Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU commits €4bn more to climate vulnerables, calls on the US to step up
- Biden to host leaders to discuss climate change ahead of UN summit
- Fire shuts one of UK’s most important power cables in midst of supply crunch
- Tens of thousands campaigners to march in Glasgow and London during COP26
- China’s Hebei province to clamp down on cryptocurrency mining and trading
- UK: Public in the dark over how to green their homes, says chief climate adviser
- US banking regulators working on climate risk management guidance, official says
- Time100: The most influential people of 2021
- The Times view on China’s atomic energy project: Power Up
- Canada election: Lytton fire puts village at centre of debate
- Compound climate risks threaten aquatic food system benefits
- Vast CO2 release from Australian fires in 2019–2020 constrained by satellite
European Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen has used her annual state of the union speech to announce an extra €4bn in climate finance for vulnerable nations by 2027, Climate Home News reports, adding that she also “called out the US for failing to deliver its fair share of climate cash”. It continues: “Brussels expects Washington to follow suit and step up its climate finance contribution ahead of COP26 climate talks this November. This, [Von der Leyen] said, is critical to plug an estimated $20bn shortfall to the $100bn goal rich nations promised to mobilise annually by 2020.” It quotes her saying: “The EU contributes $25bn a year but others still leave a gaping hole in reaching the global target…Europe is ready to do more but expects the United States and our partners to step up too.” Bloomberg says Von der Leyen used her speech “to call on China and other nations to join the EU in its ambitious plans to combat climate change and to meet Paris Agreement targets”. Forbes also has the story.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that officials from the US, UK, France and Germany are travelling to South Africa in the hope of securing a deal to start closing the nation’s coal-fired power stations. It says any deal could be announced at the COP26 climate talks in November.
US president Joe Biden is to convene a virtual meeting on Friday with “some of the leaders of the nations most responsible for climate change”, the New York Times reports, adding that he will be “urging them to do more to slash greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a critical United Nations summit in November”. The meeting will be the second this year of the Major Economies Forum, the newspaper says, adding that the White House did not release a list of attendees and that it is “not clear” if officials from China will attend. The paper adds: “The Biden administration has promised to cut emissions 50-52% below 2005 levels by 2030. Getting there though depends on passage of a $3.5tn budget bill that includes a policy to substantially cut fossil fuel pollution by the power sector. That legislation is facing an uphill battle in Congress. China and India have not yet pledged deeper emissions cuts, and the Biden administration has been leaning on both countries to do so.” [Reuters reports that Biden yesterday met with “moderate” Democrats to discuss the $3.5tn budget bill.“] Associated Press via the Seattle Times reports that Biden is hoping to “spur hard-and-fast commitments to cut climate-damaging pollution globally” at what it describes as “closed-door climate talks” at the meeting on Friday. It adds: “A senior administration official described Friday’s session as a chance for international leaders in the Major Economies Forum – a climate-focused body started by President Barack Obama and revived by Biden – to talk over specific actions to cut emissions and to help finance emissions cuts by less wealthy countries. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to brief reporters, gave no details on which world leaders would take part Friday.” The Hill also has the story. Separately, Reuters reports that the US intends to focus on climate change and Covid at the UN General Assembly next week.
