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Daily Briefing

07.12.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Exxon Mobil aims for net-zero emissions from its operations in the Permian Basin by 2030
Exxon Mobil aims for net-zero emissions from its operations in the Permian Basin by 2030

News.

Exxon Mobil aims for net-zero emissions from its operations in the Permian Basin by 2030
The New York Times Read Article

Oil major Exxon Mobil has announced that it intends to achieve net-zero emissions from its operations in West Texas and New Mexico by 2030, according to the New York Times. While the company said its fossil fuel extraction activities in the Permian Basin would be decarbonised, the newspaper notes that this target “does not include offsetting emissions from its customers, such as car and truck owners and airlines”. Instead, Exxon intends to electrify its operations, detect and capture more leaking methane gas and eliminate the routine burning of waste gas emitted from oil wells, as well as potentially employing “nature-based solutions” to absorb remaining emissions. (See Carbon Brief‘s new Q&A on the issues associated with nature-based solutions.) Reuters notes that the new target is part of a company-wide effort to reduce the intensity of “upstream” emissions by 40% to 50% by 2030, compared to 2016 levels. The newswire also states that the goal comes as investors and governments increase pressure on energy companies “to fight against climate change”, with a hedge fund forcing Exxon to add new board members to focus on this issue in May.

In a related, “exclusive” story, the Guardian reports that the largest oil and gas companies made a combined $174bn in profits over the first nine months of the year. The piece notes that the “bumper profit totals” by 24 companies including Exxon, Chevron, Shell and BP came “as gasoline prices climbed in the US”, and states that fossil fuel companies have shown “little willingness” to ramp up fossil fuel production to help reduce costs. The findings come from a new report by government watchdog group Accountable.US. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that oil prices “edged up” on Tuesday following a near 5% rebound the day before, amid easing concerns about the Omicron Covid-19 variant and delays to Iranian crude supplies.

Separately, the Guardian has an “exclusive” story about the Net Zero Rise project, involving the universities of Newcastle, Oxford and Durham, which has identified 20 exhausted oil and gas wells that could be turned int the UK’s first deep test sites for burying captured carbon dioxide (CO2) next year.

Global oil CEOs stress need for fossil fuels despite push for cleaner energy
Reuters Read Article

Reuters reports from the World Petroleum Congress in Houston, Texas, where it says top executives from energy companies kicked off proceedings by affirming the need for more oil in the decades to come. Speaking at the conference, the Financial Times reports that Amin Nasser, the chief executive of Saudi Aramco, said there was an assumption that the world could move to cleaner fuels “virtually overnight”, but that this was “deeply flawed”. Nasser called on world leaders to continue investing in fossil fuels or run the risk of spiralling inflation and social unrest, according to the newspaper. Another Reuters article states that the fossil fuel executives “clash[ed]” with a US Energy Department official at the event. It notes that while representatives from oil majors including Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil and Chevron “blamed demand for renewables and lack of investment in fossil fuels for recent fuel shortages and price volatility”, US deputy energy secretary David Turk told “a largely empty hall” that the industry has a moral obligation to address climate change, emphasising the economic opportunity it represents.

In the UK, the Times reports that the UK government has given its “strongest signal that there is still political support for the Cambo oilfield” following Shell’s withdrawal from the project. It cites Alister Jack, the Scotland secretary, speaking at the House of Commons’ Scottish affairs select committee, where he said: “I still think it’s better that we develop Cambo than we bring in that oil…from another country, that’s less efficient”. Meanwhile, the Independent reports that the UK government is being taken to court by Friends of the Earth over its funding of the “controversial” Cabo Delgado gas project in Mozambique.

Electric vehicle boom fuels rise in UK new car sales
The Guardian Read Article

Sales of electric cars have doubled since last year, bringing the total share accounted for by battery-powered electric vehicles to 19% in the UK, according to the Guardian. The newspaper reports that 22,000 pure electric vehicles were registered in November, compared to the 10,345 that were registered in the same month last year. It also notes that this surge in low-carbon vehicles led to UK car sales increasing for the first time in four months, although sales are still close to a third down on pre-pandemic levels. Carbon Brief’s Simon Evans has a Twitter thread of his own analysis looking at the latest car sales figures. Despite the surging figures for electric cars, much of the newspaper coverage focuses on the relative lack of charging points to service the new vehicles, with the Times noting that this could “overshadow” the news. In its article, the newspaper states that while plug-in hybrid vehicle sales also rose – meaning plug-in cars represented a record 28.1% of market share – new research by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) found that only one charging is being installed for every 52 cars sold. The SMMT, which also publishes the sales figures, found that only 4,109 new standard public charge points were installed from January to September, a period in which 212,181 plug-in cars were registered, according to the Times. The Daily Telegraph states that while charging infrastructure has improved, “easy charging on the hoof is thought to be needed to win over more buyers who want to combine short commutes with the occasional long journey”. The Economist has a piece reflecting on what is describes as a global problem, stating that the current number of public chargers, 1.3m, “cannot begin to satisfy the demands of the world’s rapidly expanding electric fleet”. It cites some progress, including support for charging points in the new US infrastructure bill and a UK mandate requiring new homes, workplaces and retail sites to have charging points.

In more transport news, the Independent reports that the UK government has announced a £15m project, working on a new concept aircraft that it says will run on liquid hydrogen and could “one day fly to the other side of the world with zero carbon emissions and just one refuelling stop”.

