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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 18.05.2022
Parliament tries to boost climate efforts as emissions and temperatures soar

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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: Parliament tries to boost climate efforts as emissions and temperatures soar
Politico Read Article

The European Parliament’s environment committee has laid out its positions on the EU’s proposed “Fit for 55” package, a major suite of climate legislation that is designed to meet the EU’s legally binding goal to cut emissions 55% below 1990 levels by 2030, Politico reports. MEPs on the committee voted to strengthen the package to include deeper emissions cuts than the original European Commission proposals, with measures such as higher carbon sink targets and a faster phaseout of free pollution licenses for industry, the piece continues. It notes that there were “much narrower margins for core elements of the reform of the EU’s Emissions Trading System [ETS]”, which would set a tougher limit on emissions from sectors covered by the carbon market. Reuters says the committee voted to cut emissions covered by the scheme by 67% by 2030 from 2005 levels, up from the 61% cut proposed by the commission. It adds that the more ambitious new measures “may struggle to win majority support” when the full EU Parliament votes on them in June. According to Bloomberg, a left-leaning coalition pushed the EU ETS measure through, but it was opposed by the conservative European Peoples Party, the biggest political group in the assembly. The New York Times reports on the decision by the European Parliament committee to make “substantial changes” to how the EU subsidises biomass and counts emissions from burning it – policies that could have significant implications to the industry that currently ships logs from US forests to burn in European power plants.

Meanwhile, the Independent reports on new figures from Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, which show that EU greenhouse gas emissions rose above pre-pandemic levels in the last few months of 2021. Politico notes that while the rise was attributed to economic recovery, states such as Estonia, Bulgaria, Sweden and Belgium recorded jumps that were much bigger than the losses recorded due to the pandemic. Against this backdrop, Yale Environment360 reports on a new study that shows the 2018-2020 European drought was the worst in more than two centuries, “driven in part by uncommonly high temperatures that exacerbated dry conditions”.

Finally, a piece in Reuters looks ahead to the plan set for release by the European Commission today, comprising a €210bn (£177bn) package to help Europe end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027 while also shifting to a cleaner energy system. The measures are set to include a mix of EU laws, non-binding schemes, and recommendations that national governments could take up, it adds. EurActiv reports that the Dutch government has announced plans to ban new fossil fuel heating system installations as of 2026, while introducing mandatory heat pumps or connections to heat networks.

Europe makes U-turn on American gas with fracking fears at bay
Bloomberg Read Article

With the war in Ukraine prompting Europe to reshape its energy policy, deals are being agreed to import US gas to the continent despite past opposition, Bloomberg reports. It says that as nations seek an exit from Russian oil-and-gas supplies, French utillity company Engie has signed a deal to buy US liquefied natural gas while Bulgaria and Poland have agreed to import US fracked gas to European shores. “US supplies tend to be dirtier than from other countries as they come from several thousand shale wells. But American producers seeking to woo European clients are taking steps to cut their footprint,” the article states.

Separately, another Bloomberg story reports that European energy companies are continuing with plans to buy Russian gas as the EU’s guidelines appeared to allow them to do so without breaching sanctions. Specifically, Italy’s Eni has announced plans to open an account to pay for Russian gas in roubles following the demand by state-backed Gazprom. Reuters notes that Germany company Uniper said it would transfer euros to an account at Gazprombank to comply with Moscow’s demands, making no mention of a separate rouble account. Executives from Chevron and Woodside Petroleum have said Russia will likely be permanently shut out of the global energy market after Europe weans itself off the country’s oil and gas, benefiting rivals in the US and Australia, according to the Financial Times.

The Financial Times also reports that the European Commission is looking at raising €20bn (£17bn) to fund the EU’s exit from Russian oil and gas by selling surplus emissions permits, a move that could make it cheaper to burn fossil fuels. One EU diplomat said this move would hamper the bloc’s efforts to cut emissions, calling it “bad climate politics”.

Finally, the Press Association reports on a new paper that concludes stopping new oil, gas and coal developments will not enough to limit dangerous global warming, and that nearly 40% of reserves in existing and approved sites would need to stay in the ground to stay within 1.5C of warming.

