Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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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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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- G7 summit: Broken promises of rich nations casts shadow over climate deal, says UN chief António Guterres
- US: Developer officially cancels Keystone XL pipeline project blocked by Biden
- Shell to speed up energy transition plan after Dutch court ruling
- China mulls price caps on coal in campaign to tame inflation
- US: Collapse of infrastructure talks puts climate action at risk
- UK: Ministers mull radical plan to axe tariffs on electric cars
- Airbus tells EU hydrogen won't be widely used in planes before 2050
- America’s energy gift to dictators
- Climate impact of aircraft-induced cirrus assessed from satellite observations before and during Covid-19
- Skillful prediction of summer rainfall in the Tibetan Plateau on multiyear time scales
- Tracing international migration in projections of income and inequality across the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways
UN secretary general António Guterres has criticised the G7 group of major economies for their part in the failure to meet a $100bn target for international climate finance by 2020, in comments to the Times. He is quoted telling the paper: “All G7 countries have committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, but that is not enough. We need to make sure that emerging economies are also able to commit to the same. And the truth is that there is a certain level of mistrust in relation to the commitments made by the developed countries, namely, to finance the mobilisation of $100bn in support of developing countries every year. It was supposed to start in 2020. It didn’t happen.” The Times adds: “[UK prime minister] Boris Johnson intends to push world leaders at this weekend’s G7 summit to contribute to a Marshall Plan-style fund to support large-scale renewable energy projects across Africa and parts of Asia. But that effort is in doubt over whether the Treasury would be prepared to contribute British money.”
Reuters reports that President Biden has arrived for an eight-day trip to Europe, landing in the UK ahead of the G7 leaders’ summit at the end of this week. It adds: “The [G7] meeting is expected to be dominated by vaccine diplomacy, trade, climate and an initiative for rebuilding infrastructure in the developing world.” The New York Times covers Biden’s trip and says “as he travels to Europe on Wednesday for a week of summit meetings, US allies wonder…whether Mr Biden can deliver on climate?” It adds: “[W]orld leaders remain leery of the United States’ willingness to enact serious emissions legislation and deliver on financial promises to poorer countries.” Reuters reports that the EU and US are “set to pledge deeper cooperation on tackling climate change”, citing a draft statement prepared for a summit in Brussels next week. An editorial in the Guardian on the UK hosting the G7 says Johnson and Biden “will downplay any differences and amplify issues that bring their countries into strategic alignment – such as the COP26 climate talks later this year in Glasgow”. The Guardian “today in focus” podcast asks of the G7 summit: “The world’s richest democracies will come together in Britain this week with global heating high on the agenda. Can they match big promises with concrete action?” An article for Edie runs under the headline: “Climate change at the G7 Summit: Everything you need to know.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports that a group of “79 company bosses and investors managing $41tn issued separate calls on Thursday for world leaders to accelerate action on climate change by enacting more ambitious policies in areas including carbon pricing”. It says the call came in “an open letter to all governments as leaders of the G7 group of industrialised nations meet in Britain, and ahead of a global climate summit in November”. The Guardian and BusinessGreen also cover the letter.
Elsewhere, BusinessGreen covers a report from left-leaning London-based thinktank the Institute for Public Policy Research, which it says argues the G7 is a chance for the US and UK to work together on a “drive bold new green trade agenda”. Meanwhile, in a comment piece for the Times, chief leader writer Simon Nixon argues in favour of free trade and against calls for a UK carbon border tax “designed to ensure that imports face the same price of carbon emissions as domestic producers”. Pointing to Johnson’s proposals for a G7 green “Marshall Plan” for the climate, Nixon says: “Rather than threatening developing countries with the stick of taxes, rich countries should offer the carrot of funding to support carbon emissions strategies.” Separately, the Press Association, via the Belfast Telegraph, reports that Johnson “is ‘very aware’ of the UK’s need to show leadership on renewable energy projects ahead of the G7 and COP26 summits, an energy boss has said”.
