Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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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.
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Energy bill support pushes UK budget deficit to February record
- Brussels makes e-fuels offer to resolve spat with Germany
- Janet Yellen pushes for first steps in World Bank reform by April
- Global renewables capacity grew by 10% last year – IRENA
- UN warns against 'vampiric' global water use
- Shell warns IPCC net-zero target may not be hit until 2100
- Six dead in southwest China coal mine accident
- Why Australia’s climate goals could be going up in smoke
- A ‘Rocking Chair Rebellion’: US seniors call on banks to dump big oil
- Years of climate scepticism have done untold damage
- How to spark up a Green Day revolution with no cash
- Damage to living trees contributes to almost half of the biomass losses in tropical forests
The UK’s government borrowed £16.7bn last month in the highest February borrowing on record, Reuters reports, due to spending on energy bill support. The newswire says: “Spending on energy support schemes totalled £9.3bn pounds in February alone, the ONS [Office for National Statistics] said.” It continues: “[Chancellor Jeremy] Hunt said last week the energy subsidies would be extended until June, but would cease thereafter as wholesale energy prices are forecast to fall below the level at which the government deems consumer subsidies to be necessary.” (New Carbon Brief analysis shows UK energy bills are £9.8bn higher than they would have been if the government had not rolled back “green crap” climate policies over the last decade.) The Times also has the story. The Times reports separately that average household energy bills will “drop below £2,000” in July, according to investment bank Investec. It notes that this would remain well above the £1,277 seen in winter 2021-22. Meanwhile, City AM reports that the UK government has “allocated over £1.8bn in funding to boost energy efficiency and cut emissions across homes and public buildings across England.” (Carbon Brief understands that this is an allocation of already-pledged funds. New analysis found that the number of homes being insulated with government support last year fell by 42% last year, to 98% below the levels seen in 2012.)
Meanwhile, the Press Association reports that the UK’s “energy import bill more than doubled to £117bn last year”, according to a report from Offshore Energies UK, the lobby group for North Sea oil and gas operators. Citing the report, the newswire says: “In 2022, the UK spent about £63bn on crude oil, petrol, diesel, and other oil-based fuels, with another £49bn spent on buying gas.” (Carbon Brief’s analysis shows that the UK’s net gas imports would have been 23% lower if climate policies had not been rolled back.) City AM also covers the report, saying Offshore Energies UK “urges government to back British oil and gas”. Its coverage says: “The industry body has also called for the UK’s North Sea to be made the bedrock of the nation’s energy security – from oil and gas in the present, to expanding offshore wind and other low carbon resources for the future.”
In other UK news, the Financial Times says ministers “should give the go-ahead this year for the blending of hydrogen into the UK gas network so long as it is demonstrably safe”, according to a report from “Jane Toogood, who was appointed the UK’s ‘hydrogen champion’ last July”. The paper continues: “Toogood, who is chief executive of Johnson Matthey’s Catalyst Technologies business, which supplies technologies used in hydrogen production, said the government should approve blending ‘the sooner the better’ to help stimulate demand.” Separately, the Press Association reports: “Britain could be saving around £17bn every year if it builds a flexible electricity system, MPs have been told. Rachel Fletcher from energy supplier Octopus suggested managing when people use electricity and figuring out how to store electricity in the short and long term.” Meanwhile, Reuters continues reporting from yesterday that power firm Drax, which runs a 2.6 gigawatt plant that burns biomass to generate electricity, will “pause its planned £2bn UK investment in bioenergy with carbon capture and storage until it receives more clarity on government support”. Citing a report commissioned by Drax, City AM reports: “The UK is facing a significant shortage in power that can be brought online at times of peak demand, warned Drax, raising the risk of supply crunches and blackouts.” It adds: “Drax released the report as the company announced it has halted plans to invest hundreds of millions of pounds into its bioenergy carbon capture and storage (BECCS) project at its flagship power station, until the development is fast-tracked for approval by the government.” Finally, the Daily Telegraph reports that prices for second-hand electric cars have fallen by 13% in a year, according to AutoTrader, “as more supply comes onto the market”. It says the number of second-hand EVs listed by the site has “jumped by 261% over the last 12 months”.
