Daily Briefing |
TODAY'S CLIMATE AND ENERGY HEADLINES
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Today's climate and energy headlines:
- Germany to spend $220bn for industrial transformation by 2026
- UK: Boris Johnson’s call to relax green target
- Ukraine conflict: Oil price soars to highest level since 2008
- China vows new incentives to cut pollution, CO2, but says 'stability' paramount
- Switch to our own power supplies is a win-win for everyone – except Putin
- The Observer view on Ukraine and the climate emergency
- Change and variability in Antarctic coastal exposure, 1979-2020
Christian Lindner, Germany’s finance minister, has said that his government has “earmarked 200bn euros ($220bn) to fund industrial transformation between now and 2026, including climate protection, hydrogen technology and expansion of the electric vehicle charging network”, reports Reuters. The money will fund the “transformation of the economy, society and the state”. he told public broadcaster ARD yesterday, adding that this also included the removal of renewable energy levies. And in comments made to Reuters, economy minister Robert Habeck has said: “More urgently than ever, we need to invest in our energy sovereignty. And I am glad that we as members of the coalition are pulling in the same direction. Now we must make every effort to become more independent and climate-neutral.” The Financial Times says that similar sentiments have been expressed across the European Union: “Energy security concerns triggered by the war in Ukraine will step up moves towards energy self-sufficiency and clean power as Europe seeks to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels, say climate envoys and policy experts…The European Commission is due to present its updated energy strategy and is expected to stress the need to boost renewable sources. It is also expected to address the need for greater interconnectivity of electricity grids within the bloc and Ukraine.” The New York Times says it has seen “the 26-page EU draft proposal…[which] proposes to swiftly renovate old, leaky buildings to reduce energy demand, simplify regulations to attract investments in renewable energy, encourage more rooftop solar installations and produce more energy from biomass”. The newspaper adds: “The leaders of the European Union are expected to announce a proposal next week that would ‘accelerate the clean energy transition and reduce permanently our dependence on imports of natural gas’. If it goes through, it could significantly blunt one of the Kremlin’s most formidable economic weapons: piped gas to heat and power the continent.”
In contrast, the Wall Street Journal runs an article under the headline: “Coal runs hot as Russia-Ukraine war risks Europe’s climate agenda.” It says: “The war in Ukraine scrambled global energy markets, with one especially unloved commodity – coal – enjoying a renaissance as European countries look again at the dirty fuel to establish energy independence from Russia. A surge in a benchmark thermal coal price to a record high of $446 a metric ton [last] week reflected this reordering of priorities among governments that have been trying to phase out the fossil fuel because of its contribution to climate change.” The Daily Telegraph says that “Europe vows to wean itself off Russian gas to ‘ensure Putin fails”. Meanwhile, BusinessGreen has a story about how the Tony Blair Institute has published a new paper detailing how Europe could bring an end to imports of Russian gas. And EurActiv carries an opinion piece signed by seven MEPs from the centrist Renew Europe political group in the European Parliament who argue that the EU’s 5th list of Projects of Common Interest, which will be voted on this week in the European Parliament, must be reviewed to include a “Russian check” making sure that energy projects that receive priority EU status increase independence from Russian gas and include a “climate consistency check”.
The Times reports that UK prime minister Boris Johnson “believes the West should be given a ‘climate change pass’ to help wean the EU off Russian gas supplies as he faces mounting pressure over the government’s 2050 net-zero target”. It adds: “The Times has been told that Johnson wants the West, particularly the US and Canada, to ramp up its own production of gas to help remove the ‘massive leverage’ Russia has over EU countries. While retaining the government’s target, Johnson is understood to believe that western countries should be able to increase gas production during the transition to nuclear and renewables.” A “government source” tells the newspaper: “We have to address this over the short term, mid term and long term. The prime minister is interested in giving the gas industry a climate pass in the transition to nuclear and renewables.” Politico adds: “A senior government source this weekend told [us] that, while Britain was not as dependent as others on Russian energy, we could expect to hear a lot more about Western countries giving themselves a temporary ‘climate change pass’ in the face of recent events, ‘easing off net zero’ as they find ways of being less reliant on Russia.”