The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline has officially cancelled the project, Reuters reports, following US president Joe Biden’s decision earlier this year to revoke a key permit needed for a US stretch of the link, which was designed to transport crude from Canada’s oil sands to Nebraska in America’s midwest. The newswire says the $9bn pipeline, first proposed in 2008, “became a symbol of the rising political clout of climate change advocates”. Bloomberg says the project “helped galvanise modern climate activism”. Politico reports: “For nearly its entire history, the project had been at the centre of the fight over climate change, and environmentalists had used it as a rallying cry in their campaign to block major new oil developments.” The Washington Post says the motivating factors in the Keystone XL protests “have spawned similar battles to stop pipelines in states including Montana, Minnesota and Virginia, part of an effort to keep fossil fuels in the ground”. CBC News reports that the cancelled pipeline will cost the Canadian province of Alberta about $1.3bn, after it invested in the scheme. The Hill and E&E News also have the story. The New York Times says Republicans “slammed Mr Biden” on the Keystone XL news.
The Financial Times says the cancellation is a “big victory to environmentalists that fought the project for more than a decade as they intensified their battles against other fossil fuel development”. It says the scheme “became symbolic of the political stand-off over the future of fossil fuels in the US”, having been opposed by activists from the outset, refused by President Obama and then approved by Trump, before being blocked again by Biden. The paper adds: “Production from Canada’s ultra-heavy oil deposits is more carbon intensive than most other forms of crude, making Keystone XL a target for environmentalists, who argue that new pipeline projects encourage continued fossil fuel production at a time when the world needs to slash its emissions.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports: “Canada’s oil sands producers form alliance to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.” It adds: “The companies said they would look to link oil sands facilities in the Fort McMurray and Cold Lake regions to a carbon sequestration hub, use carbon capture and storage technology, as well as clean hydrogen, fuel switching and other methods to reduce emissions. The companies will also tap into emerging emissions-reducing technologies including direct air capture and small modular nuclear reactors, among others.”
Several publications report on a LinkedIn post by Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden in which he wrote, says the Financial Times, that the oil firm would “accelerat[e]” its plans to cut emissions following a Dutch court ruling. According to the paper, which trails the story on its frontpage, van Beurden also used his post to say he was “disappointed” that Shell had been “singled out” by the ruling. It adds that “he believed [the ruling] did little to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions”. It quotes his post saying: “Imagine Shell decided to stop selling petrol and diesel today…This would certainly cut Shell’s carbon emissions. But it would not help the world one bit. Demand for fuel would not change…For a long time to come, we expect to continue providing energy in the form of oil and gas products both to meet customer demand, and to maintain a financially strong company.”
The Guardian reports: “Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, promised to ‘rise to the challenge’ in helping to create a low-carbon energy system, but came out fighting for the Anglo-Dutch oil company he runs, insisting it has been leading the industry in taking responsibility for its carbon emissions.” The Wall Street Journal reports van Beurden’s post “said Shell disagreed with the ruling and still expected to appeal the court’s order to curb emissions by 45% by 2030, but nonetheless would rise to the challenge of doing more”. According to Reuters, any move by Shell to accelerate its energy transition plans “will likely lead to a dramatic shrinking of its oil and gas business”. The newswire adds that Shell shares rose slightly more than the wider energy market after van Beurden’s post. Bloomberg quotes van Beurden writing: “We will seek ways to reduce emissions even further in a way that remains purposeful and profitable.” The website adds: “Van Beurden, 63, didn’t say how the company will accelerate its transition plan and there are no easy options…The principal way Shell has removed emissions from its ledgers so far is the sale of assets.” The Times also has the story.
A Reuters commentary says “Big Oil is staring dodo status in the face…A glance at the similarly troubled tobacco sector might ease some of their nerves.” The piece notes the strategies of some tobacco firms, designed to shift from cigarettes to “transition products” that may ultimately face regulation, concluding: “Oil majors like Shell and Total, whose transitions hinge on ramping up natural gas that is merely less polluting, face a similar problem. That suggests they should make a wholesale shift to renewable energy.”
China is considering imposing price limits on thermal coal as it struggles to contain “stubbornly high” energy costs ahead of peak demand over the summer, according to Bloomberg. The move underscores Beijing’s “tough stance” on taming inflation, the newswire says. A column on The National explains how China’s dominance in the renewable energy supply chain could pose challenges to the Biden administration’s climate agenda.
