Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EDF finance chief quits over decision to push on with Hinkley Point
- China carbon dioxide emissions may be falling, says LSE study
- Npower to cut fifth of UK workforce
- Ed Miliband calls for law to make CO2 emissions target legally binding
- Balance of power under review in latest shock to energy’s system
- Ministers urge safeguards for Green Bank to retain low-carbon mandate
- Scientific insight
- UK energy policy: getting the hump
- Let’s kill off this nuclear white elephant
- Climatic impacts of stratospheric geoengineering with sulfate, black carbon and titania injection
- Environmental impacts of food trade via resource use and greenhouse gas emissions
The chief financial officer of French utility company EDF has resigned following an internal disagreement over whether to push ahead next month with the Hinkley Point nuclear project in the UK. A source at the company said Thomas Piquemal had quit amid concerns that going ahead now would jeopardise EDF’s financial situation, reports Reuters. The resignation of such an important figure on the EDF board will make it much harder for the remaining executives to proceed with Hinkley in the short term, says the Guardian. EDF has so far declined to confirm or deny the departure. The BBC also has the story.
China’s carbon dioxide emissions may have peaked already, or are likely to do so by 2025 – according to a new study co-authored by economic Lord Nicholas Stern. The research suggests the country’s economic slowdown combined with rapid adoption of renewable energy mean previous projections of China’s emissions are far too pessimistic. If this trend continues it would show that the country’s emissions have already peaked, reports the Guardian. However, in a press briefing this morning, China’s senior climate change envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said China’s carbon emissions did not peak in 2014 and are still increasing, reports Reuters. Xie said the Chinese government stands by its pledge that emissions would peak “around 2030”. Carbon Pulse and Reuters also cover the new study.
Energy firm Npower is to cut more than a fifth of its workforce in the UK as its German parent company, RWE, attempts to find ways to improve the group’s financial performance. An estimated 2,500 jobs are expected to be cut from its 11,500-strong workforce, with sales and marketing roles to be the worst hit, reports the BBC. In November, Npower revealed losses of £48m for the first nine months of 2015, says the Telegraph, and 300,000 customers have switched to other providers over ongoing billing system issues. The Independent, Guardian and Reuters also cover the story.
Ed Miliband, along with a group of cross-party MPs and campaigners, have argued that the UK should enact a law to to make the carbon emissions target agreed at the Paris climate talks legally binding. The letter to the Guardian, signed by Miliband, Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, Green MP Caroline Lucas and two Conservative MPs, calls for legislation that would significantly extend the present UK target of cutting emissions by 80% by 2050. Climate Home also has the story. Meanwhile, Germany, France and Britain pressed the European Union for more ambitious greenhouse gas targets at a meeting of environment ministers on Friday, reports Reuters.
The Competition and Markets Authority, which is examining whether UK consumers are being overcharged for gas and electricity, is set to unveil “provisional remedies” this Thursday. The authority is expected to stop short of breaking up the industry’s energy giants, but it is likely to recommend a package of measures designed to intensify competition from smaller suppliers. The authority is likely to introduce a cap on pre-payment meter prices to protect four million vulnerable customers, says the Telegraph. Elsewhere, the Telegraph also reports that families should be encouraged to set their dishwashers and washing machines to run at night, as part of an overhaul of Britain’s energy system that could save households £75 a year, according to a Treasury-commissioned report.
Mary Creagh MP, Chair of parliament’s environmental audit committee, says ministers should introduce tougher safeguards to ensure the Green Investment Bank (GIB) continues with its low-carbon mandate following privatisation. In a letter to the Guardian, Creagh writes “the privatisation of the GIB could move its focus away from novel and riskier low-carbon projects in favour of easier, more commercial projects.” Creagh says she welcome’s the government’s pledge to protect the bank’s green status, but she is “concerned that without locking this in legislation it may not be secure.” Meanwhile, the Sunday Times says the government might not have many takers to buy the GIB at a price of £4bn.
Two separate letters to The Times respond to an article by columnist Melanie Phillips that claimed climate change studies are “methodologically flawed, ideologically bent or even fraudulent”. Biologist Sir Venki Ramakrishnan writes that Phillips’s “premature obituary for enlightenment and peer review misunderstands the scientific process.” Dr Phillip Williamson, UK ocean acidification research programme at University of East Anglia, points out that her contention that climate scientists conspired to “hide the decline” in global temperatures in 2009 has “been amply disproven in repeated inquiries”.
The FT’s Lex column discusses the “monster knitted from conflicting interests” that is the UK’s energy policy: “Consumers want lower bills, green types lower emissions, and the Treasury nothing that might cost money. Oh, and we’d like the lights to stay on, please.” If the government is at fault, the column says, “it is not by spurning such interests but by failing to ignore any of them.” Investor confidence will not rebound until certain bugs are worked out of the system, it says, such as Treasury calculations that “rule that falling gas prices make state support per unit of renewable generation more expensive.” “This cuts support for renewables just as energy bills are falling. The best time to push for renewables, however, is when bills are low.”
In his weekly column, Matt Ridley – a Conservative hereditary peer and frequent writer on energy and climate – argues that “it is time to pull the plug” on the planned Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. “EDF cannot afford to build it and we cannot afford to buy its premium-price electricity,” he writes. Instead, a series of small modular nuclear reactors would be cheaper and quicker to build. “We have to get away from these behemoth schemes, built like one-off moon-shots, and harness the cost-cutting benefits of the mass production of smaller units,” he says.
Sulphate, black carbon and titania have all been put forward as candidates for inducing atmospheric cooling as a way to counteract rising global temperatures. A new study finds that the side effects associate with black carbon exclude it from being a viable option for geoengineering. Additionally, since titania has similar climatic impacts to sulphate, there is little benefit of using it given that injection of sulphur dioxide has been far better researched, say the authors.
Agriculture will need to intensify to feed a growing population, with consequences for the environment. A new study looks at whether the environmental impact of producing food – which differs between regions because of differences in farming practices, climate, and land and water availability – can be reduced or increased overall through trade. It finds that there are benefits in terms of water use but the picture is mixed for pollution and greenhouse gases.
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