The news follows various media reports of divisions within the ruling Conservative party about how best to achieve “energy security”. The Daily Mail today says that “nearly 40 Conservative parliamentarians have written to Boris Johnson urging him to reverse plans to end fracking” It adds: “The 34 MPs and five peers claim that sealing two of the UK’s only viable shale gas wells next week would benefit Vladimir Putin. Britain must instead embark on a ‘national mission’ to secure its energy independence and reduce its reliance on imported gas, they say. Energy company Cuadrilla is due to concrete over its fracking wells in Lancashire on 15 March, having been ordered to do so by the Oil and Gas Authority. But the MPs – led by Craig Mackinlay and Steve Baker, the chairman and deputy chairman of the Conservative ‘net-zero scrutiny group’ – have issued a plea to halt the move.” The group of climate-sceptic Tory politicians includes Lord Frost, Lord Lilley and Esther McVey. The Mail adds: “A source at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) resisted the call, saying the MPs should ‘get real’…’The UK is in no way dependent on Russian gas, with imports making up just 4% of demand. Fracking would have no effect on domestic energy prices in the near future.’” The paper also carries an accompanying opinion piece by Steve Hilton, former director of strategy for David Cameron and now a Fox News commentator in the US, who says that “politicians from all parties have indulged in an orgy of green virtue-signalling, implementing self-harming, counter-productive policies such as Boris Johnson’s ban on fracking for shale gas”. An editorial in same edition of the Daily Mail concludes: “We must start taking energy security seriously. For all the wishing and hoping, renewables alone will not keep the lights and radiators on over the next 28 years. So in the Gadarene rush to net-zero, we will either have to buy in increasing supplies from despots such as Putin or turbocharge our own nuclear and north Sea production. The vaccine miracle showed what can be done by a public/private task force under dynamic leadership and liberated from the crushing red tape of Whitehall. Isn’t it time to mobilise a similar force to secure our energy needs for the next generation? We must get our heads out of the sand.”
In stark contrast, the Financial Times carries news of a letter sent to Johnson by backbenchers belonging to the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), who argue that the UK government should improve the UK’s energy security by sharply increasing its target for “floating” offshore wind farms. The Tory MPs have “urged business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng to grasp ‘the massive opportunity’ presented by the relatively new type of wind turbine technology, in which the UK is a world leader”.
Meanwhile, the Sun says that the chancellor Rishi Sunak “may be forced into an emergency budget this month due to energy market chaos sparked by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine”.
Finally, the Mail on Sunday carries an “exclusive” about how “Nigel Farage is launching a political movement to campaign for a referendum on Boris Johnson’s controversial net-zero policy to decarbonise the economy by 2050”. The newspaper adds: “The former Brexit Party leader uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to announce that Britain Means Business – modelled on his successful campaign for a Brexit referendum – will call for the abandonment of the flagship green policy…Mr Farage, who has established Britain Means Business with Richard Tice, his co-founder at Leave Means Leave and the Brexit Party, describes the ‘net-zero delusion’ as ‘a scandal of epic proportions’ which must be challenged.” The article by Farage begins: “The net-zero zealots are the same elitists who sneered at Brexit and don’t have to worry about paying their gas bills…Net-zero is net stupid.” The Mail on Sunday also carries its own editorial supporting Farage’s campaign under the headline: “The astronomical costs of pursuing a Net Zero utopia.” It concludes: “Chancellor Rishi Sunak is one of several leading Tories who likewise suspect that net-zero is an aim this country cannot afford, and which is not justified by its practical outcomes. Now, thanks to Russia’s war crimes, it is also shown to be strategically unwise. We should take heed of this and many other dangers, while we still can.” The Independent notes that the actor Hugh Grant has told Farage to “go f*** yourself” in response to his campaign for a net-zero referendum.
(See Comment section below for more UK opinion.)
Oil prices have soared to the highest level since 2008 after the US said it was discussing a potential embargo on Russian supplies with its allies, reports BBC News. Brent crude – the global oil benchmark – spiked to above $139 a barrel earlier today, before easing back to below $130. BBC News adds: “On Sunday, the US secretary of state Antony Blinken said the Biden administration and its allies are discussing an embargo of Russian oil supplies. Later, US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi said the chamber was ‘exploring’ legislation to ban the import of Russian oil and that Congress this week intended to enact $10bn (£7.6bn) of aid for Ukraine in response to Russia’s military invasion…A Russian oil embargo would be a major escalation in the response to the invasion of Ukraine and would potentially have a major impact on the global economy.” The Times says that “oil prices are set to surge further this week after delays to the conclusion of Iranian nuclear talks that could have unlocked a million barrels a day of new supply and as western nations explore a ban on buying Russian oil”.
Separately, BBC News reports that “Shell has defended its decision to purchase Russian crude oil despite the invasion and bombardment of Ukraine”, adding: “The oil giant said in a statement that the decision to purchase the fuel at a discounted price was ‘difficult’. It confirmed that it had bought a cargo of Russian crude oil on Friday but it had ‘no alternative’. Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba hit out at the energy company, asking on Twitter: ‘Doesn’t Russian oil smell Ukrainian blood for you?’”
Meanwhile, another BBC News article notes that “the boss of one of the world’s biggest fertiliser companies has said the war in Ukraine will deliver a shock to the global supply and cost of food”. It continues: “Yara International, which operates in more than 60 countries, buys considerable amounts of essential raw materials from Russia [such as gas and potash]. Fertiliser prices were already high due to soaring wholesale gas prices. Yara’s boss, Svein Tore Holsether, has warned the situation could get even tougher.” It adds: “Combined with higher shipping rates, sanctions on Belarus (another major potash supplier) and extreme weather – this prompted a big jump in fertiliser prices last year, adding to a surge in food prices.”
China will introduce new incentives to cut pollution and carbon emissions this year, but flexibility and stability remain the country’s top priorities as economic pressures mount, the government said in documents published on Saturday, reports Reuters. The newswire adds: “China’s government work report, delivered to the annual session of parliament by Premier Li Keqiang on Saturday, said that stability, the expansion of domestic demand and food and energy security would remain major priorities in 2022. Li said China would ‘work harder’ to make coal use cleaner and more efficient, update coal-fired power plants to make them more efficient, and enhance the capacity of grids to absorb power produced by renewable sources. But efforts to reduce coal consumption and bring emissions to a peak would be done in a ‘well-ordered way’, he added.” The South China Morning Post also noted that “climate change and carbon neutrality were high on the agenda at China’s annual Two Sessions meetings that kicked off on Saturday, with government leaders and delegates from the private sector discussing ways to support the country’s zero-carbon goals”. However, another South China Morning Post article says “China’s declining coal industry got a boost on the weekend when Chinese president Xi Jinping called for a ‘realistic’ approach to achieving the country’s carbon neutrality goals”. It adds that Xi was quoted as saying by state-run People’s Daily: “We can’t be detached from reality…We can’t toss away what’s feeding us now while what will feed us next is still not in our pocket. To achieve the ‘dual carbon’ targets, [we] must proceed from national conditions and seek steady progress.”
Elsewhere, Reuters reports that “China will boost the production of more modern coal mines and enhance coal reserve capacity, and aims to increase the government-deployable storage to 5% of local consumption, the country’s state economic planner said on Saturday”. And another Reuters article says that “China plans to build 450 gigawatts of solar and wind power generation capacity on the Gobi and other desert regions, the chief of the state planner said on Saturday, as part of efforts to boost renewable power use to meet climate change goals”. It concludes: “He also acknowledged that high-efficient coal-fired power plants and ultra-high voltage electricity transmission lines are required in order to support the steady operation of the grid system amid large scale of renewable power installation.”
Last year, China’s energy sector “accounted for roughly a fifth of all the methane spewed by the global energy industry”, Bloomberg reports, citing the International Energy Agency (IEA). According to IEA’s Methane Tracker, China generated “over 50% more than” Russia and the US, the next two largest methane emitters, the outlet says. It adds that the data “show the enormity of China’s task in mitigating its methane pollution”. An analyst with BloombergNEF in Beijing explains that: “China has encouraged miners to utilise more methane produced during the mining process but there remain major obstacles.”
Meanwhile, Sixth Tone – a Shanghai-based news website – focuses on what the second part of the IPCC’s sixth assessment report (AR6) says about China. The website says the AR6 points out that China “will be among the countries hardest hit by global warming and needs to do more to adapt to mounting climate hazards”. It goes on to say that China “will need to find solutions” to a series of issues, including more extreme weather events, per the report.
Elsewhere, Wang Yi – an editor with the Global Times, a state-run newspaper – pens an opinion piece, titled: “US targets China’s clean-energy sector; that won’t help anyone”. He writes: “Slander against China’s progress in clean energy reflects the anxiety of the Biden administration and its attempt to suppress China’s clean-energy industry.” Elsewhere, the South China Morning Post reports that Zeng Yuqun, described as the “Chinese electric vehicle battery king”, has suggested that the Chinese government speed up “exploration and development” of lithium resources in the country to ensure supply chain security.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, the UK’s business and energy secretary Kwasi Kwarteng says: “For as long as we depend on oil and gas – wherever it is from – we are all vulnerable to Putin’s malign influence on global markets. The good news is, Russia can’t directly manipulate the price of renewable energy and nuclear power in the UK. And with gas prices at record highs, and the price of renewable energy plummeting, we need to accelerate our transition away from expensive gas. Now, more than ever, we must focus on generating cheaper, cleaner power in Britain, for Britain. This is how we become energy independent in the long term. That is why we are cracking on with annual renewable energy auctions to generate more offshore wind, solar and, importantly, tidal power to exploit our island nation status. We are also reversing 30 years of drift on nuclear power. We are opening the first new power station in a generation, giving more cash for future projects such as Sizewell C, and using the Nuclear Financing Bill to unblock financial obstacles. In the longer term we also need to look at hydrogen – the new super fuel – to combat Russian gas.” But he then pivots to address the small group of climate-sceptic politicians in his party calling for fracking: “We also need to back North Sea oil and gas while we transition to cheap, clean power. It would be complete madness to turn off our domestic source of gas in such an uncertain world. However, onshore fracking is very different. Those calling for its return misunderstand the situation we find ourselves in. First, the UK has no gas supply issues. And even if we lifted the fracking moratorium tomorrow, it would take up to a decade to extract sufficient volumes – and it would come at a high cost for communities and our precious countryside. Second, no amount of shale gas from hundreds of wells dotted across rural England would be enough to lower the European price any time soon. And with the best will in the world, private companies are not going to sell the shale gas they produce to UK consumers below the market price.”
In contrast, the Sun continues its recent run of pro-fracking editorials. An editorial in Saturday’s Sun says the government “must immediately lift the fracking ban”, while an editorial in today’s Sun says “it’s pure folly to pour concrete” into two shale gas wells in Lancashire.
Meanwhile, an editorial in the Daily Telegraph argues: “Britain in future will have to be less dependent on foreign supplies. In this we are fortunate that we are an island on windy waters, ideally placed for future offshore wind generation. But this alone will not, by a long shot, suffice. Nuclear, clean and not dependent on the vagaries of the weather, has for far too long been the subject of policy drift. Fracking has been shut down; extraction of our own reserves of oil and gas in the North Sea left to decline. All this must be re-evaluated urgently, to weigh not just economic worth, but also the strategic value of self-reliance.”
In the Times, columnist and former Tory MP Matthew Parris says “our net-zero mission would be hit but we have to consider burning coal and wood to heat homes as we try to save energy”. In the Sunday Times, Robert Colvile says that “there is scope to push much harder [on onshore wind], given that it is not only dirt cheap but extremely popular”. In the Daily Telegraph, Joe Armitage, a “lead political analyst at Global Counsel”, tries to argue that “Russia’s actions demand an urgent reassessment of the net-zero target” and that “BEIS is far too in hock to the Committee on Climate Change”. The Sunday Telegraph carries the views of George Trefgarne, who is “chief executive of Boscobel & Partners and worked at BP between 2006 and 2009”. He says: “The Climate Change Act needs amending so the Climate Change Committee – the Sage of energy – should be replaced by an Energy Security and Climate Committee with a dual mandate to reduce our dependence on hydrocarbons, but only after having also taken account of energy security, energy poverty and our economic competitiveness.”
The Observer responds to the various efforts of climate-sceptics to use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to derail the net-zero agenda. In an editorial, it says: “The real lesson from the battlefields of Ukraine is that Britain needs to rid itself of its fossil fuel addiction entirely and become self-reliant on electricity that is generated cleanly and efficiently. We need to do that to protect our energy supplies, while at the same time sending a message to the rest of the world that we take the coming crisis extremely seriously. The need to follow this course of action is reflected in the final words of last week’s IPCC report: ‘’Any further delay in concrete anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a livable and sustainable future for all.’”
An editorial in the Financial Times says that “conflict in Europe’s breadbasket risks a disaster for global food supply”. While Derek Brower argues in the Financial Times that ‘the loss of Russian supply will be hard to replace even if the US shale industry increases production”.
Finally, an editorial in the Washington Post notes that Democrat Senator Joe Manchin III is “floating yet another idea to salvage the Build Back Better package”. it adds: “The Democrat from West Virginia wants to hike taxes on the rich and some corporations and then split the money between debt reduction and addressing climate change. In other words, he wants a smaller package than the $1.75 trillion deal Democratic leaders tried to make happen last year…But it’s time to set the grudges aside and engage with Mr Manchin…again. Democrats still have one last chance to enact fairer tax policy, lower drug prices and make a major down payment on America’s energy future. It’s far better to take this deal than to do nothing.”
Half of Antarctica’s coastline had no offshore sea ice during the summer over 1979-2020, according to new research. The authors use satellite-derived sea ice concentration data to determine Antarctica’s “coastal exposure length” – a daily measure of changes in the length of coastline that lacks any protective sea ice buffer. They find that average annual coastline exposure ranges from 38% in 2019 to 63% in 1993. The study adds that “the annual maximum length of Antarctic coastal exposure decreased by ~30 km (~0.32%) per year for 1979–2020”.