Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- EU to boost solar energy to cut Russian gas, draft shows
- Hasty gas embargo could cost half a million German jobs, says adviser
- UK: ‘Overwhelming need’ for windfall tax on energy firms, Tesco chairman says
- UK: New Energy Bill unveiled in Queen's Speech to boost energy security
- ‘Devastating’: 91% of reefs surveyed on Great Barrier Reef affected by coral bleaching in 2022
- China introduces guideline to encourage low-carbon behaviours among the public, in support of national carbon neutrality goal
- US: California lays out plan to drastically cut fossil fuel use
- The Times view on the Queen’s Speech: Thin pickings
- The Tories are going all out to shut down protest. Just Stop Oil activists like me will not be deterred
- Local oil – from the national park
- Human and planetary health implications of negative emissions technologies
Bloomberg reports on leaked drafts of the EU’s plans, set for release next week, to cut imports of Russian gas by nearly two-thirds this year while heading towards its wider goal of carbon neutrality by the middle of the century. As part of this strategy, the European Commission wants to install more than 300 gigawatts (GW) of solar power by the middle of the decade, which the news website notes is twice the level seen in 2020, and more than 500GW by 2030. The plan involves a “swift, massive deployment” of solar panels on rooftops, but the piece notes that it is “likely to disappoint the five member states who last week called on Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to deliver a 2030 goal of 1,000GW – roughly equivalent to the world’s current solar capacity”. Another Bloomberg piece says that in the upcoming RePowerEU strategy, due on 18 May, the commission will raise its clean energy target for 2030 to 45% from the current 40%. It adds that the plan will be worth 195bn euros ($205bn) and will aim to end dependency on Russian fossil fuels by 2027. Reuters also reports on a draft of the strategy, noting that the documents contain plans to tweak permitting rules and boost the solar manufacturing industry. This includes skilling solar sector workers and developing an “EU Solar Industry Alliance” to use the bloc’s budget and carbon market “innovation fund” to support investments in manufacturing. The Financial Times also reports on the draft proposals, stating that the EU is preparing to loosen its regulations in order to make it easier to build some wind and solar projects without the need for an environmental impact assessment. The article states that the draft calls for the fast-track permitting of renewable projects in designated “go-to” areas, with member states obliged to set aside a sufficient number of these areas to meet the bloc’s targets. Meanwhile, Politico reports that as part of the bloc’s new energy strategy EU officials are considering offering financial compensation to Hungary in a bid to persuade the country’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orbán to sign up to the bloc’s proposed sanctions on Russian oil. The Guardian has an analysis piece looking at “how Europe is tackling energy crisis”.
In another new development, Ukraine said on Tuesday that it would suspend the flow of gas through a transit point which delivers almost a third of the fuel piped from Russia to Europe through the nation, according to Reuters. GTSOU, which operates Ukraine’s gas system, blamed Russia for the move, alleging that occupying forces had started taking gas transiting through Ukraine and sending it to the two Russia-backed separatist regions in the country’s east, the newswire continues. Bloomberg reports that while the Ukrainian network operator said the gas could be rerouted to avoid a supply interruption, Russian state gas company Gazprom said the switch is not possible.
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that Botswana president Mokgweetsi Masisi says his country has been inundated with requests to supply coal to Europe as the Ukraine war forces the continent to pivot more to Africa for energy resources. In Tokyo, Japan, residents are being asked to save power by unplugging energy-hungry appliances, according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that to deal with its own fuel crisis India has eased environment approvals for coal mine expansions.
Separately, US climate envoy John Kerry has warned that the longer the war in Ukraine carries on, the worse the consequences will be for the climate, according to the Guardian. The Independent notes a statement by COP26 president Alok Sharma that climate change remains a “chronic threat” despite the change to international politics caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And Recharge reports that renewable power growth is set to flatline unless governments strengthen policy measures over the “next six months”.
Finally, the International Energy Agency has just released a new report, which, according to a new Twitter thread by Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans, shows it has raised its “forecast for wind and solar growth (again)”. Evans adds: “Its latest sees wind + solar growth of 278GW this year, 16% higher than the May 2021 forecast. Moreover, growth will have effectively doubled in 5yrs from ~150GW/yr to ~300GW/yr.”
