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Daily Briefing |

TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES

Briefing date 19.01.2022
Exxon vows to have net-zero carbon emissions from operations by 2050

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News.

Exxon vows to have net-zero carbon emissions from operations by 2050
Reuters Read Article

Exxon has pledged to cut emissions to net-zero by 2050, although only those resulting from its oil, gas, and chemical production and the power those operations consume, rather than the customers using its fossil fuels, Reuters reports. These so-called scope 1 and 2 targets nevertheless take the oil giant “a step in the direction of rivals minimising their carbon footprints”, according to the news wire. It notes that the move, which was first considered last year, comes after Exxon shareholders replaced three of its directors and the company pledged $15bn toward cutting emissions over six years. The New York Times remarks that leaving out scope 3 emissions from customers, which make up the “overwhelming majority of emissions”, left the American company “lagging” behind its European contemporaries. Shell, BP and Equinor have all begun including scope 3 emissions in their net-zero targets, the newspaper adds. The Daily Mail reports that Exxon estimates it released 762m tonnes (Mt) of emissions in 2020, of which just 112Mt was from operations. It emphasises that the announcement only focuses on cutting the 112Mt, which is just 15% of its total emissions.

The Independent has a piece quoting environmentalists who are sceptical of Exxon’s new pledge. Nevertheless, the Financial Times says that the pledge is a “big step for Exxon”, which had previously resisted setting a net-zero target for 2050. According to the newspaper, the US firm announced that it plans to publish a series of “road maps” by the end of 2022 demonstrating how it will reduce emissions at its major operations. Among the techniques mentioned are eliminating the routine flaring of natural gas and methane leaks, using renewables to power operations and deploying carbon capture and hydrogen, it adds. Axios also refers to the move as “a reversal of sorts for one of the world’s most powerful multinational oil-and-gas companies”, noting that Exxon CEO Darren Woods was “dismissive of midcentury net-zero targets two years ago” and the company’s posture has been shifting.

In separate Exxon news, the Guardian reports that the fossil fuel company is “attempting to use an unusual Texas law to target and intimidate its critics”. In short, the firm is claiming that lawsuits against it over its long history of “downplaying and denying the climate crisis” violate the US constitution’s guarantees of free speech under the first amendment, the newspaper continues.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, the New York Times reports on president Andres Manuel López Obrador’s plans for energy independence, which involve investing heavily in the state-owned oil company, with potentially harmful consequences for the nation’s climate commitments.

Yemen conflict pushes oil prices to 7-year high
The Times Read Article

Oil prices have surged to their highest level since 2014 amid fears of disruptions in the supply chain, the Times reports. Brent crude prices briefly reached more than $88 a barrel after Saudi Arabia launched air raids on Sanaa, the capital of Yemen. The Daily Telegraph reports that analysts now expect oil prices to break through $100 a barrel by the third quarter. Meanwhile, Reuters reports that Germany has signalled that it could halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project from Russia if Moscow invades Ukraine.

Elsewhere, a separate Reuters story says that climate activists have lost a court case brought against the UK’s oil and gas regulator (OGA). Climate activists, including a former oil refinery worker and a medical student, had argued that the OGA’s methods for assessing applications for oil and gas projects were not in line with the country’s net zero target. The ruling “is a setback for climate activists who are increasingly taking to the courts to force a reduction in oil and gas production in order to control global warming”, Reuters says.

China’s record coal spree seen preventing any new energy crunch
Bloomberg Read Article

Chinese authorities have said that the country is better prepared to avoid any energy supply crisis despite projected rapidly growing power demand, Bloomberg reports. According to the outlet, China’s top economic planner, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), said on Tuesday that the nation now has sufficient fuel supply to meet “reasonable domestic demand”. Xinhua – China’s state news agency – reports that the NDRC has “set priorities for energy supply as the global energy market faces complicated situations”.

Meanwhile, Reuters reports that China “will tell coal miners to maintain normal output during the Lunar New Year holiday” after its recent production boost “lifted thermal coal stocks to record levels”. The newswire cites “a state planning official”. Separately, the South China Morning Post says that “manufacturers and policymakers in China must work together to put even more zero-emission vehicles on the road” to help the nation achieve its 2060 carbon-neutrality goal, according to a Greenpeace report. Reuters covers the same report, noting that China’s “massive car sector” is “on track” to peak its CO2 emissions by 2027, “but on current trends it is unlikely to meet the country’s 2060’ net zero’ target”.

