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Briefing date 21.06.2022
EU warns against fossil fuel ‘backsliding’ as coal replaces Russian gas

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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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EU warns against fossil fuel ‘backsliding’ as coal replaces Russian gas
Financial Times Read Article

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned that EU member states should not backtrack on their long-term drive to cut fossil fuel use, as a handful of nations turn to coal following a decision by Russia to limit their gas supplies. She said governments need to stay focused on “massive investment in renewables”, the newspaper adds. This comes as Reuters reports that the Netherlands has announced it would activate the “early-warning” phase of an energy crisis plan by lifting a cap on coal-fired power plants as it seeks to cut reliance on Russian gas. It notes that the nation, which gets as much as 15% of its gas from Russia, is already buying liquified natural gas (LNG) and cutting back on gas consumption, “but still may face a shortage this winter”. Meanwhile, the Daily Mail adds that Germany is also turning to coal power after Russian state company Gazprom announced last week that it was cutting supplies through the crucial Nord Stream 1 pipeline “for technical reasons”. Austria, too, is turning to coal, as Reuters reports that the government has agreed with utility Verbund to convert a reserve, gas-fired plant so that it can use coal should if gas supplies from Russia “result in an energy emergency”.

Politico captures all of these stories in a piece titled, “Russia declares gas war on EU”, in which it notes that Russian president Vladimir Putin is “playing hardball with the EU”. It describes a decision to cut off gas deliveries to “some of Russia’s best customers” in Europe as “a howl of rage at the sanctions imposed after invading Ukraine”. The piece notes that there is now only 40% of the normal amount of gas flowing through the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream pipeline, which is also affecting deliveries to France, Italy and Austria. According to the Daily Telegraph, “there are growing fears that Russia’s gas will be cut off, adding further to demand and raising the prospect of blackouts or energy rationing on the continent”. Reuters also provides an overview of the current situation, noting that Denmark and Italy are also edging closer to emergency measures for their energy systems, following the latest move by Russia.

Meanwhile, New Scientist reports the bittersweet news that by the middle of this century, sea ice melting due to rising global temperatures “could open a route by which ships could avoid Russian-controlled waters”. The Independent also has the story, noting that the melting ice would loosen “Russia’s grip on trade in the region”.

Finally, a new report from the International Energy Agency, reported by Reuters, concludes that Africa could be in a position by the end of the decade to export some 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) of natural gas to Europe.

Germany sticks to 2030 coal exit target amid energy worries
Associated Press Read Article

Despite moving to increase coal power in the short term following a reduction in gas supplies from Russia, the German government has said that it remains committed to its goal of phasing out coal as a power source by 2030, Associated Press reports. Economy minister Robert Habeck said that the move to burn more coal was “bitter”, but “simply necessary” to lower gas usage, the piece notes. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports that companies in Germany are “at the greatest risk of default compared with their European counterparts” as Moscow shortens energy supplies, according to the Weil European Distress Index, which looked at data from more than 3,750 listed companies across Europe. It adds that Weil, Gotshal & Manges, the US law firm that compiled the index, cited Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas as “particularly problematic”for its economy.

Meanwhile, Die Welt reports that the debate about nuclear power in Germany is “picking up speed”. The liberal Free Democrats Party politicians are in favour of extending the service life of the remaining German nuclear power plants, while the Social Democratic Party (SPD) is against it. The article adds that Christian Social Union’s leader Markus Söder has accused chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) of spreading false arguments in the debate about a temporary extension of nuclear power, calling it “technical nonsense” to say that there were no fuel rods for the nuclear power plants. Referring to experts, Scholz said the fuel rods only lasted until the end of the year, explains the article.

In more energy news, Bild reports that Bavarian economics and energy minister Hubert Aiwanger is calling on the federal government to announce the last escalation level of the gas emergency plan. “The principle of hope is no longer sufficient, we now need the emergency level of the Energy Security Act,” said Aiwanger yesterday: “That would give the federal government significantly more opportunities to intervene politically in the critical supply situation”. For example, it would then be possible to switch off industrial customers, notes the media outlet.

Finally, Der Tagesspiegel reports that climate activists from Last Generation blocked the autobahn’s exits in Berlin yesterday. The news details that they called on Scholz to refrain from drilling for oil in the North Sea: “Saving oil instead of drilling can be achieved, for example, by permanently free local public transport and a speed limit”, said activists in their statement.

