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Daily Briefing

18.02.2021
Today's climate and energy headlines
DAILY BRIEFING Ford to go fully-electric in Europe by 2030
Ford to go fully-electric in Europe by 2030

News.

Ford to go fully-electric in Europe by 2030
Press Association via the Belfast Telegraph Read Article

Ford has announced that all of its cars on sale in Europe will be electric by 2030, according to the Press Association. Every car will feature an electric or plug-in hybrid powertrain by 2026, ahead of the firm switching its entire range of cars to “fully electric” four years after this, the newswire notes. It adds that the manufacturer plans to invest at least $22bn (£15.86bn) in electrification through to 2025, which is “close to twice what the company had previously planned”. Sky News notes that the company also plans to have its entire commercial range “100% zero-emissions capable, all-electric or plug-in hybrid by 2024”. The news website says this includes a $1bn cash boost to modernise Ford’s vehicle-assembly facility in Cologne, Germany, with its first European-built, volume all-electric passenger vehicle to be produced at the site from 2023. In its coverage, BBC News reports that this year EU carmakers will face “hefty fines” if they fail to meet emissions standards, while the UK plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2030, and France is targeting the same by 2040. The Guardian says that this is “the latest move by the world’s biggest auto manufacturers to set out plans to move away from polluting internal combustion engines before looming bans on fossil-fuel vehicles across the world”. It notes a recent pledge by General Motors to have an entirely zero-emission lineup by 2035 and Jaguar’s plans for its cars to be electric-only by 2025.

Elsewhere, the Daily Telegraph reports that Jaguar Land Rover is planning to cut 2,000 back office jobs “as it races towards an all-electric future”. It says, besides Jaguar, the company’s Land Rover brand is also going all-electric, “with the first battery-powered model going on sale in 2024”. An editorial in the Times reflects on the recent wave of car manufacturers switching to electric models. It concludes that they are adapting, “suggesting that a combination of regulation and a market economy is a practical means of tackling climate change”.

Meanwhile, the Times reports that the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has called for the sale of new diesel lorries to be banned by 2040 to cut air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. When the government announced its petrol and diesel car ban, it also said it would consult on proposals to end the sale of new diesel HGVs, but did not mention a date, the newspaper states. The new report said an ambitious target must be set “to spur manufacturers into action and ensure the UK hits its goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050”, the piece adds. And, finally, another Times piece notes that a new study by What Car? magazine has revealed that “the most expensive public charge points can cost almost as much as a tank of petrol”, with the price of roadside charging for electric cars varying significantly between private operators.

Oil and gas industry in Texas buckles under strain of Arctic blast
Financial Times Read Article

There is continuing extensive coverage of the freezing conditions crippling Texas’s energy systems. The Financial Times says the “oil and gas industry in Texas has buckled under the strain of a blast of Arctic weather that has disrupted a big pillar of the global energy market and sent crude prices to their highest levels in more than a year”. It adds: “The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the grid operator, said 46GW of power generation — more than half of the state’s total — remained offline as of Wednesday afternoon, little improved compared to Tuesday. Ercot officials said blackouts were likely to continue for a couple more days.” Another FT story says Texans are “demanding answers”, adding: “The state’s energy infrastructure proved no match for a cold blast that veered south from the Arctic Circle, a pattern that some research suggests is becoming more common as climate change warms the polar region.” The Guardian notes that at least 20 people have died so far, with “anger mounting”. Reuters reports that the “largest energy-producing state in the US grappled with massive refining outages and oil and gas shutins that rippled beyond its borders into neighbouring Mexico”. Another Reuters story says that Texas officials have warned of “disasters within the disaster”, telling residents to prepare for energy to not return until the weekend. And a further Reuters story says that the state’s power consumers will be expected to “pay the price” of the winter storm with state utilities “likely hik[ing] bills after this year, both to pay for the record price spikes and to fund updates to Texas’s grid to make it more resilient”.

In other coverage, the Hill has a feature titled, “Five things to know about Texas’s strained electric grid”, which include: “It’s almost entirely isolated from other grids; It’s subject to less federal regulation; The grid is largely ill-equipped to handle low temperatures; Reliance on natural gas helped fuel the energy shortage; The state had winter blackouts in 1989 and 2011.” Bloomberg explains how “you restart an oil well that’s frozen solid”. Another Bloomberg piece says that Texas “was warned a decade ago its grid was unready for cold”. A detailed FT Q&A examines “what went wrong”, which includes a section titled: “Was it renewables’ fault?”. No, it says, continuing: “Republican politicians were quick to point fingers at frozen wind turbines, but this is not the sole cause of the blackouts. While a full postmortem of went has gone wrong will take weeks, all early indications show that this was a wide-ranging failure of the Texas energy system…a larger problem appeared to be a massive loss of natural gas supply as wells, pipelines and other equipment froze over.”