UK: Rishi Sunak plans heating bill discounts and tax cuts
The Times Read Article

In a frontpage Times story, the newspaper reports that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak is planning to increase the warm home discount awarded to some of the nation’s poorest households by hundreds of pounds, before cutting taxes to help with the cost-of-living crisis. The article says Sunak will take a “two-pronged approach: a package to help with energy bills in July followed by general tax cuts in the autumn”. It adds that as it stands the warm homes discount will provide 3m households in England and Wales with £150 off their bills, and the Treasury is considering a one-off increase of £300, £500 or even £600 to help with rising energy prices. Unlike the current scheme, which is funded by a levy on energy bills, this increase could be directly funded by government, at a potential cost of more than £1bn, the newspaper adds.

Meanwhile, there is extensive coverage of a proposed amendment by Labour to the Queen’s Speech backing a one-off windfall tax on energy companies to support struggling households in the UK. The Daily Mirror reports that MPs rejected the move by 310 votes to 248, with no votes at all from the Conservative party. Despite this outcome, BBC News says that Sunak – who initially ruled such a levy out by appears to have moved more towards the idea – hinted at it again in parliament, stating that “no option was off the table” if energy firms did not invest in the UK. The Financial Times describes Sunak’s words as “stepp[ing] up his warnings to Britain’s oil-and-gas industry”, noting that the chancellor is under pressure from both political opponents and some prominent members of his own party to impose a windfall tax. According a frontpage story in the Daily Telegraph, internal government polling shows that a windfall tax on oil-and-gas companies is “wildly popular” with the public, who consider the firms “corporate cowboys” given that they are profiting off rising energy prices. Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has a piece in Conservative Home about the role than “green” policies and “levelling up” can play in easing the cost-of-living crisis.

Finally, Sky News reports that while it sounds “implausible”, the UK “really is experiencing an almost unprecedented glut of natural gas”. Its economics and data editor Ed Conway explains why this is the case, and why it will likely not impact consumer prices.

Climate change swells odds of record India, Pakistan heatwaves
BBC News Read Article

Climate change makes record-breaking heatwaves in northwest India and Pakistan 100 times more likely, according to a new study by the Met Office, reported by BBC News. It concludes that the region should now expect a heatwave exceeding the record temperatures seen in 2010 once every three years, whereas without climate change such extremes would occur only once every 312 years. The article notes that this comes as forecasters say temperatures in northwest India could reach new highs in the coming days.

The Hindustan Times reports on the Indian capital of New Delhi setting a new temperature record on Sunday, with the mercury passing 49C. The Daily Telegraph, reporting from the city, says hospital admissions for heat-related incidents have increased by 20%, with health experts warning the situation will get worse before the peak of summer has passed.

David Wallace-Wells writing in his new newsletter column for the New York Times discusses the implications of such events becoming more and more frequent. He quotes climate scientist Dr Friederike Otto, who tells him that while people want to call events like this “extreme”, technically they can’t, “because they’re not rare anymore”.

China: Willing to strengthen cooperation with European side to lead global climate governance with pragmatic actions
China News Service Read Article

China has said that it is “willing to strengthen cooperation with the European side to lead global climate governance with pragmatic actions”, reports China News Service. The state-run newswire says the statement was made during a virtual meeting between Xie Zhenhua – China’s special envoy for climate change affairs – and Frans Timmermans – executive vice-president of the European Commission – on Monday. The Chinese side also expressed its willingness to work with the “European side” to “promote” COP27’s “focus” on the implementation of pledges and facilitate several issues – such as adaptation and financing – to achieve “substantial progresses” in a “comprehensive and balanced manner”, the outlet says. China also said that it would work with the “European side” to “help the majority of developing countries to improve their ability to address climate change”.

Meanwhile, China’s National Climate Center has forecast that flooding “in the north and south of the country could be as bad [this year] as last summer when torrential rain killed hundreds”, Bloomberg reports. The outlet notes that more than 27,000 residents from 11 counties of Guangxi – a province in southern China bordering Vietnam – were “affected” by “heavy” rain last week. It adds that more than 2,300 hectares of crops were “damaged”, leading to financial losses of 104m yuan ($15.4m). Separately, Meng Wei – spokeswoman for the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the state economic planner – said on Tuesday that the NDRC would treat coal as an “anchor” during its efforts to “ensure energy supply and price stability”, China Electric Power News reports. Meng said that, since coal power accounted for “around” 60% of China’s power generation, the stabilisation of businesses’ energy cost must be based on the “national reality” that coal is the “main” form of energy in China, the state-run industry newspaper notes.

