 60% on average. Together these customers reduced demand by around 200 megawatt hours (MWh), about the same amount of energy as Bristol uses during an hour. The company is the most active in the new scheme, which pays customers to switch off appliances.” The Guardian interviews its readers who have used the scheme, under the headline: “The kids loved it.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph, which has sought to attack the scheme editorially throughout this week, says: “Britain was exporting power to Ireland even as British households were asked to cut their usage on Monday night, export flows show…Households were asked to turn down hours before export trades were booked, amid British market forecasts which turned out to be too pessimistic. The figures highlight the growing interconnectedness of Britain’s electricity market at a time of stressed supplies.” Separately, the Daily Telegraph carries a comment piece by its chief City commentator Ben Marlow, who says: “The scheme is far from perfect, but at least the country is finally beginning to address energy demand rather than focusing solely on supply. However, there is a serious question to be asked about whether such an elaborate approach is needed at all when there are some much easier, cheaper and quicker measures available, most notably fixing Britain’s woefully leaky homes and generally making them more energy efficient.”
The UK competition regulator will “ease the antitrust rules on climate change initiatives to tackle business concerns that collaboration on climate action could expose them to claims of collusion”, reports the Financial Times. It adds: “The move comes after a wide range of groups, led by the financial sector alliance known as Gfanz, spearheaded by former Bank of England governor Mark Carney, said fears of antitrust enforcement action prevented them from taking a tougher stance on climate action…The regulator, which became an independent watchdog when the UK left the EU, plans to incorporate sustainability into an existing exemption in competition law…Under the new proposal, the CMA would consider climate change mitigation a benefit to society that would fit within that ‘fair share’ exemption, and would not punish companies cooperating on policies that would have a substantial and demonstrable impact on climate change. An explicit ban on financing for new coal projects was dropped from the rules binding Gfanz members last year, after some financial services groups including major banks said they could fall foul of competition law as a result of the tougher language. Lloyd’s of London, a key insurance market for the energy sector, has also cited competition rules as a reason it cannot ban its underwriting firms from insuring carbon-heavy sectors.”
In other UK news, the Guardian reports on an investigation by DeSmog which reveals that a minister gave the “impression of public support” from Greenpeace for the “highly controversial practice” of “burning trees for electricity” in meetings with the power company Drax. The newspaper adds: “Greenpeace is firmly opposed to most forms of biomass burning for power generation, and suspicious of claims that the resulting carbon dioxide can be captured. But in a briefing note to a minister before a meeting with Drax – formerly a coal-fired power station operator and now a major burner of wood for electricity generation – officials cited Greenpeace as having ‘provided a statement in support of BECCS [bioenergy with carbon capture and storage]’. The notes, seen by the Guardian, were obtained by the investigative journalism organisation DeSmog under the Freedom of Information Act.”
Meanwhile, the Financial Times says that the High Court in London has overturned a government decision to block a £1.4bn undersea electricity cable to France planned by an energy group backed by two tycoons born in Russia and Ukraine. A separate FT article reports that “Nest and Cushon, two UK pension schemes with combined assets of more than £26bn, are in a joint search for asset management partners to develop new forestry investment strategies to address climate change pressures”. The Daily Telegraph says that “Redrow, one of Britain’s biggest housebuilders, is to install heat pumps in its new homes as standard, as the government prepares to ban new gas boilers”. The Guardian reports that “an Australian-based startup, Recharge Industries, has made a nonbinding offer for the collapsed UK battery company Britishvolt that could revive plans to construct a large plant in northern England”. Another Guardian article covers a new study which suggests that “reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in England and Wales by 2050 will lead to an extra 2m years of life”. (The lead author of the study has written a guest post for Carbon Brief explaining the findings.)
Finally, the Daily Telegraph says that “a coalition of Conservative MPs is taking on Greta Thunberg and the flight-shaming movement by pushing for new policies that would allow families to jet away on ‘guilt-free’ holidays”. It adds: “Former transport ministers Chris Grayling, Stephen Hammond and Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, are among 25 MPs, peers and MSPs calling for green taxes to be channelled into the production and use of sustainable aviation fuels.” And a separate Daily Telegraph article says that “green taxes should be added to clothes, gadgets and red meat as part of the government’s net-zero plan”, according to a new report from its former “nudge unit”, which was set up by the government in 2016, but sold off to Nesta, an innovation charity, in 2021.
In an effort to battle local air pollution, New Delhi is enforcing a ban on coal burning from this month that “is forcing industry to shift to biomass”, reports Reuters. It adds: “The drive has pushed about half the 1,695 units in a cluster of small industries around one of the world’s most polluted capitals to use biomass, regulators told Reuters, up from fewer than 15% counted in a 2020 study…The change to biomass, which usually consists of pellets or briquettes of farm residue, promises to slash emissions and spur farmers to sell such residue instead of burning it, say industry officials and regulators…But biomass traders and consumers are voicing concern about rising prices after the coal ban and seasonal fluctuations in the supply of crop residue, citing these as factors limiting wider national use of the fuel.”
In other India news, Mint reports that the nation will pitch for an “Energy Efficiency Partnership for 2030″ during its G20 presidency this year, “underscoring New Delhi’s strong focus on energy transition and energy security”. It continues: “Two people aware of the developments said India plans to prepare a collaborative road map to double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency by 2030. ‘Talks will take place on accelerating efforts to enhance energy efficiency across sectors, and more in the high energy consuming sectors, among others,’ one of the persons said.” And Bloomberg covers “fraud” allegations made by “activist investors” in the US against the Adani Group, which, among many other activities, has extensive fossil-fuel holdings in India and beyond.