There is widespread coverage in the UK media of a fire at an electricity substation serving the “IFA” link between the UK and France, with the Guardian reporting that the resulting shutdown comes “as the UK faces a supply crunch and record high market prices”. It adds: “The UK faces record energy prices after a global gas market surge raised the cost of running gas power plants, which has been compounded by a string of power plant outages and low wind speeds.” The paper says: “National Grid confirmed that the West Burton coal plant in Nottinghamshire and a coal unit at the Drax site in North Yorkshire were warming up in anticipation of generating electricity on Wednesday evening in exchange for eye-wateringly high payments.” The Times reports: “Fears of a winter energy crunch have deepened after a fire forced the shutdown of a crucial subsea power cable link to France that will not be repaired until late March.” It says that the outage “leav[es] Britain even more reliant on burning expensive gas to generate electricity” and adds: “Experts said that the fire could not have come at a worse time, with UK energy markets already struggling from high global gas prices, nuclear plant outages and low wind-power output, among other factors.” In a section titled “Behind the story”, the Times says: “The latest rise in energy prices raises difficult questions for the government, such as how to alleviate the short-term cost pain for households and businesses and the long-term policy implications…There are calls for additional investment in gas storage sites, with the UK having far less in reserve than its neighbours. The crisis may also make it harder to say no to new North Sea gas fields, despite climate change fears. Many experts say the price crunch shows the need for a fundamental rethink of energy markets to boost resilience and ensure we can cope with periods of low wind-power output.” The Press Association reports that UK energy prices have “soar[ed]” after the fire.
Bloomberg also has the story, with another article promising to “explain [the UK’s energy crunch] in five charts” and noting: “At the heart of the energy rally is the cost of natural gas. Benchmark prices in the UK have almost tripled this year as flows from top suppliers Russia and Norway have been limited. Cargoes of liquefied natural gas are being redirected to Asia, leaving the UK and the rest of Europe struggling to rebuild depleted storage sites a month before the heating season starts.” Reuters reports that the Kremlin has called for a rapid startup of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, with spokesman Dimitri Peskov saying this would, the newswire says, “balance high gas prices in Europe”. Another Reuters article reports that Norwegian oil and gas firm Equinor – Europe’s second-largest gas supplier after Russia’s Gazprom – “expects the fundamentals driving the current high price of natural gas in Europe to remain in place during the coming autumn and winter seasons”. It quotes Equinor chief financial officer Ulrica Fearn saying: “The price signals clearly indicate that Europe needs our gas more than ever.” Elsewhere, Reuters reports that US gas futures have hit a “fresh seven-year high on soaring global prices”.
A related comment by Daily Telegraph international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues: “We are living through a fossil fuel shock, but make no mistake: net-zero is the solution – not the problem.” He explains: “The right conclusion to draw from spiralling gas, coal and electricity prices in Europe is that fossil fuels are dangerously volatile. Supply can be manipulated at critical moments by hostile powers playing geostrategic games. The wrong conclusion is that this month’s energy shock is an indictment of renewable power, or chiefly caused by carbon prices, or that it is the first cruel taste of what awaits us as net-zero tightens, and therefore that decarbonisation should be abandoned.”
There are plans for “tens of thousands of campaigners” to march through London, Glasgow and 15 other UK locations during the COP26 climate summit, reports Press Association via Belfast Telegraph. It reports: “With the events taking place during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, all those taking part will be encouraged to socially distance, wear a mask and test themselves before attending.” Meanwhile, several publications report on the ongoing protests on London’s M25 orbital motorway, which, says Reuters, has been blocked for the second time this week by environmental campaigners. The newswire says: “Insulate Britain, which is demanding that the British government gives a commitment to help provide insulation for 29m homes, said more than 80 members of the group had blocked a number of junctions to the motorway, one of the busiest in Britain, as well as part of the carriageway itself.” BBC News says police made 71 arrests during the action, adding: “Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said the action was putting lives at risk.” The Daily Telegraph runs under the online headline: “M25 protests: Crash blamed on Insulate Britain activists blocking motorway as woman is airlifted to hospital,” in a full-page article trailed on the newspaper’s frontpage. The piece says a four-car crash on the motorway “has been blamed on activists” blocking the road, citing a witness. It quotes Surrey Police saying: “It is too early in the investigation to know if these two incidents were linked.” The Press Association also has the story. Much of the coverage of the protests focuses on the police response, with an editorial in the Sun saying: “Enough is enough. The morons repeatedly blocking the M25 must be arrested on sight and slung in jail.” It adds unequivocally that the protests “have triggered a serious pile-up [car crash]”.
