Today's climate and energy headlines:
- UK: Gas levy gets green light
- UK COP chief challenges G20 climate laggards over failure to improve
- China to allow coal-fired power prices to fluctuate more – state media
- India: Delhi chief minister warns of power crisis due to coal shortage
- Australia won't tighten carbon emissions targets for polluters
- The short-term energy crisis must not distract from the climate emergency
- Russia is taking advantage of the energy squeeze
- Atmospheric river response to Arctic sea ice loss in the Polar Amplification Model Intercomparison Project
The frontpage of the Times on Saturday splashed with the news that the newspapers has “been told” that “ministers will announce plans for levies on gas bills to fund low-carbon heating within the next fortnight despite rising prices”. It continues: “The government will publish a new strategy with a carbon pricing scheme that could push gas bills significantly higher. The strategy, which will be published before [COP26], commits the government to cutting the price of electricity, which is significantly higher than gas. It will seek to end ‘price distortions’ by removing green levies from electricity bills over the next decade and imposing new charges on gas bills…One government source said that the plans were ‘madness’ and that Downing Street was failing to appreciate ‘the reality of the problem we’re facing with energy prices’. The source said: ‘There is still a sense that we just ride it out and it’s better in a few months’ time. But it’s very clear that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.’” The Daily Mail picks up the story, saying: “Millions of families face a new £100 levy on their gas bills under plans to phase out conventional boilers by 2035. Ministers want to ‘incentivise’ households to buy cleaner energy by switching existing ‘green’ levies from electricity to gas. The idea is expected to feature in a long-awaited ‘heat and buildings strategy’ to be published this month…Whitehall sources…insisted that overall energy costs would not increase because levies on electricity bills will be reduced at the same time as those on gas are increased. ‘This is about shifting the incentive toward cleaner energy,’ said the insider. ‘It will take place over a period of years and overall bills will remain static. By the time the process is complete there will be many fewer people using gas and paying the levies.’ But some Tory MPs fear the plan could spark a public backlash with gas prices at record levels…The government has ruled out the idea of fining householders who do not get rid of their gas boiler after 2035. Boris Johnson considered pushing back the date after it provoked an angry reaction from Tory MPs – but sources last night said it had been retained.”
Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday reports: “Britain’s energy suppliers are urging the government to suspend green taxes on energy bills over the winter to ease the financial pressure on households. The taxes, most of which are added to electricity bills – increase bills by an average of £150 a year…Energy supplier Eon and renewable firms Octopus, Bulb and Ovo said a short-term solution to rocketing bills would be to suspend green taxes this winter.” Today’s Sun follows up the story, saying: “[Chancellor] Rishi Sunak is being urged to slash VAT on gas and ditch green levies to help Brits over the energy crisis.” The Daily Mail says several Tory MPs have joined oil and gas lobbyists in calling for the moratorium on fracking of shale oil and gas in the north of England and Scotland to be lifted. The i newspaper also covers the story, saying: “Katherine Gray from UK Onshore Oil and Gas said the looming crisis was a ‘bizarre state of affairs’ when gas beneath Northern England and the Midlands could ‘meet the UK’s gas demand for 50 years’.” The Daily Mail also carries a feature saying that Blackpool is “sitting on a goldmine of shale gas we’ve never needed more”. The Daily Telegraph says: “Experts are warning that the growing dependence on overseas electricity could leave Britain vulnerable to ‘political blackmail’, citing France recently threatening to cut energy supplies to the UK amid the ongoing Channel fishing dispute.”
In other UK news, the Times says “the Treasury has accused [business secretary] Kwasi Kwarteng of ‘making things up’ after he said they were in talks about helping businesses struggling with high energy prices”. It adds: “Kwarteng…has been warned by energy-intensive industries that some factories are ‘days away’ from having to halt production because of the cost of fuel…He said he was working closely with Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, to help industry deal with the surging wholesale gas prices. But in a highly unusual move, the Treasury swiftly denied that any talks had taken place.” The Daily Telegraph says Kwarteng is “a man under pressure”. The article adds: “Is it, then, time to break up the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and resurrect the department of energy, which was headed in the past by such heavyweights as Lord Carrington, Tony Benn and Nigel Lawson? One source within the department insisted: ‘If we went back to a pure energy and climate change ministry, it would quickly be captured by the eco lobby and its decisions would have zero regard for the UK’s competitiveness.’ It is a view shared by senior figures in Number 10.”