The European Commission has offered a compromise with Germany in an attempt to resolve disagreement over a proposed ban on combustion engine vehicles by 2035, the Financial Times reports. It says the draft proposal would allow an exemption for cars that only run on “e-fuels” and which are fitted with technology to prevent the use of petrol or diesel. It explains: “E-fuels are produced using electricity from renewable hydrogen and other gases and are often considered ‘carbon neutral’. But the technology is at an early stage of development.” The paper says “a final rubber-stamp vote by member states [on the combustion engine ban] was scheduled for earlier this month, paving the way for the law to enter force. But Germany raised last-minute objections, effectively scuppering the vote.” Reuters also has the story, reporting: “Two sources familiar with the matter said the Commission’s condition that cars must be able to recognise CO2-neutral fuels from fossil fuels was problematic for Germany because it would largely force automakers to develop new engines…The parties are aiming to secure an agreement by Thursday’s EU summit.” Another Reuters article quotes French minister Laurence Boone saying: “We should stick to what was agreed. I have no doubt the Germans will find an agreement with their colleagues on this.” Politico reports under the headline: “Renault CEO’s message to Germany: Car engines are dying, the future is electric.” Politico also says the engine “standoff deepens”. It explains: “The Commission has rebuffed the German government’s ask to reopen draft legislation mandating a zero emission sales-only policy for cars and vans from 2035 – agreed by the Parliament and EU countries last year – to make room for synthetic e-fuels. Instead, it agreed to Berlin’s request to make tweaks to separate, existing legislation known as Euro 6 setting out a classification for vehicles running exclusively ‘carbon neutral fuels’ such as e-fuels, according to a draft proposal sent by the Commission to the German government and obtained by Politico.” Bloomberg reports: “In a letter to the German government seen by Bloomberg, the European Commission promised to publish a statement that would include timelines and outline regulatory solutions essential for allowing new combustion-engine vehicles running on e-fuels to be registered after the ban is due to take effect in 2035.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports: “The European Union’s proposed Euro 7 emission rules for vehicles will complicate life for the auto industry and raise new car prices without bringing their intended environmental benefits, an industry lobby group said on Tuesday.”
In other EU news, Reuters reports: “The European Commission wants to require companies in Europe to back up climate-friendly claims about their products with evidence, under draft rules to stamp out misleading green labels for products from clothing to cosmetics.” Another Reuters article says: “European Union lawmakers on Tuesday toughened up a draft law to crack down on illegal timber trade and other crimes against the environment, with sanctions that include imprisonment for up to 10 years for the most serious offences.” Separately, a feature in Le Monde is headlined: “France and Germany square off in Brussels over nuclear power.” Reuters says France “is planning a renewed push for recognition of nuclear-derived fuels in European Union renewable energy targets, setting up a potential clash between countries seeking to approve the goals this month”. Le Monde says the French “Assemblée Nationale adopts ‘nuclear acceleration’ bill on first reading”. Finally, Le Monde profiles nuclear power startup Newcleo, which it says “is on its way to becoming the best-funded European start-up”. However, the paper says: “The gamble of the Turin physicist Stefano Buono, founder of Newcleo, is to take up a technology well-known to the French, that of the Superphénix fast-breeder reactor which was abandoned in 1997 by the French government after innumerable technical problems, an exorbitant cost and considerable opposition of environmentalists.”
The Financial Times reports: “US Treasury secretary Janet Yellen and allies in Germany are pushing for a ‘binding schedule for reform’ of the World Bank as early as April, as the lender comes under sustained pressure for failing to adequately address climate change.” It adds: “Yellen will push for the first instalment of the World Bank’s ‘evolution plan’ by next month, according to one source familiar with the matter.” It continues: “Her comments came as almost 50 climate ministers and envoys from around the world met in Copenhagen this week, where they reiterated the need for a rapid ‘greening’ of the World Bank.”
