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Daily Briefing

27.09.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Energy panic ushers in ‘new nuclear age’
Energy panic ushers in ‘new nuclear age’

News.

Energy panic ushers in ‘new nuclear age’
The Sunday Times Read Article

There is continuing extensive coverage across the UK media of the various factors contributing to the nation’s on-going “energy crisis”. With gas prices soaring and long queues of “panic-buying” motorists forming outside petrol stations, the Sunday Times leads its frontpage with a story which begins: “[Prime minister] Boris Johnson is backing a new generation of nuclear reactors as Britain finds itself in the grip of an energy crisis.” It continues: “Ministers are understood to have adopted a ‘change of focus’ towards nuclear power, which the prime minister sees as essential to the government achieving its 2050 net-zero targets as well as his levelling-up agenda. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, is poised to approve funding for Rolls-Royce to create a fleet of mini reactors. Rolls-Royce believes the project to install at least 16 plants could create 40,000 jobs by 2050 in the Midlands, the north of England and elsewhere.” The article adds: “A consortium led by the engineering firm has secured the £210 million needed to unlock matching funding from taxpayers. It will be the first developer of ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) to submit its designs to regulators. In a sign that consensus has developed at the top of government, the Treasury, which had been seen as an obstacle to new nuclear projects because costs had been rising, has also concluded more nuclear power is needed. In an energy crisis meeting on Friday morning the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made clear that he thought nuclear facilities should play a more prominent role in the UK’s future energy policy. A source close to Sunak said: ‘His general view is that we should have been doing this ten years ago, when it was cheaper, but we can’t rely on wind and solar power.’” A separate article in the Sunday Times says: “Officials in the business department say the government’s energy strategy was ‘not ambitious enough’, forcing a rethink. Senior ministers are understood to ‘accept the logic’ of claims by experts and MPs that they need six new big nuclear plants if the UK is to hit its net-zero target for carbon emissions by 2050. The Daily Telegraph also reports the story saying: “The next step is to get the factory to create the [small modular] reactors designed and built. It is understood that the industry hopes for funds in next month’s spending review to support that stage of the project.” An article in Monday’s Times reports: “Ministers aim to broker an end to Chinese involvement in British nuclear power plants after pressure from America and tensions with Beijing.” Meanwhile, BBC News carries the views of Charlie Wilson, a professor in energy and climate change at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, who says nuclear power has become “outdated by technology” and offshore wind can produce power more quickly and cheaply.

Several outlets covers the news that, as the Financial Times describes, “a start-up with former Tesco chief executive Sir Dave Lewis as executive chair is planning to build the world’s longest undersea electric cable, stretching 3,800km between north Africa and Britain”. The Times says that “the former chief executive of Tesco is spearheading a £16bn bid to build a solar and wind farm in Morocco that would be connected to the UK via a giant cable to help to solve the energy crisis”. The Daily Telegraph says the cable could “power 7m homes”.

Meanwhile, the Guardian says that “the UK faces a greater than normal risk of cold winter weather this year, according to meteorologists, which threatens to ignite greater demand for gas and keep gas market prices sky-high until 2023”. The Times notes that the nation’s “gas storage policy comes back to bite government”. It adds: “Over the past decade industrial groups and independent experts have argued repeatedly for more gas storage to prevent supply shocks. Those warnings have fallen on deaf ears, leaving Britain’s storage capacity to dwindle to one of the lowest in Europe.” Separately, the Sunday Times reports that “one of Britain’s biggest oil refineries is teetering on the brink of collapse, piling further potential pressure on crisis-riven petrol stations”. The Daily Telegraph says that “wind farms were paid more than £1.8m to shut down this week – at a time when consumers face huge rises in energy bills because of the spiralling cost of natural gas”. A National Grid spokesperson told the newspaper: “Constraint payments are the most efficient option to balance supply and demand, keep costs down for consumers and ensure secure and reliable electricity.” Finally, the Sunday Telegraph places a story on its frontpage claiming that Parliament was “misled” over the cost of reaching the net-zero target. The story is based on a misinterpretation of Climate Change Committee analysis by a climate sceptic lobby group. The CCC’s chief executive Chris Stark posted a detailed rebuttal of the claim on Twitter yesterday, describing the report as “drivel”.