Other publications also focus on the political fallout. The Hill notes that the Republican former Texas governor Rick Perry has “suggested that the people of the Lone Star State would rather spend more time without electricity than see increased federal involvement in their state”. Axios says the state’s power outage “highlights inequalities for minority neighbourhoods”. Bloomberg says that the outages could give a “rhetorical boost” to Joe Biden’s plans for a “historic investment” in the nation’s electric grid, including “better transmission systems and battery storage that would make the system more resilient amid extreme weather spurred by climate change”. The outlet adds: “The investments broadly touted by Biden could help satisfy his 2035 goal of an emissions-free power system and help meet increased demand nationwide as more electric vehicles hit the roads and more buildings rely on power instead of natural gas for heat.” However, E&E News says the Texas power outage “underscores looming climate tests”, adding: “The whiplash crises highlight the challenge facing energy planners in a warming world. Extreme weather is increasingly likely to stress electric grids, gas pipelines and other pieces of energy infrastructure.” Another E&E News article notes that Biden has barely said anything about the incident: “President Biden isn’t talking about Texas, but Republicans are. As Texans faced their second winter night without electricity yesterday, the political narratives were freezing into place. Conservatives are using the ongoing disaster to argue against climate policy even as fossil-generated power outages dwarf the amount of renewable energy knocked offline during the historic deep freeze…But Biden offered no message of his own last night during an hour-plus CNN town hall. Nor did the administration connect the situation in Texas to the president’s energy and infrastructure plans. Officials instead emphasised disaster response.”

Rishi Sunak ‘will hobble Boris Johnson’s eco-drive if he axes £5,000 Green Homes Grant’
The Sun Read Article

An “exclusive” in the Sun says that environmental campaigners have warned that UK chancellor Rishi Sunak would ­”hobble Boris Johnson’s eco-drive if he axes the green homes grant” in the forthcoming budget. It continues: “There are fears the chancellor may chop the £5,000 payments at next month’s budget amid concerns of low take-up. Just days ago, MPs blasted the ‘snail’s pace’ of the roll-out after it emerged that only 20,000 out of 600,000 grants for energy-saving improvements, such as better insulation and boilers, had so far been made. Environment groups have written to the PM and chancellor warning that the UK would ‘lose international credibility’ if it cuts funding for the scheme. Greenpeace, the National Trust, Friends of the Earth and a string of other groups and campaigners are urging them not to ‘allow the green stimulus to fail’. In a letter seen by the Sun, they say the ‘eyes of the world’ will be on the UK ahead of the COP26 climate summit in ­Glasgow in November.” Meanwhile, another Sun “exclusive” says Sunak’s “closest Treasury aides [are] among [the] most vocal critics of [a] fuel duty hike”. Tt adds: “As chancellor Rishi Sunak eyes the first rise in a decade of the hated levy at next month’s budget, the Sun can reveal his closest lieutenants used to be the most vocal critics of the tax.” An editorial accompanies the story, saying: “A hike in fuel duty in next month’s Budget would be a kick in the teeth for all of them, but it is not just those businesses which would suffer. It would be a hammer blow to ‘not just motorists but their families’, as a Treasury minister once admitted. Let’s hope the key lieutenants advising chancellor Rishi Sunak have not forgotten their previous opposition to the hated levy.”

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Financial Times says: “The swift backlash among some backbenchers against a recently-mooted rise in fuel duty or a carbon tax suggests the government will struggle to levy green taxes, despite its commitment to hitting net zero carbon emissions by 2050.”

'Put a big fat price on carbon': OECD chief bows out with climate rally cry
The Guardian Read Article

An “exclusive” interview with the outgoing head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Ángel Gurría, in the Guardian includes a warning that the environment, climate change and the protection of nature must be the defining tasks of richer nations. He tells the newspaper that while Covid-19 must be dealt with in the short term, “the single most important intergenerational responsibility is to protect the planet … We are on a collision course with nature and we have to change course for future generations”. Following the pandemic, Gurría tells the newspaper countries should aim for a green recovery with job-creating environmental projects, environmental conditions to bailouts and “a big fat price on carbon”. In a separate piece to accompany the interview, the Guardian examines one of Gurría’s statements about the importance nowadays of finance ministers who understand green issues. “Today, if you are not green, it probably means you died and no one told you,” he says. The piece notes that “a new generation of green-tinged and environmentally committed leaders” has emerged in recent years, and they are expected to play a key role in the run-up to the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. It lists Kristalina Georgieva at the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde of the European Central Bank and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala – who is poised to become the next director general of the World Trade Organization – as examples of this trend.