Reuters reports that the internet watchdog of China’s northern Hebei province has said that it will cooperate with other government departments to crack down on the mining and trading of cryptocurrency. The newswire described it as “the latest move in the country’s cryptocurrency crackdown”. Yicai, a Shanghai-based financial outlet, cites an official statement. It stated: “Virtual currency mining consumes an enormous amount of energy and goes against our country’s goals of peaking emissions and [achieving] carbon neutrality.” Also reporting on the Hebei campaign, Jiemian News reports that it followed a similar crypto clampdown in Gansu province. Gansu officials carried out a “specialised inspection” into the mining of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies on 9 September, it says.
There are more reports on President Xi’s speech at a chemical factory in Yulin during his inspection into Shaanxi – a province rich in energy resources. Global Times reports that Xi “stressed a green and low-carbon development path for the country’s energy industry” during the tour. The state-run newspaper adds that experts said the visit “sends an important message that the country will take a green path in its formulated roadmap for achieving carbon peaking and carbon neutrality”. According to Xinhua, the state news agency, Xi described coal as China’s “main source of energy”, instructing that the coal industry must develop in a “green, low-carbon” direction to match the “goals and tasks” of peaking emissions and achieving carbon neutrality. He described the coal chemical industry as “having great potential and promise”. (See yesterday’s Daily Briefing for more on the story.)
In other news, Global Times says that China aims to achieve carbon neutrality for the ongoing National Games of China – a comprehensive countrywide sporting event that takes place once every four years. This year’s games, held in Shaanxi province, are expected to emit around 200,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, the report says. It adds that the organiser is attempting to cancel out all of the emissions by using emission reduction, carbon sinks and Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions – a carbon credit in China. Yicai says that Fu Xiaofeng, an official from the Ministry of Science and Technology, has said that the tasks to peak emissions and achieve carbon neutrality are “arduous” and “in urgent need of scientific support”. Finally, the Science and Technology Daily reports that East China University of Science and Technology has established a School of Carbon Neutral and Future Technology, one of the first colleges in China to have “carbon neutral” in its name.
The British public lack the information they need to “green” their homes, according to Lord Deben, chair of the Climate Change Committee, the Independent reports. It quotes the chair of the government advisory body saying: “Not only do we have a government that isn’t getting the information out, but we also have an industry that can’t do it. They can do it in Germany, they can do it in Scandinavia. Why the blazes can’t they do it here?” The paper adds: “[Lord Deben] added that the UK must also urgently set out its strategy for how it will turn its plan for getting the country to net-zero emissions into action.” The Daily Telegraph is one of several publications reporting Deben’s comments under a headline focusing on his suggestion that people moving to the countryside could use torches instead of expecting streetlights. It says: “City dwellers who move to the countryside should not expect villages to have street lighting and should use torches instead, the government’s climate change adviser has told MPs.” The paper adds: “Lord Deben also criticised a lack of explicit climate change commitments in planning regulations which he said made it difficult for local authorities to make decisions that took the environment into account. He highlighted the initial decision by Cumbria County council to greenlight the UK’s first deep coal mine in 30 years, which the CCC has repeatedly criticised.” The Times, also reporting under a torch-related headline, adds: “Deben called for SUVs to be taxed more heavily to reflect their emissions.” The Press Association reports: “Lord Deben said authorities must think about everything they do through the prism of climate change, such as not building in areas where everyone would have to commute by car, or saving energy by not installing lights.” Elsewhere, BusinessGreen reports that former environment secretary Michael Gove is replacing Robert Jenrick as housing secretary as part of prime minister Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle. It adds: “Environmental campaigners and politicians have stressed that Gove will be taking on a number of issues vital to the success of the UK’s climate agenda, including the challenge of aligning the building sector with the nation’s net-zero goals and managing the ongoing inquiry into a planned coal mine in Cumbria.” The publication notes that Liz Truss is to replace Dominic Raab as foreign secretary, meaning she is “set to play a critical role in climate diplomacy in the lead up to [COP26]”. Separately, the Independent reports in an “exclusive”, citing a report from the County Councils Network: “Government is putting net-zero at risk by ignoring rural areas, say county councils.” It adds: “CO2 emissions in London and other large cities in England fell by 39% between 2005 and 2020, the report says. However, in England’s county areas, emissions fell by just 30%.”