A quick embargo on Russian gas would put half a million German jobs in jeopardy, according to one of the German government’s economic advisers, reports the Times. “Most models suggest an end to the gas deliveries from Russia would trigger a deep recession. Half a million jobs could be lost”, Achim Truger told the Rheinische Post, according to the Times. It adds that “some of the country’s largest employers have warned that the results would be worse than the disruption wrought by the pandemic, with entire branches of industry having to shut down and a cascade of knock-on effects through the wider economy”.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Germany is set to become “a liquefied natural gas powerhouse” within a year, allowing it to replace at least 70% of Russian gas imports. It says that the government adopted legislation to cut the approval process for such facilities to a tenth of the usual time.
In more embargo news, German newspaper Der Tagesspiegel reports that “the left-wing faction in the Bundestag is against an EU import ban on Russian oil, as it would be an “enormous risk for East Germany, but also for the economy in Germany as a whole,” said parliamentary group leader Amira Mohamed Ali on Tuesday in Berlin.
Finally, “Germany is moving away from a plan to establish a strategic national coal reserve”, sources from the government and industry told Reuters on Tuesday, as Berlin revisits its energy contingency projects months after Russia invaded Ukraine. Another story by Reuters reports that one of Germany’s largest natural gas importers, VNG, has opened an account with Gazprombank for payments for Russian gas under Moscow’s new terms and expects no problems during conversion to rubles, it said on Monday.
There have been various renewed calls for a windfall tax on energy companies to ease the cost-of-living crisis in the UK, with Tesco chairman John Allan stating that there is an “overwhelming need” for such measures after seeing the supermarket’s customers “extremely stretched”, Press Association reports. The comments came on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ahead of the Queen’s speech on Tuesday, the piece notes. The i newspaper also reports on the comments, noting that Allan said such a tax would be the “single biggest thing that could be done” to help struggling households tackle the energy crisis. The news outlets note that these comments come as energy companies report soaring profits. This is highlighted by the Independent which reports that Shell, BP, Exxon Mobil and Chevron have all seen profits rise, reporting $27.3bn (£22bn) in profits during the first three months of this year amid high oil prices in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Analysis by the Labour party – which has called for a windfall tax – reveals that it could bring in at least £1.95bn for the Treasury based on forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility, according to the Guardian. This is “far more than the £1.2bn the party forecast in January”, the newspaper notes, stating that Labour has proposed increasing the rate of corporate taxation on oil-and-gas company profits from 40% to 50%.
Meanwhile, the Press Association notes that British Gas owner Centrica has said it expects to hit its top earning targets, boosted by “strong” volumes across its nuclear and gas production operations. However, the company’s chief executive Chris O’Shea said that a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers would be comparable to “burn[ing] the furniture to stay warm” as it would hit investment and push up costs in the long term, according to the Times. The Scotsman also reports on the news from Centrica, which also owns Scottish Gas, adding that so far chancellor Rishi Sunak has held firm in his opposition to a windfall tax, arguing on Monday that it would “deter investment at a time we need it most – not least in renewable energy”. Keith Anderson, the chief executive of Scottish Power, is quoted in the Guardian saying that Sunak should take more action to deal with the cost-of-living crisis for consumers, although he does not mention a windfall tax. BBC News says that Anderson also noted that Scottish households with average incomes are facing fuel poverty this winter.
Finally, the Financial Times reports that Sunak is demanding that North Sea oil-and-gas companies agree to a “significant boost to their energy investments in the UK to avoid being hit by a windfall tax”. While the chancellor does not want to introduce such a levy, he is facing growing pressure from MPs to act on the cost-of-living crisis, the newspaper says. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that “government sources have suggested” Scotland’s largest wind farm, Moray East, is “making profits from record energy prices instead of paying back to the taxpayer”. It says that ministers are planning to tighten rules over contracts with wind farms due to the “loophole” that allows them to do this.
A new UK energy bill was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech – which marks the official opening of parliament – to help the nation build an improved energy system, according to Current News. It notes that Prince Charles, who was standing in for his mother the Queen, told the House of Lords chamber: “My ministers will bring forward an Energy Bill to deliver the transition to cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy. This will build on the success of the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year”. The news website notes that the government has outlined 10 main elements of the new bill, highlighting support for industry to step up investment in growing the consumer market for heat pumps. It also adds that another bill included in the speech – the levelling up and regeneration bill – will see the planning system in Britain reformed, a move that trade organisation Renewable UK has called “vital for hitting the UK’s target of 50 gigawatt (GW) offshore wind by 2030″. Edie describes the new energy bill as the “first of its kind in more than a decade and will outline how, precisely, the UK plans to end unabated fossil-fuelled energy generation by 2035”. BusinessGreen notes that, essentially, the new bill will put into effect the measures laid out in the energy security strategy last month, such as increasing nuclear, offshore wind, and North Sea oil-and-gas capacity (see Carbon Brief’s analysis of the strategy). However, the website adds that although many elements of the bill have already been announced, “further details were unveiled in some crucial areas”, including plans for “state of the art” business models for carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) transport and storage, low-carbon hydrogen and industrial carbon capture. BusinessGreen also has a roundup of some of the responses to the Queen’s speech from green NGOS and businesses.