Global renewable energy capacity grew by 10% last year to reach 3,372 gigawatts (GW), Reuters reports, citing new figures from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The newswire adds: “Solar and wind energy dominated the renewable capacity expansion, jointly accounting for 90% of all net renewable additions in 2022, the report said.” It says the increase accounted for 83% of all new power capacity last year but quotes IRENA head Francesco La Camera saying: “[A]nnual additions of renewable power capacity must grow three times the current level by 2030 if we want to stay on a pathway limiting global warming to 1.5C.” BusinessGreen also has the story.
The world is facing an “imminent risk” of water shortages due to overconsumption and climate change, according to a new UN report covered by BBC News. The broadcaster says the report, published by UN Water and Unesco, comes ahead of “the first major UN water summit since 1977”. It continues: “The report…warns that ‘scarcity is becoming endemic’ because of overconsumption and pollution, while global warming will increase seasonal water shortages in both areas with abundant water and those already strained.” New Scientist says “around 2 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water”, according to the report. Quartz and MailOnline also have the story. In a related comment for BusinessGreen, Patricia Calderon of thinktank CDP writes under the headline: “Why water-related disclosures should be mandatory for firms and financial institutions.”
The Times covers new energy scenarios published by “oil and gas giant” Shell, reporting: “[I]n the worst case…net-zero greenhouse gas emissions would not be reached until the 2100s. In the best-case scenario, the world would hit the milestone in the early 2060s, but Shell said that would be ‘extremely challenging’.” The paper continues: “Campaigners criticised Shell for the timeframes…Shell defended the scenarios, which it said were not a prediction nor the company’s strategy.” Bloomberg also covers the Shell scenarios, leading with the line that: “Technology that sucks carbon emissions out of the air would need more energy than used to run the world’s homes if it’s to play a significant role in reaching global climate goals.” Separately, City AM says Shell “will defend its lack of scope-three emission targets at its annual ESG update today, City AM has learned, despite intense pressure from activist shareholders”.
Six people have been “confirmed dead in a coal mine accident in southwest China’s Guizhou province”, reports Xinhua, citing local authorities. The accident, the state-controlled newswire adds, “believed to be [a] coal and gas outburst”, occurred on Sunday morning in a coal mine “under construction” in the town of Guli, “trapping five people underground”, according to the municipal government of Qianxi.
Meanwhile, China Energy News reports on the statistics released on Monday by the National Energy Administration (NEA), the country’s top energy regulator, covering the power sector from January to February. By the end of February, the country’s cumulative installed power generation capacity reached about 2.6TW (terawatts), an increase of 8.5% year-on-year, the state-run newspaper says. Wind power installed capacity was about 370GW (gigawatts), an increase of 11% year-on-year, while solar power’s installed capacity reached about 410GW, an increase of 30.8%, it adds. During the same period, it says “thermal power” (mainly coal) operated for an average of 39 hours less than in the same period last year – a reduction of 5%. It notes that, during these two months, the country’s major power generation companies invested 67.6 billion yuan ($9.8bn) in power projects, up 43.6% year-on-year, among which solar power investment was 28.3 billion yuan ($4bn), up 200% year-on-year.
Separately, Earth.org has published an article saying that, in mid-January, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) of China released the Chinese economic data for 2022, which includes “agricultural and industrial production, export and import data, employment rate, and income level”. It highlights that, among the economic data, the most “eye-catching and significant” one is the “population data” of China. It adds, a “recent study on the household carbon footprint in China” discovered that households aged “65 or above have the lowest carbon footprint among all age groups”, while middle-aged households have the “largest footprint among all groups”. The “ageing and shrinking” Chinese population suggest the “reduction of China’s overall carbon footprint, assuming the per-capita carbon footprint is unchanged”, the article says, adding that, “in reality, it is unlikely that the ageing and shrinking Chinese population will accelerate the country’s decarbonisation. In contrast, absolute carbon emissions will continue to increase.”