Bangladesh military scrambles to reach millions marooned after deadly flooding
Reuters Read Article

Nine million people have been marooned in the low-lying nation of Bangladesh and neighbouring parts of India following heavy rains and flooding, according to Reuters. It states that soldiers on small boats have been dispatched to deliver relief material across flooded towns and villages in Bangladesh, where at least 32 people have been killed following monsoon downpours that drove catastrophic flooding in the northeastern Sylhet administrative division. Atiqul Haque, director general of Bangladesh’s Department of Disaster Management, tells Reuters that the flooding is the “worst in 122 years in the Sylhet region”, and the piece says environmentalists warn that climate change could lead to more disasters. Associated Press notes that in a country with a history of climate change-induced disasters, “many expressed frustration that authorities haven’t done more locally”. Its coverage also notes that scientists say flooding in Bangladesh has been worsened by climate change, adding that according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), around 17% of the population “will need to be relocated over the next decade or so if global warming persists at the present rate”. BBC News notes that in the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, which borders Bangladesh, “unprecedented rainfall and flooding” has submerged villages, destroyed crops, killed at least 45 people and displacing more than 4.7 million over the last week. The Times of India reports a higher death toll of 81.

In China, Bloomberg reports that record rains in the nation’s southern provinces have forced millions of people to relocate “even as the country’s north experiences abnormally high temperatures”. The piece notes that these events exemplify the “dual impacts of climate change in the world’s second-biggest economy”.

Reporting on extreme weather in Europe also continues, with the Washington Post noting that the early-onset heatwave that has affected much of the continent is easing “after delivering hundreds of record high temperatures”. The event comes “as human-caused climate change increases the frequency and intensity of excessively high temperatures”, the newspaper adds. Another Washington Post article states that wildfires in Spain have destroyed thousands of acres of land and forced hundreds to flee their homes. Associated Press has a story about extreme heat killing “hundreds” of homeless people in the city o Phoenix, Arizona.

Colombia's new president Gustavo Petro pledges to keep fossil fuels in the ground
Climate Home News Read Article

In electing its first left-wing president, Gustavo Petro, Colombia has set itself on a course to wind down its fossil-fuel production, according to Climate Home News. Indeed, if the new government formalises commitments made in the run up to the election to phase out fossil fuels, Colombia “could become the largest fossil-fuel producer to do so”, the piece states. It adds that Petro’s manifesto pledged to “undertake a gradual de-escalation of economic dependence on oil and coal”, as well as not granting any new licenses for hydrocarbon exploration and to halt all pilot fracking projects and the development of offshore fossil fuels. The piece also notes that Petro’s running mate, Francia Marquez, is a Goldman prize-winning environmental campaigner, and she will now serve as the nation’s first black and second female vice-president. The Washington Post says that a core part of the new president’s platform is a plan to shift from Colombia’s “old extractive economy”, based on oil and coal, to one focused on other industries, “in part to fight climate change”.

COP15: Canada to replace China as venue for UN biodiversity summit
New Scientist Read Article

The long-delayed UN biodiversity summit COP15 will be held in Montreal, Canada, this year rather than in the Chinese city of Kunming as originally planned, New Scientist reports. The news come after concerns that the Chinese government would postpone it until 2023 due to Covid-19. The piece notes that at the event, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) aims to bring together the world’s governments to agree a new deal on halting the loss of biodiversity globally by 2030. BusinessGreen says that at the event, nations are expected to arrive at a landmark Paris Agreement-style UN treaty for biodiversity, but adds that there are “long-standing questions over how to ensure the new targets are met, after a previous package of global targets for nature protection and restoration for 2020 were badly missed by governments around the world”. It notes that there are also questions around how developing countries will fund such efforts. (The announcement was made official earlier today.)

Interview: China’s Xie Zhenhua on tacking climate change
Caixin Read Article

Caixin has published a rare interview with Xie Zhenhua – China’s special envoy on climate change – who participated in the Ministerial on Climate Action (MoCA) in Stockholm at the end of May. [MocA is an annual international conference on climate change cooperation attended by ministers and high-level representatives from over 30 countries.] The Shanghai-based outlet reports that, in the view of this “experienced” climate coordinator, the current global climate commitments “are still a long way from the implementation of climate policy initiatives”.

Xie adds that “the developed countries have to fulfill the commitments of finance first…we have been talking about it [climate finance] for 13 years”. In the interview, Xie mentions that he has talked with Germany’s special climate envoy Jennifer Morgan who said that they felt that it would be “difficult” this year [to fulfill the commitments of climate finance] and that they would “try to resolve the issue next year”. Xie commented that “we [the developing countries] hope that it will be resolved this year”, Caixin highlights.