COP26: South African diplomat says climate change conference could 'collapse' over UK quarantine rules for red list countries

With COP26 due to open in Glasgow five weeks today, the UN summit continues to be high on the news agenda. Sky News reports: “a senior South African diplomat says his country cannot rule out boycotting the COP26 summit in Glasgow next month”. It adds: “Clayson Monyela, South Africa’s head of public diplomacy, told Sky News the current rules for delegates from Covid red list countries means the conference could ‘collapse’. He added that nations on the UK’s red list have essentially been ‘banned’ from attending the summit due to rules which mean a vaccinated delegate would have to quarantine for five days, while an unvaccinated delegate would have to isolate for 10. He added South Africa is now considering whether or not to send delegates and negotiators to the conference.” In response, the UK government says it is “working tirelessly” with all partners and has made “an offer…to fund the required quarantine hotel stays for registered delegates arriving from red list areas”.

Meanwhile, Agence France-Presse reports that “Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, under pressure to adopt a 2050 net-zero carbon emissions target, said in an interview published Monday that he may not join this year’s landmark UN climate summit in Glasgow” .The newswire continues with him saying: “We have not made any final decisions. I mean it is another trip overseas and I have been on several this year and spent a lot of time in quarantine. I have to focus on things here and with Covid. Australia will be opening up around that time. There will be a lot of issues to manage and I have to manage those competing demands.” [Heads of state are exempt from quarantine rules for COP26.] The Guardian says that a coalition of feminist groups called the Global Women’s Assembly for Climate Justice has called for women to be enabled to play a greater role at COP26. Al Jazeera reports that “Vanuatu is asking the International Court of Justice to issue an opinion on the rights of present and future generations to be protected from the adverse effects of climate change”. It adds that before COP26, Vanuatu says it will “drastically expand its diplomacy and advocacy” to build a coalition with fellow Pacific islands and other vulnerable nations. Separately, the i newspaper reports that the UK’s “Foreign Office is slashing its global climate commitments by more than £100m and halving the amount of aid it sends to the countries most exposed to global warming, official figures have revealed”. And Reuters covers comments made by Ed Miliband, the UK Labour party’s “climate policy chief”, who says that Boris Johnson must do the “hard yards of diplomacy” if he wants COP26 to be a success: “I am afraid there is a sort of inconvenient truth…that we are miles away from where we need to be for Glasgow, miles away.” Similarly, the Guardian reports: “Major figures privately admit [the] summit will fail to result in pledges that could limit global heating to 1.5C.”

Some outlets, though, say there is now some optimism about COP26. BBC News has a piece by Matt McGrath and Roger Harrabin headlined: “Whisper it cautiously…there’s been progress in run up to COP26.” They say that announcements from the US and China at the UN last week were positive, but that fresh commitments on climate finance and phasing out coal are now key, especially at the G20 meeting in Italy next month. Bloomberg takes a similar line: “There’s hope yet for Glasgow climate talks after US, China pledges.” It quotes Luca Bergamaschi, co-founder of the Italian climate thinktank Ecco: “We need a successful G20 for a successful COP, there is no other way around.” The Guardian has published a new “insider” column ahead of COP26 called the “Secret Negotiator”. The anonymous writer says: “We are still living in the diplomacy of 200 or 300 years ago. Everyone still appears to be bound by their national interest in these talks. They have a narrow focus on their own country, and they see diplomacy as a zero sum game.”

Finally, the lead editorial in today’s Times has the sub-head: “Xi and Biden have made important moves that increase the likelihood of a positive outcome at COP26. But there is still a long way to go.” It continues: “The crucial breakthrough, if it is to come, will be at the G20 meeting in Rome under Italy’s presidency before COP26. A deal there to end coal burning would certainly raise the chances of success in Glasgow.”