Finally, New Scientist reports that National Grid “has revealed it is in talks with two other parties about building an ‘energy island’ in the North Sea that would use wind farms to supply clean electricity to millions of homes in north-west Europe”. The Guardian says National Grid has “claimed it could be done before 2030”. (See Comment below for more on UK energy.)
Alok Sharma, the UK minister and COP26 president-designate, has “challenged China, India and Saudi Arabia to deliver on G20 promises made months ago, and come up with better formal climate targets ahead of the UN summit”, reports the Financial Times. In an interview with the newspaper, Sharma says: “To all the G20 countries who have not yet stepped forward…it is incumbent on them to deliver that enhanced, more ambitious [climate target] before COP.” The FT says Sharma “singled out” Australia. He says: “Australia are our closest mates, and I want them to come to our party and sing the same songs – and that means making ambitious commitments on emission reductions by 2030 and, obviously, a net-zero target.”
In other COP26 news, the Guardian says “developing countries are calling on the G20 group of advanced economies to come forward urgently with stiffer targets on greenhouse gas emissions, and financial aid, to make [COP26] a success”. It quotes Simon Stiell, climate and environment minister of Grenada: “All eyes are now on the G20. They must step up.“ The Daily Telegraph has an “exclusive” headlined: “Senior royals to attend COP26 as UK ‘pulls out all the stops’ in climate change fight.” It adds: “It is understood that Chinese negotiators are to attend the conference, but the attendance of Xi Jinping, the president, has not been confirmed. The Queen, who at the age of 95 now rarely travels, is to attend the Glasgow conference for a diplomatic reception, joined by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Prince Charles and Prince William are expected to address the conference as well as hold talks with key world leaders.” BBC News carries an interview with Prince Charles by is climate editor Justin Rowlatt: “Speaking in the gardens of his house on the Balmoral estate in Scotland, the Prince of Wales said it had taken too long for the world to wake up to the risks of climate change. And he worried that world leaders would ‘just talk’ when they meet in Glasgow in November for a crucial UN climate conference. ‘The problem is to get action on the ground,’ he said…The Prince also said he understood why groups like Extinction Rebellion were taking their protests to the streets. ‘But it isn’t helpful, I don’t think, to do it in a way that alienates people.’”
Separately, Politico reports that “Turkey’s ratification of the Paris climate agreement [last] week came after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s government was offered a guarantee of financial support in talks with France, Germany, the UK and two development banks”. The Financial Times says Pacific island delegates are “struggling to reach the climate summit as pandemic curbs cut off more direct routes”. Bloomberg says that “veterans of the annual global climate negotiations say the geopolitical backdrop makes a major breakthrough challenging this year”. The Financial Times says: “Banks have resisted committing to the most explicit road map for cutting greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050, just weeks before [COP26]. Negotiators for a Mark Carney-led initiative to encourage finance groups to stop funding fossil fuel companies have struggled to convince leading banks to agree to end financing of all new oil, gas and coal exploration projects this year, according to internal messages seen by the Financial Times.” Politico has published the third part of its Road to COP26 series, which is focused on the effort to ban short-haul flights in Europe. And Pilita Clark in the Financial Times explains why “the UN’s climate jamboree in Glasgow will feature the great, the good, the activists — and weeks of tedious negotiation”.
Finally, BBC News reports that the Vatican has confirmed that the Pope will not now attend COP26 following colon surgery: “The Vatican said its delegation would be led instead by Cardinal Parolin, its secretary of state.” Associated Press reports that Pope Francis has “called on lawmakers worldwide to overcome ‘the narrow confines’ of partisan politics to quickly reach consensus on fighting climate change…Before his speech [on Saturday], Francis gave a private audience to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives.”