Meanwhile, Angus Media reports that more Chinese provinces may ration their electricity due to a spike in power consumption and tighter coal supplies. At least two southern regions imposed power restrictions, highlighting the severity of China’s coal shortage, the article says. Last week’s Carbon Brief China Briefing explained the possible causes behind the consumption surge.
Elsewhere, China Energy Investment Corporation, a major state-run power company, plans to install 15 gigawatts (GWs) of new capacity in solar and wind power units, reports Caixin. The target nearly triples the group’s newly installed renewable capacity from last year, which stood at 5.22GWs, the outlet adds. State-run Economic Daily has an interview with the head of the National Energy Administration, Zhang Jianhua. Zhang stressed the importance of pushing forward the energy transition process and adhering to “high-quality” development. Finally, the Wall Street Journal runs an “exclusive” that reports: “China’s top economic planners have put the brakes on attempts by environmental officials to reduce carbon emissions as driving growth takes priority over meeting climate targets for now, according to people familiar with the matter.” It says the National Development and Reform Commission has “gained the upper hand in negotiations over drafting a detailed road map to fulfil leader Xi Jinping’s pledges to achieve a peak in carbon-dioxide emission before 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2060, the people said”.
Negotiations between President Biden and Senate Republicans over a US infrastructure bill have collapsed, the New York Times, reports: “Embedded in the president’s infrastructure proposal were billions of dollars to help pivot the country away from the fossil fuels that are generating the pollution that is heating the planet.” The paper adds: “The chances of pushing climate legislation through Congress, a long shot from the beginning, now appear even more uncertain.” Politico reports on concerns from “several Democratic lawmakers” over whether climate change provisions will feature in the infrastructure deal. The Hill reports: “Congressional Democrats from the party’s centrist and left wings blasted comments by White House climate adviser Gina McCarthy suggesting the White House was willing to remove climate measures from its infrastructure plan.”
In other US news, the New York Times reports that carmaker General Motors has told the Biden administration that it would support tighter federal rules on fuel economy “along the lines of what California has already agreed to with five other auto companies”. The paper adds: “The move is a step by the nation’s largest automaker away from its position during the Trump administration, when GM’s chief executive, Mary Barra, asked then-president Donald Trump to relax Obama-era auto pollution rules. President Biden is seeking to reinstate those restrictions as part of his efforts to cut climate-warming pollution, and he hopes to propose new draft auto pollution rules as soon as next month.” Reuters also reports the GM news, adding that the firm “wants the federal government to adopt changes to speed the adoption of electric vehicles”. Elsewhere, CNN reports: “Ohio will soon be home to the largest solar factory complex outside of China.” It says US firm First Solar “unveiled plans Wednesday to double its US manufacturing capability by building a new state-of-the-art factory in Ohio”. Bloomberg also has the story.
In a story on the frontpage of its business section, the Daily Telegraph covers the recommendations of a report from free-market thinktank the Centre for Policy Studies, calling for an end to import tariffs on electric cars. The paper quotes a “government source” saying there are “no immediate plans” to cut tariffs, but that it is “not something we’re ruling out”. Separately, the Times reports that delivery firm DPD “is to become one of the UK’s biggest operators of electric vehicles after ordering 750 zero-emission vans that will double its battery-run fleet to 1,500”. The Financial Times reports that the company that operates the UK’s motorway electric vehicle charging network is being bought by a business funded by Japanese industrial giant Hitachi. It says the move is “expected to lead to tens of millions of pounds in investment across its sites”. Another Financial Times story reports that NGO Transport & Environment “wants tougher CO2 rules to force higher sales of battery vehicles by 2025”.
