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Daily Briefing

30.11.2020
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’
Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

News.

Environment to benefit from ‘biggest farming shake-up in 50 years’

Several news outlet report the UK government’s plans, set to be revealed today, to replace the existing EU system for agricultural subsidies. The Guardian says the government promises that the new plan will mean that “wildlife, nature and the climate will benefit from the biggest shake-up in farming policy in England for 50 years”. It adds: “The £1.6bn subsidy farmers receive every year for simply owning land will be phased out by 2028, with the funds used instead to pay them to restore wild habitats, create new woodlands, boost soils and cut pesticide use. The wealthiest landowners – those receiving annual payments over £150,000 a year – will face the sharpest cuts, starting with 25% in 2021. Those receiving under £30,000 will see a 5% cut next year…The environment secretary, George Eustice, acknowledged the damage done to the environment by industrial farming since the 1960s and said the new plans would deliver for nature and help fight the climate crisis…The radical changes in agricultural policy are possible due to the UK leaving the EU, whose common agricultural policy is widely regarded as a disaster for nature and even critics of Brexit see the changes as positive.” The Times says: “Farmers and landowners will be paid for ‘public goods’, covering how farmland is managed, how natural habitats are cared for and how the biodiversity of entire landscapes can be restored. Payments will be set to make sure that making environmental improvements is ‘financially viable and fair’ and encourages high levels of participation. The Sustainable Farming Incentive will focus on field and livestock management as well as trees, woodland hedgerows and soil management.” BBC News says, under the new system, “polluters will receive a warning letter instead of an automatic fine. But the government says it’ll target repeat offenders, and focus on sensitive areas.” It adds: “Experts say some environmental solutions will be hard to define. Take soil: the government wants to conserve soil because it improves productivity and captures planet-heating carbon emissions.” The i newspaper says: “There will also be funding for a farming investment fund, which will offer grants for equipment and technology such as robots and new infrastructure such as water storage on farms, and which will open from next year.” The Independent says that campaigners have broadly welcomed the shift towards prioritising the environment, but warn that key details still remain “murky” for farmers in England. The online news outlet adds: “Details that appear to be missing from the roadmap include specific targets for how much carbon farmers in England will need to sequester in the coming years.” Sky News speaks to George Eustice ahead of today’s announcement. He says: “[Farming] is different, for example, to the energy sector where it’s just about having a few wind turbines, and different to the transport sector where it’s just about perfecting the technology around electric vehicles. We’re talking about natural systems that do take time to adapt and we want to support that progress.” The Daily Telegraph carries a comment piece by Eustice in which he says: “Our plans for the future of farming must also help us tackle climate change.”

An editorial in the Times is supportive of the move: “The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy was rightly long considered one of the least defensible aspects of EU membership…There’s no question that new thinking is needed. If Britain is to have any chance of meeting its ambitious carbon reduction targets, millions of trees will need to be planted on existing farmland. Changes in farming techniques are also needed to reverse the devastating impact on biodiversity caused by decades of intensive farming, not least from the elimination of hedgerows and excessive use of pesticides…Nonetheless no one should underestimate the scale of the challenge facing the sector. At present about a third of farm incomes are from subsidies. Many farms will inevitably become unviable as these are withdrawn.”

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that “Britons will be encouraged to plant trees to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 70th anniversary on the throne as part of a plan to create a greener country in honour of her seven decades of service”. The newswire adds: “Named ‘The Queen’s Green Canopy’, the charity-backed project will encourage communities, schools, councils and landowners to plant native trees to help the environment and make local areas greener. Prime minister Boris Johnson said that the health crisis and pandemic had reminded people of the importance of nature and green spaces and that trees could transform communities as well as tackling climate change.” The Daily Mirror says that “Prince Charles is supporting a BBC Countryfile campaign to plant 750,000 trees in an effort to tackle climate change”.