Separately, Climate Home News reports that the EU “has renewed its push for greening a major international treaty protecting energy investments”. It says that France and Spain are calling for the bloc to quit the Energy Charter Treaty unless it is reshaped to address climate goals, while eastern European member states want “less radical reform”.

Biden scraps Trump plan to weaken environmental rules to build renewables in California
Reuters Read Article

The Biden administration said yesterday that it will scrap a Trump-era proposal to weaken environmental protections for millions of acres of California desert to ease development of wind and solar energy projects, Reuters reports. The newswire continues: “The move is President Joe Biden’s latest effort to roll back his predecessor’s four-year legacy of energy and environmental deregulation. Former President Donald Trump’s administration made a last-minute push to accelerate energy development on public lands, including by amending the so-called Desert Renewable Energy Conservation Plan (DRECP) just days before leaving office.” While Biden supports building more renewable energy installations on public lands, the outlet adds, his administration said the original DRECP balanced wind and solar development with conservation and outdoor recreation. In a statement, Laura Daniel Davis – the Interior’s principal deputy secretary for land and minerals management – said: “The Trump administration’s proposal in its final days to re-open the plan is unnecessary and at odds with balanced land management.“ At the same time, Energy Monitor has a piece on how “with Joe Biden’s backing, US offshore wind poised for breakthrough”.

Meanwhile, the Hill reports that two California state senators have introduced a bill that would ban fracking in the state in 2027. The outlet explains: “The bill, from Democratic state Senators Scott Wiener and Monique Limón would also halt the issuance or renewal of permits for fracking at the start of 2022. It would also prohibit the issuance of new or renewed permits for oil and gas extraction more generally within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, health care facilities, prisons and dormitories by the start of 2022.” The proposal is “likely to be one of the most contentious fights in the state legislature this year”, says the Guardian.

Comment.

Texas Republicans lied about the power crisis. We need more investment in renewables – not less
Editorial, The Washington Post Read Article

There is continuing comment and reaction to the Texas energy crisis with an editorial in the Washington Post saying that the “fiasco offers many lessons about keeping the lights on”. It continues that there are “lessons that Congress and state leaders must act on in the coming months. Not among them is the need to cancel a transition to cleaner sources of energy. Frozen wind turbines represent only a small fraction of the problem in Texas. The real failure was a lack of preparation. Wind power generally slumps during the Texas winter, so state regulators do not assume they will get much from that power source. Rather, their plans rely heavily on natural gas power plants — and they are the predominant culprits in the current emergency.” In the New York Times, Texan author Richard Parker looks back at the historical causes: “The crisis dates back to the 1930s, when the Federal Power Commission gained the authority to regulate interstate transmission of electric power. But politicians in Texas, with their slavish devotion to the fossil fuel industry, didn’t want Washington regulating the electricity business and chipping away at those hefty profits.” In New York magazine, David Wallace-Wells says “it illustrates very powerfully the stakes for coming climate change, since other kinds of natural disasters and extreme weather will be growing much more common in the decades ahead, and we’ve barely begun to adapt our infrastructure in response”. In the New York Times, political reporter Dionne Searcey has a feature examining how right-wing commentators have seized on the crisis to spread misinformation.

BBC News’s Reality Check team examines the misleading claims made on social media about helicopters being used to deice frozen wind turbines. But the “picture actually shows ice being removed from a wind turbine in Sweden, using hot water”. In the Independent, Daisy Dunne walks through “why we can’t yet say with certainty whether the Texas cold snap is linked to global heating”. The Guardian’s US reporter Lauren Aratani has a Q&A feature on “Why is Texas suffering power blackouts during the winter freeze?” Meanwhile, a third Wall Street Journal editorial in three days insists that it is right in seeking to blame the crisis on climate policies: “Politicians and regulators don’t want to admit this because they have been taking nuclear and coal plants offline to please the lords of climate change. But the public pays the price when blackouts occur because climate obeisance has made the grid too fragile.”

Science.

To till or not to till in a temperate ecosystem? Implications for climate change mitigation
Environmental Research Letters Read Article

A new study assesses the impact of “tilling” (ploughing) of the UK’s agricultural soils on carbon storage and greenhouse gas emissions. Assessing the effects of zero-tillage over a range of time frames (1-15 years), the researchers find that “net global warming potential was 30% lower under zero-tillage systems, due to lower CO2 fluxes, with the greatest impacts after longer periods of zero-tillage management”. The authors conclude that “zero-tillage could play a crucial role in both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time increase soil carbon sequestration”.

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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.