On Sunday, China’s “northernmost” city of Mohe saw the temperature “dip to [-53C]”, writes the Washington Post, adding that this is the “coldest temperature measured in the country during modern times”. The outlet says that “cold extremes such as these” have “become uncommon in recent decades because of human-caused climate change”, adding that “global warming decreases the frequency and intensity of historic cold spells but it does not eliminate them”. The New York Times says that a “shortage” of gas has “exposed systemic weaknesses” in China’s energy regulations and infrastructure, while “showing the reach of the global market turmoil provoked last year by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine”, citing experts. Yan Qin, a China energy specialist at Refinitiv, a data company in London, is quoted saying that “China actually has enough natural gas to make it through the winter…The problem is that pricing regulations and declining subsidies are preventing gas from reaching households in northern China when temperatures plunge.” The NYT article continues: “China’s provincial and municipal governments have reduced customary subsidies for natural gas consumption that used to keep a lid on heating bills. The national government has responded by telling local governments to provide heat, without giving them money to pay for it…This is the third grass-roots energy crisis in just five years for [Chinese leader Xi Jinping].”
Meanwhile, the Guardian carries analysis by Helen Sullivan, which focuses on the effect of China’s “shrinking” population. Bernice Lee – Hoffmann distinguished fellow for sustainability and research director, futures, at Chatham House – is quoted saying that “this demographic trend further reinforces the idea that it is about the quality of economic growth not just quantity of brute output.” Lee adds that “the good news is that moving away from fossil fuel and pursuing what China termed ‘ecological civilisation’ would help China improve the quality of its economic growth thereby also raising the quality of life for its shrinking population.”
Separately, Nikkei Asia writes that China is “quickly becoming the dominant force” in liquefied natural gas (LNG), with Chinese buyers “accounting for 40% of recent long-term LNG contracts among global players”. It highlights that Beijing is “carefully diversifying suppliers of LNG in the name of energy security”. Meanwhile, the state news agency Xinhua says that wind and solar energy are “playing growing roles in ensuring China’s energy supply, thanks to their continuous scale expansion”. The article notes that in 2022, the newly installed capacity of wind and solar power “topped 120GW (gigawatts)”, and the cumulative installed capacity “surpassed 700GW” by the end of last year, citing data from the National Energy Administration (NEA), the country’s top energy regulator.
Finally, the Hellenic Shipping News reports that north China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region – a “major coal producer” in the country – “aims to speed up the development of its new-energy [renewables] sector” in 2023. Wang Lixia, chairwoman of the autonomous region, said that the region will “seek to increase its grid-connected installed capacity of new-energy power generation by more than 25GW”, the article notes.
Indonesia aims to issue emission quotas for some coal-fired power plants within this month as a “first step towards creating a mechanism for domestic carbon trading”, reports Reuters, citing the nation’s energy officials. The newswire adds: “Among the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, Indonesia last year set a more ambitious target for reducing carbon emission by 31.89% on its own or 43.2% with international support, by 2030. That compared to its 2015 Paris Agreement pledge to cut emissions by 29% or 41% with international help…The first phase of carbon trade will cover coal power plants with minimum 100 megawatt capacity that are directly connected to power grids owned by state utility Perusahaan Listrik Negara (PLN), according to Dadan Kusdiana, a senior ministry official. There are 99 coal plants with a combined installed capacity of 33.6 gigawatts (GW) that may join the carbon trade this year, ministry data showed.”
A post by James Sallee on the Energy Institute blog at the Haas School of Business, which is based at the University of California, Berkeley, examines the possible impacts of new artificial development (AI) tools such as ChatGPT on climate action: “As a climate scholar, I find it natural to wonder how these forces will interact with climate change. Will AI help humanity cut emissions and adapt to climate change, or will it only make matters worse? I’ve come to believe that the right answer depends on whether you think the real challenge with addressing climate change is a technological problem or a power struggle…In the end, the optimistic case for AI aiding the climate makes sense if you think that the main problem with addressing climate change is a need for more technological solutions, and better and lower cost ways of implementing the technologies that we have. If, on the other hand, you view the climate struggle as a pitched battle between partisans, you may well come to a different, darker view.”
Meanwhile, in the Financial Times, science communicator Anjana Ahuj argues that “ExxonMobil shows the perils of corporate science”, adding: “The conglomerate’s research on climate change was much more accurate than its public messaging.”
Finally, the Times carries a joint comment piece written by the film director Richard Curtis and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, under the headline: “Banks must not finance our planet’s destruction.”
A combination of increasing temperature and drought along with the use of pesticides is behind the decline in the western bumble bee in western North America, a new study suggests. The western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) was once common in the region, the authors say, but “this species has become increasingly rare through much of its range”. Using almost 15,000 surveys across 2.8 million km2 of the western US, the researchers find “strong negative relationships between increasing temperature and drought on occupancy and identified neonicotinoids as the pesticides of greatest negative influence”. By the 2050s, the study’s “most optimistic scenario predicts occupancy declines in almost half of ecoregions”, while “more severe scenarios predict declines in all ecoregions ranging from 51 to 97%”.
New research identifies the causes behind a shift in El Niño properties since the 1980s, which has seen extreme El Niños and “Central Pacific” (CP) events – characterised by the peak ocean warming in the central equatorial Pacific – become more common. The researchers find that the “frequency of the extreme and CP El Niño events also increased during the period 1875-1905, when the anthropogenic CO2 concentration was relatively lower, but with a positive phase of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO)”. Overall, natural variability has contributed to around 65% of the increasingly extreme and CP El Niño events, the researchers say, “while anthropogenic forcing has made our globe experience ~1 more extreme and ~2 more CP events over the past four decades”.