In other UK news, the Financial Times reports that “five of the UK’s biggest energy companies are lobbying Boris Johnson to ‘match’ US president-elect Joe Biden’s clean energy ambitions and set a deadline to slash emissions from Britain’s power system to ‘net zero’”. It adds: “BP, Royal Dutch Shell, National Grid, SSE and Drax want the government to set the target ahead of the UN COP26 climate summit in Glasgow next year, following Mr Biden’s pledge during the US election campaign to decarbonise his country’s electricity system by 2035. While some in the sector believe a similar target would be very ambitious for the UK, many analysts argue the debate will be more about how it is achieved and at what cost.” BusinessGreen covers new analysis from Imperial College London, commissioned by Drax, showing that “the UK has halved the carbon intensity of its electricity system over the past decade, decarbonising twice as fast as any other major economy”. The Financial Times reports new analysis by the environmental campaign group Platform London showing that “the value of shares in nine leading oil companies, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, held by 56 local government pension funds has collapsed by half from £3.6bn at the start of April 2017 to £1.8bn”. The Times says that “Europe’s biggest battery storage project could be built in Essex after the government granted consent for the £200m development.” It adds: “Intergen, which is co-owned by a Chinese state utility group, plans to build the giant battery at a site on the Thames estuary near Stanford-le-Hope by 2024.” BBC News reports that beavers have built a dam on Exmoor for the first time in 400 years: “They can also work as natural flood-defences, helping to reduce the risk of homes flooding downstream.” Finally, the Independent has a feature looking at how the “UK’s worsening floods will hit the most disadvantaged communities the hardest”.

The Guardian Read Article
EU delays rules on carbon market permit handouts

Reuters reports that the European Commission has said it will now confirm in February 2021 – not this year, as earlier stated – new rules to calculate industries’ free carbon permits over the next five years. The newswire adds: “The EU’s carbon market forces polluters to buy permits to cover their emissions, but gives some free permits to industry to deter companies from relocating to outside of Europe to avoid carbon costs. Draft versions of the rules, seen by Reuters, suggest most industries would see free credits cut by the highest possible rate over the next five years, as the EU seeks to curb pollution and meet climate goals. That could cost the biggest polluters millions of euros.”

Separately, Politico reports that the European Central Bank has said that Eurozone banks will be “stress-tested” on their ability to withstand climate change risks in 2022. The announcement comes as the ECB has finalised a set of of guidelines on how banks should manage and disclose climate risks, adds the online publication.

In Poland, Reuters reports that the state news agency PAP has quoted the minister responsible for energy infrastructure as saying the total costs of building six nuclear reactors of 6-9 gigawatts capacity over 20 years will be around $30bn.

Reuters Read Article
EU delays rules on carbon market permit handouts

Reuters reports that the European Commission has said it will now confirm in February 2021 – not this year, as earlier stated – new rules to calculate industries’ free carbon permits over the next five years. The newswire adds: “The EU’s carbon market forces polluters to buy permits to cover their emissions, but gives some free permits to industry to deter companies from relocating to outside of Europe to avoid carbon costs. Draft versions of the rules, seen by Reuters, suggest most industries would see free credits cut by the highest possible rate over the next five years, as the EU seeks to curb pollution and meet climate goals. That could cost the biggest polluters millions of euros.”

Separately, Politico reports that the European Central Bank has said that Eurozone banks will be “stress-tested” on their ability to withstand climate change risks in 2022. The announcement comes as the ECB has finalised a set of of guidelines on how banks should manage and disclose climate risks, adds the online publication.

In Poland, Reuters reports that the state news agency PAP has quoted the minister responsible for energy infrastructure as saying the total costs of building six nuclear reactors of 6-9 gigawatts capacity over 20 years will be around $30bn.