Reuters reports that China will allow coal-fired power prices to “fluctuate by up to 20% from base levels” after power rationing struck the country. The newswire cites CCTV, the state broadcaster, which quotes a State Council meeting chaired by premier Li Keqiang. The outlet writes that China had previously allowed coal-fired power prices to rise by up to 10% and fall by up to 15% compared to base levels. The CCTV news clip – which was broadcast through Xinwen Lianbo, a primetime daily news programme – says that the meeting “made further arrangement for the supply of electricity and coal this winter and next spring to ensure the basic [life needs] of the people and the stable operation of the economy”. According to the official channel, the meeting issued six general instructions, ranging from the support for coal-fired power companies to increase electricity supply to the promotion of the construction of large-scale wind and solar power bases.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that “Chinese coal futures rose to record levels as floods shut dozens of mines and displaced more than 100,000 people, throttling the country’s main source of electricity and compounding a global energy crisis”. The Global Times reports that more than 20,000 residents in Shanxi province have been displaced after heavy rain struck the province during the National Day holidays. The state-run tabloid cites “the local authorities”. It notes that the rainfall in many places “exceeded 100 millimetres” between 3-7 October, “reaching a historic high”. No casualties are reported. Xinhua, the state news agency, says that the Shanxi Meteorological Bureau had put its “severe rainfall emergency response” on level four – the most serious in a four-tier system – for nearly 90 hours before the downpour stopped last Thursday. A separate Global Times report says that the No 14 hydro generator unit of China’s Baihetan hydropower station has “operated safely and steadily” for the first 100 days. S&P Global Platts reports that Beijing is “likely to continue to cut gasoline, gasoil and jet fuel exports and eliminate them altogether by 2025”, citing “several sources with knowledge about the matter”. The outlet says that the moves aim to “ensure that the country meets its carbon emission peak target”. Bloomberg writes that China’s power crunch is “hitting everything from iPhone to milk”. The Financial Times asks “what caused [China’s energy] crunch”, then answers its own question: “Beijing’s green ambitions, policy confusion and supply disruptions blamed for shortfall.”
In other news, Reuters reports that state-controlled Chinese airlines’ objections at the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Boston, in the US, last week “[reflects] longstanding divisions that some see as a dress rehearsal for the 2022 gathering in Montreal”. The newswire says that Chinese carriers voiced “opposition” to the target of achieving “net-zero” by 2050. Finally, Beijing Daily reports that the village of Mengjiazhuang in Chengde county of Hebei province was awarded “the country’s first certificate of carbon neutrality for a village collective”. Mengjiazhuang offset 3,061 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent – its total carbon emissions of 2020 – by using the Chinese Certified Emissions Reductions (CCER), a carbon credit in China, the newspaper says.
India’s coal crisis continues to dominate headlines across the nation, as blackout fears loom over states. Reuters reports that on Saturday,“Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal warned of a power crisis in the Indian capital. In states such as “Bihar, Rajasthan and Jharkhand”, the latter of which is home to India’s biggest coal reserves, “residents [are] experiencing power cuts stretching to up to 14 hours a day”. Reuters analysis of government data and interviews with [north Indian] residents found wide-spread “electricity cuts” due to a shortage of coal, “contradicting government assurances there is enough power.”
Mint reports that in the agrarian state of Punjab a “three-hour daily power cut will remain in the state till 13 October” as “coal-fired power plants are operating at less than 50% of their generation capacity”. In the western state of Maharashtra, India Today reports that “13 thermal power plants [are] shut due to shortage of coal”, with the state’s electricity regulator appealing “to citizens to use electricity sparingly during peak hours”. Indian Express says that the country’s financial capital Mumbai could face a shortage of electricity. The story quotes the state’s energy secretary Dinesh Waghmare, who says: “We are repeatedly asking the centre to give us coal. The coal sent to us is not sufficient. At this rate, we will have to [begin] load shedding.”
In response, Indian government ministries have issued contradictory assurances. Financial Express reports that India’s coal ministry said on Sunday that “any fear of coal stocks depleting at the power plant end is erroneous”, while the power ministry said “coal supply exceeds demand.” The Hindustan Times reports that the power minister RK Singh “insisted that the demand for coal is actually a sign of the economy recovering after the brutal second Covid wave brought economic activity to a standstill”. It reports that on Sunday opposition member of parliament Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “Suddenly we are hearing of a crisis in coal supply to power plants. Is one particular private company making a fortune out of this crisis? But who will investigate?”
Meanwhile, the Economic Times has interviewed Sudiep Shrivastava, one of the petitioners “behind what is popularly known as the ‘coal scam’ that led to a landmark Supreme Court judgment in September 2014 declaring [India’s earlier] coal block allocation process arbitrary and illegal”. According to Sudiep: “Commercial coal auction[s are] not fetching [a] good price, so a shortage for coal has to be created. [P]rivate players want coal-rich land where they pay compensation later and start mining earlier by amending the Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act (1957), which is already a draconian law. The dilution of forest and environment norms is also being sought constantly by private players.”
