Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU countries agree deal to cut use of gas this winter as they brace for reductions in Russian supply
- UK: Families could get £160 off energy bills as Rishi Sunak finally vows to scrap VAT
- Drought 'very likely' in southern England and Wales amid dire warning
- Heatwave boosts southern China’s power use to a record high
- Anthony Albanese rules out banning fossil fuel projects, citing risk to Australian economy
- The next prime minister must get serious about tackling climate change
- Habeck and the Greens are in a bind
- Definitions and implications of climate-neutral aviation
EU member states have “agreed a plan for dramatic cuts in their use of natural gas in the event that Russia halts its supply to the continent”, according to Sky News. It says that the deal agreed by energy ministers in Brussels will see states reducing their consumption by 15% between August and March, albeit on a voluntary basis rather than the obligation that was originally envisaged by the EU. BBC News says that the voluntary agreement would become mandatory if supplies reach crisis levels, but provides a “get-out clause” for countries not connected to the EU’s gas pipelines, such as Ireland, Malta and Cyprus, as they would be unable to seek alternative supplies. Other exemptions exists for Baltic nations that are not hooked up to the European electricity system and are heavily reliant on gas for electricity production, as well as countries that exceed gas storage filling targets, are heavily dependent on gas for “critical” industries, or if their gas consumption has increased by at least 8% in the past year, the piece continues. Politico concludes that due to all of the exemptions, “the deal may not actually succeed at its initial goal: ensuring the EU will be prepared to live without Russian gas this winter come what may”.
Bloomberg notes that the deal “comes as Russia again cuts the flow of gas to Europe on the key Nord Stream pipeline”. The Times reports that a group of EU states, dubbed “le club des refuseniks” and including Poland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and France, were responsible for “watering down” the targets. The newspaper says many of the countries “reject the idea that they should face an economic shock because of Germany’s reliance on Russia” for gas. The Guardian quotes Spain’s minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, saying: “They cannot demand a sacrifice from us for which we have not been asked for an opinion…We have not lived beyond our means in terms of energy.” Under the revised plan, Germany is expected to make higher savings than its neighbours to help the bloc meet the 15% target, adds the outlet. German economy minister Robert Habeck is quoted saying that “if Germany manages more than 15%, then there’d be no shame in that”. The Guardian also has a piece about how EU nations plan to cut gas use. Separately, the Financial Times reports that in the US, the Biden administration has “bolstered efforts to sign big oil importers on to a plan to cap prices they offer for Russian crude, concerned that without it the world faces a damaging surge in fuel cost”.
German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock says in an interview with Radio Free Europe that the EU will not give in to Moscow’s “blackmailing”. The term was also used by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky who has called Russia’s reduction of gas output to Europe “gas blackmail”, according to the Hill. According to France 24, Germany has “homework” to do if it is serious about curbing gas consumption, noting that “Berlin has to think about keeping nuclear power plants open – amongst other measures – even if there’s a painful political price to be paid for doing so”. The Financial Times reports that Germany is indeed “rethinking its plan to exit nuclear power by the end of the year”, although it adds that a “U-turn on nuclear power would mark a big departure in German energy policy”. Meanwhile, in Austria, starting next week, a gas storage facility Haidach, on the Bavarian border, will be filled, says Der Spiegel. It quotes Austrian energy minister Leonore Gewessler who says: “Full storage is our insurance for the coming winter”.
Finally, Reuters reports on new analysis by thinktank Ember that concludes that wind-and-solar energy deployment in the EU is not proceeding fast enough to meet global climate goals due to a slow permitting process across the bloc. Reuters also reports that there has been similarly slow progress in the US, with industry group American Clean Power noting that the renewables industry has seen a decline of 55% in project installations in April through June, in part due to “inaction by Congress”.
In a “screeching u-turn”, former chancellor and Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak has vowed to scrap VAT on energy bills to help people in the UK pay their energy bills this winter, the Sun reports. The tabloid says that Sunak, who is currently the “underdog” in the race to be the next UK prime minister, facing up against Liz Truss, has promised he will save households £160 by cutting the tax for a year. While chancellor, he has argued against a VAT cut for months, the newspaper adds, noting that a consistent theme of his bid for leader is a pledge to “cut taxes – but only when the finances are looking better and the country can afford it”. According to the Daily Express, the VAT cut, which would be in place for a year from October, would cost the Treasury around £4.3bn. The Daily Mirror quotes previous comments made in the House of Commons when Sunak said he knew “some in this House have argued for a cut in VAT on energy. However, that policy would disproportionately benefit wealthier households.” According to the Press Association, the move is part of the former chancellor’s “winter plan” to address inflation and the cost-of-living emergency, which his campaign says contrasts with the inflationary £55bn of fiscal commitments that Truss has made. The story also makes the frontpage of the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Independent.