Reuters Read Article
China increases coal import quotas but Australia likely to be excluded

Many publications cover the fast-escalating tensions between China and Australian which has seen China targeting Australia’s coal exports. The Guardian reports that China has increased its coal import quotas for 2020 by about 20m tonnes but “is very likely to exclude Australia, which has hundreds of millions of tonnes anchored off the Chinese coast in a deepening trade dispute with Beijing”. It adds: “Guardian Australia also understands China is reducing customs clearance times for Australia’s key coal export competitors, Indonesia and Russia. On Friday, China’s ministry of commerce announced the tariffs of between 107% and 212%, in response to what it said were findings that Australian wine was being dumped in China, causing “substantial damage” to the domestic market. But on Friday the foreign ministry suggested it was related to the deepening diplomatic rift.” MailOnline reports: “An Australian coal flotilla trapped off the coast of China is carrying $1.1bn in blacklisted cargo as fears grow the Asian superpower is deliberately blocking the export of the lucrative commodity. Australian coal exports to China have dropped 96% in the first three weeks of November as 82 ships laden with 8.8m tonnes of coal are left floating off Chinese ports. The number of stranded vessels has quadrupled in the past two weeks, prompting Morrison government officials to openly question whether China is deliberately discriminating against Australian exports. Coal earns Australia more than $53bn each year and is the country’s second biggest export after iron ore.” Bloomberg reports that “China’s $1.5bn Indonesia coal deal may hit Australia”. The Jakarta Post also covers the news. The Financial Times says that “fraying relations between Australia and China have sparked a more than 25% drop in coking coal prices even as iron ore – the other ingredient needed to make steel – has soared to six-year highs”.

In other Australian news, the Guardian reports that the nation’s “greenhouse gas emissions fell 3% in the year to June due to the Covid-19 shutdown, the ongoing impact of drought and an influx of cheap solar and wind power, according to government figures”. It continues: “The government said it meant Australia had beaten its international 2020 target – widely regarded among experts as an unambitious goal. Experts said much of the fall in emissions over the year were unrelated to federal government action.” Another Guardian article analyses the recent “climate language” of prime minister Scott Morrison and detects a change: “The PM changed tone as soon as Joe Biden was projected likely next US president. Will a policy pivot follow?” Meanwhile, BBC News reports that “Sydney has reported its hottest November night on record, with the official start of summer still days away”.

The Guardian Read Article

Comment.

Joe Biden must be the climate change president

An editorial in the Washington Post says that it is “crucial Mr Biden and Mr Kerry follow through” on their climate promises. It continues: “The United States has squandered too much time. The world has almost none left to avoid extreme consequences for generations living and those only just being born…Still, there is room for hope…They could do this by supporting a bipartisan climate plan that is neither the Green New Deal nor the do-nothing-ism that has so long prevailed. A proposal backed by senior Republican luminaries James A Baker III and George P Shultz, along with a massive swath of corporate America, would put a steadily rising fee on carbon emissions and rebate the proceeds back to Americans…In the past four years, the economics of clean energy have improved vastly, foreign countries have upped their game, and demand among businesses for federal action has shot up. If that still does not translate into passing a big climate bill, it may be that Mr. Biden can nevertheless cobble together enough smaller initiatives that, added together, lead to large reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” In the Wall Street Journal, the climate sceptic lobbyist Steve Milloy sets out a way he believes that Donald Trump could prevent Joe Biden from reversing Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement.

Separately, an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald congratulates the state government of New South Wales for proving that progress on climate policy in Australia is possible: “The NSW government has shown the way, last week passing laws to build 12 gigawatts of clean energy and 2GW of energy storage in the state over the next decade. As NSW Energy Minister Matt Kean explained: ‘What’s different this time is we had a relentless focus on delivering cheap energy. It was all about the economics.’ And it worked. Despite some push back from opponents within his own party, his federal Coalition counterpart, Angus Taylor, and big energy corporations, Mr Kean managed to eventually harness the backing of his own party as well as the Nationals, the Labor opposition, the Greens and most other crossbenchers.”