Reuters reports that “Australia’s energy minister [has] rejected a call from the lobby group for the country’s biggest companies to set stricter emissions limits on polluters, but gave no indication what targets the government may announce ahead of [COP26]”. It adds: “Prime minister Scott Morrison is working on securing support from the Liberal party’s rural partner, the Nationals, to back a target of net-zero by 2050 and possibly a more ambitious target for 2030 than Australia’s existing pledge to cut emissions by 26-28% from 2005 levels, ahead of the UN climate conference in Glasgow. Yet, the Business Council of Australia – which represents the country’s biggest companies including miners, gas and power producers – said over the weekend that emissions reductions of up to 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 could be achieved with big benefits for the economy. Addressing an energy and climate conference on Monday, energy minister Angus Taylor swiftly shot down the council’s recommendation.”
In other Australia news, the Brisbane Times says “Queensland’s Gladstone region will host one of the world’s largest hydrogen-equipment manufacturing plants under plans revealed by the head of Fortescue Metals Group, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest”. It adds: “The mining magnate announced an initial $140m stage of what is expected to be a $1bn facility on Sunday, alongside premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who said it would boost the state’s credentials as an ‘emerging superpower’ in renewable hydrogen.” ABC News says the project is “expected to double the world’s green hydrogen production capacity and bring thousands of jobs to Queensland’s energy industry for years to come”.
Meanwhile, some of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers in Australia have launched a coordinated climate campaign called “Green and Gold”, as tweeted by Politico’s Karl Mathiesen. However, it does not yet seem to have been picked up by the Australian (which has a long, notorious history of promoting climate misinformation) or Sky News Australia.
Many UK newspapers carry comment reacting to the on-going energy price crisis. An editorial in the Independent says “the government can use the immediate crisis as a dramatic illustration of our dependence on carbon-based energy”. It concludes: “Post-Covid recovery has caused the shortage [at petrol stations], as it has caused the labour shortages that have interacted with it. Like blood returning to frozen limbs, the recovery has been a painful and difficult process, as so much economic activity was dislocated during the pandemic.” In contrast, an editorial in the Sun echoes a familiar line seen across most of the right-wing publications: “With real hardship faced by millions of families, an obvious solution would be for the government to take the sting out of rising costs by waiving eco-levies or VAT on bills until the gas crisis eases. If not for the UK’s hosting of the COP26 environmental summit next month, perhaps the decision would already have been taken to follow the likes of Italy, where green taxes are being rolled back. Taking such a step even as Boris Johnson tries to rally other nations to battle climate change may prove politically embarrassing. But clinging to green credentials even as they tip voters into poverty – torpedoing the PM’s levelling-up agenda – is even more damaging. Something has to give. Woolly jumpers and woollier assurances that we’ll muddle through aren’t enough.” Another Sun editorial says: “For years it has been obvious what a gigantic risk we were taking on energy. Our reliance on gas imports should have ended long ago. Instead we surrendered to the fracking scaremongers – and closed our main storage site. Now, as Russia slows supply and China uses its might to buy all the gas it can, our bills are poised to soar. The West is shamefully at the mercy of our enemies. We need more UK-made energy, storage and far more reliable imports…fast.”
In the Daily Mail, Andrew Neil writes: “Carbon zero is a glorious goal. But as our leaders use it to burnish their halos, the true cost is finally hitting home.” He continues: “All governments, of course, have a duty to tackle climate change, which is real and potentially dangerous on so many fronts. But getting from where we are now to a greener economy with net zero emissions (or close to it) is expensive, disruptive and difficult. The government has a duty to give us the full picture and not just grandstand on the world stage with uncosted green rhetoric…the successful transition to a greener economy cannot be solely the concept of an elite while everybody else is expected meekly to fall in line. It is not too late to democratise our green strategy. And in the meantime? My advice is to pray for a mild winter.” The Daily Telegraph continues its deluge of comment pieces attacking action on climate. Juliet Samuel says the current crisis “cannot just be pinned on hemp-munching Lefties. It is a consequence of a feckless Conservative government that has wasted a decade in power failing to plan for the consequences of its own green policies.” Liam Halligan writes: “The West will be begging for more fossil fuel while virtue signalling at COP26.” And Ben Marlow says “ministers’ net zero obsession risks plunging millions into fuel poverty”.