The Times reports that gas prices in the UK surged by 17% yesterday to “highs not seen since March” after Russia reduced supplies to Europe. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph says that the government’s “net-zero push to get households to install heat pumps” – its “boiler upgrade scheme” – “risks being derailed after figures revealed only a tiny proportion of households have sought funding from a £450m grant pot”.
The Daily Express reports that southern England and Wales are “very likely” to face a drought, amid “dire” warnings issued by the Environment Agency. The newspaper says that officials at the agency are transferring water to low running rivers, rescuing fish and reoxygenating water, while water companies are implementing the early stages of their drought plans. Meanwhile, Sky News reports that the Royal Meteorological Society says drought is now “very likely” for the majority of the south of England and Wales. The Met Office has confirmed that November 2021 to June 2022 was the driest period in England since the same period in 1975-76, it continues. The Financial Times reports on a warning from the Environment Agency that households in England face a summer hosepipe ban if the prolonged period of hot and dry weather continues. The Independent says households are being urged to reduce “unnecessary water use”.
Novara Media has a piece titled “this is how Britain can actually prepare for extreme weather”. The Guardian has an article with a data visualisation of wildfires in Europe, showing that, so far, 2022 has been a record year of burnt area in Europe. A piece in the Conversation by researchers Charles Ogunbode and Jeremy Kidwell explores “why ethnic minorities in the UK are more vulnerable, and what to do about it”. Another piece in the Conversation by climate scientists Ben Clarke, Friederike Otto and Luke Harrington considers the question: “How likely would Britain’s 40C heatwave have been without climate change?” They start out by noting that “every heatwave occurring today is made more likely and intense by human-caused climate change”.
Meanwhile, in the US, the New York Times reports that “a major heat wave settling over the Pacific Northwest will bring several days of potentially record-breaking triple-digit temperatures this week, echoing a deadly heat wave that tormented the region last summer”.
Bloomberg writes that the searing heat that has “gripped” China for over a month has “boosted power generation to a record high in southern regions”, leading to “outages” in some places as demand for air-conditioning “strains” the network. According to the National Meteorological Center, southern China is expected to see “persistent heat over the next 10 days”, with temperatures reaching “40C or more” in some parts, the article adds. Power firms, which are “suffering from high fuel prices”, have “called on Beijing to release new coal capacity of 300m tonnes as soon as possible”, the article says, citing the non-profit and trade association China Electricity Council’s half-yearly report released on Friday. Additionally, Shanghai-based outlet Caixin also covers a “first new record high [for demand] this year” in southern China’s power grid.
Meanwhile, an article published by a Chinese magazine Southern Energy Observer says that many listed power generators experienced “declines or even losses in profits” in the first half of 2022, due to “rising fuel prices” and falling demand in the second quarter. It says that in contrast, some coal mining firms expect to grow net profit by about 300%. In a comment for Shanghai-based outlet Sixth Tone, Xinyi Shen of thinktank the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air says “massive investment in coal” in response to new peaks in demand – despite “tepid” demand growth overall – ”complicates China’s carbon reduction goals”. She argues that the coal power sector remains “overcapacity” and “isn’t economically viable”. Instead of investing more in coal power, China should focus on “improv[ing] power transmission and distribution”, Shen says.
Elsewhere, a separate Bloomberg article says that China Energy Investment Corporation, the country’s “top” coal miner, “lifted” its investments and production as the government “pushes for energy security and increased spending on infrastructure”. The outlet notes that the development investment rose by 51% to 49.3bn yuan ($7.3bn) in the first six months from the same period in 2021, according to what the company said in a statement posted on the state-backed China Electric Power News WeChat account.
Finally, a Xinhua article says that foreign enterprises have “ridden the wave of China’s green transition over the past decade”. The state news agency adds that Volkswagen Group China, a German automobile manufacturer’s China branch, is “expected to deliver approximately 1.5m new electric vehicles (NEVs) annually by 2025”.