In other news, the state-run Ecns.cn reports that Tsinghua University, a leading Chinese university, held the launch ceremony of the “international joint mission on climate change and carbon neutrality” on 14 March, “demonstrating its commitment to environmental protection”. China Science Daily covers the same news, saying the mission is “jointly built” by government, universities, companies and other partners and that is has been “jointly initiated” by Tsinghua University together with 11 multinational companies. They are: Hitachi, Toyota, Mitsubishi, BP, Rio Tinto, Volkswagen, Microsoft, Ishikawajima Harima Corporation, Daikin, Apple and Saudi Aramco.
Newly approved fossil fuel projects in Australia “will make it hard for the country to meet its promises on climate change”, reports the South China Morning Post. It explains: “According to the Australia Institute, a Canberra think tank, the 116 new projects that have been government-approved to begin production before 2030 will emit 4.8bn tonnes of emissions by then. That figure is around 24 times greater than the proposed 205m-tonne reduction in emissions that Australia’s climate policy tool, the so-called safeguard mechanism, will achieve, according to an in-depth report published by the institute on Tuesday.” Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports: “Climate change and energy minister Chris Bowen has stared down the Greens in negotiations over the federal government’s signature climate policy, warning Australia’s carbon footprint will blow out by 20% if the minor party blocks his bill in parliament.” It quotes him saying: “Our projections tell us unless the parliament passes the safeguard reforms, our projections will be 35%, not 43%.” (Australia’s targets do not include emissions from burning fossil fuels extracted in the country but exported overseas.) The Australian says the Greens “risk blowing up Australia’s 2030 target”. The Guardian says conservationist Bob Brown “renounces Australian Conservation Foundation life membership over Labor’s climate policy”.
More than 100 climate actions were staged across the US yesterday by a group of protestors aged 60 and older calling themselves the “Rocking Chair Rebellion”, the New York Times reports, adding that the organiser Third Act was co-founded by Bill McKibben. It continues: “Their targets were Chase, the subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citibank and Bank of America, the biggest investors in fossil fuel projects, according to a 2022 report by the Rainforest Action Network and other environmental groups. Collectively, the four banks have poured more than $1tn between 2016 and 2021 into oil and gas.” The Washington Post, Inside Climate News and the Independent also have the story. Meanwhile, Quartz reports: “Texas blacklisted HSBC over the bank’s refusal to fund new oil and gas projects.”
There are continuing responses to this week’s publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) sixth “synthesis report”. A comment for the Financial Times by business columnist Pilita Clark saying it is “striking to see how media coverage has changed since the fifth assessment”. Clark writes: “The day its first report emerged in 2013, a flagship BBC news show interviewed a climate sceptic at length about the finding that humans were ‘extremely likely’ to be the main cause of ‘unequivocal’ global warming…This would be unimaginable today.” She continues: “It is sobering to consider how much climate policymaking, and the IPCC itself, was affected by all the years when climate scepticism was mainstream.” Clark concludes: “This week’s IPCC summary for policymakers does not hold back. It spells out with bleak clarity how the risk of tipping points, species extinction and other disasters will rise as the planet warms. We have never been better informed about the future of the climate. Now we must make up for all those lost years and try to make sure it stays liveable.”