Ahead of German election, hundreds of thousands demand climate action
The New York Times Read Article

As Germans wake up today lacking certainty over the shape and identity of its new government following a tight general election, there is extensive media coverage of the issues concerning voters. Deutsche Welle says it’s “still not yet clear who will be filling Angela Merkel’s shoes” and that “with the German vote extremely fractured, there could be weeks or even months of messy coalition negotiations ahead”. Clean Energy Wire says the country is “heading towards a three-party federal government with a significant climate action focus as the Social Democrats appeared to score a thin victory in the federal elections following an unexpected comeback, and the long-ruling conservatives [CDU] slumped to their worst result ever”. It adds that the Greens, with 15% of the vote “achieved the best result in the party’s history and is set to become the third strongest camp in the next parliament”. The New York Times says that ahead of the vote “an estimated several hundred thousand people turned out in more than 400 cities, putting pressure on whoever wins [the election] to put climate protection at the top of their agenda”. Greta Thunberg, the 18-year-old Swedish climate campaigner, made a guest appearance at a protest in Berlin on Friday: “We demand the change and we are the change,” she said. Reuters says that “in one of the world’s most aged countries, some young people [in Germany] are resorting to drastic measures to voice their frustration at politicians’ failure to tackle climate change”. It adds: “Outside Germany’s parliament, a group of activists have been on hunger strike since 30 August bringing their demands for more action on climate change in person to the three candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.” Meanwhile, Climate Home News has a feature which begins “as Angela Merkel’s 16 years leading Germany come to an end, experts praise her international climate record, but say she was too timid domestically”.

Children set for more climate disasters than their grandparents, research shows
The Guardian Read Article

There is widespread coverage of a new Science study showing that, as the Guardian reports, “people born today will suffer many times more extreme heatwaves and other climate disasters over their lifetimes than their grandparents”. The newspaper adds: “The study is the first to assess the contrasting experience of climate extremes by different age groups and starkly highlights the intergenerational injustice posed by the climate crisis.” It also quotes Carbon Brief’s editor Leo Hickman, who says: “These new findings reinforce our 2019 analysis which showed that today’s children will need to emit eight times less CO2 over the course of their lifetime than their grandparents, if global warming is to be kept below 1.5C. Climate change is already exacerbating many injustices, but the intergenerational injustice of climate change is particularly stark.” The Independent quotes lead author Prof Wim Thiery, a climate scientist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium: “Our results show that newborns will face a sevenfold increase in exposure to extreme heatwaves across their lifetime relative to their grandparents.” The Times focuses on another finding: “The global averages mask much higher increases in exposure in some countries. Children in Afghanistan face up to 18 times as many heatwaves as their elders and children in Mali face up to ten times as many crop failures.”

Carbon Brief also covers the study and includes an interactive map of the findings.

China's pledge to end building coal plants abroad improves Belt and Road's reputation, development bank says

Jin Liqun, president of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and former vice-minister of finance of China, has told CNBC that President Xi’s pledge to stop building new coal-fired power projects overseas could improve the reputation of the country’s Belt and Road Initiative. Jin also said: “The next step is for China to do its utmost to export renewable technology to these low-income countries.” Reuters reports that the Bank of China said on Friday that it would stop providing financing for new overseas coal mining and coal power projects from the fourth quarter of 2021 [in a few days]. The Wall Street Journal says: “Xi Jinping’s pledge to cease financing coal plants abroad is good for the environment and makes business sense, too. But progress at home is the real key.” China Dialogue’s Sam Geall writes in the Guardian that “the devil will be in the details, but ending investments in overseas coal shows Beijing takes the climate crisis seriously”. Meanwhile, Argus Media reports that China has taken delivery of its first “carbon neutral” crude oil cargo. The shipment’s “carbon neutrality” includes emissions from upstream production, loading and shipping, refining and end-use, totalling 103,526 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent, the report says, citing Sinopec. The cargo received its “carbon neutrality” certification on Wednesday, according to Yicai. People’s Daily, a state-run newspaper, also has the story.