Finally, the South China Morning Post writes that “energy cooperation between China and Russia is expected to step up”, according to assessments made by during “a closed-door seminar” at Renmin University in Beijing. Li Wei – one of the seminar’s participants and an associate professor with Renmin University’s school of international studies – is quoted saying “as long as China does not participate in the sanctions, one-quarter of Russia’s crude oil export revenue is safe”.

Australia's gas producers eye profits from carbon capture
Reuters Read Article

Australian oil-and-gas producers are looking to future profits from carbon capture and storage (CCS) “as the industry globally races to meet net-zero emissions targets”, according to Reuters. The article reports on statements made at the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference, where businesses frames CCS as the only proven technology for reducing emissions at the required scale “while maintaining reliable and affordable supply”. The Guardian reports that fossil fuel representatives at the conference have “joined” with Scott Morrison’s government in “rejecting scientific warnings that no new oil and gas fields should be opened if the world is to deal with the climate crisis”. One representatives described increased oil-and-gas supply as “absolutely part of the solution” to decarbonising the economy.

These comments come as Australia gears up for an election which could have a significant impact on its future climate policy. The Washington Post notes that while climate concern in Australia is at an “all-time high”, neither major party is talking much about it as both “fear losing seats in coal-mining areas”. Nevertheless, the newspaper states that a “loosely connected slate of independent candidates is amplifying the climate conversation” and threatening to take long-held seats from the ruling Coalition government. Al Jazeera has a piece on the role of climate in the Australian election, and Carbon Brief has recently published a piece comparing the climate and energy election pledges made by major parties.

Finally, Climate Home News reports that Anote Tong, a former president of the Pacific nation of Kiribati, alongside two other former presidents, one former prime minister and six former ministers are among 16 leaders forming the Climate Overshoot Commission. The group will “address sensitive questions around the ethics and feasibility of ways to reverse warming”, such as greenhouse gas removal and geoengineering, the news website states. The Guardian reports that Pascal Lamy, former head of the World Trade Organisation and convenor of the newly established commission, has said that nations must urgently agree a way of controlling and regulating attempts to geoengineer the climate.

Comment.

Offshore wind power can blow Putin away
Dan Jørgensen, The Times Read Article

A piece by Dan Jørgensen, Denmark’s minister for climate and energy and public utilities, in the Times spells out the role that expanding renewable energy can have in cutting off ties with Russian oil and gas. This comes as leaders from the EU and northern European nations convene in Denmark for the North Sea Summit, which will launch an initiative to increase their offshore wind capacity tenfold by 2050, according to Jørgensen. This will also coincide with the launch of RepowerEU, the EU’s new plan to wean the continent off Russian energy. “This sends not only a timely but a very strong political signal to President Putin. By producing our energy in Europe, we can disarm Putin of his best political and economic weapon,” the minister writes.

Meanwhile, writing in the Financial Times, Heather Grabbe, director of the Open Society European Policy Institute, states that as the EU prepares its climate plans the bloc “cannot be a green island in a dirty world”. She writes that with European nations driving “a big chunk” of global emissions beyond their national borders, “unless its trade, aid and other external policies help other regions to achieve their own green transitions, the EU’s ambitions will fail”.

Science.

Drought assessment has been outpaced by climate change: empirical arguments for a paradigm shift
Nature Communications Read Article

The management of water resources in the US adheres to an “erroneous assumption” of “climate stationarity – that the frequency and magnitude of weather patterns remain unchanged, a new study suggests. Using observed data from almost 2,000 sites across the US, the researchers show that “conclusions based on long climate records can substantially bias assessment of drought severity”. This bias stems from the assumption that “conditions from the early and mid 20th century are as likely to occur in today’s climate”, the researchers say. They suggest that “drought assessment error is relatively low” when using 30-year records, but that error “increases with longer record lengths where climate is changing rapidly”.

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