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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 17.05.2022
EU drive for new clean energy could see solar panels on all new buildings

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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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News.

EU drive for new clean energy could see solar panels on all new buildings
Financial Times Read Article

The Financial Times says that it has seen a copy of new EU plans dubbed RepowerEU, due to be released tomorrow, which would mean that “all new buildings in the EU would be fitted with solar panels on their roofs under plans to turbocharge a drive for renewable energy to replace the continent’s need for Russian oil and gas”. The newspaper adds: “The European Commission wants half the bloc’s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030, more than double the current figure. The total cost of achieving this would reach hundreds of billions of euros but be offset by an annual €84bn saving on imported fuel, according to [the plan]…The RepowerEU document, which could still be amended before publication on Wednesday, says that renewables are the best way to fight climate change and achieve energy independence, along with liquefied natural gas imports and hydrogen generated from renewable electricity. Householders will pay an average of €309 extra a year under the plans. ‘The higher fuel costs and the additional effort to reduce gas consumption increase the cost of the energy system by almost 10% by €1,721bn per year on average in the 2021-2030 decade,’ the document says. The commission wants to speed up construction of wind farms and solar arrays by forcing member states to designate ‘go-to’ zones with lower environmental standards and processes for fast-track approvals.”

Meanwhile, Politico says that the EU’s climate ambition “hangs in the balance” in the European Parliament: “This week, lawmakers in the environment committee (ENVI) will settle on their position for key pieces of the European Commission’s climate package – known as Fit for 55 – that aims to slash the bloc’s emissions by 55% this decade. But majorities for strengthening the commission’s proposals are ‘razor-thin’ in many cases, said Mohammed Chahim, vice president of the center-left Socialists & Democrats. And even if they do squeak through the committee, the measures face fierce challenges when the full parliament votes next month.”

Separately, Germany’s Deutsche Welle reports that greenhouse gas emissions from economic activities in the European Union “returned to levels slightly higher than before the start of the coronavirus pandemic in the last quarter of 2021, the European Union’s statistics office, Eurostat, reported on Monday”. It adds: “All of the EU’s 27 member states saw a year-on-year increase in the fourth quarter of 2021, but Estonia saw the biggest rise (+28%), followed by Bulgaria (+27%) and Malta (+23%), the Eurostat data showed. Germany saw emissions rise by 5% in the same period.”

UK: Minister puts carbon border tax on agenda
The Times Read Article

Cheap imports of steel, cement and other goods made in polluting factories overseas “could be hit with extra taxes to protect British manufacturers that face high costs from tough environmental rules”, reports the Times. It adds: “The carbon border adjustment mechanism, commonly known as a carbon border tax, will be among options in a consultation later in the year, Lucy Frazer, the financial secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday. Groups including the Climate Change Committee and the Centre for Policy Studies have asked ministers to consider such a tax to tackle the problem of ‘carbon leakage’. This is when countries impose costly environmental requirements on domestic industries, which results in these industries either relocating or losing out to competitors in more lax and cheaper countries. Frazer said that ‘the best way to prevent carbon leakage would be for all countries to move together in pricing, regulating and therefore reducing carbon emissions’, but that the government would consider domestic action.” The Daily Telegraph also carries the story, saying: “The Treasury is plotting a new tax on imports from countries with high carbon emissions as part of a scramble to protect British industry from efforts to go green…MPs on the Environmental Audit Committee recommended a shift towards carbon border taxes in a report in April, but also reported concerns that they could worsen cost-of-living pressures.”

In other UK news, the Guardian covers new analysis by Friends of the Earth which shows that “a new coalmine proposed for Cumbria is likely to be redundant before it even opens because the steelmakers that are its target market are moving so rapidly away from fossil fuels”. The Guardian also covers a new study showing that the UK government’s “jet zero” plan to eliminate carbon emissions from aviation relies on unproven or nonexistent technology and “sustainable” fuel, and is “likely to result in ministers missing their legally binding emissions targets”.

BBC News says that the UK government “is to give billions of pounds less in foreign aid to international organisations such as the United Nations”, as part of its new international development “strategy”, which is “designed to ensure aid spending does more to promote foreign policy”. However, the outlet says that Bond, the umbrella group for aid charities, has criticised the strategy for failing to prioritise health, climate change and open societies. It quotes Stephanie Draper, CEO at Bond, who says: “Though this strategy contains some positive elements, it seems largely driven by short-term political and economic interests rather than the attempt to tackle the root causes of global crises such as inequality, conflict and climate change, which impact us all. It’s worrying that ‘aid for trade’ is at the heart of this strategy as this not only diverts money away from life-saving programmes, but could see investors benefit at the expense of the marginalised communities it’s supposed to serve.”