High cost of electricity stops British steelmakers going green
The Daily Telegraph Read Article

A steel industry lobby group has said that high power costs in the UK are making it harder for steel companies across the country to adopt green technologies, according to the Daily Telegraph. While new technologies, such as hydrogen-based smelting and “electricity arcs”, could replace coal in steelmaking, UK Steel has said that the high cost of electricity compared to other European nations is deterring investment, the newspaper states. It adds that the group wants the government to cut the network cost to “bring the UK in line with Germany and to consider why German and French electricity is cheaper”. Reuters also covers the findings, captured on a new report from UK Steel, which also concludes that converting the UK’s coal-powered steelmaking blast furnaces to hydrogen-based methods could increase electricity use by 250%, while converting them to “electric arc” methods would increase it by 150%. (See Comment section below.)

Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that the chiefs of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Trades Union Congress (TUC) and several of the UK’s leading environmental groups have written to UK prime minister Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak urging them to set up a new cross-government initiative on reaching net-zero emissions. The letter also calls for all government policies to be subject to tests to ensure they are compatible with the climate target, the newspaper adds.

Meanwhile, the Climate Change Committee (CCC), the UK government’s official climate adviser, has warned that there is an “acute risk” that Scotland will miss its targets to cut emissions, according to the Guardian. In what the newspaper describes as an “unusually critical statement”, CCC chair Lord Deben has stated that despite ambitious pledges, “clarity and transparency on policy, supported with detail on how these policies will be delivered, has been lacking”. Separately, the Times reports that CBI Scotland has called for electric vehicle charging infrastructure and green investment to be among the Scottish government’s priorities in its budget on Thursday.

Finally, the Financial Times reports that the global energy crisis and “renewed focus on emissions after the UN climate summit in Glasgow” has driven a surge in the price of allowances issued under the EU and UK emissions trading systems. The newspaper states that this has “brought the price of carbon allowances to new highs has triggered a market mechanism that could see the UK government intervening to bring down prices”.

Comment.

The UK's policing bill will make climate activism almost illegal – just when it's most needed
Heather Alberro, The Conversation Read Article

A piece in the Conversation by Nottingham Trent University academic Heather Alberro reflects on some changes made to the UK’s “already draconian policing bill”, which she says “will directly target environmental activists and are a response to direct action protests from groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain”. The proposed changes would give police additional powers to restrict protests that are deemed to “threaten public order or stop people from getting on with their daily lives”, a move that “represents a dangerous threat to essential democratic and civil liberties such as the right to protest”, according to Alberro. She explains that nonviolent direct actions, such as road blockades, civil disobedience and lock-ons, are “designed to be disruptive” and says that under the proposed new regulations some of these measures could face imprisonment for up to 51 weeks. “The disruption caused by activists blockading roads is virtually non-existent compared to the widespread loss of lives and livelihoods that will result without urgent action on climate change. These are desperate times. Disrupting business as usual – and supporting those doing so – is our only hope,” Alberro concludes.

Let’s harness tides for Scotland, the UK and the world
Alister Jack, The Times Read Article

A comment piece in the Times by Scotland minister Alister Jack advocates for the expansion of tidal power in Scotland, referencing a £20m per year investment into UK tidal stream electricity. He says that “Scotland and the UK should be at the forefront of this renewable industry”, and notes that nearly “50% of the world’s installed tidal stream capacity is in Scottish waters”. He adds that “Scottish Conservatives have rallied behind tidal energy and the UK government has listened” as he lays out his vision for the nation as a world leader in this technology.

Also in the Times, Stephen Kinnock, who is Labour’s shadow foreign and Commonwealth minister, argues that “whether you want to ‘level up’, boost Britain’s economic resilience, transition to net zero or solve our economy’s productivity puzzle, all roads point to a manufacturing renaissance – underpinned by a strong and healthy steel industry”. He concludes: “But as it stands, from high energy costs to the Tump tariffs, the British government is failing our steelmakers. Securing UK steelmakers an exemption from the tariffs and closing the price gap between the costs of electricity for British and German steelmakers would represent important strides forward for our steel industry and allows us to dream of a green steel future.”

Science.

Vulnerability to collapse of coral reef ecosystems in the western Indian Ocean
Nature Sustainability Read Article

Corals in the western Indian Ocean, which make up around 5% of the world’s total, are “vulnerable to collapse at the regional level”, a new study warns. Looking specifically at 11 “nested ecoregions”, the authors show that reefs on the continental coast and northern Seychelles are “vulnerable” due primarily to fishing pressure, while island reefs are “critically endangered” because of future warming. Responses to avoid coral reef collapse “must include ecosystem-based management of reefs and adjacent systems combined with mitigating and adapting to climate change”, the study says.

How might climate change affect river flows across West Africa?
Climatic Change Read Article

Projected future changes in river flows across West Africa are “high spatially variable”, a new study finds. Using a hydrology model for the region, observed data and CMIP5 climate projections for the 21st century, the researchers find that “median peak flows are projected to decrease by 23% in the west (e.g. Senegal) and increase by 80% in the eastern region (e.g. Chad) by the 2050s”. The “projected reductions in river flows in western Sahel lead to future droughts and water shortages more likely, while in the eastern Sahel, projected increases lead to future frequent floods”, the authors warn.

New techniques for improving climate models, predictions and projections
Frontiers in Climate: Predictions and Projections Read Article

A new editorial in the journal Frontiers in Climate introduces a research series on “new techniques for improving climate models, predictions and projections”. The goal of the collection is to “explore new techniques for improving climate models, climate predictions, and climate projections”, the authors say. They add that the 11 articles – which have already been published – together show “new avenues in improving the forecasts and projections, and introduce us to new science and new forecast products”.

THE BRIEF

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THE BRIEF

Expert analysis directly to your inbox.

Get a Daily or Weekly round-up of all the important articles and papers selected by Carbon Brief by email. By entering your email address you agree for your data to be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy.