Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany′s SPD, FDP and Greens unveil governing coalition deal
- China emissions fall as economy buffeted by property downturn
- Phase-down vs phase-out at COP: Bhupender Yadav stresses ‘national circumstances’
- UN shipping body considers zero emissions goal, defers decision to 2023
- UK: Tidal power funding offers lifeline to marine energy developers
- US: New White House office to coordinate climate change policies
- Wind power risks becoming too cheap, says top turbine maker
- Protect COP26 climate progress from being undermined by trade rules, UK ministers told
- The climate transition must not mean global energy redlining for Africa
- Three ways social identity shapes climate change adaptation
Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats (FDP) have reached a deal on forming a coalition, Deutsche Welle reports, meaning a new government will be in place “well before Christmas” with the SPD’s Olaf Schulz replacing Angela Merkel as chancellor. The publication notes: “Any deal must be voted on by party conferences in the case of the SPD and the FDP and by party members in the case of the Greens. Sources said the parties would like to see SPD candidate Olaf Scholz elected as chancellor by the Bundestag in the second week of December so that the new government can commence its work.” BBC News says: “Making Germany climate neutral by 2045 is a big focus of the [coalition] deal, entitled, ‘Daring more progress’. Phasing out coal will take place ‘ideally’ by 2030, and solar energy will become compulsory on the roofs of new commercial buildings and the general rule for new private homes. The 16 states will have to provide 2% of their area for wind power. The goal to phase out cars with internal combustion engines remains the EU’s target of 2035.”
The Financial Times quotes chancellor-in-waiting Olaf Schulz promising the “biggest industrial modernisation of Germany in more than 100 years” and saying that the coalition deal would allow the country to become a “pioneer on climate protection”. It says targets include getting 80% of the country’s electricity from renewables by 2030, up from the current level of 45%. The paper reports: “The [ruling Christian Democratic Union’s] CDU’s poor performance opened a path for Scholz to form a ‘traffic-light’ coalition with the Greens and liberals – named after the three parties’ traditional colours. It will be the first such alliance on a national level in Germany’s history and is expected to put the fight against climate change at the top of its agenda.” It continues: “Under the coalition agreement, the SPD will get six ministries, in addition to the chancellery, while the Greens will be awarded five and the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), four. The Greens will take control of the foreign ministry and a newly-created economy and climate protection ministry. Though no official announcement was made, people close to the negotiations said [Green co-leader Annelena] Baerbock would head up the first and Robert Habeck, the Greens’ co-leader, the second.” Associated Press says the coalition partners “vowed Wednesday to modernise Europe’s biggest economy and step up efforts against climate change”. CNN quotes the coalition agreement saying: “Step by step, we are ending the fossil fuel era” and adding that the measures it contains “bring Germany onto the 1.5C path”.
Politico says the coalition talks were “[n]ot always smooth sailing”, explaining: “Earlier this month, the Greens complained of a lack of ambition in the coalition’s climate policies, prompting them to put pressure on the SPD and FDP. That logjam broke on Tuesday when the three parties agreed to phase out coal by 2030.” S&P Global says the 80% by 2030 target for renewable electricity is an increase on the current target of 65% and would include aiming for 200 gigawatts (GW) of solar by the end of the decade as well as 30GW of offshore wind and 10GW of hydrogen electrolyser capacity. It notes that early reports that the coalition agreement would aim to phase out gas-fired electricity generation by 2040 were not included in the published deal. Argus Media says the coalition deal “will make expansion of renewables a key project”. It quotes the pact saying: “We will align our climate, energy and economic policy to the 1.5C path,” but also saying: “Natural gas is indispensable for a transition period.” Reuters says the deal includes a €60 per tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) “floor” price for emissions and will shift the cost of renewable subsidies from electricity bills to the state budget from the start of 2023. A Reuters “factbox” on the key energy policy elements of the agreement says it includes a target for half of Germany’s heat supply to be carbon neutral by 2030.
Clean Energy Wire has a summary of the coalition deal’s climate aspects, including its overall aim to put Germany on a 1.5C path. It notes that the deal “rejected calls for postponing the end of nuclear power plants”. The publication says: “Initial reactions to the treaty by business and civil society groups were cautiously positive, with especially the renewable energy industry welcoming increased expansion plans for wind power, solar power and other technologies. Others were sceptical whether the policies announced would really be sufficient to put Germany on a 1.5C-path.” Clean Energy Wire also has a detailed rundown of all of the energy and climate elements of the coalition agreement, including introducing in 2022 what it calls a “climate emergency programme” for the laws, regulations and measures needed to meet the deal’s targets. It says the deal will introduce a “climate check” for the policies of every federal ministry, to measure their climate impact and their compatibility with national climate targets. On gas, the publication reports the deal saying that gas power plants will be “indispensable for a transition period” and should be built to be “hydrogen ready”. It says the coalition partners will develop a social compensation mechanism based on a “climate payment” for consumers, a long-term strategy for carbon removals, a focus for hydrogen use in sectors that cannot be electrified, an acknowledgement that Germany will need to end the sale of combustion engine cars earlier than the EU-wide deadline of 2035 and a target for all new heating systems to operate on at least 65% renewable energy from 2025. [Early reports had suggested the deal would include a ban on fossil-based heating systems.]
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in China have fallen for the first time since last year’s coronavirus lockdown, the Financial Times reports, picking up the latest quarterly analysis published by Carbon Brief. The FT says the analysis is “the latest signal the property sector downturn and energy shortages have hit industrial demand in the world’s second-biggest economy”. It adds: “World’s biggest polluter might hit peak emissions earlier than forecast as growth eases.” Reuters and Agence-France Presse also cover the new analysis.
Another Reuters article reports that China “will look into methane emissions in key industries, including coal mining, agriculture and petroleum, and publish a nationwide methane emission control action plan, the environment ministry said on Thursday”. It says methane accounts for around 10% of China’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Indian environment minister Bhupender Yadav has spoken publicly on the reasons for pushing a change in language from “phase out” of coal to “phase down” in the Glasgow Climate Pact, the Indian Express reports. Yadav told an online event organised by the paper, with the Financial Times, that India was speaking on behalf of developing countries, it reports. The Indian Express quotes Yadav saying: “We are ready to go on clean energy, but according to our national circumstances.” It quotes him continuing: “The term phase-out of coal would mean putting a complete stop on coal…India being a developing country, phase-down can also be relative in the sense that the percentage of coal in the overall mix will go down but the absolute use of coal…may rise.” Climate Home News reports the comments of India’s coal secretary Anil Jain saying the country “cannot escape” phasing down coal use. It says Jain was speaking at the launch of a report from the National Foundation of India (NFI), according to which, India’s net-zero target “sounds the death knell for coal expansion in the country”. The publication says the NFI report is “the first comprehensive analysis to map the scale of the transition across all of India’s coal-consuming industries”. It quotes study lead author Swati D’souza saying India’s coal transition conversation was “just beginning”.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Coal India, the world’s largest producer of the fuel, has said rising costs make it “inevitable” that it will have to increase coal prices. The piece notes the firm last increased coal prices in 2018. It reports: “Despite a recent spurt in demand for coal, the miner is cautious over longer-term plans. It has pushed back a plan to reach 1bn tonnes of annual output by a year and is now targeting that milestone by the year ending March 2025, provided there’s enough demand.”
Separately, Sandeep Pai, senior research lead at thinktank the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, writes in the Hindustan Times that ensuring a just transition away from coal in India “won’t be easy” and that even a phase down of the fuel will be an “enormous undertaking” for the country. He outlines four “key steps” required to plan for just transition, including the creation by central government of a stakeholder body to guide the process, coordination and finance from the centre, capacity building at subnational level, and “large-scale investment and finance” for coal-dependent regions, including from international sources. Pai adds that phase down is “the first step towards an eventual phase-out”. In the Hindu, Ashish Fernandes, chief executive of thinktank Climate Risk Horizons, argues that the difference between phase down and phase out “at this point in time is insignificant”. He continues: “What is significant, though, is the direction of travel that India has committed to – net-zero – which implies first a phase down, followed by a phase out of coal.” Fernandes says that with its target to increase renewable capacity to 500 gigawatts(GW) by 2030, India “does not need any new coal power plants, even if the economy returns to aggressive growth rates over the next decade”. He concludes: “India can start phasing down its coal power fleet over the next decade – not because of international pressure, but because it makes sound economic and financial sense for the country.”
Countries at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have discussed strengthening the sector’s climate target, “but not before a planned review of the strategy in 2023”, reports Climate Home News. It says there were “signs of broader support” for a target of zero or net-zero, against the existing target to halve emissions by 2050 relative to 2008 levels. The publication says countries including the US, Japan and Panama backed a zero carbon goal, but adds: “emerging economies said rich countries needed to go first and provide finance”. The Guardian Seascape reports developments at the IMO under the headline: “UN shipping summit criticised for ‘dangerous’ delay on emissions plan.”
The UK government has set aside £20m a year in “ringfenced support” for tidal power projects, the Financial Times reports, saying the move “throw[s] a lifeline to developers”. It notes that the £20m is “only a small proportion of the £285m-a-year contracts to be auctioned from 13 December”, but quotes one analyst saying it would nevertheless “kickstart” the UK tidal stream sector. Reuters and Bloomberg also have the story, with both noting a government estimate that wave and tidal power could generate 20% of the country’s electricity.
The White House will create a new division of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate federal climate policy, the Hill reports. The outlet says Sally Benson, a professor of energy engineering at Stanford University, will head the division, which was announced yesterday. In other news from the US, Associated Press reports: “Democrats and climate activists generally supported President Joe Biden’s decision to release a record 50m barrels of oil from America’s strategic reserve, even as the move appeared to contradict his long-term vision of combating climate change.” It adds: “Some leading climate hawks, however, said they were not concerned by the move because they see it as a short-term fix to meet a specific problem.” Another Associated Press article looks at the prospects of the Democrats’ $2tn “package of social and climate initiatives”, which has passed through the House of Representatives, but must also get through the Senate “where painful Republican amendments, restrictive rules and Joe Manchin lurk”.
The cost of wind power is now “cheaper than anything else”, but cannot continue to fall at the same rate, says Andreas Nauen, chief executive of turbine maker Siemens Gamesa, in an interview with Reuters. The newswire reports: “The industry’s ability to keep investing in new technologies and factories will be reduced if the drive to cut the cost of wind power continues at the same rate, [Nauen] added.” It adds that turbine makers’ margins are being squeezed by raw material costs such as steel. Meanwhile, another Reuters article reports on the signing of a power purchase agreement for the output of Dogger Bank, expected to be the world’s largest windfarm once completed off the northeast coast of England in 2026. Firms including Danish energy trading company Danske Commodities and oil major Shell have signed deals to buyer the power, the newswire says.
In other wind energy news, Reuters says the Australian parliament has “clear[ed] the way for offshore wind development “as the country looks to replace coal-fired power”. Associated Press reports that the US Interior Department has approved a second large offshore windfarm as part of a plan to deploy 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy by 2030″.
A coalition of green groups, development charities and unions is calling on the UK government to push for a “climate waiver” at next week’s meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Independent reports. It says the groups have written to COP26 president Alok Sharma and international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan to ask for the measure, which the paper says “would prohibit countries from using the global body to challenge one another’s climate policies”. It quotes the letter saying WTO rules should be changed to ensure they do not “slow down, constrict, raise the cost of or otherwise interfere with climate action”.
In a comment for the Financial Times, Uzodinma Iweala, chief executive of the Africa Center, a museum in New York, reflects on the outcomes of COP26 and says the pledge by 20 rich countries to block financing of fossil fuel projects overseas is “particularly galling” given than some of them “are actively building and funding similar projects on home soil”. Iweala continues: “Not only does this condemn a significant portion of the world’s population to continued energy poverty, it also flies in the face of the gospel of climate justice.” [The commitment to halting overseas fossil finance includes a pledge to divert the money towards green energy. Signatories have not committed to halt domestic fossil finance.] Iweala says: “A finance ban that only applies to poor countries is a textbook example of what Robert Bullard, the academic known as the father of environmental justice, has termed ‘environmental racism’…You could also call it a form of global ‘redlining’. In the US, this is the name given to the systematic denial of mortgages to potential black homebuyers.” He concludes: “We have to tackle carbon emissions generated by fossil fuels and get to net zero. But Africans should not tolerate a system that asks us to ‘carbon finance’ the lifestyles of whiter, wealthier countries. African leaders should therefore continue to make clear that international development finance institutions need to provide flexible financing for gas projects where they replace dirtier or costlier fossil fuel options. They must demand that rich countries use their wealth – acquired in part through colonial exploitation – to find a rapid way of reducing their own share of carbon emissions.”
A new paper looks at how social identity – how people perceive themselves, others and their place in the world – influences adaptation to climate change. The authors propose three key ways to understand this relationship, including how social identities change in response to climate risks, how identity may be an objective of adaptation, and how identity issues can constrain or enable adaptation. Using case studies in the UK and Australia, the study shows that “adaptation policies are more likely to be effective when they give individuals confidence in the continuity of their in-groups, enhance the self-esteem of these groups, and develop their sense of self-efficacy”.