Elsewhere, the Times covers a new joint report by the Energy Systems Catapult and Octopus Energy which claims that the introduction of variable local electricity prices could “save consumers in Britain £30bn by 2035”. People in Scotland and the north of England would “benefit the most because abundant power from wind farms would result in lower electricity prices in their areas”, the report says. The Times adds: “However, people in every region would see benefits because the whole system would be much more efficient and would cost less to run, the study claims.”

Finally, the Daily Express says that the chancellor Rishi Sunak is “facing another tax rebellion from Tory backbenchers, who are furious over his suggestion he will push for a windfall tax on energy companies”.

'Climate security is energy security': Alok Sharma urges world to 'break dependency on fossil fuels'
BusinessGreen Read Article

There is continuing coverage of a speech given yesterday by Alok Sharma in Glasgow to mark six month since the end of the COP26 climate conference. Sharma, the COP26 president and UK government minister, used the speech, says BusinessGreen, to argue that “net zero means security, prosperity and preventing the problems of the present from growing inexorably”. The Press Association notes that Sharma said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine throws into “stark relief” the dangers of energy systems powered by foreign fossil fuels. He looked ahead to COP27 in Egypt later this year: ““It can deliver and it is the best chance we have of tackling climate change. But it is only as strong as the sum of its parts. So we need every nation to pick up the pace.” The newswire adds: “Speaking to journalists after the speech, Mr Sharma said he thought the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy was going to happen much faster in the wake of the war in Ukraine than had previously been envisaged.” BBC News carries a video interview with Sharma saying that, “frankly, now [countries] are going to have to deliver on the commitments that they made”. The Independent carries video of the speech.

Meanwhile, New Scientist has the reaction of Pete Betts, a former lead climate negotiator for the European Union and the UK, who says: “I’m afraid it was pretty clear in Glasgow that we were unlikely to see these revisions [to climate plans in 2022]. Because if they were going do it, they would have done it in Glasgow. All the signals are that it’s not going to happen in Sharm El-Sheikh [in Egypt], unfortunately.” The publication also carries the views of Carne Ross of the thinktank E3G: “I see very little political energy being put into [tougher climate plans] right now…I think the big issue on the climate front at the moment is Ukraine. It’s really stealing all the political attention away from everything else.“

Separately, the Guardian carries an “exclusive” about a new study showing that “nearly half of existing fossil fuel production sites need to be shut down early if global heating is to be limited to 1.5C”. It continues: “The assessment goes beyond the call by the International Energy Agency in 2021 to stop all new fossil fuel development to avoid the worst impacts of global heating, a statement seen as radical at the time. The new research reaches its starker conclusion by not assuming that new technologies will be able to suck huge amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere to compensate for the burning of coal, oil and gas. Experts said relying on such technologies was a risky gamble.”

Michael Bloomberg plans a $242m investment in clean energy
The New York Times Read Article

The New York Times reports that Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, will announce a $242m effort today to promote clean energy in 10 developing countries. The newspaper continues: “The investment is part of Mr Bloomberg’s push, announced last year, to shut down coal production in 25 countries and builds on his $500m campaign to close every coal-fired power plant in the US. The announcement is tied to a gathering this week in Rwanda hosted by Sustainable Energy for All, an international group working to increase access to electricity in the global south. The money will fund programs in Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey and Vietnam…The idea behind the type of investment Mr Bloomberg is making is that a philanthropic organisation like his takes on the biggest risk early in a project that decision makers might otherwise be sceptical about, and if it works, the project will become attractive to conventional investors later, said Rachel Kyte, dean of the Fletcher School at Tufts University and a former chief executive of Sustainable Energy for All.”

Meanwhile, Nikkei Asia reports that the “G7 major economies will expand an initiative to support such developing countries as Indonesia in their efforts to phase out coal. It adds: “G7 members will provide financial and technical support to help developing countries transition their mainstay coal-fired power generation to renewable energy in a push to accelerate decarbonisation. As a first step, support will be provided to Indonesia, Vietnam, India and Senegal. An agreement will be reached as early as the meeting of G7 environment, climate and energy ministers in late May. Japan will help several countries, including Indonesia. South Africa received support to move away from coal at COP26.”