Elsewhere, New Scientist focuses on new research on ozone pollution’s impact on crops in East Asia. Sixth Tone – a Shanghai-based news site – features the same paper. It reports that “ozone pollution is reducing wheat yields in China by one-third and significantly cutting the productivity of other staple crops, as the country’s ground-level ozone levels continue to rise despite improved air quality”.

Climate change: Last 7 years were the warmest on record
New Scientist Read Article

There is continuing analysis of last year’s global temperature data, with New Scientist reporting that UN’s World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has concluded that the past seven years were “the warmest on record as climate change continued apace, despite the cooling effect of the La Niña weather pattern in 2021”. The WMO has analysed the world’s six main global temperature datasets to show that 2021 was the seventh hottest to date at 1.11C above pre-industrial levels. The Press Association adds: “The Met Office and UEA’s dataset puts 2021 as the joint sixth-warmest year on record, while other datasets put it between the fifth and seventh warmest year, with small differences between the different analyses. The newswire quotes WMO secretary-general, Professor Petteri Taalas: “Back-to-back La Nina events mean that 2021 warming was relatively less pronounced compared to recent years. Even so, 2021 was still warmer than previous years influenced by La Nina. The overall long-term warming as a result of greenhouse gas increases is now far larger than the year-to-year variability in global average temperatures caused by naturally occurring climate drivers.”

See Carbon Brief’s new “state of the climate” quarterly report for a detailed overview of 2021’s various climate metrics.

BlackRock’s Larry Fink: climate policies are about profits, not being ‘woke’
The Guardian Read Article

Larry Fink, the chief executive of BlackRock, has stated in his annual letter to CEOs that pushing climate policies was about profits, not being “woke”, the Guardian reports. It quotes Fink’s letter, in which he says: “We focus on sustainability not because we’re environmentalists, but because we are capitalists and fiduciaries to our clients”. From his position as chief executive of the world’s biggest investment fund manager, the newspaper notes that he argued that the pursuit of long-term returns was the main driver behind climate policies, following criticism for seeking to influence companies. Reuters states that Fink called on CEOs to practice “stakeholder capitalism”, in which companies seek to serve the interests of all connected to them. It adds that he said companies cannot be the “climate police” and defended BlackRock’s work engaging with companies on the low-carbon transition rather than divesting from fossil fuel sectors. He writes: “Divesting from entire sectors – or simply passing carbon-intensive assets from public markets to private markets – will not get the world to net zero.”

US plans $50bn wildfire fight where forests meet civilisation
Associated Press Read Article

In the US, the Biden administration has announced a plan to significantly expand efforts to tackle wildfires by accelerating the thinning of forests around areas called “hotspots” where homes and nature meet, Associated Press reports. The newswire notes that “as climate change heats up and dries out the West”, administration officials said they have developed a $50bn (£37bn) plan to more than double the use of controlled fires and logging to remove vegetation from these areas that promotes the spread of fires. Reuters says the plan, dubbed the “wildfire crisis strategy,” aims to make some 50m acres (20m hectares) of forests more resilient to fires.

Separately, Reuters reports that severe weather events in caused insured losses of CAD$2.1bn (£1.2bn) in Canada last year, making it the sixth-costliest since 1983, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

UK: Together Energy becomes latest household supplier to collapse in gas price storm
Sky News Read Article

Together Energy is the latest UK-based energy supplier “to collapse in the wake of the soaring cost of gas”, Sky News reports. Part-owned by Cheshire’s Warrington Borough Council, the supplier that has nearly “176,000 households on its books” has ceased to trade, according to UK’s energy regulator Ofgem. Sky News had earlier reported that Together had deferred making a £12.4m payment to Ofgem. While Together’s clients would be protected by the regulator’s safety net scheme, Financial Times says Warrington taxpayers “could face a financial hit of up to £52m” and the move “raises questions about why the Labour-controlled council invested in the loss-making company”. Together, it reports, is the 27th UK supplier “to go bust in six months as a result of a supply crunch” where gas prices have been pushed to “record levels”.

In other UK energy news, the Times reports that trade minister Penny Mordaunt has opposed a £1.2bn project to connect British and French power grids via an undersea cable, arguing that this would make the UK more reliant on France. According to the story, the minister alleged that “the French…will use future energy supply as a bargaining chip”.