In other UK climate news, the Times reports the comments of the business secretary under the headline: “Kwasi Kwarteng blames free market for global warming.” It says: “Kwarteng, who was once seen as being on the right of the Conservative Party, said there had been a ‘market failure’ over climate change. He said the government had a duty to pass new laws and suggested subsidies could be offered to consumers to buy more ecologically friendly products.” Meanwhile, the Independent reports: “A government minister has angered scientists and environmentalists by claiming people need to keep flying in order to help cut carbon emissions…[arguing that] theoretical cleaner airliners would never be invented if they were rendered unprofitable by people abandoning airports.”
Elsewhere, a comment in the Daily Telegraph by chief city commentator Ben Marlow says “there is much excitement about plans for several battery gigafactories that will turbocharge an electric car revolution in Britain”. The piece argues that, in addition to these plans, the UK needs a “massive plant-building program that dramatically increases capacity”, in order to avoid becoming “dangerously dependent on Europe where battery production is much bigger and growing quickly”. It adds: “By 2025, the UK is expected to have just 12GWh [gigawatt hours] of battery plant capacity. Germany alone should be able to boast 164GWh at that point. There are already at least 20 gigafactories being built across Europe.” The Daily Telegraph separately reports that Britishvolt, one of the firms planning to build a “gigafactory” in the UK, “has won new investment in a funding round which values it at $1bn (£720m)”. It adds: “The fundraising, which was run by Barclays, means that Britishvolt has now achieved $1bn ‘unicorn’ status.” Finally, Reuters reports: “UK lawmakers on Thursday called on the Bank of England to help tackle climate change by boosting investment in green finance and penalising banks that finance the fossil fuel industry.”
US banking regulators are working on climate change risk management guidance for large lenders, Reuters reports, citing “top official” Michael Hsu. It adds: “Climate change could upend the financial system because threats such as rising sea levels, as well as policies and carbon-neutral technologies aimed at slowing global warming, could destroy trillions of dollars of assets, risk experts say.” The newswire explains: “The Federal Reserve has asked lenders to provide information on the measures they are taking to mitigate climate change-related risks to their balance sheets, Reuters reported in May. Since then, Fed officials have said they would consider “stress-testing” banks’ balance sheets against climate scenarios. Hsu’s comments are the first to suggest, however, that regulators are working on more expansive guidance which could affect a far broader set of the country’s lenders and the companies they do business with.“ Another Reuters story says that support for climate-related shareholder resolutions at US companies “rose significantly this year”. Citing a paper from Institutional Shareholder Services, it says “median support for the proposals was 48.9% during the proxy season ended 30 June, up from 37.6% in 2020 and 27.5% in 2019”. Meanwhile, major listed carbon emitters are failing to disclose their full risks associated with climate change, Reuters reports: “Of 107 listed companies assessed in the study, across sectors including oil and gas, automobiles and aviation, more than 70% did not reflect the full risks resulting from climate change in their 2020 accounts, the report released on Thursday by Carbon Tracker said.” Separately, Brazil’s banks are to have climate change risks incorporated into their mandatory stress tests from July 2022, Reuters reports, citing an announcement from the country’s central bank.