Ahead of the introduction of legislation on Wednesday that will enshrine Labor’s 2030 and 2050 emissions reduction targets, Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese has said he will not support a moratorium on fossil fuel projects, the Guardian reports. He added that such a move would have a “devastating impact on the Australian economy” and, furthermore, was “the policy of the Greens”. Labor has been negotiating with the Green Party, because while it has the numbers to pass its climate target bill in the lower house of Australian parliament, it will need their support in the Senate. For their part, the Greens have been pushing Labor to implement a moratorium on new fossil fuel projects in Australia – one of the world’s biggest coal exporters – as well as more ambitious emissions reduction targets, up from the government’s proposed 43% cut by 2030, the newspaper continues. The Daily Mail reports that while the Greens will not get their proposed 75% cut to emissions by 2030, “Labor’s climate change minister Chris Bowen has adjusted the climate bill to make it clear all future targets must go beyond the 43% 2030 baseline”. Introducing the legislation, Reuters reports that Bowen described that target as “a floor on what our country can achieve”. The Sydney Morning Herald says that despite Labor not having ceded ground on the Greens’s two major issue, the minor party was nevertheless “preparing to back Labor’s signature climate reforms and vote them into law”.
Miriam Turner and Hugh Knowles, the co-executive directors of NGO Friends of the Earth, have a piece in Politics Home in the wake of the televised debate between the two potential future UK prime ministers, Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss. “In spite of the fact that temperatures in the United Kingdom soared past 40C for the first time on record last week, with widespread impacts on health and public services, the existential ecological crisis facing us all was dealt with in a few cursory minutes,” they write, adding that “neither candidate committed to keeping the UK’s net-zero target, despite this being the manifesto pledge they were elected on in 2019”. The piece notes that the mismatch between what is needed and what leaders are doing cannot last, in light of a recent landmark court ruling that found the government’s net-zero strategy breaches its obligations under the Climate Change Act. “There are quite simply no excuses for inaction. If Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak don’t understand that, they are not fit to lead this country,” the piece concludes.
An editorial in the Guardian considers Monday night’s BBC debate between Sunak and Truss, much of which it says was characterised by “vacuity”. The newspaper states: “The collective challenge of meeting net-zero obligations – highlighted last week by the COP26 president, Alok Sharma – was reduced to boasts about the Sunak family’s zeal for recycling and Ms Truss’s personal thriftiness”. A Sun editorial expresses disappointment for different reasons, stating about last night’s TalkTV debate, that: “We were more disheartened by their response on fracking. Both enthusiastically backed it, if local communities approved. But shale gas could provide us with crucial cheap energy for years. It cannot be up to locals to have a veto.”
Der Tagesspiegel carries an editorial examining the question of nuclear power’s future in Germany. It says that the situation has changed fundamentally for economy minister Robert Habeck, a member of the Green party. He announced earlier that “it would be possible in the coming winter without nuclear power”. However, the article claims that the situation with gas deliveries from Russia was different. It adds that in “Green circles”, it is now assumed that “the ministry of economy is no longer holy about the nuclear phase-out and that work could be done to untie the package and possibly even achieve a real life extension [of nuclear power plants]” – but Green party leader Ricarda Lang has so far clearly rejected this. Another governing party, the FDP, is already putting pressure on an early change to the Atomic Energy Act, says the editorial. The energy policy spokesman for the FDP parliamentary group, Michael Kruse, emphasised to the Tagesspiegel: “The German nuclear power plants can be extended until spring 2024. In this way, they can help ensure that Europe does not experience an energy shortage over the next two winters”. A Financial Times story adds that a person close to the Greens leadership said the party had come to a conclusion that “all options should be on the table” in the event of an energy crunch. It also names Isar 2 nuclear station in Bavaria as one of the options for work extension beyond its shutdown date of 31 December.
“Neutralising” emissions from aviation would result in up to 0.4C of additional warming, compromising the 1.5C Paris warming target, according to new research. The authors identify three possible definitions of “climate neutral aviation” and assess the implications of each. The study finds that “substantial rates of CO2 removal are needed to achieve climate-neutral aviation in scenarios with little mitigation”, but adds that “cleaner-flying technologies can drastically reduce them”. The work highlights the beneficial side effects of moving to aircraft types and fuels with lower indirect climate effects, the authors say.