Xi Jinping: To correctly understand and grasp carbon peaking and carbon neutrality
International Energy Website Read Article

China’s president Xi Jinping has given new instructions on carbon neutrality through a by-lined article in Qiushi – a magazine affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party – reports International Energy Website, an outlet focusing on energy news and information. The outlet says that Xi ordered the country to “correctly understand and grasp” carbon peaking and carbon neutrality in the article. He highlighted a number of behaviours that “do not match the requirements” from the Party, such as the “campaign-style” carbon reduction and resorting to power cuts, the report says. (Carbon Brief has explained what “campaign-style” carbon reduction means in this article.) Xi also stressed that China must “gradually achieve” carbon peaking and carbon neutrality “based on the national reality that coal is the dominant energy resource”, it notes. (The article is an excerpt from Xi’s speech at a high-level economic meeting in December last year.) A separate article by this website says that China’s premier Li Keqiang ordered the country to “release domestic high-quality coal production capacity as soon as possible” and “cancel the production restriction indicators when necessary”. He also directed the country to “plan ahead and speed up the development of new power-generating projects”, the piece notes. It says that Li’s orders were part of his speech at a meeting in April and were officially published by Xinhua, China’s state news agency.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China’s daily coal production in April jumped 11% year-on-year, “boosted by Beijing’s order to increase supply to ensure security of the country’s energy supply”. Citing official figures, the newswire says that China mined 363m tonnes of coal last month, “equivalent to 12.09m tonnes per day”. Separately, in an interview with China Discipline Inspection Daily, Chai Qimin – director of Strategic Planning Department of National Climate Strategy Center, a state-affiliated institute – explains how the province of Hainan should develop in a “high-quality” and “low-carbon” way. Chai said that Hainan – an island in southern China off the Chinese mainland – “can make full use of the advantages as a free trade island” to develop “green, low-carbon trade”, reports the publication, also affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party.

Elsewhere, China Energy News reports that China’s electricity consumption surpassed 2,680 terawatt hours (TWh) from January to April, an increase of 3.4% year-on-year. The state-run industry newspaper cites figures from the state energy regulator. Additionally, Bloomberg writes that China’s electricity generation “plummeted” in April as Covid-19 restrictions “pummelled economic activity from factory floors to steel mills and shopping malls”. Finally, the South China Morning Post has a report titled: “US and China must focus on the food system if the world is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, say climate experts”.

Former Kiribati president slams Australia’s ‘politicisation’ of climate action and power of fossil fuel lobby
The Guardian Read Article

A former president of the Pacific nation of Kiribati has blasted the influence of the fossil fuel lobby in Australia and the “politicisation” of climate policy, issuing a plea for leaders to adopt a “more moral” stance to cut emissions, reports the Guardian. It continues: “In a forthright speech five days before the Australian election, Anote Tong called for a proper understanding of what the climate crisis means to countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands, saying ‘our survival is on the line’. Tong, who was the president of Kiribati from 2003 to 2016, called on Australia to curb coal exports.” (See Carbon Brief’s interactive grid showing how climate and energy feature in the manifestos of Australia’s main political parties.)

Meanwhile, Australian Associated Press, via the Guardian, says that a “gut-wrenching” clean up and recovery is under way across Queensland as the “flood waters slowly subside from the second major rain event this year”.

Map: See where Americans are most at risk for wildfires
The Washington Post Read Article

The Washington Post has published a “detailed map of wildfire exposure” across the US. It writes: “A new analysis reveals for the first time that a broad swathe of the country, not typically associated with wildfires, is already under threat. Nearly 80m properties in the US stand a significant chance of exposure to fire, according to a model built by the nonprofit First Street Foundation. In the next few decades, many people will face greater danger than they do now. A Washington Post analysis of the group’s data found that an estimated 16% of the country’s population today lives in hazardous areas. Over the next 30 years, that share will increase to 21%. Nearly half of all Americans who live in areas vulnerable to fire will reside in the South, and minorities face a disproportionate risk.” Relatedly, CNN carries a comment piece by journalist and filmmaker John D Sutter focused on the on-going Orange County wildfire in California, which he says “magnifies a stunning truth about climate change”.