The Guardian covers a report titled, “Reef snapshot: summer 2021-22”, which documents the state of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and was “quietly published” by the reef’s Marine Park Authority on Tuesday night “after weeks of delay”. It concludes that above-average water temperatures in late summer caused coral bleaching throughout the 2,300km reef system during this period, with 91% of reefs surveyed afflicted by coral bleaching. This confirms that the natural landmark has suffered its sixth mass bleaching event on record, the piece says. Associated Press also has the story, noting that this is the Great Barrier Reef’s first bleaching event during a La Niña weather pattern, which is generally associated with cooler Pacific Ocean temperatures. It describes the latest news as an “unwelcome reminder of the differences in climate change policy among Australian politicians” as a federal election approaches. The piece notes that the conservative government led Scott Morrison’s Liberal Party seeking reelection on 21 May has less ambitious emissions targets than the centre-left Labor opposition is promising.
In Australian election news, the Guardian reports that having spoken with “more than a dozen high-profile independent candidates and crossbench MPs about how they would approach a potential hung parliament, “almost all of them identified major commitments on climate change and a federal integrity commission as their key demands in any negotiations”.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that a push by the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu for the international court of justice to protect vulnerable nations from climate change has received the backing of 1,500 civil society organisations from more than 130 countries.
The South China Morning Post reports that “China wants to encourage more citizens to engage in green and low-carbon behaviours” to support its climate goals after a nationwide guideline was published. The document was released last Friday by the All-China Environment Federation (ACEF) – a nationwide environmental non-profit organisation. [However, according to state-run newspaper People’s Daily, the guideline was jointly issued by a number of organisations, including ACEF, Peking University and two departments under the Ministry of Ecology and Environment.] The guideline introduced “40 green and low-carbon behaviours”, which fall into “seven categories from green living and green transportation, to green finance”, the South China Morning Post says. The newspaper notes that the document is the “first document to give quantitative guidelines and standards for consumer-level carbon emission reductions in China”, adding that “26% of China’s energy consumption is directly used in public life”. People’s Daily reports that the guideline “fills the gap” by providing a way to assess and quantify the emissions reduction from citizen’s behaviours.
Meanwhile, China Daily – a state-run newspaper – says that China is “expected to strengthen efforts to safeguard the balance between coal supply and demand amid its broader pursuit of further enhancing the energy supply and optimising the energy mix”, citing “industry experts and analysts”. The newspaper notes that “surging coal prices” globally and the “approaching summer” – when “a peak in electricity consumption” usually occurs – have “jointly” made it “more urgent” for China to “increase coal supplies”, those experts and analysts said. They also told the newspaper that “over the longer term”, China is “determined” to reduce the use of the fossil fuel.
Economic View – a state-run financial outlet – reports that China’s top economic planner and several other government bodies have instructed the nation to “cultivate leading enterprises in the clean and efficient utilisation of coal”. Additionally, Gas Compression Magazine reports that China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation Sinopec (Sinopec) – China’s large state-owned oil refiner – has “completed the construction of the country’s first megatonne carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS) project”, which is expected to reduce carbon emission “by 1m tonnes per year”. Elsewhere, Energy Monitor points out that China’s new green hydrogen development plan issued in March “is largely seen as lowballing what could eventually be a major component of the country’s 2060 net-zero drive”.
Finally, Bloomberg writes that Chinese imports from Russia “surged to a record in April, likely due to soaring global energy prices”. A separate Bloomberg article says that “Chinese funds with a climate focus more than doubled their assets” in 2021. The outlet says that China has passed the US as the “second-largest global market” in terms of climate-focused funds, after Europe.