In other UK news, Reuters and BusinessGreen report that power firm Drax has signed a deal with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for carbon capture technology. Reuters says Drax plans to use the technology at its biomass-fuelled plant in Yorkshire to generate negative emissions by 2030. Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reports under the headline: “Windfarms would have to be built in Britain’s beauty spots to meet energy targets.” [The story covers new research showing that excluding the most scenic sites in the country would shave 18% off the maximum “technical potential” of onshore wind in the UK, a total which is some five times higher than current electricity demand. The research does not say that windfarms would have to be built on beauty spots.] Another Daily Telegraph story continues coverage of the UK’s decision to phase out halogen lightbulbs under the headline: “Halogen lightbulb replacements could cause migraines.” The article says replacement bulbs “will have to pass tests to ensure they do not flicker at a rate that is likely to induce headaches” and quotes a lighting industry policy officer saying: “At the moment, there are no scientific reports that suggest that the existing products that are on the market lead to health issues.”
Airbus – the aircraft maker that grabbed headlines last year with its blueprints for hydrogen-fueled planes – has said most flights will run on traditional jet engines until at least 2050, Reuters reports. A second Reuters article says Airbus and French carrier Air France “have urged policymakers to use EU-backed green stimulus funds to support aircraft sales”. The newswire explains: “In papers and presentations to officials including European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans’ staff, the companies argued that taxpayer-funded incentives on current plane models could cut emissions by retiring more older, less efficient jets.” Meanwhile, a blog for the International Council on Clean Transportation pours cold water on recent announcements about a revival in supersonic air travel, saying: “By all accounts, on average a fast commercial supersonic will burn at least five times more fuel per passenger than a subsonic aircraft. Even before considering climate impacts, that’s a huge fuel bill for airlines to absorb.”
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal criticises the Biden administration for its stance on fossil fuels and climate change, saying: “The US is barreling toward one of the greatest self-inflicted wounds in its history.” Pointing to the decision to block oil leases in the Arctic, the paper argues: “Mr Biden’s anti-carbon fusillade will have no effect on the climate as global demand for fossil fuels will continue to increase for decades no matter what the US does. Meantime, Russia, China and Iran will take advantage of America’s astonishing fossil-fuel retreat.” The editorial goes on to argue that the 1.5C temperature goal is “incompatible with a worldwide population that is expected to grow by two billion by 2050” and that it would “require an enormous reorganisation of the global economy that would keep billions in poverty”.
Elsewhere, Reuters columnist Clyde Russell says that rising prices for LNG and coal imports “will boost the fortunes of producers” but “will also sharpen the minds of utilities and countries in Asia planning their energy futures”. He adds: “Already, coal-fired and natural gas-fired power plants struggle to compete with renewables such as solar and wind, even when battery back-up storage is factored in.” Russell concludes: “Price volatility and security of supply may be LNG’s Achilles heel in Asia, as is the risk that the fuel is increasingly targeted by climate activists, who have already made coal-fired power developments increasingly difficult.”
A new study quantifies the impact of the near-global reduction in air traffic in response to the Covid-19 outbreak on the coverage and thickness of cirrus clouds. The authors explain that “aircraft produce condensation trails, which are thought to increase high-level cloudiness under certain conditions”. Using satellite data for the period March to May in 2020, the researchers find that, in the 20% of the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes with the largest air traffic reduction, “cirrus fraction” was reduced by around 9% and “cirrus emissivity” was reduced by around 2%, relative to what they should have been with normal air traffic.
Near-term projections of rainfall over the inner Tibetan Plateau (ITP) suggest that the region will be wetter over this coming decade than at the end of the last century. The researchers use state-of-the-art decadal prediction models to show that “summer ITP rainfall is highly predictable on multiyear time scales”. This predictability “originates from the Silk Road pattern driven by sea surface temperature over the subpolar gyre region in North Atlantic”, the authors say. The forecasts suggest that ITP rainfall will be 13% higher during 2020-27, relative to 1986-2005.
New research assesses the impact of international migration on projections of income and inequality in the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs), which represent five narratives of future development used for climate change research. The authors compare the original SSPs with versions with zero migration – obtained by “removing two effects of migration on income dynamics: changes in population size and remittances sent to origin countries”. The results indicate that, on average, “migration tends to make the world richer in all SSP narratives”, the researchers say. They add that “migration tends to decrease income inequality across countries and within country in most destination countries but does not affect within-country inequality in origin countries”. For more on the SSPs, see Carbon Brief’s explainer.