This year’s “most influential people”, according to Time Magazine, include the climate scientists Dr Friederike Otto and Dr Geert Jan van Oldenborgh, known for their work in rapidly attributing extreme weather events to climate change. “That speed means that people reading about our accelerating string of disasters increasingly get the most important information of all: it’s coming from us,” says a citation written by environmentalist Bill McKibben. Also on the Time100 list is Dr Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, who, writes US presidential climate envoy John Kerry, is a “trusted counsellor to world leaders…an objective authority on what it will take to slash carbon emissions and save our planet”. EU climate commissioner Frans Timmermans makes the list with a citation by Christiana Figueres, former UN climate chief, who writes that he “understands the risk we face, and has stepped up”. Pointing to the EU’s “Fit for 55” package of climate measures, Figueres writes: “The long-term gain of the policies is clear and compelling. Though the short-term implementation is much more of a challenge, Timmermans is committed to ensuring justice in the transition. He walks where few have ventured forth, but where all nations must follow.”
An editorial in the Times reflects on reports – covered in a separate news article from the paper touting the “holy grail of nuclear energy” – that China is to begin testing an “experimental nuclear reactor” fuelled with thorium instead of uranium. It continues: “If successful, the reactor could revolutionise the atomic energy industry and bring the world close to widely accessible clean energy.” The editorial concludes: “It is not yet clear if this technology could be widely exploited on a commercial scale, but the auguries are encouraging. Nuclear energy cannot solve all of the world’s energy needs but it can help meet them. And, contrary to the wrong turning made by the environmental movement a generation ago, there is no viable strategy for achieving a target of net-zero carbon emissions without exploiting nuclear energy.”
Meanwhile, the frontpage of the Daily Mirror is headlined: “If we don’t act now, this is our future.” It carries an investigation by the newspaper’s environment editor Nada Farhoud into how the UK might be affected by climate change. An editorial says: “In today’s Mirror we detail the danger to our green and pleasant land if global heating goes unchecked. Without action to limit greenhouse gases large parts of Britain, including major coastal cities such as London, Bristol and Hull, could become uninhabitable…We cannot leave this to our children and grandchildren to sort out. Many believe next month’s COP26 climate summit in Glasgow is the last chance to stop global warming before its impact becomes irreversible.”
A feature for BBC News previews the upcoming Canadian election and says: “A summer of deadly heatwaves and wildfires has put climate change on the top of the agenda at Canada’s snap federal election. The village of Lytton in British Columbia has been used by candidates as a cautionary tale.” A BBC News video reports on the “Canadian prairie ranchers struggl[ing] with drought conditions.” Separately, a comment for the Financial Times by Europe editor Ben Hall runs under the headline: “Germany’s Greens are still waiting for their moment.” He writes that while voters in the country’s upcoming election “seem reluctant to accept the sacrifices needed for a low-carbon economy”, the Green party is expected to double its vote share compared with 2017 and is the “compelling coalition partner” for either the Social Democrats or Christian Democrats. However, Hall adds: “If the Greens win 16% of the vote, as the polls suggest, they will see it as a disappointment. In April, after choosing Annalena Baerbock as their first ever candidate for chancellor, they soared to an astonishing 25-28% in the polls…But the bubble soon burst as the German media, sometimes with sexist overtones, began to question the suitability of a young politician with no executive experience for the chancellery.”
A new study warns that climate hazards will pose risks to the “nutritional, social, economic and environmental outcomes” of aquatic food systems worldwide if mitigation measures are not taken. The authors estimate the risks of climate hazards to aquatic food systems using “an integrative food systems approach that connects climate hazards impacting marine and freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture to their contributions to sustainable food system outcomes”. They conclude that wild-capture fisheries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia and Small Island Developing States are particularly at risk.
The 2019–20 Australian wildfires released more than twice as much CO2 as previously reported by five different fire inventories, according to a new paper. The authors use satellite observations of carbon monoxide, an “analytical Bayesian inversion” and the observed ratios between emitted carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, to estimate CO2 emissions from the fires. They conclude that 715Tg of CO2 was emitted between November 2019 and January 2020 – an estimate that is “broadly consistent with estimates based on a bottom-up bootstrap analysis of this fire episode”, according to the paper.
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