An editorial in India’s Business Standard says: “Indian scientists who were part of the IPCC warned the country faced the highest risk from the impact of climate change – from heat waves and cyclones to urban and rural displacement.” The piece, titled “[n]ot just adaptation”, says “India’s climate mitigation needs fast-tracking”. A comment for the Guardian by Prof Simon Lewis of University College London states: “The document is important because 195 governments commissioned it and the summary was agreed line by line. It is accepted fact by nations worldwide, and a shared basis for future action.” Lewis says it “will also form part of the preparations for the next UN climate negotiations to be held in the United Arab Emirates in November and December, known as COP28”. He continues: “COP28 is set to be a global showdown of oil interests versus a livable future, with a clarity the world has never seen before.” For Climate Home News, advocacy communications lead at UK-based NGO Climate Outreach Robin Webster writes under the headline: “The IPCC’s climate scientists have done their job – now we must do ours.” She adds: “As citizens, we must educate and inspire our peers to act on climate change through positive and empowering campaigns.” BusinessGreen editor James Murray responds to the report with a comment saying: “The latest IPCC report is more sobering than ever, and emissions are still rising – but climate doomism is not an option.” In a comment for the Washington Post, meanwhile, columnist Eugene Robinson writes: “If we take bold, coordinated, global action now – in this decade – we can limit climate change to a tolerable level. But if we stay on our present course, then heaven help us all.” Robinson adds: “The market-driven solution would be a carbon tax that incentivises the switch to clean energy. Until that becomes politically possible, governments must continue to encourage the transition.” Reuters hands a comment slot to Dirk Forrister, president and chief executive of the International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), which runs under the headline: “With climate alarm bells ringing, we need to drastically expand carbon markets.”
Elsewhere, a feature for BBC Future looks at how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using the “negative emissions” that will be essential to help limit global warming, according to the IPCC report. A feature in the Washington Post zooms in on one graphic from the report under the headline: “This visual shows how climate change will affect generations.” Finally, Bloomberg publishes a transcript of its journalists Akshat Rathi and Oscar Boyd discussing “the latest IPCC report and why it matters”.
Financial Times columnist Helen Thomas looks ahead to the UK government’s planned “green day”, when it is due to detail its plans for reaching net-zero. She writes: “Ministers haven’t roused themselves spontaneously to update the country on their climate plans. The government is legally obliged, by the end of March, to update its strategy for reaching net-zero by 2050 after a court last year found that the plans were incomplete and lacked sufficient detail to meet obligations under the 2008 Climate Change Act. It also needs to respond to the net-zero review by Conservative politician Chris Skidmore. A long-awaited green finance strategy could form part of the announcement too.” She adds: “What won’t [be announced] is loads of new money, certainly nothing to rival the $369bn in subsidies and tax breaks in the US Inflation Reduction Act. This month’s budget was climate-light, to put it politely. The ambition to capture 20m-30m tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2030 was an old one and the £20bn for it arrives after the next election. Warm words on nuclear energy came with little cold hard cash.” Thomas concludes: “The only real alternative to megabucks in jump-starting investment is rules and fixed, mandatory deadlines…It isn’t all restrictions and red tape: the number one complaint from the renewables sector is the planning system, a prime opportunity to deregulate if ever there was one. Similarly, faster grid connections require streamlining bureaucracy, not adding to it. Outcompeted on cash in the race for green investment, the UK’s best option to keep up may be as an efficient and aggressive regulator – something the government needs to come to terms with, before we all get totally baked.” Also in the Financial Times, the Lex column is titled: “UK renewables: still cheap, but prices no longer powering lower.” It says the upcoming auction for new renewable contracts will be tested by inflationary cost pressures: “At the end of March, the UK will test how cheaply new renewables projects can be built in an era of pricier money, commodities and labour.”
Damage to living trees – such as fallen branches, broken trunks and wood decay – is an “underappreciated component” of the forest carbon cycle, a new study says, with knock-on effects for estimates of changes in carbon storage. The researchers use 150,000 annual records of tree survival and structure to assess losses in aboveground biomass via damage to living trees in seven tropical forests. They estimate that 42% of total aboveground biomass loss is due to damage to living trees. They findings suggest that conventional forest inventories overestimate stand-level aboveground biomass stocks by 4% because they assume structurally complete trees, underestimate total loss by 29% due to overlooked damage-related losses, and overestimate loss via mortality by 22% because of the assumption that trees are undamaged before dying.