Separately, Fortune reports that China’s national emissions trading scheme – which started trading on 16 July – is “a poor tool for reducing pollution” without real investors. It writes: “Beijing has blocked investors from trading on the ETS to prevent speculators from derailing the nascent market. And without investors, the ETS doesn’t have enough liquidity to function, making it a poor tool for reducing pollution.” (Carbon Brief’s in-depth Q&A explains how China’s national ETS can help tackle climate change.) Meanwhile, China Dialogue runs a piece on China’s “blue carbon” plans, which look at ways to use coastal and even deep-sea waters to absorb carbon emissions. And Reuters reports that “major Chinese coal producers are trying to resolve supply shortages and curb price rises as the country’s winter consumption peak approaches”.

In other news, Xinhua focuses on a speech made by Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations (UN). Speaking at a Security Council high-level open debate on climate and security, Zhang underlines that climate change requires a global response, the state news agency says. Furthermore, CGTN, the English arm of China’s state broadcaster, reports that Wang Yi, the Chinese foreign minister, told the UN that vaccine equity, climate control and poverty are the country’s “top priorities”. Finally, 10 Chinese authorities have issued a joint order to crack down on crypto mining, according to Shanghai Securities News. The clampdown aims to promote the country’s industry restructuring, push forward emission and pollution reduction and “bears significance” to the country’s pursuit of its 30/60 climate goals, the report says. Reuters interprets the official order as a “ban” on crypto mining and trading.

Indian govt pulling out all stops for 150GW of enewable energy capacity by 2 October

Mint reports that the “Indian government is pulling out all stops to achieve renewable energy capacity of 150 gigawatts (GW) by 2 October” in the run-up to COP26. It reports that “as part of the efforts, 2.2GW is to be commissioned by Gandhi Jayanti [2 October] and another 2.32GW by 31 October”. According to the Indian government, the country “has reached 38.5% of its installed power capacity from non-fossil fuels”, with its installed renewables capacity currently at “147.05GW, including hydropower projects of 46.37 GW”.

Economic Times reports that at the “UN high level dialogue on energy” on Friday, India’s power and renewable energy minister RK Singh said his government “has set an ambitious target of 450GW of renewable energy capacity by 2030 and is all set to launch a national hydrogen energy mission to scale up in a major way the use of green hydrogen”. It reports that at the dialogue Singh “reiterate[d] the importance of being fully sensitive to the energy-mix and national circumstances of different countries” and said that “there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution”.

In other India climate news, the Hindu reports that “authorities evacuated nearly 26,000 people to safe places including cyclone shelters located along the 110km coastline of Srikakulam district” in India’s eastern coastal state of Andhra Pradesh, as cyclonic storm Gulab made landfall on Sunday. The Hindustan Times reports that “at least three people were killed in Andhra Pradesh and [the neighbouring state of] Odisha”, where “seven districts have been put on high alert as the regions were vulnerable to landslides” and “34 pairs of trains cancelled”. According to Odisha’s relief commissioner, “more than 39,000 people, including 600 pregnant women, disabled and the elderly, were evacuated to safety before the cyclone’s landfall”.

Comment.

The gas crisis shows how important net zero is
James Kirkup, The Spectator Read Article

There is a near-overwhelming volume of commentary across the UK media reacting to the on-going energy crisis. In the Spectator, James Kirkup says: “This gas crisis has hit Britain because we rely too much on gas. That’s not a reason to abandon net-zero. It’s a reason to do it…The net-zero decarbonisation of the UK economy isn’t the cause of the gas price crisis. It’s the solution.” In the Times, Edward Lucas says: “We need more sources of reliable power. Belatedly, small nuclear reactors are getting a closer look. Unlike the huge projects such as Sizewell C that we signed up for in previous years [there is not yet a deal for Sizewell C], they mostly use off-the-shelf designs and components. [No small nuclear reactors have yet received UK regulatory approval.] That should make them cheaper and quicker to build. Even better, they do not require Chinese involvement; we make them already to power our nuclear submarines.”