Finally, Labour’s shadow business secretary Ed Miliband says in the Independent: “Despite some progress on renewables, Tory governments have blocked onshore wind, scrapped subsidies for solar energy and have overseen a slowing in the growth of renewable energy in recent years. They have stalled our national nuclear programme. Talking green but failing to act at scale for more than 10 years has left us in this position.” And in the Times, Andrew Murrison, a Conservative MP, writes: “The need to move away from fossil fuels is a given and a lot of progress has been made – on a clear day you can see the evidence from much of our coastline burning and turning on the horizon. But the UK cannot entirely rely on offshore wind…The low carbon solution to meteorological perversity right now is nuclear. Trouble is nuclear is double the cost of anything else, nuclear plants are a planning nightmare, they are beset by security worries and they take an age to build. Is there an alternative?” Subsea interconnectors, he says.
“This has been a bad week for Europe’s energy consumers, but a satisfying one for [Russian president] Vladimir Putin,” begins an editorial in the Financial Times. “Politicians once consoled themselves that Russia could never afford to cut off gas to Europe since that would crash its economy. Recent weeks have shown Moscow has no need to turn off the taps: in a supply crunch, it can exert outsize influence even while continuing to fulfil all its long-term contracts, simply by withholding any extra gas.” The paper adds: “Moves away from coal, and in some countries nuclear power, have made gas more important as an industrial fuel and, despite the advance of renewables, for power generation.” The FT concludes: “[T]he EU’s response should be to step up moves to diversify energy sources and suppliers. It should accelerate, not slow, the switch to renewables.”
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal also reflects on how “Putin is exploiting Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas”. It says: “It’s a reminder that America’s energy production is a source of strategic strength that it risks trading away for climate dreams. It’s a reminder that America’s energy production is a source of strategic strength that it risks trading away for climate dreams. Europe’s energy system, which has sought to banish domestic fossil fuels, has left the Continent vulnerable to the global surge in oil and gas prices.” In the Financial Times, a “big read” asks: “Gas shortages: what is driving Europe’s energy crisis?”. It says: “The transition to cleaner energy such as wind and solar has had the effect of pushing up demand for gas – often viewed by the industry as a medium-term “bridging fuel” between the eras of hydrocarbons and renewables. [EU gas consumption is lower than it was in 2010.] But the long-term target of creating net zero economies in the UK and Europe has also sapped investors’ willingness to put money into developing supplies of a fossil fuel they believe could be largely obsolete in 30 years.” The piece concludes: “For now, policymakers are largely left hoping that Russia follows through on hints that it could increase gas supplies this winter, or that the weather will be mild. In the longer-term, cutting demand and finding alternatives is critical.” It adds that Fatih Birol, chief executive of the International Energy Agency (IEA) “has urged governments to stay the course and to use this moment to solidify plans to decarbonise quickly, even if they need to find ways to cushion voters from the full extent of the gas price rise this year”.
Meanwhile, in an article first published in Le Monde in French and translated on the IEA’s website, Birol and David Malpass, president of the World Bank, write that it is “critical to tackle coal emissions”. They say: “We are issuing a joint call today for a halt to approvals of new coal power plants unless they are fitted with systems that capture their carbon emissions before they are released into the atmosphere.” They add: “Tackling coal is not something that markets will do if left to their own devices. It requires large-scale loans with substantial concessions – such as below-market interest rates or longer grace periods – to help affected areas finance their recovery and renewal. The World Bank Group is well positioned to play a leading role, and recognize the major contribution that poorer countries are making to the global fight against climate change as they move away from coal mines and coal power plants.”
A new modelling study explores the connection between Arctic sea ice loss and the occurrence of atmospheric rivers (ARs) – intense water vapour transport in the atmosphere that can produce torrential rainfall – in the mid-latitudes. The researchers find that “sea ice loss can cause ARs to occur at lower latitude regions over the Atlantic” and, over the Pacific, “ARs will occur more often at regions closer to the North American west coast”. These responses are “quite consistent” across climate models, the researchers note, although model-to-model differences in the responses do exist. (Earlier this year, Carbon Brief published a guest post about the role of ARs in the UK’s weather.)
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