In India, the Hindu has published a comment piece by TP Sreenivasan, a retired diplomat and vice chairman of the first climate COP in the early 1990s. He writes: “Having been one of the architects of the Paris Agreement, [John] Kerry must be aware of its merits and deficiencies. It is hoped that he will also be aware of the development imperatives of the developing nations. If Mr Kerry and Mr Biden insist on matching cuts by the developing countries as a conditionality to return to the Paris Agreement, the whole debate of equity and climate justice will emerge, with India and the US on opposing sides.” The Times of India carries an opinion piece by environmental consultant Chandra Bhushan arguing that the “energy transition and just transition must go hand in hand – as coal mines become rapidly unprofitable”.

Finally, Bloomberg Green columnist Kate Mackenzie argues that “making climate a national security issue downplays [its] human cost”. She adds: “Climate activists eager for a stronger stance toward global warming should be careful about how they adopt the language and thinking of national security wonks…Is framing climate change as a security issue a useful way to stop the planet from warming? That way of thinking carries the risk of brushing aside the human casualties of climate change.”

Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article
New energy giants are renewable companies: Iberdrola, Enel, NextEra, Orsted

“Meet the clean supermajors,” says Bloomberg in a feature on how four companies – Enel, Iberdrola, NextEra Energy and Orsted – have “prioritised the building or buying of clean-power plants when those assets were still considered alternative and expensive”. It adds: “Now they’re on the cusp of a breakthrough. Ever-cheaper solar panels and wind turbines are beginning to dominate new power installations, threatening the growth of natural gas on our power grids and upending energy markets. China has also shifted its biggest state-run energy companies toward renewables. In 2017, it formed China Energy Investment Corp. by merging two state-owned giants. The company has close to 40 gigawatts of renewable power generation capacity, according to BloombergNEF, more than any of the European and American majors.” Bloomberg says that a “tipping point may come next year, when Goldman Sachs Group projects that spending on renewable power will overtake that of oil and gas drilling for the first time”.

Meanwhile, Emily Gosden, the Times’s energy editor, interviews Anna Borg, Vattenfall’s new chief executive. The topics discussed include that Vattenfall is “doing a bit of investigating work” around the potential for small modular nuclear reactors in Europe.

The Daily Telegraph has a feature looking at how “global demand for hydrogen is predicted to soar over the coming decades – and nuclear plants may have a part to play in producing it”. And the Financial Times’s “big read” asks: “Will Australia’s ‘hydrogen road’ to Japan cut emissions?” Carbon Brief has also just published an in-depth Q&A on hydrogen.

Brian Eckhouse, Rachel Morison, Will Mathis, Will Wade and Hayley Warren, Bloomberg Read Article

Science.

A stable Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation in a changing North Atlantic Ocean since the 1990s

The state of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) over the past three decades was not “distinctly different” from that in the 1900s in the North Atlantic, a new study finds. Model simulations suggest that the AMOC may have weakened over recent decades, but existing observations are not able to capture multidecadal changes, the study says. However, “profound hydrographic and oxygen changes are observed”, the researchers say – particularly in the subpolar North Atlantic – suggesting “a much higher decoupling” between the AMOC and ocean interior than previously thought.

Science Advances Read Article
A framework for implementing evidence in policymaking: Perspectives and phases of evidence evaluation in the science-policy interaction

New research uses a case study on mercury pollution to show how a framework for implementing science into policy decisions can promote evidence-based policy and practice. The process of producing evidence and using it in policy-making situations is not a straightforward one, the study explains – for example, whilst the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) takes the lead in implementing policies and developing guidelines on the transnational issue of climate change, decision-making is “subject to international politics and is often incompatible with local interests and needs”. To devise a framework to promote a comprehensive evaluation of the evidence for policy-making, the researchers develop five “perspectives for evaluating the production and use of evidence” and three “phases of institutionalisation as academic and policy interaction”.

Environmental Science & Policy Read Article

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Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

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.