Comment.

Heatwaves: Rethink India’s energy mix
Shwetal Shah, The Hindustan Times Read Article

The Hindustan Times carries a comment piece by Shwetal Shah, who is a technical adviser with the government of Gujarat’s climate change department. He writes: “Mitigating or lowering emissions is an urgent need and necessary to avoid the growing risks to our lives and economies. This means giving up coal and gradually reducing dependence on fossil fuels…India is the second largest coal consumer after China. While India contributes way less to the global emissions pie, the decision to reduce climate impacts for its large vulnerable population will have to be the main driver while making energy choices now. Since 2019, Gujarat has decided not to invest in new coal-based power plants. This choice is largely influenced by the falling prices of wind and solar power, and the threat of thermal power plants becoming ‘stranded assets’ in the future, owing to the threats and risks coal investment poses…Staying within the limits of 1.5C is far from ideal, but that’s the minimum we need to strive for. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report is clear that concerted and robust climate commitment is no longer a choice. It is a survival imperative.” Time has a feature on why “western architecture is making India’s heatwaves worse”. And BBC News carries a two-minute video feature titled: “India’s construction workers bear the brunt of heatwave.”

Meanwhile, writing on LinkedIn, Fatih Birol, the International Energy Agency’s executive director, says that the “extraordinary financial windfall for the oil and gas sector from today’s high prices could provide a major boost to clean energy investment”. He adds: “Global net income from oil and gas production in 2022 is anticipated to be nearly $2tn higher than in 2021 and two-and-a-half times the average of the past five years, according to new IEA analysis for our World Energy Investment 2022 report that will be published in June. If the global oil and gas industry were to invest this additional income in low emissions fuels, such as hydrogen and biofuels, it would fund all of the investment needed in these fuels for the remainder of this decade in the [IEA’s] net-zero emissions by 2050 Scenario. For oil and gas producing economies, this could be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to diversify their economic structures to adapt to the new global energy economy that is emerging.”

Separately, an editorial in the Daily Mail says UK consumers have been “sold down the river” by Ofgem, the energy watchdog, which it says is “supposed to defend consumers’ interests against predatory exploitation by the gas and electricity giants”. It adds: “If the watchdog really wanted to slash bills, wouldn’t it cut costly standing charges, including punishing green levies?” (See the Twitter thread posted yesterday by Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans, which lays out the reality of how much “green levies” add to bills – far lower than is commonly claimed by newspapers, politicians and lobbyists who are hostile to action on climate change.) And an editorial in the Daily Telegraph says: “The whole energy market is being suffocated by red tape, while politicians have indulged in facile interventionism as an alternative to making the hard decisions necessary to bring down costs sustainably in the long term. It would be better to scrap the cap entirely and let the market do its job.”

Science.

What’s in a name? On the use and significance of the term 'polar vortex'
Geophysical Research Letters Read Article

In a commentary paper, a group of researchers address confusion around the term “polar vortex”. In the atmospheric science community, the term is used to describe the stratospheric polar vortex, “a band of winds extending from about 15 to 50 km altitude that flows around the pole of each hemisphere” during winter. However, the term “has been used in mainstream media and popular science platforms to instead describe local variations in the upper tropospheric jet streams (winds that blow most strongly between about 8 and 13 km altitude) and even individual extreme cold weather events”, they say. The authors argue that “polar vortex” should be used “only in reference to the stratospheric polar vortex” and that “greater clarity could improve communications both within the community and with non-specialist audiences”. (For more on the polar cortex, see Carbon Brief’s 2018 explainer.)

Modelling climate change impacts on the distribution of an endangered brown bear population in its critical habitat in Iran
Science of The Total Environment Read Article

The range of brown bears in Iran could decline by 10-45% by 2050-70 because of rising temperatures, a new study suggests. The researchers modelled the potential impact of climate change on brown-bear distribution and habitat connectivity by the years 2050 and 2070 under four emissions scenarios. The simulations reveal that the current range of the bears, which encompasses 6750km2 – 41% – of the landscape, will decline by 10% by 2050 under low emissions and up to 45% by 2070 under very high emissions. The loss of suitable habitats falling within the network of conservation (CAs) and no-hunting (NHAs) areas is “a conservation challenge for brown bears because it may lead to bears moving outside the CAs and NHAs and result in subsequent increases in the levels of bear–human conflict”, the authors write.

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