Many others also join the call for more nuclear power. An editorial in the Sun says: “Reducing the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels to move to renewables was laudable but key infrastructure cannot be left to the vagaries of the weather alone. As we continue to overlook fracking, building new nuclear reactors seems the only viable solution. If renewables, even supplied via a cable from Morocco, make the nuclear option redundant, we’re all for it. But we’ll sleep easier knowing we have a proper back-up ready and waiting.” An editorial in the Mail on Sunday says: “A real effort should now be made to create a reliable backbone of modern nuclear generation, which will not increase our carbon footprint but will help us to keep prices down and supplies steady. We have had a severe warning in recent weeks. We would be foolish not to heed it and act on it soon.” Oliver Shah in the Sunday Times notes that “we’re pivoting to nuclear, but are ministers too late?” But he says “without it, meeting our net-zero ambitions by 2050 will be quite a stretch”. In the Sunday Telegraph, Liam Halligan argues that “mini nukes can fix Britain’s energy woes”.

Elsewhere, an editorial in the Spectator blames the crisis on the UK’s lack of enthusiasm for fracking. Jeremy Clarkson in the Sun says that “we should go green, but carefully – not in a big, mad, panicky rush”. Martin Sandbu in the Financial Times argues that the “energy crisis is a moment of truth for Europe’s green ambition”, adding: “Today’s soaring bills reflect unfinished work and the need to galvanise climate politics.” Also in the FT, MoneyWeek editor Merryn Somerset Webb says the “gas crisis shows why we must stop demonising fossil fuels”. She continues: “The engineering challenges around renewables means we need to be realistic while waiting for the green transition.” Philip Aldrick, economics editor of the Times, says: “We have let our domestic energy supplies wither, closing the UK’s one gas storage facility four years ago, failing to deliver nuclear and omitting to build storage for the renewable energy in which we have invested. Instead, we’ve become increasingly reliant on imports that need immediate replenishing.”

Finally, there is a slew of climate-sceptic commentators – Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph, Janet Daley in the Daily Telegraph, Patrick O’Flynn in the Sunday Telegraph, David Rose in the Daily Mail – repeating their familiar talking points. And some columnists aim their fire at the M25 climate protestors, such as Janice Turner in the Times and Zoe Strimpel in the Sunday Telegraph.

Greta Thunberg: ‘I really see the value of friendship. Apart from the climate, almost nothing else matters’
Simon Hattenstone, The Guardian Read Article

The Guardian’s new-look Saturday magazine features an interview with Greta Thunberg on its covers. Photographed dripping in oil, the Swedish climate campaigner tells the newspaper: “Of course, I might be naive because I’m very young. But I think naivety and childishness are sometimes a good thing…I do think older people make things more complicated than they actually are.” She adds: “I mean in one way we’re all climate deniers because we’re not acting as if it is a crisis. I don’t know. It depends on the situation.”

Meanwhile, the Times‘s Saturday magazine carries an in-depth interview with the climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who specialises in extreme weather events and how human-caused climate change might have made them worse. She says: “What really got me into this was actually a heatwave in Russia in 2010. It was huge and had a big impact on food prices.” (See Carbon Brief’s interactive map showing how climate change affects extreme weather around the world.)

Science.

Funding flows for climate change research on Africa: where do they come from and where do they go?
Climate and Development Read Article

European and North American institutions received 78% of all funding for climate research regarding Africa for 1990-2020, a new study finds, while African institutions received only 14.5%. The authors analysed a database of $1.5tn of research grants from 521 organisations. They find that only 3.8% of global funding for climate change research is spent on African topics – an amount “ incommensurate with Africa’s share of the world population and vulnerability to climate change”, according to the study. The paper adds that climate mitigation received 17% of funding, while impacts and adaptation each received around 40%.”

A combined estimate of global temperature
Environmetrics Read Article

There is a 44% probability that 2020 was the warmest year on record, according to estimates from a new paper. The authors combine the estimates from multiple recently updated global temperature series, including their new assessments of uncertainties. The study concludes that global temperature has increased by 1.2C since the 1880-1900 average, with a “standard error” of 0.03C. It adds 2015-20 are “virtually certain to have been the six warmest years in recorded history”.

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Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.