Comment.

We are all complicit in climate change — so we should all pay to fix it
Dieter Helm, Financial Times Read Article

Dieter Helm – an energy economist and author of the book Net Zero – has penned an opinion piece in the Financial Times arguing that we are “persisting with Plan A in the face of all the evidence that it is not working, and avoiding even thinking about a Plan B” in our approach to climate change. This is because Plan B is “altogether more challenging”, according to Helm. He continues: “[Plan B] recognises that the transformation of an overwhelmingly carbon-based world (where 80% of energy demand is still met by fossil fuels) to net zero by 2050 (in 28 years), and the complete decarbonisation of UK power by 2035 (in just 13 years), is going to cost a lot — as energy consumers are now finding out.” He argues that it is “so much easier to attack businesses”, but that, in reality, “it’s you and me who are the polluters”. He continues: “The really inconvenient truth is that because we, the polluters, do not pay, we are living beyond our environmental means…The sustainable economy is one where all these pollution costs are internalised. It means that consumption will be lower as the adjustments are made. Yet this does not mean that economic growth stops… Adjusting back to a sustainable consumption path would be painful in the short term, but not in the longer term — and it will be a lot less painful than continuing with Plan A.”

Meanwhile Nature has penned an editorial entitled: “Biodiversity faces its make-or-break year, and research will be key.” The piece says that most of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets – which were agreed at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and were meant to be achieved by 2020 – have not been met. The goals are currently being replaced with the post-2020 global biodiversity framework (GBF), according to the piece. It continues: “If systemic change can be implemented, it will lead to real change. But if it cannot, there’s no plan B. This has led some researchers to argue that one target or number should be prioritised, and defined in a way that is clear to the public and to policymakers. It would be biodiversity’s equivalent of the 2C climate target.”

France's nuclear meltdown has big implications for Britain
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, The Daily Telegraph Read Article

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, international business editor Ambrose Evans-Pritchard says the French nuclear industry “is in a slow-motion meltdown”, with a fifth of it 56 reactors currently shut and output at the lowest level in 30 years. “The erosion of Europe’s nuclear base is not the chief cause of the energy crisis but it is not trivial, and it is certainly more relevant than any shortfall in renewable power,” he writes. Evans-Pritchard continues: “[W]hat is now happening in France is a cautionary reminder that nuclear comes with its own trail of problems…It is not the easy way out on climate change that some fondly hope.” The implication for the UK, he argues, is that it should “press ahead harder and faster” with small nuclear reactors instead of the large plant currently being built at Hinkley Point C in Somerset, along with another under consideration at Sizewell C in Suffolk, by French firm EDF. He concludes: “In the meantime, we should keep rolling out our offshore wind turbines, storing some energy in cryogenic compressed air, and building the infrastructure to produce green hydrogen and ammonia from excess wind in the future…Technology and scale is making offshore wind extremely cheap. It is where the UK’s competitive advantage currently lies.”

Science.

Climate change could reduce and spatially reconfigure cocoa cultivation in the Brazilian Amazon by 2050
PLOS One Read Article

Warming and drying over the Brazilian Amazon may reduce the region’s suitability for cocoa production over the coming decades, new research finds. The authors use a “zoning system” to model “the suitability of cocoa’s geographical distribution” by 2050, using 10 models and two future climate scenarios – the high-emission RCP8.5 and mid-emission RCP4.5. The study projects a 37% and 73% decrease in “areas suitable for intensification and expansion zones” under the two scenarios, respectively. The authors also “recommend procedures to combat illegal deforestation to prevent the most critical climate change scenarios from occurring”.

The global carbon sink potential of terrestrial vegetation can be increased substantially by optimal land management
Communications Earth & Environment Read Article

Global land vegetation could trap an extra of 13.7bn tonnes of carbon every year if “location-specific optimal land management practises” are adopted, according to a new study. The authors propose an “integrated method” using “net primary productivity datasets, segmented landscape-vegetation-soil zones, and distance-constrained zonal analysis”, to determine how much carbon the vegetation could sequester under different land management practises. The study finds that around half of the extra carbon sequestration potential comes from just 15% of vegetated areas. The authors conclude that optimising land management is “a promising way to mitigate climate changes”.

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