A new roadmap by the California Air Resources Board sets the state on a path to achieve “carbon neutrality” by 2045, a timeline that is among the most ambitious in the nation, according to Associated Press. The article says that the board recommends the state cut the use of oil and gas by 91% by 2045 and carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology for remaining emissions. It adds that the plan is not final, with a public comment process still to come, and legislature or other regulatory bodies responsible for putting policies in place. Among the measures noted by the San Fransisco Chronicle in its coverage are ending the use of natural gas in new construction, ensuring that all passenger cars and trucks sold in the state will be emissions-free by 2035 and ending oil and gas drilling by 2045.
In more US news, Bloomberg reports that president Joe Biden “may yet fulfil a campaign promise to slash oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, if an appeals court rejects an effort by 13 states to expand domestic energy production”. Associated Press has more details on the case.
A Times editorial has a rather withering assessment of the Queen’s speech, delivered yesterday by her son Prince Charles to mark the opening of parliament, which it describes has having a “fin de regime feel” to it. “Although it contained plans for 38 new bills, a large number for a single session expected to last one year, it was hard to detect in this hodge-podge of often small-scale measures a strategic vision, let alone compelling answers to the unprecedented challenges confronting Britain. The impression was of a government running out of steam”, the article states. Notably, it adds that the speech “had little to say about climate change and delivering net-zero emissions”. The newspaper states that the energy bill will pave the way for some pilot schemes in new technology but do little to boost clean energy investment or reduce energy demand. “For a government with a majority of almost 80 and two more years of the parliament to run, such timidity is hard to fathom”, it concludes. The Guardian‘s editorial has a similarly negative outlook on the government’s plans, stating that “when an issue divides his party, such as net-zero climate policies, the prime minister has nothing to say. Mr Johnson wants not to govern, but to mobilise the Conservative party’s core vote”. It adds that the government also signalled its intention to bring forward a public order bill “to restrict demonstrations and cast environmental civil disobedience as ‘watermelon’ protests – green on the outside but subcutaneously red”. Moreover, the newspaper says that the growing cost-of-living crisis could persuade the public to go in a different direction, noting that “most people” support Labour’s idea of a windfall tax on energy firms to help those struggling with bills. “The more severe this spell of low growth and high inflation, the stronger the urge for such policies,” it says. The Daily Telegraph also concludes in its editorial that the speech “lacked direction”, but is more positive about the energy measures announced, and muses on whether the government will continue to resist a windfall tax – a “disastrous, though doubtless popular, move”. It sets out its stall, adding that: “The government should be removing subsidies, restoring market competition, increasing the domestic supply of oil and gas, and setting out its plans to expand nuclear power production”.
Separately, the Guardian’s financial editor Nils Pratley has a piece exploring the windfall tax in light of calls from the likes of Tesco chairman John Allan. He concludes: “Boards are pragmatic: if windfall taxes are seen to apply only in exceptional circumstances, they are not going to rip up long-term investment plans. Equally, a windfall tax does not offer salvation. From the point of view of the Treasury and consumers, it’s a case of every little helps, as a chairman of Tesco could have put it”.
An anonymous activist from the protest group Just Stop Oil has written for the Guardian in light of the government’s plans to curb protests in the UK. They write that supporters of their group act “not because it is legal, but because it is the right thing to do”. They continue: “It’s the difference between civil resistance and protest. They have tried writing to their MPs, writing petitions, and donating money to charities. It hasn’t worked. They don’t want to cause disruption but it’s 2022 and they can no longer stand by: they have chosen to step up”. The piece notes that in the Queen’s speech, measures outlined include new criminal offences such as “locking on” to objects or buildings and “interfering with key national infrastructure”. The writer adds: “Fossil fuel infrastructure has been given more protection than people currently living in the global south, and future generations”.
Der Spiegel carries an editorial piece by Susanne Götze about Germany’s largest oil-and-gas group Wintershall Dea’s plan to expand oil production in the Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea national park, a designated nature and landscape conservation area. She adds that this project, which had been applied for years ago and was previously unpopular, has suddenly received political support. According to Der Spiegel, the author notes, it will have funding rights for 50 years. Environmentalists are not convinced, with head of the WWF in Husum, Hans-Ulrich Rösner, stating that “the oil platform is massively disrupting our national park landscape”.
Removing 5.9bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere using negative emission technologies could prevent 900 “disability-adjusted life years” – a measure of years of life lost – per million people annually, new research finds. The authors evaluate the impacts of direct air capture and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (DACCS and BECCS). They find that “the health co-benefits of BECCS, dependent on the biomass source, can exceed those of DACCS”. However, the study adds that “only DACCS can avert damage to the biosphere integrity without challenging other biophysical limits”.