On China-US climate cooperation, Xie says that “the US must not just talk or chant slogans, but must take real action and implement its commitments”. In terms of the European Union’s proposed Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), Xie comments that “it would be inappropriate for the European Union to insist on unilateral measures”, the outlet notes. [CBAM is a proposed carbon tariff on carbon intensive products. It is currently being legislated as part of the European Green Deal.] Finally, Caixin cites Xie’s comments that China has to “push forward the installed solar and wind power capacity at a growth rate of more than 100 gigawatts per year”.

Elsewhere, the South China Morning Post also has an article on US-China climate cooperation. It cites former US treasury secretary Hank Paulson who says that “there’s nothing wrong with admitting we [China and the US] are strategic competitors and we are competing in all these areas, but we need to acknowledge that both countries have shared goals. We need a global order that works, and we need to save the planet.”

US: Biden says he's nearing decisions on gas tax holiday and student loans as he tries to tame costs

US president Joe Biden said yesterday that he hopes to decide “by the end the week” whether to support a temporary pause in the federal gasoline tax, CNN reports. The piece notes that the administration is “eager to find areas of relief for American consumers contending with skyrocketing gas prices as the summer begins”. As of Monday, the nationwide average for gasoline was just under $5 per gallon. However, the piece notes that a pause on the 18.3-cent-per-gallon federal tax would require the support of Congress, “and there has been little traction among lawmakers on the idea so far”. According to Reuters, Biden also said his team would be sitting down with oil-and-gas companies to get “an explanation from them on why they are not refining more oil”. Another Reuters story says that US treasury secretary Janet Yellen dismissed the idea of reviving the Canada-US Keystone XL oil pipeline, which Biden rejected the permit for on his first day in office, on climate grounds.

Washington Post piece provides an overview of the current state of climate action in the Biden administration. “With his climate legislation stalled and a Supreme Court case threatening his ability to regulate carbon, President Biden has been leaning more heavily than ever on his own authority to tackle climate change and address what he has called an ‘existential threat’,” the articles states.

Young people go to European court to stop treaty that aids fossil fuel investors
The Guardian Read Article

A group of young people have launched legal action at the European Court of Human Rights against an energy treaty that protects fossil-fuel investors, the Guardian reports. “They will argue that their governments’ membership of the little-known energy charter treaty (ECT) is a dangerous obstacle to action on the climate crisis,” the newspaper states. The piece describes the ECT as “a secretive investor court system that enables fossil fuel companies to sue governments for lost profits”. Reuters notes that the suit will ask the court to protect their rights by ordering governments to remove impediments to fighting climate change created by the ECT.

Separately, Politico reports that a group of 10 Extinction Rebellion climate activists glued themselves to the entrance doors of the European Commission’s Berlaymont building in Brussels on Monday, calling on the bloc to more against environmental damage and to criminalise ecocide.

Finally, an editorial in the Financial Times looks at the recent election in France, in which Emmanuel Macron lost his overall parliamentary majority, and considers where the president can go from here. “Macron’s best hope will be to gather support issue by issue. The left, for example, could endorse measures to hasten France’s clean energy transition; the centre-right could support pension reform,” it says.


Carbon is a toxic substance. We should regulate it that way
Eugene Robinson, The Washington Post Read Article

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson writes about an effort by James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a group of climate scientists to force the US government to act “more boldly” on climate change. They have filed an official petition with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeking to require the agency to regulate carbon under the Toxic Substances Control Act. “Deciding that carbon dioxide is a toxic substance as defined by law would only be a first step. The EPA would have to formulate and implement rules that could, for example, impose a fee on carbon emissions – and also require companies to remove carbon from the atmosphere they have already expelled,” he writes. Robinson adds that “using existing law and agreed-upon science is a clever strategy”, noting that “textualists will have to tie themselves in knots to explain why the law’s words don’t mean what they clearly say”.


Precipitation variability over India during the 20th and 21st centuries: investigating natural and anthropogenic drivers
Climatic Change Read Article

A new study quantifies how rainfall in India has been influenced by human activity and natural factors over the 20th and 21st centuries. A decrease in rainfall during the monsoon and winter seasons – along with an increase in pre- and post-monsoon seasons – are “likely dominated by” greenhouse gas emissions and a reduction in human-caused aerosols, the study finds. It adds that “anthropogenic aerosol plays a dominant role in reducing rainfall in the summer monsoon, leading to drying trends over the second half of the 20th century in India”.

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